We just got back from a long holiday weekend, and our first real traveling experience with Aubrey now that she is past the initial newborn phase and has developed into a active baby, screaming included.
We traveled a lot in Germany after she was born, but at that point she just needed to nurse every 2-3 hours and happily napped in the Boba wrap the rest of the time. People are not kidding when they tell you traveling with a newborn is the EASIEST time to travel with your child. Going into this weekend I had no real plan, and no expectation for how it would go. In the week leading up to our departure, Aubrey had finally started to let me put her down while she was awake and she would go to sleep on her own (with the help of a paci, swaddle, and some white noise but who’s counting), and she was functioning on a pretty predictable schedule. So I was hopeful that keeping that in mind it would be relatively easy to just plan around her needs.
I wanted to believe that she would be happy napping in the Ergo, or on a bench in a restaurant if needed. I wanted to believe that because I was breastfeeding I could nurse whenever needed, avoiding a screaming hungry baby. I also had an awesome portable changing pad so I could change a dirty diaper no matter the disgusting surroundings we could find ourselves in. And if all else failed, I had a paci (and extras) and her favorite white noise app on my phone that would save the day.
If no one has said it to you yet, I’ll be the one to do it…babies function on their own schedules…and they are unpredictable. Also, no matter how hard you try, you cannot tailor the way you care for your baby to what is easy and convenient to you.
While Aubrey did nap (on and off) in the Ergo, that kind of nap is not the kind of quality sleep a baby needs in order to maintain a good enough mood to allow you to enjoy your day. And while I have nursed in a number of public situations at this point, doing so in a very small, intimate restaurant, WHILE wearing clothes that I packed without considering their practicality for nursing, did not work out so well. And then there was the case when the small turkish bathroom that only had enough room to stand to wash your hands, or sit to pee, AND happened to be the only bathroom for the entire restaurant, meant there was no way I could bend over (even if I was actually flexible) and somehow contort myself to change Aubrey on that awesome changing pad in the floor…and the only other options were changing her by our table, or somewhere outside in the freezing cold weather.
Basically we had a couple of disasters. But I learned a lot of valuable lessons.
Lesson # 1 (this one is number one for a reason – it is probably the MOST important): Make sure that baby gets 1-2 good naps (in a bed or crib) a day. It may not be realistic for them to get all of their normal naps in, and in their ideal location and setting, but guaranteeing that they get at least a couple of hours of quality sleep will make a huge difference in their tolerance for the rest of the activities you have planned.
Aubrey was about 5.5 weeks old for this trip and is following a 3 hour schedule (give or take) that includes and hour of eating, diaper change, and wake time, followed by a two hour nap. That two hour nap is ideally taken in her crib or bassinet (or at least a flat, still (as in non-moving) surface, with her being swaddled and blissfully unaware of her overstimulating surroundings thanks to white noise. Trying to make her nap in the Ergo or the car seat meant she would really only doze on and off and never got quality sleep. This compounded into a worse and worse problem as she progressively grew more and more overtired. Eventually we ended up with an angry screaming banshee who was completely OVER everything and just wanted to be back at the hotel in bed. I ended up spending about 90% of a meal running in and out of a restaurant (so her screaming wouldn’t disrupt the rest of the patrons), trying to soothe her, and finally had to skip the dessert course and walk back to the hotel alone while Will settled the check, to put her to bed.
Lesson # 2: Only plan one big outing/event per day. Babies only really have the capacity to accept so much stimulation in a day. And for a small little being who finds a white wall to be very stimulating, going on a three hour tour, or taking a 5 mile hike in the hot sun, or spending an afternoon checking out every shop that lines the street of whatever town you are exploring, is already too much. You can’t really expect them to make it through that, take a less than satisfying nap, then accompany you to a second round of exploring, or a loud restaurant filled with lots of sounds and smells.
We set out to hike the Pigeon Valley in Goreme to see all the fairy chimneys and crazy cave dwellings. However, we got our directions to the trail head mixed up, and no exaggeration, ended up walking a few miles south of Goreme, then over 4 miles north of Goreme to Uchisar, then BACK to Goreme (because a dang taxi was no where to be found!). And even though we had stopped to nurse and change Aubrey, and even though she got in a few winks in the Ergo, over 4 hours of hiking was way beyond what she was capable of happily doing. THEN, being the terrible parents we are, we let her take a short nap, then put her back in there Ergo and went to dinner at our favorite restaurant in Goreme, that also happens to be reservation only and very small and intimate (the one mentioned above). I knew before we left that she was not in a good mood, had not had nearly enough naps, and really just needed to stay in. She basically screamed from the time we left till the time I walked her home a few hours later. And that was in spite of my attempts to nurse her, change her diaper, and give it my best shot to soothe her with my rhythmic bouncing. I knew then we would have to change our way of planning things in the future, which leads me to the next two points.
Lesson # 3: Go to dinner early. It is not a good idea to try to extend your little one’s bedtime, or hope that a nap in the baby carrier will be a suitable substitute for actually going to bed. Going to dinner early means you can hopefully eat in the company of a semi-happy baby, and end the night with them sleeping peacefully while you enjoy a glass of wine and wind down, which leads to my final lesson.
Lesson # 4: Splurge a little and get a room with a few more creature comforts than you normally would…because you will be spending more time in it than may be your norm. Something like a jacuzzi tub, or a sauna, or a fireplace can double as entertainment when you find yourself stuck in the room while your baby is catching a few much needed zzz’s.
On the night of Aubrey’s meltdown, Will and I found ourselves eating our dessert (that the restaurant had so kindly packed in to go containers) in a dark room while she slept. We were SO thankful that we had a room with a fireplace and a huge jacuzzi tub (and a few bottles of some delicious Cappadocian wine). It meant that mom and dad still had the chance to have a nice, romantic night together. I kept thinking how bad it would have sucked if we just had a standard room where the only entertainment would have been the TV, which in Turkey sucks because, well, we don’t speak Turkish therefore the shows are not very interesting.
Lesson # 5: Prioritize your to do list, and make sure to do your most wanted in the first day or so of your trip. In spite of your best efforts, baby may still be done with all the excitement after a few days, which means you may not get to everything you had planned. Make sure you get to do the things you care the most about by tackling them first, so in case little one quits cooperating, the activities that get nixed won’t ruin your whole trip.
Because I was pregnant last time we visited Cappadocia, we didn’t get to try any of the local wines. As it turns out, they are REALLY good. We also found out that the winery was just a short detour on our way back from Avanos where we planned to go to buy some pottery. This was day three of our trip though, and Aubrey’s meltdown had been the night before, and she was still recovering. Not wanting to make the same mistake we made the day before, we had to postpone the winery visit to our next trip.
I’m sure there are a million more tips and tricks to be learned, and we are by no means experts at this parenting thing. But we do travel a lot, and plan to continue to do so. There is nothing we want more than to instill some of our wanderlust in our little girl’s heart. So maybe consider this our first installment of traveling with an infant 🙂