Seattle's Child

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paid family leave vacation

Yiting Lim, snowshoeing with 1-month-old baby Asa in a baby carrier, and toddler Lena in the Methow Valley. Photo by Gregory Scruggs

Take It or Leave It

Why you should use your paid family leave to do something wild

After slotting the final pair of skis into an overstuffed roof box, I stepped back to admire my handiwork. The fully loaded Subaru Outback was ready for a month-long trip to the Methow Valley—an extended vacation that entailed yanking our toddler out of preschool and relocating our newborn to a cabin, sight unseen.

Fairytale or nightmare? In the end, this adventure—made possible by Washington Paid Family Leave—was far more the former. Rather than spend the entire postpartum period at our Seattle home, my wife and I sought out an extended change of scenery while caring for our newest family member.

Doing something different the second time ’round

After our older child, Lena, was born in 2021, we relished a leisurely summertime postpartum at home in Seattle. Once we got the hang of parenting on our own turf, our family leave time allowed us to plot midweek getaways to Tokeland, Marrowstone Island, Glacier, and Orcas Island, unburdened by work schedules.

But as my wife and I prepared for Lena’s little brother Asa to arrive in January, we began dreaming up something different. Why stop at a few short getaways? As seasoned pros, we knew that newborn care is largely the same no matter where you are, and that taking such a long break from our professional responsibilities was unlikely to happen again any time soon. Having a baby is like going on a sabbatical, with a few extra diaper changes. 

What’s more, we realized that in a few years, we will be beholden to school schedules, which means the prospects of spending this much wintertime away from home are dim. Paid leave of absence from our jobs felt like the last, best chance to do something unconventional for years to come.

Not to mention snow country is the only place we really want to be in the colder months, so the Methow Valley—home to the largest (family-friendly) cross-country ski trail system in North America—seemed the ideal spot to spend a big chunk of our paid family leave time.


To keep costs down, we rarely dined out. Instead, we relied on prepared food that we cooked before Asa’s birth. We also brought along dishes made by the friends and family who signed up for our new baby meal train. In fact, when the train was created, we specifically requested easy-to-reheat frozen meals. 

Taking dinner preparation out of the equation made parenting two kids with no child care far less daunting. 

Timing it right

Timing was crucial to executing this gambit. The plan was to leave for the Methow roughly one month after Asa was born, but we made the rental reservation six months before his due date. Fortunately, he came on time, so the calendar worked in our favor. 

Before we hit the road, all of his medical appointments for his first month of life were complete, and we scheduled his two-month check-up for the first full day we were back home. 

What ifs

Our doctor gave us her blessing with a few caveats — seek medical attention if Asa had a high fever or his stool deviated from newborn mustard yellow.

Still, there’s no denying that we were rolling the dice. If he or mama had any birth complications, we likely would have had to pull the plug. And if something dramatic had happened on the trip that required specialized care from an institution like Seattle Children’s, we were hours instead of minutes away.

The economics

We rented a well-appointed two-bedroom, two-bathroom cabin on a lovely wooded lot alongside a burbling river. The cabin cost $3,750, which breaks down to $125 per night. Compared to what a nightly rental this size would cost, we calculated that by spending at least two weeks in the cabin we would break even on the monthly rate. We stayed three weeks total.

We had to configure a temporary diaper changing station on a bookshelf and drag along a Pack ‘n Play. But we found the gorgeous floor-to-ceiling mountain views, breathtaking night sky, and serene quiet a more pleasant setting for midnight feedings and afternoon temper tantrums than our cozy-but-getting-cramped Craftsman in Squire Park.

We also pre-purchased season passes to the Methow Trails system, so we could ski as much or as little as we wanted on any given day. Methow Reservations, the valley’s homegrown rental lodging reservation system, manages several properties that are only available for 30-day-plus stays. 

Lesson learned

In hindsight, staying in a more developed winter resort town would have given us more choices when entertaining a toddler for several weeks—although such a destination likely would have been more expensive. We did find a wonderful babysitter, however, who gave us much-needed respite from our very active toddler.

If you choose a city break instead of an outdoor recreation destination for an extended parental leave getaway, this conundrum may prove less of an issue, but for us, the complete change of scenery was a prime motivation. Did we mention we had guests? Don’t hesitate to invite friends who can crash the party for a few days, especially those who can pull their weight by playing with a toddler or cradling a newborn.

Far from an option for every parent

Of course, a month-long vacation is not financially realistic for all new parents. 

For many, paid family leave is a wage replacement that allows parents to afford the basics while not working their normal job. In our case, eating the cost of Lena’s preschool for such an extended absence was a bitter pill to swallow, but we are fortunate enough to have annual vacation savings, so we decided to invest in this one grand adventure. 

Going away for the postpartum period and new-baby leave period is not for everyone, but if you are fortunate enough to be able to use paid leave funds beyond meeting your family’s basic needs, consider an extended getaway. The luxury of time off is a uniquely precious commodity. Come next year you’ll be back to long weekends and a week or two here or there.

Read more:

Baby, it’s cold out there!

A breakfast cake that’s good for them?

Dads need to change diapers too!

About the Author

Gregory Scruggs