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Unpaid Parental Leave: taking leave from work to travel with your kids

Unpaid Parental Leave: taking leave from work to travel with your kids

If you’re employed in the UK, but want to travel with your family for longer than your annual leave allowance, have you considered taking unpaid parental leave?

As a family, we love to travel. I think that’s obvious if you follow our Instagram or you’ve been browsing this blog. Whilst we enjoy camping in France and our European city breaks, we also love to push the boundaries of family travel and take our boys on long-term adventures, be it overlanding Sub-Saharan Africa for four months, living in India for a year, and slow travelling Morocco, or backpacking Southeast Asia.

All these adventures require longer than your average annual leave allowance. So how do we do it?

How do we manage work around long-term travel adventures?

I’m a travel blogger. I run three different sites: this one you’re reading, Peak District Kids, and Explore Essaouira.

This means I’m self-employed and my work is flexible. I set my own hours and I’ve built up my business to earn a passive income, so that when I do take time off to travel, there is still money coming in.

It’s not quite as easy as I’ve perhaps made out. It took years to build it to a full-time income level (with the pandemic really not helping). But after almost seven years of blogging, all the hard work has absolutely been worth it.

Jay (TraveLynn Family Dad) on the other hand has a ‘proper job’ as a software engineer. He’s employed by a UK company, works the 9-5, and gets 25 days annual leave per year (and buys an extra 5 every year). And don’t forget the standard 8 days of pubic holidays we get in England.

38 days (7.5 weeks) of leave sounds pretty decent for most families, and parents across the pond in the States may be flabbergasted reading this. But you can’t take all this leave in one big chunk (there’s often a 2 week maximum) and if you did, it would be a long wait until the next trip!

For how we like to travel, we need to do things a little differently. These are the ways we have managed our travel adventures over the past years:

But I appreciate that not everyone can move overseas, voluntary redundancy and new jobs don’t come round every year (and is actually very stressful), and not all jobs are possible for remote working. There are other ways to travel long-term as a family; some parents take a sabbatical, and there are parents who have travelled during their maternity leave, such as Karen from Travel Mad Mum. Again, not for everyone.

So if these options don’t work for you, and you don’t want to quit your job… what to do?

Taking parental leave

Working remotely from Morocco worked brilliantly in 2022, and it’s something we had planned to do for subsequent years. But unfortunately, overseas remote working is no longer an option for Jay due to changes with his work situation. Bummer.

So what is Jay doing for our upcoming Southeast Asia trip? Taking unpaid parental leave.

What is unpaid parental leave?

Taken from the site:

Eligible employees can take unpaid parental leave to look after their child’s welfare, for example to:

  • spend more time with their children
  • look at new schools
  • settle children into new childcare arrangements
  • spend more time with family, such as visiting grandparents

Their employment rights (like the right to pay, holidays and returning to a job) are protected during parental leave.

If you want time off work to spend with your kids and travel, then parental leave is an option.

Parental leave rules

  • You are entitled to 18 weeks’ leave for each child up to their 18th birthday.
  • You must have worked for the company more than a year.
  • You can only take up to 4 weeks per child per year (unless your employer agrees otherwise).
  • You must take parental leave as whole weeks. You can’t take the odd day here and there.
  • You must give 21 days’ notice before your intended start date of parental leave.

Can work refuse?

No, your company cannot refuse. Parental leave is a statutory right to all eligible parents in the UK.

However, your parental leave can be postponed for up to 6 months of the requested start date. This must be explained in writing within 7 days of your original request and there needs to be a ‘significant reason’ (e.g. it would cause serious disruption to the business). But the company cannot change the amount of leave requested (if you’ve requested 4 weeks for each of your two children, then you will get 8 weeks).

So the worst case scenario is that your unpaid parental leave is moved 6 months down the line.

This all sounds too good to be true!

I know right? But it’s all true. Just not many people seem to know about it.

However, things do change. The content of this post is correct at the time of writing. Check the UK Government website on parental leave for up-to-date information.

But do remember, unpaid parental leave is unpaid. So you need to make sure you have the funds to live on whilst you’re not being paid.

How do you afford to travel when parental leave is unpaid?

For our upcoming trip to Southeast Asia, Jay is taking 2 weeks annual leave, and 8 weeks unpaid parental leave (4 weeks for each child). That’s 10 weeks in total, but we won’t have his income for 8 weeks.

Thankfully, we’re a two income family and have always lived well within our means. The income from my business covers our expenses for the trip and we are budget travellers after all. Whilst flights to Southeast Asia as a family are expensive (around £3000 return), the cost of living in this region of the world is much lower than our home in the UK.

Check out our guide, How we afford to travel with kids, for further insight.

best age to travel with kids
Namibia, 2019

Final thoughts on taking parental leave

Taking a big chunk of time away from work isn’t for everyone. Firstly it’s unpaid, and secondly, there’s perhaps a feeling of abandoning your team at work.

But for Jay it’s about spending time with us, his family. The boys are getting older and their friends and hobbies are becoming increasingly more important to them. We’re very aware that as the years pass, they may no longer want to come on these longer trips. Unpaid parental leave is all about taking the opportunity to spend time with your kids.

Plus, I still work when we’re travelling. Whilst my work is flexible to an extent, I can’t switch off completely and I need to log on to my emails and social media every single day, plus writing travel blog posts are so much easier when you’re on location rather than back at home. Jay not working takes the childcare pressure off me and means that I’m able to work more efficiently as a travel blogger.

Travel for us isn’t a treat for the summer holidays, it’s a lifestyle choice. Back in our 20s, our travels were driven by the need to do something different and to escape the corporate treadmill. But now we have kids, we feel a strong sense of responsibility to show them the world. We want to raise our boys as global citizens who realise there’s an incredible world out there beyond their tiny bubble of home. We want them to connect first-hand with other countries and cultures, learn about the kindness of strangers, and grow into confident adults who can navigate this crazy and contradictory world with care and gratitude.

Parental leave isn’t for everyone, but for us, it is an opportunity that we cannot ignore.

Jenny x

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How we afford to travel
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