When we tell people we’re traveling for 4 months with a newborn, there’s usually one of two responses.
“That’s awesome! Good on you guys. You’ll have so much fun!”
“With a baby? Well… that’s… a very strange way to torture yourself ”
Based on the polarizing reactions from experienced parents, this is either the best idea we’ve ever had, or the worst.
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“If there was nothing holding us back, how much time would you take off after she’s born?”
It was an innocent question Richenda asked at dinner, like one of those “What would you do with a million dollars?”—a fun thing to daydream about, but not a real question. Of course we can’t both take a big chunk of time off. That ‘s impossible. We’re adults, and we have adult commitments, like rent, and jobs we love, and a savings goal for a house. I couldn’t just disappear for a while… right? Right?
But the more we thought about it, the more the idea grew on us. What if we did both take significant time off after she was born? What if we traveled for a bit? What if my only responsibility for a while was being a Dad?
According to multiple studies and a fantastic book called All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood (Ted Talk version here) the birth of a child is when many marriages begin to crack. Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise. Mum’s stuck at home, isolated, stressed, and desperately trying to sort out how to get the baby to stop screaming. Dad’s trying to get to work on time, a half-zombie from lack of sleep, and trying to juggle personal and professional responsibilities. At home, everyone feels overworked and underappreciated. Dad doesn’t know how to change the diaper right, household chores are a battleground, and neither spouse feels loved or encouraged. Hooray!
Richenda planned her time off for a while. She worked relentlessly for two years to get her company to a place where it could operate without her. Systems, people, income—her strategic decisions were based around knowing that she wanted a significant maternity leave someday. But for me, there was a little less planning. We both assumed I’d take a week or two off and go back to work. Maybe a month at most.
So what was holding me (us) back? First, the obvious: Money. Months off work means a significant ding on our bank account. We do live a reasonably humble lifestyle (no mortgage, no car, no cable) with almost no fixed costs, but the trip won’t be cheap. We did some rough budgeting, and factoring in all the time staying with family and friends, we could make it work. The more intimidating part was thinking about asking work for nearly six months off, starting when Ash was born, and right through to February. Even at the really progressive tech company I work at, with flexible hours and work-from-home options, I thought there would be a perception that taking a long paternity leave meant I wasn’t really committed, or not a hard worker, or not a real man that provided for his family. But when I asked for the time off, everyone at SitePoint was supportive and encouraging beyond belief—especially the Dads in the building.
With a budget and the blessing from work to take a few unpaid months away, I dove deep into the land of TripAdvisor, Airbnb and Booking.com, and planned our 4 month adventure. We found friends to move into our apartment and cover rent, packed most everything we own, and moved most of it into storage until February.
What started as a ridiculous idea is now in full swing. As I type, from a hotel lobby in Redondo beach, we’re en route to Detroit. The itinerary includes 10 cities, 5 countries, and so many friends and family that we can’t wait to introduce to the littlest Vermeulen. It feels unreal: A beach vacation in Mexico. A week-long fly fishing trip in Argentina with my Dad. My little sister’s wedding. New York. Seattle. Christmas with the extended family. Reunions. Family. Snow. My heart is bursting.
It’s a dream holiday, but it’s also a sacrifice and if I’m honest, a little scary every time I see our bank account going backwards. But our risk and fear is overwhelmed by the excitement. It feels right. Every day I get to watch my daughter grow. I know what her noises mean, and how to make her laugh. And when she starts laughing during her 4AM nappy change—which she does almost every night—I have the luxury to enjoy that moment instead of worrying how many hours of sleep left until the day begins. It’s a new thing, to be fully present, and spending each day caring for a mini person.
Tomorrow we introduce her to her Grandparents. I can’t wait.
Edit: Added photos with Grandpa and Grandma 🙂