Routines. You’ve read about them in all the baby books. I know you have. I did too. And the thing about routines is that it’s hard to have them when you travel. Not just a little hard – really hard. Which sometimes can make the prospect of getting out and about with baby a little tough to fathom. Most of these baby books are written for when we can do pretty much the exact same things at the exact same time just about every day. And travel, by definition, whether it’s to the next town over or half way around the world, is the opposite of same. That’s the whole point of going, right?
So good luck explaining that your baby. Or to the baby book author. Because they’ll probably have a comparable reaction.
When you travel, things will be different. Whether it’s the routine or the time or the pace or the noise…and it all comes to a head at bedtime. This is because everyone – not just your baby – will be tired and wanting rest, and no one is quite sure how is the best way to go about it.
Bed time when we travel, especially if there is jet lag involved, can be a real struggle for us. With all of our trips, you’d think we would have figured out the best formula for getting on schedule as soon as possible. I have to admit, we have tried a myriad of ways and most haven’t worked for us for one reason or another. The advice might work on one trip but not another, at one stage of babyhood and not another, or not at all at any stage on any trip (the most likely scenario actually). So the first piece of advice is to treat sleeping while traveling – especially with big zone time changes – just like you would any other parenting question. Ask around for advice, go with your gut, and pick something to try. Be patient, but if it doesn’t work, change tactics, until you find something that does. And cut yourself some slack.
The good news is though, babies are still pretty easy going in the big scheme of things, assuming they are healthy and well fed. Once they are toddlers the bedtime issue resurfaces, except for now you have a little one who is also interested in presenting their two cents at every strategic decision you make at bedtime. But for babies, at the end of the day, despite a rough patch here and there, most of them will eventually sleep at some point. So you can comfort yourself in the dark, loud hours with that. And while we don’t have a perfect formula for transitioning to a perfect bedtime, here are a few things that have we have learned from our truly impressive collection of failures that have helped our family when we’re on the go:
Set your own expectations:
The best way to deal with big changes is to be somewhat prepared for them – prepare yourself for the fact that some nights might be long ones. If your baby is having a hard time going down for the evening, once they sense your own stress on top of everything else, it will just compound the problem. Keep it zen (as a good friend once told me) and roll with the punches.
Figure out what you can keep the same:
While the bed and bedroom might be different on a night of travel, see what else you can keep the same for your little one. Maybe it’s a favorite toy or the temperature setting or the sleeping style (co-sleeping, crib etc). Try to keep the process of going to bed as similar as possible. Remember, babies and toddlers recognize routines, even little pieces of them. While everything might seem different, the most important part of your baby’s sense of security – you – are still there so use that your advantage. You are the biggest constant they will look for, make sure they can find it easily. Be a little extra indulgent and a little extra patient.
Double up on the loveys:
All the books say that babies and children recognize comforting smells, which is why the use of loveys as sleep aids can be so soothing. When my son was in the NICU, they advised me to sleep with several blankets on my own chest and bring them them in for him. They would place them in the corner of his bed so that he could have my scent around as a comfort. Even at just a few days old, he could tell if part of me was near. Since then, we always have a few blankets that smell like us and like our house to take with us to keep that sense of comfort when we’re on the road.
Remember to be patient…with your baby and with yourself:
They will eventually fall asleep, I promise, even if it is in the wee hours of dawn. Sleep can be challenging when you’re far away from the familiar, but adding exasperation to everything doesn’t help. I know this is easier said than done. If you are two parents traveling, try to alternate so that one can rest up a bit more and then take on a bit more heavy lifting the following day, while the other does the night routine. Try not to overpack the schedule during the day time so that you can give yourself – or your child – some flexibility for a nap or a break. Things might not happen on the exact schedule you had in mind, but a little patience can help you find a schedule that works better.
And when all else fails, usually some fresh air and a stroller ride or a walk in the carrier tends to knock baby right out. Just be sure it doesn’t do the same to you! Sweet Dreams!
What have been your tried and true ways to get babies to sleep in new environments or time zones?
Parts of the Traveling with a Baby series first appeared on Valentina Fussel’s Traveling Mama (who is now over at the very fab House of Valentina), but I wanted to share our few tips and tricks in the full set of posts here on the blog. This isn’t so much about the gear because the truth is, you don’t need much of it (although a few things can definitely be helpful!). It’s not about traveling with kids in general (although happy to talk about that too separately). This is a little more on on how to get started on traveling with a baby from a personal perspective, what to look out for, and above all, how to enjoy this new lens on seeing the world around you, both near and far! We keep our littles on the road a fair amount but we also like to keep things fun. And we’re always looking to learn from other parents so please feel free to share your travel tips and adventures below here too!
PS – Photo above from Vienna, Austria where we started our live with two little tots before returning to Copenhagen – we still have that blanket, and it still smells like “home”, wherever that might be in the world for us!