x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Travelling with Kids: Holidaying with a baby feels like a long haul

On family "holidays", with the necessary routines for a 14-month-old disrupted, jetlag is the least of our family's worries.

Toddlers like routines. I know this and yet I have never quite managed to achieve clockwork precision in the timing of my 14-month-old daughter's day. Yes, she eats lunch and dinner at the same times - give or take 15 minutes - but I never rush back to base, foaming mouthed, to deadline. Instead, baby nibbles happily on a cracker in the back of the car as we make our way home. Similarly, sleep is a moveable feast. Sometimes she naps in the morning for 30 to 45 minutes, waking up just before lunchtime; on other days, she sleeps for up to two hours in the afternoon, or sometimes both.

I'm sure this non-militarised approach would raise a few eyebrows in professional, stay-at-home mothering circles, rather than the more ad hoc world of home-nanny-work-home in which I operate, but it seems to pay dividends when you travel. That, and having a genuinely hands-on dad for a husband.

When we all enjoyed a week-long break on the small Greek island of Paros last autumn, baby thoughtfully took catnaps over breakfast, tummy full of milk. Later, she dozed in the back of the car to and from the beach and, when she woke up at five every morning, Dad would take her for a walk down to the port to watch the fishermen land their catches while I enjoyed an extra hour in bed. Bliss. It was a schedule of sorts and certainly the recipe for a relaxing holiday but nothing that I could set my watch by.

Just six months later, considering a trip to London, and the prospect of a city break makes me inexplicably nervous: the possibility of jet lag looms. Would I, like my friends whose babies happily sleep to a timetable, find myself playing peek-a-boo at 3am every day; me bleary-eyed and desperate, baby desperate to run around? It's the stuff of nightmares that makes you wonder why you bother to go on "holiday". Let alone pay for one.

As it turned out, though, I needn't have worried. According to Richard Ferber, the director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children's Hospital Boston, and the brain behind the Ferber Method of sleep training, children are less prone to jet lag than adults, or rather, adjust to local time more easily because they find the sleep urge or homeostatic drive irresistible, overpowering the body's 24-hour clock set by routine. Choosing to believe in hope, Dad and I decided to tune into local time on touch down.

And so we landed at Heathrow airport at 7.20am local time. Three naps at four-hour intervals during what was essentially a 16-hour day, a relaxing hot bath and bottle of milk later, and baby was asleep at her usual-ish time of 7.30pm. I followed about an hour later. She woke up at 5am a little earlier than usual - over to you, Dad - but I chose to blame that on the dustbin men, clattering down the road. Of course it turned out that what I should have been worrying about all along was a cold bug and dose of diarrhoea that baby smuggled into the UK. Holiday? Sigh. What holiday?