“What are you going to do while on maternity leave? You’ll get bored, we need to find yourself an activity!” I heard it tons of times from my husband in the last 2-3 month of pregnancy. And I had similar thoughts… I was always an active person, an ambitious young woman working 50+ hours to develop a successful career, who also had time for shopping, gym, coffee with friends, movies, weekend escapes and so on. I was barely spending a few hours at home each week, except the time I spent sleeping (which, trust me, wasn’t a lot). So the idea of staying at home for a long time with no particular activity (because babies sleep a lot, right?…hahahaha) was not at all appealing to me. Oh, I was wrong, but I only figured this out later!
I can just say that I wasn’t anywhere near the image we pictured in our heads, at least for the first few months. The time just flew by, I could just figure how the weeks and months passed from Eric’s development and from how the nature transformed from late winter to spring and early summer. By this time I started to relax a bit, to take things easier and realise I needed an escape from my daily routine. And what better alternative could I have than a long trip?
It was Andrei’s idea to have a one month vacation. A self-employed entrepreneur, he always had the flexibility to choose the time and the length of his holidays, but I was always constrained by the rigours of working in the finance department of a multinational company, with deadlines, schedules, budgets to build, reports to finalise and need co-workers to back-up your work. But now I was on maternity leave, so why not use part of this time to travel?
We brainstormed the options, as Romania’s geographical position offers plenty of alternatives to do a long road-trip in late summer. In the end, we choose Italy, our all-time favourite holiday destination. Ever since we started to have some money to travel, there wasn’t a single year we wouldn’t take at least a short city-break in this fabulous country, that offers so much to tourists: stunning nature, mountains, beaches, lakes, islands, old cities full of history, but also vibrant life, absolutely amazing food and friendly people. It was also close enough so that we could easily plan the road trip, without being on the road all-day-every-day and familiar for us to be comfortable to travel with a 6 months old with no major surprises.
I spent a few baby-nap mornings and afternoons doing research and came up with the itinerary: Lago di Garda – Cinque Terre – Tuscany countryside – Amalfi Coast – Rimini, spending 2-5 nights in each location, depending on what we wanted to do and see there (more on this on the following posts, which will detail each destination). We tried to plan as much as possible in advance, but kept enough flexibility not to feel constrained by a fixed schedule. I made a list of potential accommodations, but only made the reservations from one location to another or opted for free cancellation, to keep our schedule open. Most of the time on the road was organised around Eric’s naps, so he could be well-rested at the destination. When walking or visiting the area we didn’t have a fixed list of objectives to see or things to do, everything was going at a slow peace, taking breaks when Eric was bored in his stroller or stop for a snack if he was hungry; he was just starting to eat solid foods and I was breastfeeding him, which offers a great flexibility when traveling. We planed one intermediary night in Slovenia/Hungary for the route from Cluj to Italy and return, as the whole distance would have been too long even for us, not to mention for the baby!
A lot of people, our parents included, were saying we are crazy to plan such a long trip with a 6 months old and that it is too risky, and of course I was stressed and worried, but now I can say it was the best trip of our lives so far! It took 22 days, we travelled by car more than 5,200 km visiting 5 different areas in Italy; we have hundreds of pictures and countless memories but, most of all, it was the first time when we spent enough time together, all the three of us, with no outside interference. I can truly say that this holiday brought us closer and made us realise how important family time is and how much happiness it brings. Eric was full of joy each day, he really felt we were on holiday, peaceful and relaxed and had no problem by changing so many locations or taking naps in the car. Of course we also had difficult moments, when we had too much time on the road or we were tired or when Eric would nervously cry, but these are inevitable with such a young kid no matter where you are or what you do. Actually, I can say that he was calmer and seemed happier then before.
In essence, don’t be afraid to travel with a young baby, he will benefit a lot from this and will make your family relationship even stronger. Have low expectations in terms of what you can tick from a tourist list, keep the child’s routine as much as possible and stay flexible to the his needs and you will have great holiday memories to cherish a lifetime!