Part two in a small series on the practicalities of traveling with a one-year old
Recap: Michael and I decided to bring our one-year old on a 2.5-week trip to London and Paris this past December. This series is all about what we learned as new parents during this adventure. If you missed part one, here’s the link to the post on what to pack.
Today’s topic is one dear to any parent of little ones: SLEEP. It was my number one hesitation about attempting to take a one-year old to another time zone, even more so than it being his first flight.
While I don’t think that should stop one from traveling, it is good to have a realistic expectation and know that things will be bit rough. Time zones (plus sleeping in a new place) can throw adults for a loop, so naturally will be confusing and uncomfortable to a little one who doesn’t understand what is happening. That said, here’s what we did to prepare ahead of time when selecting where to stay, and what we did in the moment during bedtime.
Before the trip rolls around, the first step to the sleep “solution” is to figure out the most ideal place to sleep. Here’s what we took into consideration and what we learned in the process of finding accommodations in London and Paris:
Hotel vs. apartment -
Well before baby J, I developed a preference for staying in Airbnb’s over hotels for longer stays. (If using Airbnb is new to you or you’re wondering how I choose which to stay in, see my complete post on it here.) In addition to the usual things I look for in an apartment, here were some new elements that influenced my apartment selections with a one-year old in tow:
- Location, location, location: It’s an important element of any stay, but it felt like more weighed on the choice of location with baby J. My main concern with Julien was to stay as central as possible. For London, I love staying in trendy Shoreditch but the downside is that to get to most of the classic London sights, public transportation is needed. I wanted to be able to easily plop J in his stroller and walk to most of what we wanted to see -- and especially since it was my mom’s first time to London, that largely included iconic London spots. Paris is a more walkable city in its scale than London so while still a heavy consideration, it wasn’t as essential as selecting the right spot in London. (Also, there was really no question that we would stay in our old neighborhood in Paris which happens to be super central.)
- For London, we stayed on the southern edge of Fitzrovia, just north of Soho. It was quiet but proved to be very central.
- For Paris, we stayed in the Marais (the best neighborhood in my very biased opinion).
- Bedrooms: We rented one-bedroom apartments in both cities. This was especially helpful at bedtime - J had a separate quiet room to sleep in and we didn’t have to tiptoe around in the dark starting at his 7pm bedtime.
- Washer/Dryer: I filtered for these specifically and wouldn’t stay in an apartment that lacked the ability to wash clothes. If you don’t have kids, here’s a spoiler alert: they require many loads of laundry. Though considering the length of our stay, I would have wanted a washing machine anyway to reduce the amount of clothes to pack. [Note to those unfamiliar with European washer/dryers - most are a two-in-one machine. The dryers in my experience are much worse than those we are familiar with in the US. Just know that you will likely need to use the dryer multiple times to get the desired result. If you don’t opt for a dryer on a winter trip, it could take a few days for clothes to air-dry completely.]
- Stairs vs. Elevator: This is where things get interesting.
- In London, we stayed on the seventh floor of a modern building, and there was an elevator. Not just an elevator, but one large enough to fit a stroller PLUS three adults at a time. Needless to say, this made our lives much easier traveling with a big stroller and any extra shopping bags we acquired during the day.
- In Paris...we let our emotions get the best of us. When you book an Airbnb, you can’t see the exact pinpointed location for the apartment. In a fit of nostalgia, we found an Airbnb that appeared to be located on our old street. I noticed that it was a third floor walk-up, but shrugged it off as something that we could easily manage. It turned out that the apartment was on a street parallel to our old place, which was fine since the main objective was to stay in our former neighborhood. But as for the stairs...we of course managed, but it wasn’t ideal to lug a heavy one-year old, a stroller, all the winter gear that came with it, plus shopping bags (often containing a bottle or two of wine because France). Though, as I mentioned, our stroller was huge for European standards so even if we had an elevator, we still might have struggled a bit.
