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How one mom spent her mat leave travelling the world with her baby

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WATCH: This U.K. mom didn't let having a baby stop her from travelling the world – Oct 28, 2016

Having a baby doesn’t need to mean the end of your travel life.

One of the best examples of that is U.K. mom Karen Edwards, the founder of Travel Mad Mum, a blog for “parents who love to travel.”

She admits her pregnancy with her now two-year-old daughter Esmé came as “a little bit of a surprise” to her and her husband, Shaun Bayes. The two weren’t quite ready to give up their jet-setting.

“We just decided that maybe we should incorporate her into our way of life. And that’s kind of what we’ve done ever since she was born.”

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The couple waited until Esmé was 10 weeks old (and had two set of shots) before setting off on their whirlwind adventure with baby in tow.

That year’s itinerary started with a visit to family in Ireland and New Zealand. The most exciting part, though, was backpacking in Asia (avoiding Malaria zones).

Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
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Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
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Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
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Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"

A couple dozen cities in 10 countries on three continents were covered.

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Perhaps the most impressive feat was how little they packed for all that globe-trotting with a baby.

“For the most extensive part of our travel we just had one backpack in between three of us,” Edwards said.

 

The couple chose clothes that were versatile and easy to wash. Expert packing of all their toiletries helped as well.

The family's toiletries went from this...
The family's toiletries went from this... Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
...to this.
...to this. Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"

Luckily Esmé didn’t get sick once. But she is a bit of a fussy eater so breastfeeding was a life-saver.

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“To be honest,” Edwards said, “I don’t know how any mom would do it if they weren’t breastfeeding.”

She thinks sterilizing bottles in places with water issues would “make life a lot more difficult.”

READ MORE: ‘It felt like we were going rogue’: mom who let friend breastfeed her baby

It was also interesting to see the different cultural attitudes toward breastfeeding. In England, Edwards felt she “had to cover up a little more.” Abroad, “all the locals do it.”

“Literally every metro station [in Taiwan] has amazing changing facilities where you can sit down and breastfeed. They provide wipes and things like that for the babies. It’s just really well-equipped infrastructure for mothers.”

Of course it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

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The new parents didn’t really ever have an evening to themselves — unless you count wine dates in the bathroom.

“We’d always go out early for dinner, and we weren’t always ready to go to bed at 7 p.m. We’d quite like to have a glass of wine or something … and sometimes we did that in the hotel bathroom.”

“We’d need to hide from her [there] because she’d be like, ‘oh mom and dad are still up, I need to still be up.”

Since they couldn’t really do their usual hostels with a baby, the accommodations were the biggest expense on the year-long trip, which cost the family of three about $16,000 CAD.

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How did they afford it?

“We worked our asses off,” said Bayes.

Edwards, who’s a nurse, picked up a second job teaching while also working on her Masters.

Bayes worked full-time as a landscaper while also doing major work on the London fixer-upper they’d bought right before finding out they were expecting.

He was able to quit his job and the two rented out their place for the duration of the mat leave.

“I could not afford to do a whole year off in London and not work because our mortgage payments were so high,” Edwards explained.

“That’s a big reason to be in Asia.”

Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"
Karen Edwards aka "Travel Mad Mum"

The other advantage of doing this trip is that it allowed them to bond as a new family after Esmé’s birth.

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If they had stayed home, Bayes would’ve had to work.

They had a little extra money flow in during the trip: Edwards had nine months during the mat leave and did some essay correcting online. Her husband did a bit of work in New Zealand.

Being the savvy travellers they are, the two were able to pay for their two long-haul flights with points.

Children under two usually fly free. Air Canada, unlike WestJet, charges 10 per cent of an adult fare on international flights.

Parents are also able to check a car seat or stroller free of charge (Air Canada charges for bigger strollers). On WestJet you can substitute either one of those for a playpen.

The UK family still travels at least once a month with Esmé, even though she’s now two (and no longer gets onto flights for free).

The toddler’s travels this year have included a safari in South Africa.

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She also already has a surfing lesson under her belt.

 

The only thing they wish they’d done before their big trip was build up a community of parents with kids for Esmé to play with when they got back.

Their advice to parents (or parents-to-be) consumed with wanderlust? Save money and go, Edwards says.

“Take the chance and do it.”

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