Ah summer. One of my most favorite times of the year. Mainly due to one word – Vacation! A word that brings joy to us all! Whether it’s a trip to the lake, camping in the mountains, or flying across the country, I just love being able to explore our world. But for many of us, traveling with young children can raise a certain level of uneasiness.
Traveling anywhere with kids can be difficult. From the time zones to the airplane ride, kids can be thrown off their routine in a matter of hours. Your kids won’t be on a set routine like they are at home, but you can still manage their sleep with a few slight adjustments. Pour yourself a tall glass of iced tea and settle in for some summer traveling tips that can help make your vacation with the little ones a bit easier.
1. Lower Your Expectations: As you envision your perfect vacation with your little one sleeping peacefully beside you, you might want to change your thoughts. And Fast. More then likely, you will be disappointed, especially if you travel to different time zones. Traveling is one of the most common reasons children regress in their good sleep habits. Give yourself permission to enjoy the trip and not be extreemly strict with your child’s sleep schedules as you are at home. Setting lower expectations of their sleep habits will allow for room to prosper. If you have to put them down for that nap in the stroller, go for it. If you have to be out later to make your dinner reservations, do it! Your baby will be fine if you put them down a little after their normal bedtime. Let it happen and enjoy the time you have with your family. You can do damage control when you get home.
2. Pack with a Purpose: On the airplane, bring a clean shirt for you, your baby and anyone within spitting distance of your child. Because their inner ear canals are so small, many babies and young children experience discomfort during take-off and landing. Expect to nurse, offer a bottle or pacifier during these times to ease the pain.
3. Nap, then Fly: For most of us, we are at the mercy of the airlines flight times. Ideally, you should fly after your baby has had a good morning nap. But, if that is not possible, go with the flow. Flying with a baby is stressful enough. Trying to get a baby (especially one that is over sixteen weeks) to nap en route is nearly impossible. Even if the baby does fall asleep, he will inevitably be awakened after 10 minutes when the captain introduces himself over the PA system.
4. Go Native: There is no sure-fire way to get your baby to sleep on his usual schedule (if he has one) during vacation. Getting him onto “local time” as soon as possible, however, can help. If you arrive in Rome at 6 p.m. from Florida (12 p.m. EST), break out the pajamas and start your bedtime routine and do your best to help your baby sleep through the night. If you land in San Francisco at 2 p.m. (11 a.m. EST) let your baby take a nap before bedtime and break out the p.j.’s when the California clocks say it’s bedtime.
5. Plan Ahead of Time: If you are flying into a time zone that is three hours ahead (i.e., San Diego to Washington D.C.), you can plan the week before to put your baby down to bed later each night by 15-30 minutes before you leave to get him “used to” the new time zone. I have found, however, that doing this can also backfire: leaving you with a baby who is sleep deprived and cranky before the plane takes off. Every baby is unique and responds differently, so you will have to know the temperament of your child ahead of time before trying this out. And always remember, most babies (ages birth-12 months) will wake up early, regardless if you put them down later the night before.
6. Accept Your New Status: Remember secretly (or not so secretly) hating the couple on the plane with the screeching baby? How you vowed, if you ever had a child, your little one would never scream, yell, or cry during a flight. Well, guess what? You are now officially one of “those people”. So go with it. Traveling is often loud, boring, cramped and uncomfortable. Unlike adults, who tend to smile through it all, babies aren’t scared to tell it like it is. Don’t add to the stress by trying to keep your baby from disturbing fellow passengers. Let your baby blow off some steam, especially if he is tired. Trying to keep him quiet is exhausting and fruitless. Read your magazine and eat your peanuts, as if a screaming baby was the most relaxing experience ever.
7. Create a “Home Away From Home”: Babies thrive off routine. Bringing some familiar items from home can help reassure your baby during the stress of travel. It isn’t necessary to go overboard on this idea. Just items that trigger cues for sleep and comfort such as a bedtime CD you play, a lovey or blanket they use while sleeping, or a sound machine you can easily plug in when you settle into your new home away from home. If your child is use to a dark room, bring an extra dark sheet with you and some duct tape and cover those windows.