Travelling across Europe during the Parental Leave

Radek and his family made their dream of traveling through Europe come true by swapping their home in Berlin. After the birth of ther second daughter and their possibility of 1 year of parental leave, what is a better idea than discovering the world as a family? From Berlin to Andalusia on a two-and-a-half-month trip that is already one of their favorite life experiences so far.

“Home is where there my toy-cars are” says our three year old son on the way to Córdoba, Spain. We’re almost 3,000 kilometers and one month far away from our beloved home in Berlin, holding a conversation about what “home” actually means.

“Will there be toys where we’re going now?” Yes, there will. Plenty of them. In fact, there will be a special room for toys – a paradise not only for our son but also for his little sister, who is sleeping next to him on the back seat of our car. This is just one thing that we didn’t quite realize before leaving for our two-and-half-month long European journey – just how much more important a “home” is for small kids than for adults, at least while travelling. We once again thanked Home Exchange for the opportunity it gave us.

The idea of a family journey through Europe first crossed our minds long before our second child was born in the summer of 2015. But it was only after this happy event that the idea started materializing. Perhaps for the last time in our lives, we’ll have the opportunity of taking a long, uninterrupted time off. We decided that at least some part of the year-long parental leave had to be used for travelling.

En Ayamonte (Huelva)

Our initial plan was a holiday in a caravan. But we quickly realized the numerous obstacles – little driving experience with a large vehicle, the absence of useful practical skills such as repairing a leaking sink, and mainly the volume of the initial investment, which went beyond what we could afford.

But was there any alternative? Spending two or three months in hotels and apartments was a non-starter, if just due to the reduced family budget we had during our parental leave. We seriously started considering a drastic shortening of our “long” holiday.

At that time, I realized that I once – still as a couchsurfer – heard about the option to exchange whole homes. After an evening of googling, researching, and reading reviews, and after about a week of convincing my wife, we finally registered at Home Exchange.

The first main challenge ahead of us was to take pictures of our home clean and tidy. With two little kids, the only realistic solution was to clean up and photograph one room at a time. The six pictures we managed to take and upload soon brought us plenty of offers for exchanging homes: Wait a minute – a family living in a large beautiful house full of contemporary design and art are willing to exchange their home with our – well – very modest flat? Somebody is offering us to stay just a stone’s throw away from a picturesque sunny beach? Meet the Home Exchange reality!

Our goal was to get to Andalusia and back and to see as much as possible on the way. We ended up having four week-long Home Exchange stays – in Paris, nearby Ayamonte, in Córdoba, and in a village close to Strasbourg.

We made a great experience – both staying in our temporary homes and hosting others in ours. And even though our main initial motivation to enter the Home Exchange community was economic, we gradually discovered that there’s much more to it than that.

Caracoles en Córdoba

Living in somebody else’s home is like taking a new perspective on your own life: How about getting rid of the 5 saucepans you have and exchanging them for 5 quiche baking dishes? Turning on the kitchen radio and discovering loads of music you really enjoy without having an idea that it even existed? Or sharing the home with a cat that doesn’t feel disturbed in her usual daily rituals? It was always a pleasure receiving the little gifts we got from our hosts, whether they were city plans, bottles of wine, or jars of home-made marmalade.  And it felt rewarding to leave something for them in turn.

For our kids, the temporary homes were one big adventure. They carefully explored the houses or flats, their gardens, and playgrounds in the vicinity. They were always very thankful for all the toys they found and looked at the family pictures on the walls, asking a lot of questions about them.

For our son, it first wasn’t easy to understand where we are and why the owners are not present, but he quickly got used to the idea, and simply enjoyed the temporary home. For our little daughter, who wasn’t even one at the time, the travelling worked like charm in her efforts to become an independent eater. This method – what we could call “travel-led weaning consists in the absolute lack of time to prepare anything that comes close to “baby food” and in consequence letting your child eat whatever you eat yourself. During the two weeks in Andalusia, one of our main concerns was to figure out which tapas are the most baby-friendly.

Viajando durante la baja maternal

For our shorter stays during our journey, we relied on renting apartments and cheaper hotels. But even if we stayed in an apartment that was advertised as a “home” of sorts, the contrast with the real homes made us feel like staying in a boring and sterile hotel where the first thing you think of is getting out again. This wouldn’t be that bad if we left the apartment at 9am and returned at 10pm. But with our two little travellers, it was a feat to leave before 11am (after being woken at 6am) and by 6pm we had to be back. And while our little angels were soon sound asleep, there was another shift waiting for us – cleaning up, planning for the next day, packing. If there’s anything that can make your life easier along the way, then it’s a real home.

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