- Tub vs. stand-up shower: In London we had a tub/shower combo and in Paris there was a beautiful walk-in shower. It was easier and more fun for J to have bathtime in a proper tub, but he was cooperative when held in the shower for a rinse-off.
- Decor: Usually I don’t give too much thought to the design of a space, but that has changed with a little guy who seemingly gets into everything. When I noticed a reviewer commented that the Paris apartment was “spartan,” it was a plus in my book! The less sharp edges and fancy trinkets, the better. It’s hard to find an ideal space when traveling with a curious toddler, but we’ve definitely noticed the difference in ease of watching J depending on how many "temptations" are within grasp.
If you are interested in trying Airbnb with your little, see the end of this post for some $$ off your first booking!
Bedtime during the trip
After you’ve made your decision on where to stay and the trip finally rolls around, now it’s time to make your bed and lie in it. Hopefully there is more “lying” in the bed and less time up with a crying baby.
I feel grossly under qualified to write about how to get a one-year old to sleep well because between jet lag (there was a 6-hour time difference) and the fact that little man did not like sleeping in a travel crib, sleep did not come easily to anyone on the trip. There were “better” nights and bad ones, and while the trip was very fun, it was by no means restful. Yet I will give a few thoughts on the experience to hopefully prepare fellow parents:
- Night one is easier than night two. In other words, don’t pat yourself on the back too quickly. By the time we arrived in London, settled in, and were ready for bed, it was 1am (8pm on NJ time, and little man usually goes to bed at 7pm). We were all tired and it wasn’t hard to get J to fall asleep. He woke up in the night but we managed to get him to go back to sleep easily. Night two was much more challenging.
- Gradually shift bedtime up. As I mentioned, bedtime on the first night was 1am due to traveling circumstances. It took a few nights, but we gradually pushed his bedtime up until we were putting him to bed around 7-8pm local time.
- Give the “stroller method” a try. Nights 2 through 4/5-ish were very difficult to get Julien to fall asleep. When all other attempts failed (nursing to sleep, holding and rocking him, etc), we took to the stroller method. We brought the stroller into the dark bedroom, strapped him in, and rocked him until he fell asleep. We then left him in there so he could get into a deep sleep, and later tried to transfer him into the travel crib. My mom would usually get him to sleep this way while we snuck in a little pub time, and then we’d try the transfer when we’d return.
- Let things slide for sanity. J never sleeps in our bed at home, but sometimes bringing him into our bed on vacation was the only way he was going to go back to sleep. (He was also still nursing a little so breastfeeding comforted him and we’d both fall asleep in the process.) When sleep is so elusive, just do whatever works! He didn’t have a problem adjusting to sleeping alone in his crib when we got back home, if you were wondering. (**Please remember to take into account the age of the child - since our little guy was one year old, we felt it was safe to do so but wouldn’t have felt the same way if he were much younger.)
- Sometimes it’s playtime. Each time he woke up, we tried to get him back to sleep. We kept the room dark, rocked him, he nursed, etc...but sometimes it was evident that he wasn’t going back to sleep. If he seemed hungry, we gave him a snack of applesauce. And we did have playtime once or twice from 3-4am until he could wind down again. If sleep really isn’t happening, accepting that and moving on was helpful. We rotated who did middle-of-the-night duty and just plowed ahead.
In J’s case, a main problem was just not being able to adjust to a travel crib that was very different from his standard crib (and obviously jet lag). I’m not sure what else could have been done with the resources we had. I think ultimately it’s best to mentally lower expectations for sleep, coordinate spreading “who’s on duty” with as many adults as possible (we did usually have a grandma on deck as well), and just embrace whatever happens as a new chapter of life with baby. We’ve all survived the newborn stage...who needs sleep??
***If this post made you consider giving Airbnb a whirl, you can sign up with this link - it gives you a $25 credit, and me credit as well for the referral at no cost to you. (Please know this post was not sponsored by Airbnb in any way - all opinions are mine!) Let's travel!***
Parents, I’m curious - what are your biggest hangups with bringing littles on a trip? Any other advice to add to the conversation? I’d love to know for next time!