Our little family just got back from a two-week trip to attend two family reunions and visit my husband’s hometown. It was a busy couple of weeks with a lot of driving, two plane flights, lots of new places to sleep, and many, many new faces for our toddler.
Although I am beside myself with joy to be back home with my own bed, Ella’s own room, and our normal routine, I can say we had a lovely trip and Ella did remarkably well.
Here are a few things I tried to keep in mind about taking a vacation with a toddler, to make this trip as smooth as possible for all of us.
1. Let your child get enough sleep. We kept her nap schedule and bedtime schedule as close to normal as possible when it wouldn’t completely disrupt family events (happily, other family members had babies and toddlers too, so most people were in a nap mindset).
2. Expect to get less sleep. Invariably, we stay up late on vacation, either going out to dinner with friends, watching movies, or just talking with family members. And invariably, Ella wakes up earlier than normal and, when you’re sharing a room with your baby or there are sleeping people just through the wall, letting her fuss herself back to sleep isn’t really an option. We took naps when we could, took turns getting up on early mornings (the one that started at 5:30 a.m. is a particularly cherished memory).
3. Take along a few familiar items. We brought a favorite blanket, a single stuffed animal, and the sound machine she sleeps with, so that no matter how different the room (or corner behind a dresser in a rental house) looked, some things would seem the same as at home.
4. Don’t overbook yourself. We tried to keep some time every day where we could just hang around the house a little and play with toys, read some stories, and interact with family members. Day after day of go-go-go is likely going to lead to a meltdown from either you or your toddler and possibly both of you.
5. Go with the flow. We had a fairly late flight home (taking off just after Ella’s normal bedtime) and I assumed she would sleep the whole trip. We strapped her into her carseat, handed over the stuffed lamb, blanket, and pacifier and waited for the sounds of the plane and the dark cabin to lull her right to sleep. And waited and waited and waited. There was no sleeping. Just laughing, giggling, and spilling soda down her pajamas when the flight attendant brought them around. When we got off the plane, she walked all the way from the gate to the car. She finally went to sleep in her own bed just before 2:00 a.m., by FAR the latest she’s ever been awake since her first weeks of life.
At the end of the day, remember that a few missed naps and more junk food than normal is a small price to pay for watching your child get to know her grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins.