Last Wednesday I left work feeling very chipper. I was off work for over a week, my first holiday since going back to work from Maternity Leave. SO EXCITING! We were all scheduled for a long weekend break with my Dad and Sister in Lisbon – somewhere I had always wanted to go. It was to be H’s first trip abroad. I had planned for most eventualities. But the reality was even more stressful and exhausting than anticipated – H spent the majority of the holiday crying, sleeping on me and refusing to eat. I cannot remember the last time I am felt so anxious about her.
We’re not entirely sure what was wrong with her but we think it was her molars continuing to cut through, combined with travelling stress / tiredness and potentially a mild stomach bug. The first night she massively overheated and ran a fever. That subsided over the course of Friday but she started refusing food and was only drinking the bare minimum. We pottered about and she would doze in the buggy or sit and watch the pigeons. Back in the apartment she would watch a bit of Frozen or curl up and sleep on me. For the first time ever, we had to co-sleep with her in our bed on Saturday night because she kept jolting herself awake. Fortunately the next two nights she settled happily in her travel cot and slept the night through, only waking for a drink of water.
From Saturday afternoon I just wanted to go home, which I felt terrible for thinking whilst on a family trip that we had planned back in September. Even when H was as calm as she could be resting in her buggy, I found it difficult to enjoy what was around me. (The Torre de Belém picture is my sister’s – something I’ve wanted to see for years but something I barely glanced at whilst she took that glorious photo!) Everything was different and I found parenting a sick child all the harder without knowing what her baseline behaviour would be in this new foreign place and without knowing the healthcare resources I usually have to hand were there. Of course medical help is there in an emergency but it’s not as simple to just get her ‘checked’.
Some people are born to travel and others are home-bodies; Every time I go away, I realise I am definitely more in the latter camp. The travel stresses and tires me and having to do it with a poorly and tired toddler was a truly horrible experience. Today both Sam and I are worn out with headaches and sore limbs (I spent over 60 mins carrying around a 12kg toddler who then laid on me for 3 subsequent hours, so I’m not entirely surprised by how I feel!). I am pretty sure H is now on the mend. She perked up as soon as we left the airport yesterday and munched snacks the whole way home. She’s been eating a more normal amount today and, despite her having more naps than usual, she’s back to wandering around and playing in between. I am hoping she is now just trying to get her energy levels back after 2 days with very little food.
Reflecting back now we are at home and looking at the few photos we took, she wasn’t in a state all the time. She did explore a bit on the plane journey there and she was playing like normal on our first morning. But it definitely wasn’t the trip we envisaged. Lisbon is also not at all buggy friendly; I have real sympathy for any disabled people living there. Perhaps if I had understood toddlers better when we booked last year, I would have suggested an alternative place.
There is something to be learn from every experience and here are my biggest ‘learns’ from our first trip abroad:
- Avoid city breaks: Lisbon wasn’t that different to most other southern European cities – busy and with cobbled streets, narrow pavements and lots of building work forcing you out on the road. It was really not the best location to take a toddler so when we next brave going abroad we will be avoiding cities;
- Get an apartment: Staying in an apartment rather than a hotel was our saving grace. There was somewhere to sit and watch TV when H needed to sleep on me; There was somewhere for her to sit and play; There was a kitchen to make and store a whole variety of food as we tried to encourage her to eat;
- Consider booking with family-friendly companies: We booked flights with EasyJet and an apartment with AirBnB. I have no complaints about either specifically but because we were doing a city break and we booked them independently, it also meant we had to manage our own transfers etc. On the flight home Sam said he could now understand the appeal of the package holiday for families: flights from airports that expect children, transfers arranged for you, easier and more assured access to baby and child facilities such as travel cots (we took H’s with us which was 15kg to lug round Lisbon!). Either that or travel with family or friends – we could not have carried all of that on our own with a child that cried excessively unless she was being cuddled;
- Allow RIDICULOUS amounts of time for the airport: Everything took so long! We barely sat down before having to board and whilst you are allowed to board early with young children, that basically means you just have to queue longer!;
- Consider holidaying in the UK or driving abroad: I’ve already admitted I’m a homebody but going abroad is time-consuming and costly. So if I were to consider it again, I would really ask myself if a UK holiday would be as good until H is a little older. Alternatively I think I would investigate driving to France or Holland because being able to chuck everything in the car is a lot more appealing that squeezing everything in to a case. I maintain the last few days would have been easier if I’d had H’s favourite yoghurts and abundance of Calpol available.