My Pregnancy Passport: 8 Epic Destinations in 9 Months
Photo: Courtesy of Michelle Stansbury
Travel

My Pregnancy Passport: 8 Epic Destinations in 9 Months

I skipped the “babymoon” and ventured to these bucket list destinations instead—here’s what I learned.

While couples often prioritize romance for babymoons, as a single mom by choice, I viewed my pregnancy travel instead as a chance to cross off destinations and experiences from my bucket list. Although I know I’ll still be able to take trips now that I have a baby, my style of travel will likely change dramatically. So, taking advantage of my last months of spontaneity for the foreseeable future, I went to eight epic destinations from the Caribbean to South America to Europe and across the U.S. in the first eight months of my pregnancy.

I was able to travel to so many extraordinary destinations during my pregnancy as part of my job as a freelance travel writer. In addition to wanting to embark on incredible experiences while I was pregnant, I was also taking on extra assignments to help me save for my upcoming (unpaid) maternity leave. Many people—especially single moms and anyone undergoing fertility treatments—don't have the financial freedom to travel across the world during their pregnancy.

Each pregnancy and every person are different, but for me, the benefits of traveling outweighed any concerns. Some people called me crazy, others thought I was reckless, but I needed to write my own pregnancy journey. Letting go of fear and anxiety was essential for me after the struggle to get—and stay—pregnant. In addition to having incredible trips, I learned a lot through these months of travel. I’m excited to share some of these stories with my daughter as she gets older—the amazing experiences we had together even before she was born. Below, a look into my pregnancy travel and the lessons I learned along the way.

3 Weeks Pregnant - Canouan - Throwing the Rule Book Out the Window

After a year-and-a-half of working with a fertility center to get pregnant and an unsuccessful IVF cycle in which I did everything by the book, for my final try I decided to approach things differently. The timing ended up working out so that the evening after my second implantation, I was getting on a red-eye flight for 10 days of travel. I decided to move forward with the implantation anyhow, resolving to spend the weeks following the IVF cycle avoiding stress or worry. While my doctor recommended rest and relaxation at home after the implantation, I decided to upgrade the R&R with a few relaxing days in Canouan, an island in the Caribbean, snorkeling in the warm ocean and lounging poolside.

4 Weeks Pregnant - Guatemala - A Mayan Fertility Blessing

From there, I ventured to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala where I discovered that Casa Palopó, the hotel I was staying at, offered a fertility blessing led by a Mayan shaman from the nearby town of San Marcos. I signed up immediately. Juan Mendoza, the shaman, was one of the most experienced in the region and he created a sacred fire for the Mayan gods, calling to the elements of fire, air, water, and earth. His prayers were in an ancient Mayan dialect I couldn't understand, and I had to stifle giggles when he started whacking me with herbs. But, on my very last day in Guatemala, the pregnancy tests I had packed in my suitcase showed two pink lines. Of course, I still credit the fertility treatments with my successful pregnancy, but that experience opened my mind to the restorative nature of travel and set me on a course to book several more amazing trips over the coming months.

8 Weeks Pregnant - Hvar, Croatia - Flying Hacks

I had planned a bucket list trip to Croatia prior to finding out that I was pregnant, so I decided not to let a little morning sickness interfere with my trip to this dream destination. After an exhausting 22 hours of travel (a flight to Denver, Frankfort, Split, then a boat to the island of Hvar) I arrived in beautiful Croatia exhausted, bloated, and nauseous. Before flying home, I researched recommendations for long flights during pregnancy, so I established a new routine of compression socks, tons of water, and an aisle seat in order to get up and walk around every hour (which wasn’t too much of a challenge with how often I needed to use the bathroom!).

The one airport hack I never cracked? Although on long flights you can request specialty meals from halal to gluten free airplane food, there is no option for a pregnancy-safe meal. The safest option is a vegan meal, though for me, it was best to order my usual meal of choice and then ask the flight attendant for an extra roll or piece of fruit if there were any available after meal service. In airports, the “grab and go” options are best to avoid, as food sitting out for long periods of time can harbor harmful bacteria. Instead, arrive with a little extra time to get something prepared fresh to order to bring on board the flight in case you don’t feel comfortable eating the set meal.

15 Weeks Pregnant - Sonoma, California - Sip or Spit?

When I was invited on a trip to Sonoma, I jumped at the chance to check out the incredible food in the area. I assumed that since I was out of my first trimester, the morning sickness would have subsided. However, heading to wine country and staying at a hotel with an esteemed Michelin Star restaurant, I was still battling occasional nausea and food aversions. Incredibly understanding chefs and restaurant staff went out of their way to accommodate me and I was still able to enjoy some of Sonoma’s best food during my stay. I was also surprised to discover that in Sonoma, unlike many of the other places I visited, no one assumed I wasn’t tasting wine just because I was pregnant. A culture of moderation seemed to be the norm, free of judgment whether I chose to pass on the wine, employ the spit bucket, or enjoy a glass with dinner.

