Sleeping abroad with babies….how we managed it

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So by this time of year most of us will be back into the general grey, blurry fuzz that is daily September life, and those hazy turquoise memories of holidays will be a dim and distant memory.

Me too! Which is partly why I am now writing a blog post having enjoyed my summer FAR too much, and have frankly not been too bothered about sitting in my living room with a warm computer on my lap writing an article. Sorry folks. But as things are a bit more settled in our house, now seems the perfect time to reflect on our summer holiday with A.

We had an amazing holiday. Far from our usual pre-baby trips where we would stay in chic hotels, eat vongole and drink wine until the early hours, then punctuate our days with sightseeing and cocktail-soaked lounging…this year we decided to do Eurocamp. Yeh I know….glam!

But we just knew from the time of booking it would be the perfect option. The freedom to do our holiday how we want and on our own terms, on a campsite with lots to do and energy to absorb, and no flights to worry about (we got a ferry over from Portsmouth then did a drive over two days to the Gironde region). It sounded idyllic, and just the tonic we would need before I go back to work and A starts nursery.

I have decided to focus on the sleeping element of the holiday, as quite frankly the quality of a nights sleep can make or break a trip. I am not a sleep expert. I do actually know an excellent baby sleep consultant, Kerry O’Neill (website link at bottom of this post). But we did learn a lot about how to make it more bearable for everyone.

SURVIVING HOTEL ROOMS WITH A BABY

This is a toughie. I know that many a package holiday are all about having a large hotel room with a cot added for your little one. If you’re lucky you will have a little divide between the bed and the cot, or the cot will be placed around a corner so you are not climbing over it to get into bed.

The reality is, however your cot is positioned in your hotel room, it is seriously going to impact on your evening and night plans. If you are lucky like us to have a pretty good routine in place where baby goes to sleep at, say, 7pm, you can basically kiss your evening goodbye from that point. You are likely to have the curtains drawn, lights on low (if not off altogether). You will go out the room one by one – perhaps to the hotel bar to grab a drink or some dinner, then probably be in bed by 8pm yourself as there is nothing else to do. Even if you do have an early bedtime, in an unfamiliar room you are likely to be playing the ‘play dead’ game on the bed while your baby stares at you from the cot wondering what is going on.

Should you give up on bedtime, or your baby not be keen on early bedtimes you will likely be wrestling a cranky little one at the local restaurant as the idea of them sleeping in their pram while you share a bottle of local white dissipates before your eyes.

We only stayed in a hotel twice, for one night each, while we were away. The first time my other half ready his book in the en suite bathroom while I lay still on the bed after putting A down to sleep. It took an hour, a pitch dark room and three resets of Ewan the Dream Sheep (which of course got A all excited that I was taking him out his cot) before he went to sleep. At which point I was so tired and bored myself I just went to sleep myself, fully clothed and pretty darn hungry.

The second time we were more prepared. There was a sofa in the hotel room so we did some furniture rearranging – placing the sofa between the bed and the cot. This meant that, unless A did some serious jumping around, he would not be able to see us once he was in bed so I wouldn’t have to play dead. We made sure he was REALLY full from dinner and that the last hour of the day wasn’t very stimulating. He had a huge bottle of milk and we dimmed the lights for half an hour before bedtime. It worked. This time he went to sleep within 5 minutes of being put down, and he didn’t wake until the next morning. Boom! Of course we still took it in turns to go down to the hotel bar for a bit of darkness respite, but at least we didn’t have to spend half that time battling him to sleep. And the best benefit was that I didn’t need to spend an hour getting make up on for a dinner outside, as it was never going to bloody happen!

CAR SLEEP WITH A BABY

I am so glad we invested in a front-facing car seat for this holiday. A is a tall baby anyway and we knew he was very soon going to need a replacement for his rear-facing newborn car seat. We chose a Maxi-Cosi Pearl, and it has done us wonders. He was so much more relaxed being able to see us easily, plus out the side and front windows. It also meant we could more easily pass him things to keep him entertained….food, water, toys, his dummy etc.

