‘Our baby arrived before the ink dried on my high school diploma. I crumbled like a piece of paper with the news. We had so much on the line.’: Teen parents pursue career dreams, travel full-time

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“When I was younger, I spent sick and summer days watching ‘Great Hotels’ on the travel channel. I did this in the same house my husband and I would later begin to raise both our babies in, starting at 18.

I remember watching and thinking to myself, ‘Visiting new places, chasing dreams, and living in hotels full-time? That’d be so cool to do.’ I’d quickly let the thought exit my timid, introverted mind with a dismissive. ‘I’m not brave enough though… and how many people even get to do something like that anyway?’ Well, now I do, along with my husband and two beautiful children.

First, let’s rewind and start from the dreamy moment I met my travel partner and husband.

‘Don’t look at me!’ Those are the first words the love of my life, Kyle, would speak to me, and it really sets the tone for our story. You know the dreamy, romantic one you get to tell others over dinner about the first interaction with your future spouse across a crowded room? Yeah, me neither.

Courtesy Courtney Abernathy

That first glorious meeting happened at a chicken restaurant. When we met, I was dating someone else and he was busy sarcastically telling me NOT to look at him. Naturally, we became great friends and continued to hang out in the same friend group. One day, things changed, and we got closer. He asked me on a date, but I was so unsure he would ever be into me that I didn’t know it was a real date. It was a DISASTER.

‘She invited her FRIENDS,’ he yelled as he recapped this mishap to our nine-year-old. My cheeks still flushed red with embarrassment as I jokingly quipped back, ‘I’m sorry, okay? It’s been a decade!’

Despite that hilarious bump, we became official and fell in love. We went into my senior year of high school as sweethearts who felt like we had a forever in front of us to hold on to the freedoms of just being young and in love. We had no major plans or callings ahead, just the desire to take our time to figure ourselves out. Or so we thought. Then came the Super Bowl Sunday after I turned 18. While everyone I knew celebrated touchdowns, halftime shows, and munched on endless snacks, I sat in the hospital bed under fluorescent lighting in the emergency room, holding onto the hope that the words a strange man just told me were a joke. This doctor I had met for mere minutes would give me life-altering news: ‘You’re pregnant.’

I’m currently writing this story from 30,000 feet in the air. It’s Super Bowl Sunday, ten years later. Our family is off to a new state with my two grumpy but awesome, crumb-covered, nomad children in the airplane seats surrounding me. Nearly a decade of time separates these two moments of my life. Yet, I can still feel the palpable grief my 18-year-old self-felt as she sat in an emergency room bed, hearing a stranger reveal this to me. Underwhelming high school health classes and badly produced teen TV shows had conditioned me for what this meant. The high school daydreams of twenty-something freedom and the time to develop passions we loved felt… gone. It felt like we were just another measured ‘teen mother’ ‘out of wedlock’ statistic that pigeonholed our future.

Sometimes I will hear myself talking now and just laugh. ‘I don’t know my leadership strengths, but I think I’m an Enneagram 9. I’m still trying to understand my wings though.’ Small things like this seem so trivial to some, but little talks about things like this are such a blessing to me. Just the privilege to participate in conversations now I never felt like we’d have the time or mental space to do are something I’m grateful for every day.

Teen pregnancy rightly put us in an anxious, crisis mode. Looking back to that time, there was no mental energy leftover for cultivating myself. It was all about adapting and surviving.

In a moment, we went from mindlessly dreaming up future college ideas to making solid and reliable plans for our growing family. Kyle and I had no clue about what our ‘strengths’ were as 18 and 19-year-old soon-to-be parents. We just knew we had to be strong.

Our beautiful baby boy arrived before the ink dried on my high school diploma. He was and is still so handsome and silly, and pretty much 99% his dad. Even if he refuses to look like me, he is truly the tiny blessing we didn’t know we needed and the bundle of joy that started our family.

Courtesy Courtney Abernathy

After having our sweet baby boy, we purchased my childhood home, the same house I had spent nearly all of my life in. Yes, even my days spent watching the travel channel and dreaming of hotel living. We were married young, but the wedding took place without a ‘shotgun’ in sight. There were beautiful moments in our young marriage, but it was not all bliss. We argued a lot. Somedays, I told him ‘I hated him’ and other days, ‘he deserved more.’

The seemingly instant transformation from being an insecure girl in a high school classroom to becoming a mother and wife in charge of a household is a rough journey of self-esteem. We still argue now, but as our early twenty-something years have passed by together, we’ve become more grounded in who we are on our own and as a couple.

