We are just back from our first family holiday. When we booked the sea view hotel room, I pictured us sitting on the balcony sipping wine in the evening while our four-month-old baby girl slumbered peacefully in the room.
It’s probably no surprise that reality didn’t meet expectations, and at one point when we were contemplating whether it was just easiest to go to bed at 8pm, I did wonder if we would have been better off staying at home. However, the trip also brought some nice surprises so although a holiday with a baby bears no resemblance to previous hotel breaks it was well worth it.
We didn’t go anywhere too exotic, just a hotel a few hours drive away. This had the advantage that we weren’t restricted in luggage size and could pack a few extra things, like a couple of familiar toys. This came in useful because, miraculously for Ireland, the weather was actually really good, and the hotel didn’t have air conditioning, so it was too warm for her usual sleeping bag, but I had packed a contingency thin blanket so we could be flexible.
When I saw the big cot the hotel provided, and how tiny she looked in it compared to our bedside crib at home, I figured she would never sleep well in it. She completely proved me wrong and once we got her to sleep she loved the extra space and had the fewest night awakenings so far. I was the one waking every few hours and checking the time in amazement (it seems my mummy body has just got used to being awake at night). Now I feel much more confident that when we do move her to a cot at home it shouldn’t be as much hassle as I might otherwise have thought.
Getting her to sleep was a bit of a challenge because she has got used to sleeping in a dark quiet room. Therefore in a hotel room where we were all in close quarters it initially appeared like we either had to keep her up past her usual bedtime and manage the resulting tears, or sit in the dark with the curtains drawn, missing out on the gorgeous sea view and trying to have a whispered conversation. Neither option exactly fun! On the first night we just ended up going to bed early, but after that we had some success getting her to sleep in her pram or in the dark of the bathroom before transferring her to the cot, and we were able to enjoy the view and conversation as she slept.
Outside the hotel was a path along the seafront that was 700 steps long. I know this because between us we paced it several times to help our baby get to sleep, or give our other half an extra hour sleeping in bed. There is something almost spiritual about walking on the seafront as the sun rises with your baby with just a few sea birds for company, but a slightly longer route would have brought some welcome variety.
Evening meals in the bar were a mixed success. She usually started off asleep but woke up at some point, and after a bit of a cry she was content siting up on our knees for long enough for us to finish the meal, even if it was a bit rushed. It was a family-friendly restaurant with lots of kids in it so we felt very relaxed, but still didn’t want to linger too long past her bedtime. On the last day of the holiday we had more success with a long leisurely lunch, so probably would have opted for that a few more times.
During the day we were out and about sightseeing, shopping, going on a boat trip and visiting some museums and a wildlife park. Even though I don’t follow strict patterns at home I suppose I have got into a few rhythms and I was worried all the disruption might upset her. But again she surprised me and coped brilliantly. Being constantly on the move in the car, pram or sling meant she slept when she needed to and was happy and awake in-between, and not having to think about nap times or activities to entertain her meant I was more relaxed.
She might not have been old enough to appreciate the activities, but she was exposed to knew sights, sounds and sensations so I think it was no harm for development. It was also so rewarding watching her smile at fellow tourists and see their reaction.
Without even realising it as a mum at home with the baby I have got used to doing things my way. Suddenly having my partner there all day was wonderful but also interesting as he obviously wanted to be involved and try things his way. For example, at a particular moment I might think my baby needs quiet and he wants to play tickles. Sometimes I was right and had to bite my tongue not to say ‘I told you so’. However I would say an equal number of times I was wrong, and his way worked so I was learning new things that I wouldn’t have if we just stayed home.
Overall the holiday took me out of my comfort zone a bit, and wasn’t hassle-free, but that also meant I learnt new things about my baby that will give me more confidence in the future. It was also really good to spend time doing things with my partner and we will certainly have some good memories and photographs to tell her about in the future.
So if you are thinking of planning a holiday, I say go for it. And based on our experiences, here are my top tips for a successful first holiday with a baby:
- Plan your route when driving, and know where the good service stations are, so if your baby needs a feed or change you are not searching too long for one.
- Pick a family friendly hotel – even if you don’t need many of the facilities provided there will be lots of families staying so they will be more understanding and you will feel more relaxed if your baby cries.
- If possible pick a room with a separate bed and living area, so you can put your baby to bed and still have a bit of space for yourselves.
- If your baby likes to sleep in a pram choose somewhere where you can walk outside, preferably with a variety of routes.
- Don’t assume the hotel room will provide the same sleeping conditions as your nursery, so either be prepared to adapt or take along accessories to mimic your home conditions (e.g. blackout blinds, a fan or white noise to cancel out background noise).
- Consider switching round meal times so your longest meal is at a time when your baby is usually asleep or content.
- Most importantly enjoy watching her reactions to new places, even if things don’t go according to plan, you are learning, and will look back on these memories fondly.