This meant that sleep came pretty easily in the car as he had nothing to complain about. In fact, he positively relished getting into his car seat, it was so cute to see his little smile as he was strapped in. We timed a lot of our longer car journeys around his usual nap times, and with the help of the trusty dummy he usually obliged and slept beautifully. French roads seemed a lot emptier than British ones, and we were able to drive a lot more smoothly which also helped! We also had a playlist loaded with songs he recognises and smiles along to so this helped relax him when he started getting fractious. I think I have the only baby in the world who can beam and dance along to Jackie Chan by Tiesto then promptly fall asleep straight afterwards!

If you are not travelling by car ferry, you are likely to be hiring a car seat at the other end. My advice would be to get the best car seat you can afford – from a safety and comfort perspective it just makes sense. Even better, take your own. You will know exactly how it works, how safe it is and it will be more familiar to your baby. If this is impossible, make sure you take some blankets from home to line the car seat – they will smell familiar and will also cover a multitude of little ‘accidents’ from previous users. Remember to take all those little car toys too – again they will help with a sense of familiarity.

VILLA / CARAVAN SLEEP WITH BABIES

Winner! You have got accommodation with separate rooms, so baby can comfortably sleep in their own space, while you can use the rest of the accommodation at your leisure in the evenings. This worked SO well for us. Where there was no TV in a pine forest, we spent our evenings on our decked terrace drinking local wine and eating seafood. And actually talking to each other! Seriously! It was so nice just to be able to relax and talk to each other again, knowing that the baby was safely tucked up inside. I would recommend this type of holiday to anyone.

Just a couple of things to remember. The first is don’t assume you will be provided with a proper mattress for the cot, if it is already provided. Eurocamp just provided the thin mattress that comes with the travel cot. If you have a newborn this may be enough for you, but older babies may benefit from a little extra comfort. We brought along some large cellular blankets from home, and even though I wasn’t expecting to have to, these worked well to line the mattress, with the final top sheet being tucked in on top. If you have an even older baby, you may want to bring along extra cot bed duvets both for lining the mattress and also to sleep under (do not do this for small babies though).

Bring along far more sleepsuits, dummies and toys than you think you need, especially if you are changing location throughout your holiday.

The best thing by far that helped us getting A to sleep in the mobile home was the blackout blinds! We have them at home, but these ones were SERIOUSLY good. Like, no light whatsoever came through. Which, for just two weeks, was a godsend as it really sent A off to sleep. You can buy travel blackout blinds by the Gro company – we actually have one but have never had to use it. Definitely a must-take if you think baby might be unsettled in a new environment.

……

So that is my very brief little run-through as to how we all managed to stay well-rested and sane throughout our holiday. I really hope it helps you. Just to sum it all up, here are my top tips for sleeping well on holiday with a baby:

  1. Do not expect your regular routine to continue on holiday. You will only put pressure on yourself – and you are meant to be having a rest too! That said, give your baby as much consistency as possible, if only for the period you are away, so they know what to expect.
  2. You can never have enough toys, blankets and dummies. Ever.
  3. Take your own car seat where possible
  4. Avoid long stays in hotels unless you have a baby who sleeps like a log!
  5. If your baby can have their own room while you are away, all the better. Consider how easily you can move around their room to get them if they are crying, and also proximity to strange noises e.g. pipes and bathrooms
  6. Invest in a travel blackout blind
  7. Bring a kindle with an integrated light for those times you are stuck in a room with a baby who doesn’t want you to leave as they fall asleep
  8. Don’t beat yourself up if your usual tactics and routines do not work on holiday! New beds and accommodation are likely to be strange for babies and they are very likely to be unsettled for at least one or two nights. Take a deep breath, a large swig of wine and believe that it will get better. Your baby is very likely to get straight back into routine once you are home, so just take each day as it comes rather than worry about the future.

Happy travels everyone!

For professional guidance from a qualified sleep consultant do contact Kerry through her website or Facebook page. https://www.sleepnanny.co.uk/kerry-oneill/

#commonsenseweaning

@thebabyandthebean

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