While our friends partied at college, he didn’t turn away from this beautiful mess of a life we had made. He stayed when I gained weight, yelled at him, or started a business during what feels like a crazy season of life in retrospect. Areas of changes in me I was unsure of didn’t faze him. He showed love and tenderness when I struggled to be a young mom, wife, and business owner. When I went to the doctor for depression and came home diagnosed with hypothyroidism and more questions, he didn’t waver. He provided for his family even when it meant juggling multiple jobs, fighting for college degrees, and he still loved us so warmly. The endless support he gave me in following my dreams to own my own business made this next part easy.

For years, I had watched my husband take the hardships life gave him and become a humble leader and encourager. I supported him as he gave it his all and applied for a competitive job that could better develop him as a candidate for his dream job. We both nervously held our breath for his chance. By this time, we were only 23 and 24, but we felt like we already had a lot of life experience and wanted to prove it. I remember exactly where I was standing when he told me he didn’t get the job. I remember crumbling like a piece of paper with the news. I was so sad that what felt like an ideal job and future for him didn’t seem meant to be. Past years spent feeling insecure from not knowing where we fit between our friends off at college and our new friends who were older and already thriving in their careers came rushing over me.

After this moment, we decided to let go of that and have him make a career change to see what else was out there. He used his well-earned, new degree to get his first 9 to 5 desk job. It was an easy-going pace for us compared to the jobs he had before. It was where we thought we should be at this stage of life with his degree, but we still had quiet, private conversations over greasy pizza about the dream of him owning his own business and fully putting his entrepreneurial spirit to work.

Soft-spoken dreams over too much pizza aside, this was a new season for us and we enjoyed it. It gave us opportunities in life we hadn’t had before. We finally felt like we were ready to add another baby to our family. We had our lovely little Christmas Eve baby girl seven whole years after our sweet son.

Courtesy Courtney Abernathy

Less than 2 months after she was born, I got a text from Kyle. Someone wanted him to come live states away to work for them, which could put Kyle back on the path to his dream job. It was going to be a hard road full of uncertainty and no guarantees it would even work out for us, but without really any details, I still mustered up all the confidence I had, held our not-even 2-month-old daughter in one tired arm and used the other to boldly text back, ‘Let’s do it.’ By nature, I’m not a brave person. I hated even feeling like a burden to ask the sweet housekeeping ladies for an extra towel today. So I cannot tell you what would possess me to tell my husband to even consider moving our family away from everyone we know and love, much less right after having a baby and with a job he loved. All I can say is it felt like we were being pushed, called, and pulled to this journey. We knew we wanted him to chase it hard and go all in.

We began purging nearly 8 year’s worth of items we had accumulated and listed the house that had my own childhood height marks carved in the walls right next to my son’s for sale. Amidst this chaos, we toured an apartment states away via FaceTime while I sat and nursed our youngest. The landlord remarked it was the first time he had ever done a virtual apartment tour, to which I thought, ‘Same, dude.’ My husband and I were two twenty-somethings parents who had never lived more than a few minutes from family, inside of a small radius of Western NC. We were completely and totally out of our depth.

Courtesy Courtney Abernathy

We signed the lease for that Midwest apartment without ever setting foot inside and moved 15 hours away to Des Moines, where we only knew a handful of people. I was a 26-year-old mother of two who had barely moved or even flown in a plane because I was deathly afraid, yet here we were, praying daily for my husband to get a job that would require us to fly across the country.

We missed our families, friends, and weekend mountain road trips, but the flat, corn-filled land we were warned we’d hate was actually calming and charming. We lived in an area with biking trails, beautiful parks, and a vibrant, art-filled downtown city I felt confident and safe enough to explore on my own with the kids in tow. During this time, I finally took my first plane ride, which I obviously survived, despite my fear, and then another and another. I ended up taking lots of flights alone and with the kids and kicked so many fears and worries I had once had to the side. I can’t even tell you how that year in Iowa changed my faith and confidence as a mother, wife, and woman. It was hectic at times, but we both felt so much peace as we stretched and grew through this new journey, even though we still had so much on the line.

A year after moving to Iowa and soaking up the Midwestern life, our prayers finally became a reality. He got the job! We were going to start traveling full-time as a family. Every move we made, we hoped would move us a bit further on the path ahead. We had about three weeks to prep, so we gave away furniture, donated odds and ends, watched Minimalism on repeat to ‘brainwash” myself, and packed the essentials into a mix of shipping crates and suitcases to begin this new lifestyle of living out of hotel rooms.

