The first time we took our twins on a vacation in a different time zone, I worried so much about sleep schedules and bed times we lost half our day. Between worrying about nap time and rushing back from dinner to get to bed at the normal time to try to keep some semblance of a schedule, we ended up putting way too much pressure on ourselves and our kids. For a vacation that was supposed to be relaxing, our insistence on sticking to sleep schedules almost ruined us.
For the first few months of life as parents, everything was about getting onto a regular schedule and sticking to it. Feedings, naps, activities, and especially sleep time were all regimented as we tried to get into a routine of normalcy and claim back our nights. Though it took months to get there, we eventually did thanks to strict sleep training. Naturally, we were insistent on adhering to a similar schedule regardless of vacation time because we were afraid we’d have to fight to gain a schedule back if we lost it.
So when we did go away, our trip involved custom scheduling down to the hour and minute just to make sure the boys got their naps in at the exact right time and got to bed on their normal schedule. But it didn’t last long in practice. We discovered that it just wasn’t worth the stress and missing out on experiences in new places for the risk we’d mess up routines. Instead, we realized we could embrace the local culture and lifestyle and because of time zones and travel, resetting when we got back wasn’t a problem.
In Spain, we grabbed mid-afternoon siestas later than the normal nap time which also allowed us to stay out later without tired meltdowns and tantrums. We dined later like the locals and even got to enjoy a few meals with a leisurely compliment of drinks like the locals which we never do at home. In Toronto in the winter, we were able to make the most of limited hours of sunlight with short naps later in the evening as the sun set so that we could get in some out door ice skating in the sun.
The adjustment in mentality to travel with kids was easier for the kids than for us. They adjusted pretty much instantly. It took us a few days to really embrace the change and learn to let go of tight schedules and just enjoy. It turns out that children are quite adaptable and elastic. They adapt to change pretty easily. Just like they can quickly adjust to a new time zone much faster than adults and overcome jet lag, they can switch sleep schedules easily too. There’s no real difference between adjusting to a new time zone and adjusting back to a normal sleep schedule.
We also learned to put less pressure on ourselves and set better expectations about how much we could realistically do in a day while traveling with kids. We also decided to prioritize relaxation and breaks which improved our enjoyment of trips too. Instead of the packed days I had grown used to where we’d be out of the room from dawn to dusk, trying to cram in every sight and tour, we changed and added in stops for midday naps some days and didn’t stress out about longer mornings at museums or zoos on others.
In the end, the biggest adjustment was just to our own way of thinking about vacations and planning them. It’s even trickled over into our trips without kids. While traveling to Texas this month just the two of us, we even found time for a nap one afternoon. Once we let go of our fear of impacting schedules, we actually avoided more of the stress we were worried about and began enjoying vacations better. If you find your travels are filled with anxiety about schedules and routines, it might be time to try some flexibility. It might just work out better for everyone.