Maud Maciak traces her love of travel back to her childhood growing up in the suburbs of Paris. "My parents were also entrepreneurs," she recalls. "They did a great job having life and work balance. And so we took trips regularly, three to four times a year. Vacations were always my favorite part of the year."
The now mom of one who lives in Vermont remembers "simple things" like packing the car and loading up sweets and cookies for the road. That feeling was something that would continue to inspire her—and eventually influence her career path.
And as a child, Maciak was already thinking about her career. A self-described "entrepreneur since age 6," she woke up at 6 a.m. and would sell homemade pencils at the local market on Sunday mornings. By the time she arrived in the U.S. at 22, she was determined to fulfill her desire to work for herself.
"I started with massage therapy after going to school for it," recalls Maciak. "It was really a great fit for my personality, because it allowed me to have flexibility in terms of hours and also therefore flexibility on the amount of money I could make."
In 2012, she met her husband Justin, and the pair connected over their love of travel. By 2015, they tied the knot, and in 2016, welcomed their son, Luc.
For Maciak, becoming a parent encouraged her to walk away from the massage business and start an interior design venture. "I wanted to develop a business that would be able to grow with me as a mom and [allow me to] take time off even more but still generate revenue," she notes, explaining that her business was based online, so she could travel internationally and work simultaneously.
But, during her pregnancy, Maciak started thinking about the challenges of traveling with a child, she says. And when she gave birth to Luc, she says it took her and her husband about two to three months to even think about traveling alone. "We actually did a little road trip to Montreal to try things out," she recalls. It went smoothly, but it wasn't really a genuine look at what it's like to travel with a toddler or young child, adds Maciak.
Bigger travel plans came in spring 2018 when Luc was a toddler and Justin lost his job. "I came to the realization that we needed to take a life break," says Maciak. Inspired by an RV trip they had taken when Luc was 1, she proposed traveling through Europe in a camper. "It allowed us to discover the countries in a more authentic way," she notes. They could also travel at their own pace and save money by living in their RV.
Over the course of four months, the family of three covered about 10 countries. And during that time, Maciak experienced quite a few challenges that come up when you're traveling with a toddler. The main one: the inability to "get some down time." She explains, "We wanted to get babysitters to go for date night or we wanted him to be able to play for a while on his own while we both kind of either talk about something or work," she recalls. "We couldn't find babysitters easily everywhere we went."
The couple kept thinking there should be an app to address their concerns. "I looked online quite a bit, and I actually did a little poll on Facebook in one of the travel groups I was part of, and all those moms were like, 'Yes, I would love an app. I am always struggling to find places to go with my kids. It does not matter if it is across the world or if it is like down the street. It is always hard. I am always spending so many hours looking for things,'" notes Maciak.
She was immediately inspired to build that app, which she named Gowhee. The travel app offers parents an interactive world map on which you can easily browse kid-friendly locations in 48 countries. Parents supply the info, and new spots are added all the time.
The couple dove into developing Gowhee when they returned to the U.S. in the fall of 2019. And in June 2020, they officially launched. "We built a strong community of travel ambassadors—professional families that travel full-time [who] are helping us to kind of develop the app and add locations," notes Maciak.
As she continues to pursue her passion project, the Vermont-based mom offers her best tips for traveling with kids on a budget and making your dreams a reality.
Factor in Family Travel That Works
While the slow travel, minimalist lifestyle was right for Maciak and her husband, that might not be the best fit for every family, she notes. Find what works for you. Perhaps it's possible to focus one weekend a month on reconnecting as a family through travel, suggests Maciak.
And it's important to do. "I think the work-life balance is something I brought back from my French childhood," she says. "It is always about that, right? You can make millions of dollars, but if you are not taking the time to spend them with your family and having time to enjoy it, what is the point?"
Travel Off-Season and Locally
One of Maciak's favorite tips for traveling with kids on a budget is to plan off-season trips. "You would be amazed to see how much discount you can get from either places you stay, places you eat, places you visit just by choosing a season that is not as desired," she notes. "It does not mean you have to go ski in the summer, but, for example, instead of going to the beach in June or July, maybe just try to target April or May. It may just save you a ton of money that way."
Another one she personally swears by: traveling locally. "Going on a vacation does not have to be super far away," she says. "Check out to your local hotels and inns for local discount." Maciak says she recently saved $150 on a hotel room, because it was located in her own state.
Stop Dreaming and Make a Plan
The way Maciak sees it, "a dream is just an objective without a plan." That said, she recommends parents who have a plan or a proposal they can't stop thinking about should "stop dreaming, make a plan, and just do it."
The mom sees her story as an illustrated example of how easy it can be to turn your fantasy into a reality. "I started an app in the back of the van, with potty training a 2-and-a-half-year-old, with a husband laid off, and $500 in our bank account allotted for that app," recalls Maciak. "And I am here. So it is possible."
Don't Worry About the Small Things
Her biggest piece of advice? "Do not sweat the small things." Maciak elaborates, "Everything is fixable. It will be OK no matter the difficulty of the moment. Whatever you feel is hard now is probably not going to be hard tomorrow because you will get used to it. So do not sweat it. Just move forward."