Mom travels the world with baby on best maternity leave ever

Ireland-born Karen Edwards, 32, was bitten by the travel bug early in life. She made it her mission to visit as many countries as she could after she finished her university degree — sometimes alone, sometimes with her partner, Shaun Bayes, now 31. But when Edwards turned down a glass of wine when she and Bayes were on holiday in New Zealand, he suspected she might have some undeclared carry-on baggage.

"He said, 'You are pregnant,' and I thought, 'Nah, no way,'" Edwards told TODAY Parents. "We did a test, and I immediately felt, 'Oh my God, my life is over. I am not going to travel anymore."

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But Edwards recovered from her initial worries quickly. She and Bayes, who live in London, decided that instead of staying home and settling down as new parents, they would continue taking the trips they loved, beginning while Edwards was on her one-year maternity leave from her job as a site nurse manager in a London hospital.

After their baby girl, Esmé, was born, Edwards and Bayes, who works as a landscaper, waited just 10 weeks before taking off for a trip to Southeast Asia with baby on board. "I decided 10 weeks was a good time, because it gave me a few weeks to find my feet and to have the second round of vaccinations for baby," said Edwards.

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Esmé, now 2, has been to five continents and has passport stamps from Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, San Marino, South Africa, Cuba, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia, though she still has a long way to go to match her mother's current count of 64 countries. Though Edwards is back at her job, she is able to take eight weeks of paid leave per year, and she and Bayes still travel once a month at a minimum. Indeed, she says the family's travel plans "will only increase."

Edwards began writing detailed accounts of their adventures and her advice for traveling with a baby on her website, Travel Mad Mum, and she also updates readers on Facebook and Instagram accounts. She said her favorite place they have taken Esmé was Bali — "such a diverse little place" — and that her best travel tip for parents is, "You don't need to bring the kitchen sink. Pack light," she said. "We used just one backpack between three of us for the vast part of our travels."

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Edwards said the biggest difficulty of traveling with Esmé has been feeding her — a challenge most parents can probably understand. "That was hard and stressful at times. She is the fussiest little girl I have ever met," said Edwards, who remembered once trying to convince a woman who was making juice on the side of the street in Langkawi, Malaysia, to sell her a whole mango for Esmé, to no avail.

But perhaps one of the most rewarding parts of the past two years for Edwards has been hearing from other mothers who, emboldened by her story, have decided to try traveling with their children, too.

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"I had an email from a lady a few months back. She sent me a picture of herself holding her little girl up in the air in Sydney," she said. "It reduced me to tears. She said, 'Thank you for inspiring me. I didn't think it was possible to travel with a baby. I wanted to come to Australia to see my sister, and all my friends and family thought I was crazy.' She told me when she saw my blog, she just booked it. That was so heartwarming," said Edwards.

"I still can't believe sometimes that I went through with it, but I am so glad, as we have inspired so many people with our story."

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