It’s been quite the adventure, to say the least. Here we are now, roughly 6 months since we started making hotel rooms our home. Even though we feel like expert travelers already, we still have roughly two more years on the road to go! It’s not a perfect journey, but as a recovering perfectionist, I’m actually pretty happy with that. The dark moments let the light in. I find myself filled with pure joy from moments I used to overlook entirely. I can, however, assure you being a full-time traveler is not as glamorous as every Instagram influencer posing on a white-sand beaches or mountaintops wants you to believe. Yet, we truly love the unique gifts a nomadic life is giving our family.

I am able to homeschool our oldest, which can be very challenging on the road without our wonderful homeschool community close by but delight to use each new community we live in or visit to make up our unique lesson plans. Some days, more than others, I will feel heavy guilt for uprooting the kids. But for every hard ‘mom guilt’ moment I have worrying over not being rooted right now, I get to watch them play with the new, diverse friends they are making, soak up the new sights they are seeing, and utilize the life skills they are learning along the way. When we are homesick or having hard days, I try to model the example to stay rooted in the gratitude of these moments. No matter where we travel to, my faith and my gratitude are the biggest constants in my life. Most days, I believe those are all we really need in life to take in the joy around us.

He and I travel well together, but this husband of mine is so different from me. He gets tan, I get burnt. He loves to make spreadsheets in Excel, and I love to read books. I say, ‘You’re welcome’ and he says, ‘My pleasure.’

Courtesy Courtney Abernathy

A decade ago, I sat with him in that cold emergency room bed and secretly told myself the lie that, ‘The time to follow dreams is before you have kids. We missed our chance’ and ‘Our future was already decided by the statistics in a high school health book so we can never give ourselves and our kids the life we dreamed of anymore.’ Even just 3 years ago, I was so uncertain and scared of the future ahead for us. I had never moved, never flown, and never done anything remotely risky but a small part of me craved an adventure for us beyond the same four walls I had known most of my life. While I was busy being a scared 18-year-old girl, and later an unsure twenty-something woman, who thought our life could never feel like this, I don’t think my husband ever doubted it.

For most families like us, full-time travel doesn’t mean crystal clear oceans, luxurious resorts, and the unrealistic appearance of a 24/7 vacation. Logistically, it means making the hotel outside of the modest, small-town shopping mall a temporary home, or filling out all the forms in the world when an airline misplaces car seats AND luggage. It’s also dealing with people who judge you when you leave behind the normal, steady job and trade your house for hotels. But regardless of what it looks like on the outside, it has still given us the freedom to pursue a life of adventure in this season and cultivate a beautiful future for our family. I would stay in a van (down by the river) with the kids if I needed to make this a reality again. But I mean, Marriott’s are awesome too!

Courtesy Courtney Abernathy

I want whoever is reading this to know, while I deeply love this nomadic journey we’re on, I can still remember feeling scared to rock the boat and take a chance on anything beyond what I already knew. Until one random, unimportant, ordinary winter day. That day, something just felt right, and not in the anxiously forced way I had felt before when I’d compare how far I was behind someone else in the race of life and chose to sacrifice my well-being to keep up. No, this felt right like when you choose to change your pace and take yourself out of a race entirely because it isn’t even taking you where you want to go.

That day we didn’t just decide to rock the boat. We decided to sell the ‘boat’ and trade it for a set of wings, a huge dose of optimism, and faith in the unknown future. Everything changed that seemingly regular day. We knew the kind of peace we seem to enjoy then wouldn’t forever satisfy us if it meant we had to ignore the larger call to step out in faith. So on that quiet, regular, normal, typical day, we heeded the call. The four of us took each other’s hands and leaped into the unknown. Though there are ups, downs and many uncertainties ahead, I know the one thing I’ll never regret is being brave and following the journey to go where we are called.

If you took the time to read all of this, then I feel like we are friends now, and as a friend, I want to ask you… what would you do if the internet’s opinion, the world’s everchanging measure of success and failure, and the things from your own past didn’t define who you could one day grow to be? Because those things don’t have to define your future ever, not even one little bit! Be brave, be joyful, rock the boat, and find the race you’re meant to run.”

Courtesy Courtney Abernathy

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Courtney Abernathy. Follow her journey on Instagram hereDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories from Courtney here: 

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