I vacationed without my 14-month-old and I’m so glad I did. But when my husband first asked if I’d like to join him on his company off-site in Vietnam, I assumed I wouldn’t go. As a stay at home mom to a 14-month-old who had never had a hired babysitter, let alone a week-long substitute set of parents, my response was my typical mom-mode “I wish” scoff and eye-roll. But as he continued to prod and present the up-side of this ten-day getaway, my “as if” slowly morphed into a “what if?”
A few weeks later in a rare moment of wanderlust, I booked a ticket. Almost immediately, guilt, anxiety, and questions set in. How can I leave her? Will she feel abandoned? Will I crumble without my little snuggle bud? What if our plane crashes? How will people perceive me leaving her for so long?
I polled my pals and everyone seemed to agree that this was exactly what I needed. A vacation, yes, but also a little bit of a return to self. After 14 months of diapers and teething and early mornings and mealtime meltdowns, being a mom on the job 24/7 had worn me down a bit.
Before baby, my husband and I prided ourselves on our creativity with travel. We loved sneaking away to experience new things. After the baby came, we were mentally ready for the reality of travel being limited to visiting the grandparents. However, we didn’t anticipate how much we’d miss taking time away with just each other.
Somehow, my husband and I had sunk into a familiar routine of racing through evening meals and playing with our daughter before bedtime. That left us with a few brief moments to check in with each other before slogging off to bed as early as 8:45 to keep things quiet in our one-bedroom apartment. Honestly, we missed each other. We knew we needed the trip.
I am so fortunate that my twin sister (bonus as a mom-sub) and her husband were more than eager to leave the blustery Michigan winter behind and spend a week in SF with our daughter. My mom was equally happy to come out and take over for the tail end. With the fam on board, the guilt and trepidation began to slough away, and by the time we landed in Saigon, we breathed a collective sigh of relief. It was almost comically exciting to just be together, strolling efficiently through the airport, not carrying a stroller, a diaper bag, a blanket, a car seat, a baby carrier, an iPad, a milk bag, and a baby.
Here’s How We Prepared
Vaccines: I always check the State Department’s website regarding vaccines when I travel internationally. I wasn’t sure if my general practitioner would offer all the vaccines I needed, so I set up an appointment at Sutter Health’s Travel clinic. They walked me through which vaccines are actually required and which are just recommended. They also gave me some recommendations for bug spray, told me which foods to avoid, and armed me with a Z-pack just in case of any tummy troubles.
The Will: This was a weird one. A friend told me I should write a holographic will before hopping on an overseas flight, and it made me a little nervous. We were putting a LOT of ocean between us and her, and it was admittedly unsettling. That said, I was actually glad to make a binding record of who we would like to take over our parental responsibilities in the case of anything catastrophic. And it was incredibly simple–literally just a few sentences putting custodial wishes on paper.
The same day I wrote the will, I also wrote my daughter a journal entry making note of all the things I love about her. Again, a bit “doom and gloom” but also oddly cathartic and a good reminder of how lucky I am to be her mom.
Guide Book: We spent the weeks before our trip creating a guide book for our stand-ins which included the following:
- Useful contacts, such as neighbors with a spare set of keys, the doctor’s office, and our closest friends
- Photos of my daughter’s food because I realized that it’s not entirely instinctive to “slightly squish” blueberries or cut tiny clementine slices in half. Leading up to my trip, every time I prepared a kid meal, I snapped a pic and added it to a photo album I later shared with my mom and sister. It served as excellent inspiration and incidentally made me more accountable for diversifying her diet.
- Two photos of everything that goes into my diaper bag. One photo included all the goodies longer outings and one was prepped for a quick jaunt. The visual checklist was intended to make it easy to assess the accessories on the way out the door.
- A breakdown of my daughter’s average day. We knew there would be alterations to the daily routine, but it was helpful to have some nap, meal, bath and bedtime benchmarks. We use a Hatch Baby Rest so programmed the white noise machine to come on at bedtime and gave them the best times of day to give her a bottle. We also included a breakdown of weekly events for kids like library rhyme time, open swim days, museum free days and Salesforce Tower’s Toddler Tuesday.
- A list of warnings. We tried to think of all her toddler tendencies that regularly have us scratching our heads or leave us a little queasy, such as constantly opening our motion sensor trash can and dropping mail, books, shoes, and toys in, or plunking her hands directly into the contents of a dirty diaper. We were also sure to include things that might not be super clear until it was too late, like the fact that she cannot stand up in the tub and that she can walk up stairs but not down.
- Our complete itinerary, including flights, hotels, and any planned excursions.
Other Documents: I channeled my inner 8th-grade self and started a fun little folder of information and documents for my mom and sister. It included my daughter’s birth certificate, a copy of our insurance card, and a note giving my mom the authority to make any medical decisions on our behalf, in case our pediatrician required these documents.
After all my careful preparation, we were truly able to enjoy this trip. The flight was nerve-wracking, but it also offered me 16 hours to sink into books and movies and naps like I hadn’t been able to in as long as I could remember.
Knowing that our daughter was asleep most of the time we were awake because of the 15-hour time difference kept us from worrying too much during the day.
With Whatsapp, we could have phone conversations anywhere with WiFi. We FaceTimed every morning and night, and my family gave us a brief synopsis of every day so we didn’t feel like we missed anything.
Although it was difficult to leave my daughter behind, this trip truly made me feel an incredible amount of gratitude. I was grateful to be on a trip experiencing the sights, sounds, foods, excursions and adventures around Vietnam without the inherent anxiety that comes with bringing along a precocious toddler.
One of the most enjoyable elements of this adventure was seeing my mom and sister connect with our daughter. We live a considerable distance from extended family, leaving them without many opportunities to bond. The photos and FaceTime moments my sister and mom shared with me throughout the trip reflected the joy they were all bringing each other, which eased my nerves and warmed my heart.
And after ten days away, I was so grateful to come home to her excited little snuggles.