Seriously Reconsidering Traveling with a Toddler…at 3 a.m.

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I am trying to be tough. Traveling with a toddler is not for the faint of heart, or at least traveling with my toddler isn’t.

Now, don’t get me wrong. She’s very sweet. She’s pretty easy going. She likes to explore and go new places and she even tolerates long road trips relatively well (although, that’s going downhill now that she knows how to shout the word “OUT!”)

Her problem is she doesn’t sleep, which means none of us sleep.

At home, she sleeps on a dependable schedule. This schedule – THE SCHEDULE, if you will – was carefully crafted after her first year of life when she did not sleep well by day or by night, ensuring we remained sleep-deprived zombies at all costs. After much work creating THE SCHEDULE, her sleep improved and we have stuck to that schedule since it has helped turn us back into functioning adults.

However, the flip side of the schedule is that Little Monster has become rather routine driven. She likes her crib. She likes her blankies. She likes her teddy bears and her white noise machine and her well-darkened room.

I do my best to recreate all of that when we travel, but she knows we’re not at home. That Pack N Play can kiss her diapered booty as far as she’s concerned.

We are in a hotel room in the Columbia River Gorge. The room is small with no great place for the Pack N Play. After a good hour, we get her to sleep in the Pack N Play. The Pack N Play is always better as she does not cosleep well, but also so that we can have an hour or two before we go to bed to pretend like we’re on vacation. Since we’re not rich enough to get hotel rooms with more than one room, this means sitting in the dark with our phones and watching videos on YouTube with the volume down. Yeah, that’s right. That’s how crazy we get.

Baby not sleeping in a hotel room
Is this 3 a.m. or 3 p.m.? Who knows.

It’s 3:19 a.m. and both of our eyes fly open as we hear her. She’s awake. She has discovered she’s in the Pack N Play. She is not at home. The horror!

I send forth my husband with instructions to rock her and see if she’ll go back to sleep. It has to be him doing the rocking, though. If I do it, that’s an instant invite to hang out and she will not let me put her down until morning.

He tries, but each time he tries to put her down, she wakes up again and refuses to go back to sleep. So we do something else we already know doesn’t work. We bring her in the bed with us.

A few months ago when we went to the beach with her, cosleeping worked. This trip, not so much. Little Monster is absolutely delighted to be in the bed and even more delighted that I’m there. We’re besties. She is always down to hang out with her bestie. No amount of tired can get in her way. Tonight, her definition of “hanging out” is rolling against my side – rolling and rolling and rolling. Can she not get comfortable? What’s going on? I have no idea, but she keeps rolling again and again. I try to relax and think of it like a massage, but periodically she smacks my face with her hand or kicks me in the side.

I tell her softly, “Go to sleep.” Because, you know, that always works.

Instead she rolls facing me and points right at my face, her finger resting on my cheek. “Mom!” she says. “Moooooooom!!”

Then she pokes me in my eye. “Eyesss.” And my nose. “Noz.” She sticks a tiny finger in my nostril for good measure. I’m sure she’s hoping I’ll be appropriately grossed out so she can giggle about it, but we don’t have time for games. It’s time for sleep. I do my best to look completely and utterly asleep, and completely and utterly uninteresting.

There’s nothing like those moments that are so sweet your heart is aching, and yet you also kind of just want to crawl into the hotel bathroom, close the door behind you, and give sleeping in the bathtub a try. I feel like I could get a pretty sound night of sleep in the bathtub at this point. But on second thought, my toddler would probably be at the door in a second, knocking fervently. Who taught her how to knock? Probably her dad…

Moments like this loop and repeat for the next hour, maybe two. I turned off the super bright hotel clock the night before during a similar episode when I became convinced the glowing must be keeping her awake.

Nope. Not the glowing. This has nothing to do with glowing. She is just sleep-allergic to hotel rooms.

I have no idea how much time is passing. She keeps rolling. It’s just way too exciting to be at the best sleepover ever with Mooooooooom.

She sits up and I can see her little cheeks arc outward. She’s smiling at me. Then she drops her head onto my sternum and nearly knocks the wind out of me. I hear her mischievous cackle as she turns over and leans her head on my stomach. Then the silhouette of her finger rises and I hear her whisper, “Daddy.” And then again, “Daddy!” Her jammie feet begin kicking him in the rib cage or hip or whatever she’s making contact with.

Welcome to the sleepover, Daddy!

At this point, I seriously begin to reconsider traveling with a toddler. Maybe some toddlers sleep on the go. This one just doesn’t. She doesn’t sleep in the car either. We timed our drive to this lovely destination to coincide with her naptime, thinking that surely a 3.5-hour drive would be long enough for her to get bored and relax and fall asleep. After all, the drive was during her scheduled nap. She is programmed to fall asleep then.

Nope.

She fought going to sleep for two hours beyond her usual naptime, leaving just an hour of drive time left.

Anytime we have brought her anywhere, we all average six hours of sleep a night…if we’re lucky. I have hazy memories of going to Utah, to the beach. As she continues barrel rolling against my side and head butting me, I am sure I will soon have hazy memories of the Columbia River Gorge as well. Although, I’ve gotten a lot better at running on fumes.

At least she’s always happy. Even low on sleep, she’s always her same shiny self. It’s me who gets a bit ragged around the edges.

In this moment, I am sure I will never sleep again. We have ruined her sleep forever. We will never be able to go anywhere. We’ll never be able to fly with her because if she won’t nap in cars and she won’t sleep in hotels, then for dang sure she isn’t going to nap on planes. What’s the point of spending money to travel if all we get is exhausted? Is traveling stressing her out? Is that why she’s poking and kicking and rolling her way through the night?

Is traveling the right thing to do?

Probably not. Whatever has resulted in this poking, rolling, kicking night escapade is not the right thing to do.

Early morning worries spin through my mind as Little Monster continues to roll over again and again beside me. I am 99% sure she will never get comfortable. I will never get comfortable. This is our new existence.

So I decide to tap out and put Daddy into the ring. He takes one for the team and sits in the hotel chair with her until she falls asleep.

All in all, start to end, we’ve been up over two hours with her when it’s all over and even while my husband is in the chair and all is quiet, I’m still awake, wondering in the dark if we should keep trying to travel with her or not, wondering what’s worth it.

It’s the next morning that my night questions are answered.

Traveling with a toddler
Pure joy at pine cones along a hiking trail.

The Columbia River Gorge is a place filled with open spaces and approachable hiking trails and cute waterfront towns with playgrounds and beaches. Little Monster is filled with wonder. We walk around the lodge property where we’re staying and everything amazes her – every pine cone, every rock, every flower, even a fire hydrant painted a jaunty red amazes her. She thinks its bolts are eyes. Little things catch her eye that wouldn’t have caught ours. She’s forming a view of the world all her own, and places like this are helping her form it even if she never remembers this trip.

Then I know, even if we don’t sleep at all…ever…on vacation, I know we will travel again. I know we will help her get used to sleeping in new places because it’s worth it to see her enjoying the adventure.

At least it’s worth it until the next 3 a.m. no-sleeping escapade, at which point I plan to resume my doubts all over again.


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