Expect the Unexpected: Traveling with Young Children

Today’s blog is a guest blog by Lauren Stevens, a client of mine more than SIX years ago! She recently embarked on a two-week European vacation with her husband and six-year-old son. Lauren’s here today to share how hopping continents and time zones went and how she handled major changes in her son’s typically consistent bedtime routine.

Thanks so much for having me, Jennifer! As Jenn shared, we sought her assistance when our son, Declan, was eight-months-old (barely napping during the day and waking every 2-3 hours at night). Since that time, I’ve checked in with Jenn each time we hit a stumbling block — climbing out of the crib and leaving the room and dropping to one nap at three come to mind — and also to share sleep wins. Full disclaimer — Declan, now seven, would still stay up all night if we didn’t have a routine, and often wakes in the middle of the night unable to go back to sleep. Basically, Declan phases in and out of being a super sleeper, but more nights than not, he’s getting 10-11 hours of sleep.

Catching some zzzs on the train from London to Cologne

We were doomed from the beginning

Okay, so that’s a little dramatic, but let me frame this for you. We planned our departure date for a two-week trip to England, Germany, and the Netherlands, and I was stoked that it coincided with Declan’s field day. We booked a red-eye, leaving just a couple hours after Declan’s normal bedtime. Perfect, I thought, he’ll be exhausted from field day and then sleep on the plane. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

What I didn’t factor in was how excited Declan would be for his first flight. We sat in the first row, so we had our own TVs, and Declan wanted to test out every button and gadget he could. Not only that, the novelty of a personal TV, which he could watch whatever he wanted, proved to be the dealbreaker. I should add that I had brought along melatonin — which works really well when he needs it — but his excitement overrode any effect it would have possibly had. Because he didn’t sleep, I didn’t sleep, and we started our trip off tired. And then there was the issue with daylight.

Oh, the light

I should preface the fact that this trip was me taking my family to visit places where I had lived as a child. And while I vaguely remember black trash bags covering my windows, it didn’t really register until our first night in England.

Visiting in May, the sun didn’t go down until around 9:30 pm in England and 10:30 pm in Germany. Despite explaining to Declan that daylight lasted longer where we were, he continually tried to rationalize why it couldn’t possibly be his bedtime. Thank goodness for German shutters!

Roll with it

Dealing with different time zones, and the entire family suffering from jet lag, we took a page out of Jenn’s book and decided to break all the rules. And while this meant some dicey afternoons with a cranky kid, it also meant that we could roll with a different schedule each day. And the reality is that Declan would end up conking out whenever we traveled, be it by train, car or bus — we rolled with it.

While we were all exhausted from jet lag and long days of sightseeing, I’m really glad we decided to break the rules. If we were constrained to having to make it back to our apartment each evening in time to bathe and put Declan to sleep, we would have missed out on some amazing travel opportunities.

The reality is that when you’re traveling between time zones, you’re going to have jet lag, no matter how much you prepare for it. I think the key is to channel patience and adopt a carefree attitude (if you don’t already have one) because you’re on holiday. Lastly, anticipate an adjustment period when you get home. For us, it was almost two weeks before we were back to our normal sleep schedules.


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