17 Weeks Pregnant - Rome, Italy - Sono Incinta

I was hesitant to return to Europe so soon after my challenging trip to Croatia, but the opportunity to go to Italy was too strong to resist. During college, I had studied abroad in Rome, fell in love with the ancient city, and hadn’t been back to Italy in almost 15 years. So, compression socks packed and aisle seat booked, I took the long flight to Leonardo da Vinci International Airport. Once there, I met an American expat living in Rome who shared that Italians love pregnant women, going above and beyond in making them feel comfortable and cared for. The Italian term for “I’m pregnant” (“sono incinta”) became my mantra for the trip since I wasn’t yet showing, and found that she was right. Wherever I went, seats were offered, doors were held, and non-alcoholic digestifs were poured. Even my pre-flight COVID test was a more gentle version of the “brain poke” nasal swab.

Still, I learned to take it easy on the sightseeing while still enjoying all the city had to offer. Instead of walking miles around Rome, I booked a vintage Fiat 500 to zip me around the sites. I capped off the trip with a decadent facial at a spa inspired by the ancient Roman baths. It was there that I felt the baby kick for the very first time, reassuring me that this wild, beautiful journey was the right path for both of us.

21 Weeks Pregnant - Galápagos Islands, Ecuador - Seas the Day

Many cruises don't allow pregnant passengers to travel after their second trimester, so my ultimate bucket list trip—visiting the Galápagos Islands—was scheduled for a few weeks before the cutoff. The incomparable Galápagos offers opportunities to observe and interact with animals in their natural environment, protected from development and human intervention. From kayaking with playful sea lions, swimming with turtles and penguins, and seeing rare mating rituals in the wild, you typically need to opt for an inclusive cruise to have these adventures. So, although being on the water so far from any hospital gave me pause, I decided not to let the “what ifs” stand in the way of this extraordinary experience and booked an Ecoventura cruise.

Ships have restrictions on when a pregnant person can travel for good reason; while you’re out to sea, you typically don’t have access to medical care in the case of an emergency. To play it safe when traveling pregnant, you can stick to land, heading to developed areas with exceptional healthcare and easy access to specialists. However, if you’re in good health with no complications, pregnancy doesn’t need to prevent you from embarking on your dream trip, even if it does take you on a cruise or off the beaten track. If you do decide to cruise, plan ahead with pregnancy-safe treatments for seasickness, like ginger and acupressure bands.

30 Weeks Pregnant - Tucson, Arizona - Living Large

Flying to Tucson for a spa retreat was my first (and only!) flight traveling with a big belly, and I was happy to find that both staff and other passengers were extra helpful, from offering a seat change at no charge so I could have the aisle seat to helping lift luggage. Many airlines will also provide you with early boarding, if you request it, but think ahead if the comfort of early boarding is worth spending the extra time sitting on the plane. Once onboard, check if your seatbelt is snug—if so, don’t hesitate to request a seatbelt extender!

34 Weeks Pregnant - Oceanside, California - Hit the Road

While you are typically allowed to fly until you’re 36 weeks pregnant, I decided to stay close to home during my final couple months of pregnancy. Although I had plenty of energy to embark on longer trips, the twice-weekly doctor’s appointments made scheduling travel more difficult. So, the last trip of my pregnancy was a road trip, heading to Oceanside, California—a charming beach town with noteworthy restaurants and stunning seaside spas.

While road trips offer more flexibility while you travel (plus plenty of room to pack that pregnancy pillow!), long car trips still benefit from following some of the same guidelines you might look to while sitting in an airplane: make stops along the route for stretching your legs to avoid blood clots and swelling, stay hydrated, and pack healthy snacks along with your road trip favorite junk foods. Seatbelts should still be worn even while pregnant as well—just ensure the straps are low across your hips and across your chest so it doesn’t cut across your belly. If you’re sitting in the passenger seat, move your seat back a bit from the dashboard to minimize the potential impact from airbags. Or, if you’re in the driver’s seat, just point the steering wheel up slightly towards your chest.

Wherever you decide to travel during your pregnancy, the most important lesson I learned was to build in as much flexibility as possible into your trip. Refundable reservations, flights with no change fees, and activities you don’t need to book in advance will enable you to adapt your trip to how you feel at that moment. I don't regret traveling during my pregnancy—even the moments that were uncomfortable or challenging. While many people feel the urge to “nest” while they are pregnant, my deeper desire was to fly the coop, exploring incredible destinations while on my all-time greatest bucket list journey: becoming a mom.

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