I have had so many people ask how we could afford our baby gap year (travelling for my maternity leave), so here we go:
A little background…
I work as a nurse and Shaun is a landscaper, both with full time jobs in London. Nothing out of the ordinary in terms of earnings! However, pre-baby, I had a second job working in a university as a lecturer on my days off from the hospital. This gave us additional money to put towards savings. As a couple, I think we have similar values when it comes to money and work ethic. Neither of us are materialistic when it comes to things like our car or designer clothes. In fact, I am just not allowed a nice car until I am a year free of dinging lamp posts (yet to reach that goal).
Before baby arrived
When we first realised we were going to have a baby, we made an immediate decision that we would use my maternity leave to travel and spend some time in Shaun’s home country of New Zealand. We started looking at flights as soon as we knew our due date and began planning whilst we both still had a full income. I worked late into my pregnancy whereas many other people choose to use some of the leave before baby comes. Although tiring, it gave us maximum time on the other side with Esmé.
Maternity Leave considerations
In the UK, we are entitled to a year of maternity leave, not all of it is paid and declines over time. Having met other mums from around the world, I have been made aware that my maternity leave was really good. In some cases, I have met mums that need to go back to work after three months, the alternative is losing their job. This is something I can not even comprehend – having to leave my baby so early! I am therefore eternally grateful for the time I had with our new family trio. We are also in the lucky position whereby I earn more than Shaun so we could therefore afford for him to give up his job for the year and pick up a new one on our return.
Making the hard decisions
In order to make the baby gap year happen, there were some other pretty difficult decisions we had to make and follow through with a new little baby. We had to sell our car and rent our newly renovated home. We had just renovated it and got it exactly how we wanted and then we had no chance to live in it. This brought me to an emotional mess on several occasions. I would sob to Shaun saying “I can’t do this, it’s too difficult”. I remember feeling so sad we did not have a nursery set up for Esmé, there was just no point for the sake of a few weeks. We therefore did not need to buy all the furniture a nursery requires. Reflecting on how I felt, I was most definitely psychologically ‘nesting’ with my new little person. Seeing the disappointment Shaun was so desperately trying to hide made me pull myself together and it has proven to be the best decision I could have ever made.
Planning a baby gap year
When we were organising the rest of our baby gap year, we specifically planned it around low malarial areas and places that were within our budget. It goes without saying the British pound goes much further than some other currencies in Asia. This really helped. When choosing accommodation we definitely did not stay in luxury places. Generally, as long as it had good reviews for cleanliness, decent breakfast and was within mid-range budget accommodation we were happy.
During our baby gap year
And so our baby gap year began. Both of our home countries were incorporated into the trip and we had some free accommodation – thank you grandparents! When we were in NZ we rented a small place as a base whilst moving around on trips frequently. Shaun picked up some short term intermittent work. When money got a little tight, I started correcting essays for a local university on the go. Unfortunately I had not thought I would need to do this so I had to change my visa from a holiday to a working one. This cost so much and didn’t really prove its worth as correcting essays paid poorly in NZ. Moral of the story, get a work visa regardless just in case!
We set ourselves a budget for each country and tried our best to stick to it. If we were going too lavish one day we cut back the next. In all honesty, it’s a little harder to spend your money when you have a baby with you. This is because you are slightly more restricted with how quickly you can spend. You have to take things slowly and so you generally don’t get as much done. When I went backpacking in my mid 20’s, I probably spent our whole family’s budget on myself in a matter of weeks (unbelievable), safe to say a lot of that was spent on alcohol. Now, of course you can have a few beers when you are with your baby, but you certainly are not going to be getting wrecked!
Something else we have is an airline specific credit card. We do all our daily expenditure on it and gain air miles for every pound we spend (and obviously pay it off at the end of the month). I had it for a few years and never really used many of the miles. This was really useful to book the long haul legs of our journey at the beginning and the end. When hopping from country to country in Asia, flights are very affordable with a number of budget airlines. Okay they don’t offer the best experience but when it’s only an hour or two, it’s manageable. If you are unclear about how to best utilize frequent flyer points for travelling, here is a beginners guide to rewards credit cards.
Overall, I think we are both bloody hard workers and prefer to spend our disposable income on seeing the world than having nice things for ourselves. When it comes to Esmé, we do love to buy nice things for her as any parent would. I feel if we are lucky to have a ‘next time’ baby gap year it may be more difficult to collate the funds to do a trip. I am not as free to be able to pick up extra work and we have the added costs now of childcare. I am sure it won’t stop us – where there’s a will there’s a way, just need to figure it out!