Well-rested little camper, Grace
I grew up camping for every family vacation. I’ve talked my husband into venturing out a few times each summer, including last week over the 4th of July. One of the biggest reasons I hear from others with little ones to not camp is the sleep issue. How do you get a baby or toddler (or even older kids for that matter!) to nap and get enough night time sleep with only a thin tent to block out noise and light?
We just returned from a five day campout with our church. Thanks to a few tricks Grace napped longer than at home (2 1/2 hours some days) and slept well at night too. That made for a more restful trip for me and Steve and Grace had more energy to give to the rest of each day.
Our tricks are really very simple, similar to what we do in hotel rooms.
- We keep the same bedtimes and naptimes as at home. It’s tempting to let her stay up later to play with all her friends but it comes back to bite us in the long run. She was in the tent headed to bed at 7pm. The downside of this is we had to stick close by once she was in bed. Since we were camping with friends that wasn’t a big deal. We enjoyed games, snacks, campfires and reading by flashlight after she was in bed.
- We keep the same bedtime and naptime routine as at home. We read a few stories, sang songs, said our prayers and put her to bed. The first day she yelled for a while when we put her down for her nap. We tried to be as consistent as we are at home (hard in a public campsite). We went to her a few times told her gently but firmly to lay down and go to sleep. After about 45 minutes of fussing on and off she did, and every day after that we had no problems.
- Bring the pack n play. For as long as we possibly can we’ll be using the pack n play for Grace, maybe even after she’s transitioned to a big girl bed. That way she’s contained and not tempted to play around in the exciting new tent or in the very fun suitcases. When she does fuss she eventually gets bored with it and falls asleep whereas if she were out of it I could imagine her unzipping her way out of the tent dozens of times.
- Bring a white noise machine. It may seem silly while camping but IT WORKS. We were camping with lots of other families so besides the usual sounds of campsites (birds, cars, people walking by) we had the sounds of lots of noisy kids having a great time after she was in bed. We use the Marsona white noise machine which we love because its internationally adaptable plus has an optional (sold separately) battery pack, which was perfect for camping. I loved seeing the looks on people’s faces as they’d walk by our tent while Grace napped. What is that noise? I’m sure they were thinking. Is someone vacuuming in there?
- Use black sheets strategically. This solved the light issue for us and I wish we’d thought of this sooner in our parenting life. We used binder clips to clip the sheet to seams in the tent and put them around the pack n play, sort of like a tent within a tent. We draped a second sheet directly onto the pack n play after she was asleep at night. These two combined helped her sleep until 6:30am or even close to 7 a few days, much later than she would have had the sun blazed in when it rose at 5am.
We use these same tricks when we’re staying other places too, like hotels or with friends or relatives. Our sleep is pretty important to us and these tips keep us all happy travelers.
Do you have a trick you use when camping or traveling to help your child sleep better? Share it with us. Any ideas how to get your child to sleep in until 8 or 9am, even when she doesn’t do that at home?
My typical pre-trip pace is frantic. I make lists, I wake up in the middle of the night, I nag my husband to do his tasks. This whole process starts long before the trip so by the time departure day arrives, there actually isn’t that much to do. I just like to get going as early as possible!
Adding a child to the mix has forced me to slow down. Recently we were set to leave for a week-long camping trip. That day Grace decided to take a longer nap than usual. The car was packed, the errands were run, the mail was on hold but Grace was still napping. I found myself with NOTHING to do. My first thought was panic – we need to GO! But then I realized no, we don’t. There was no plane to catch. We still had plenty of time to get to our campsite before dark. I could start my vacation at home and just relax. What a concept.
Now I just feel thankful to Grace for that longer nap and those few peaceful moments. They remind me of yet another reason we travel with our child. Because she teaches us so many important life lessons, without even meaning to.
Imagine this: 3am in a tiny, two-bedroom Seattle apartment. Steve, Grace and I are all sleeping in one bedroom. Our friends Son and Heidi are asleep on their sofa, having graciously given us their bed for the night. Their 2-year old Josh is just a thin wall away from us in the other bedroom. Grace wakes up with a whimper, which is normal as she’s 11 months old at the time and still nursing once in the night. I get her up, feed her, and put her back in her bed expecting her to fall back asleep. Instead her whimpers escalate to inconsolable wails. I try nursing again, rocking, cuddling. Steve tries walking her. Nothing calms her longer than a few minutes. After an hour of fruitless efforts to soothe, Son and Steve decide to take her for a drive. She finally falls back asleep in the car while Steve and Son drive from one end of Seattle to the other for two long hours. Truly Sleepless in Seattle.
In going global we hope our children will sleep peacefully in strange, new environments. After a long plane, train or car trip the whole family is exhausted and no one wants to stay up with a sleepless child. We were truly bewildered that night in Seattle as Grace had never had trouble sleeping before. A few days later we discovered she was teething, which probably paid a large part, but it also made us determined help her adapt to sleeping in new places.
Grace napping in Argentina on a bus, in the Ergo
For us the answer to relatively peaceful transitions to new places has been sleep practice. Yes, practice makes perfect when it comes to taking kids global. From our experience and that of friends with kids, children who practice sleeping regularly in all kinds of environments do better each time they find themselves in yet another new place. On the flipside, kids who rarely venture away from their crib or bed may have a hard time relaxing when faced with something new. This reality is ironic because the temptation is to stay home if your child has a hard time sleeping while traveling. We think the antidote is to keep on going.
Here are a few pointers, some our own, some borrowed from traveling friends:
- Move it around. Practice sleeping outside the child’s crib or bed on a weekly basis. For us that means naps at Nana’s on Fridays and at a neighbor’s on Wednesdays. If your child is always at home with you, have nap time in the pack n play in a different room once in a while.
- Have the luvvies but try not to get hooked. A familiar stuffed animal or blanket helps a child feel at home, but addiction to one particular item can mean big trouble if you lose Gerald the Giraffe in an airport. Grace always sleeps with a blankie and/ or multiple stuffed animals, but they’re not always the same ones. Maybe we just got lucky that she didn’t get attached to one, as we weren’t particularly proactive on this one.
- Use white noise. Any constant, soothing sound drowns out other sounds making unfamiliar night noises a non-issue. A fan, a loud air conditioner, a radio tuned to static or a portable white noise machine all work wonders to drown out disturbing sounds. It’s probably a good idea to use it at home as well as while traveling so your child is used to it. Grace slept, well, like a baby last weekend while camping with the white noise “shushing” right by her head.
- Keep a regular routine. At least as much as you can. Sometimes on the road you just have to miss a nap or push bedtime back a few hours but if you can, adjust your schedule so naptimes and bedtimes are at similar times to at home. Overtired kids have a hard time settling down at night. You might feel cheated of sightseeing time by going back to the hotel for naps, but the return of a restful night is so worth it.
- Have an alternate place for your child to nap. If you are going to be out and about when your child wants to sleep, have a carrier (like the Ergo) or a stroller that reclines handy so your child can snooze on the go.
How do you help your kids adjust to sleeping in new places while traveling? Do share!