Before I had a baby, I was a frequent and spontaneous traveler. I lived for girls weekends and anniversary trips with my husband. I saw travel as one of my (many) forms of self-care—more luxurious than a bubble bath or face mask, but if my budget allowed and I could take the time off, I found a way to make it happen.
When my daughter was born, I took 12 months of maternity leave (I’m Canadian and our federal government offers generous paid maternity leave benefits, assuming you’ve been employed prior to giving birth) and assumed a new full-time job as a mom. It was both the most amazing job I’ve ever had and the most emotional, physical and exhausting one. After a year, I was extremely ready for a vacation. Just me, a good book, and a few days of freedom from mom duties. The thought of a diaper-free weekend filled with uninterrupted sleep sounded blissful.
Enter the “momcation,” a new type of travel that’s entered our lexicon, with more than 53,000 posts on Instagram and counting. Defined as a trip a mother takes without her husband and kids, it could be solo or with girlfriends, but the goal is the same—to get relief from the demands of parenting.
“My husband travels for work and I do most of the childcare,” says Vanessa Milne, a 37-year-old journalist from Toronto, who has two children, aged 5 and 19 months. About a year after her first was born, a friend invited her to Montreal to celebrate her 40th birthday. At first she hesitated. She was worried about leaving her baby, but then she decided if she was able to take care of her child alone, her husband was more than capable, too. “The trip was amazing. It was nice to go out and know 100 percent you can sleep in the next morning.”
I was scared to even suggest the idea of taking a momcation to my husband—not because he wasn’t capable of staying at home with our daughter but because the desire to even want time away made me feel incredibly guilty. Our culture celebrates mothers who cheerfully embrace the sacrifices of motherhood and harshly judges any woman who deviates from this norm. It felt defiant to openly want a break from parenting duties.
It’s one of the great ironies of motherhood: you desperately want time for yourself but as soon as you get it, you feel guilty.
“The mom guilt is on a whole other level,” admits Kathy Larson, 42, a work-from-home mom from Sleepy Creek, NC, with three children, aged 6, 8 and 11. “There’s social media, my mom, my mother-in-law and my friends.” Larson was also worried to ask her husband about taking time away for a trip to the Caribbean with her best friend who she had regularly traveled with before they had children. The two shared the same birthday and wanted to go away to celebrate their 40th. “I was afraid to ask him,” she says, but was pleasantly surprised when he was more than supportive.
My internal debate got even more complicated when I started to do the math on my trip. Even though I was back at work, I was now contending with the reality of living in a city with astronomical childcare costs. A getaway I could have afforded pre-kid, now felt irresponsible.
Cost is a concern for a lot of moms including Larson, who initially said no to the 40th birthday trip over cost concerns. I briefly entertained the idea of putting it on a credit card, but I already felt guilty about leaving and extending our tight budget for something that would only benefit me, added to it. Other moms told me they used credit cards more strategically. Rhiannon Giles, a 38-year-old mother of two from Durham, NC, managed to take a solo momcation to Puerto Rico by doing some “creative credit card juggling ending up with travel reward points that offset the cost considerably.”