Traveling with babies and young children has it’s challenges.
One of the hardest things to do is ensure your baby gets enough quality sleep.
Even if you’re planning a quite relaxing vacation, flights plus a new environment and different routine can be enough to majorly disrupt your babies sleep.
That doesn’t mean that a family vacation is a bad idea though. There are plenty of things you can do to minimize sleep disruption, get your little one to sleep in a different place, so that you can actually enjoy a vacation with your family.
How do unfamiliar environments affect baby sleep?
First, let’s look at the science of sleeping. Baby Sleep Science suggests that we are supposed to wake up when we fall asleep in an unfamiliar environment. Everyone does this. That’s how our brains are wired.
This is why we adults toss and turn the first night in a hotel room. Babies are no different. If they fall asleep in your arms and then wake up in the crib, they are more likely to be alert during the wake up time.
Therefore, keeping as much of your routine familiar as possible is the most effective way to handle sleeping schedules on vacation with your kids.
Let’s look at some ways to do just that:
1. Catch up on sleep before your trip
In other words, don’t curse your trip from the beginning by having it follow a crazy, unpredictable few days at home.
Before you leave on vacation, try to have a few slow-paced, regular days at home so everyone is ready for the craziness of flying and settling into your destination.
2. Keep your daytime nap routine consistent
Babies can’t tell time. So, don’t worry too much about the exact clock time while on your trip. Focus more on the routine of the day and the sleeping environment.
You want to think through where the baby is going to sleep and what you need to bring with you to make the environment as optimal as possible for good sleep.
If your baby has two naps, try to keep those two naps consistent. The timing of those naps will change, but the consistency helps the baby adjust.
Be willing to adapt to your kids’ needs.
3. Ditch the traditional hotel room
Hotel rooms are definitely not the best option when you have a baby. If you can pay extra for a suite they can be OK, but if you plan to save by booking a studio you could be in for a lot of sleepless nights.
Your best option is to look at vacation rental home service, like Airbnb. Many times, you will find a better alternative for family vacationing that is just as affordable as a hotel room.
If a hotel is your only option, see if there is a suite with a separate bedroom or lounge area available. You could also ask your reservation agent for a room that is most requested by families.
If you need to share a room with your baby, use a sheet to create a little sleeping nook in the closet. You could also use white noise to keep baby from getting distracted by the noises of everyone else in the room.
We have a more detailed guide to surviving a hotel room with your baby here.
4. Keep your room as dark as possible at night
If you are staying at a hotel, take advantage of the hotel blackout curtains. You might also consider purchasing a travel blind to keep light out of your room.
This would actually help everyone sleep better, and help baby during nap times when it’s light outside.
5. Call ahead to secure a crib or bring your own
Pack-n-Plays are convenient, but not all kids sleep well in them. If you are staying at a hotel, you can ask for a crib. Bring your own “smells like home” sheets and blanket .
If you don’t want to try your luck with the hotel or will be staying in different locations, your best option is to invest in a travel crib.
There are a few good options to consider. The best all crib for most travelers is the Lotus Travel Crib.
If weight is a concern and you need to fit your crib into your suitcase, the best option is the Phil&Teds Travel crib.
For infants you can also look at the more budget friendly Kidco Peapod.
6. Don’t try and pack too much into your day
Here’s a scenario: My husband and I were in Orlando, Florida, for a conference without our children.
We had just finished dinner at a lovely restaurant in a shopping area right beside Walt Disney World, and we were headed back to our hotel for bed when a family with small children passed us.
The family members, donning their souvenir hats, were coming straight from the Disney Park. As the visibly tired parents pushed the stroller towards the restaurant we had just exited, my husband and I heard the dad say, “We are just going to get something to eat, and then we can go to bed.” Everyone else was crying.
Don’t be that family! Enjoy the fun, but eat and go to bed at a reasonable hour!
Vacationing with a little one is ambitious enough. Don’t push it by scheduling in a ton of activities. Babies thrive on routine, so limit your fun and adventurous activities to what can fit in and around sleep schedules.
Try to focus on having fun in your present reality. Instead of “This is the only time I will ever see this place with my family,” think of this trip as “This is what we can do with our kids at this present time.” This mentality keeps you from cramming in too many activities.
7. Keep their bedtime routine consistent
Keeping a consistent bedtime routine is not always easy while traveling. But, as at home, babies do better when you do the same sorts of things every night for a good night’s sleep.
Give a bath if possible. Sing the same songs. Bring along their favorite toys and lovies. Read a book. Babies will get that it’s time for bed, even if it’s in a weird place.
Pack some snacks, books, and games for the adults to have a little (quiet) party in the room when the kids fall asleep.
You might even have to lounge in the bathroom for a bit or sit outside the door for twenty minutes or so. Welcome to the parenting life!
8. Make their sleeping environment as familiar as possible
After going through the bedtime routine, make the sleeping environment as familiar as possible.
Use blankets and sleeping toys that smell like home. If you have a lovie or pacifier to soothe the baby, make sure you have a spare or seven, and maybe toss in their nightlight, too.
9. Mentally prepare yourself for some night time waking
Here’s the thing. Babies are not robots, and they aren’t formulaic. So, even if you take all of these precautions, and you do everything you can to ensure a good sleeping environment for your baby, that baby might still wake up several times in the night.
Prepare yourself to experience this. Remind yourself that it’s only temporary, and you will all catch up on sleep eventually.
Going back to point #6, if you haven’t over scheduled the trip, you can all get a nap the next day or an earlier evening again the next night.
10. Bring a white noise generator
This won’t apply for everyone, but if your child is used to sleeping with a noise machine, you might bring along a way to make white noise or soothing music – something like a spare phone would be great. It’s portable and compact.
You could also look into purchasing this travel clip-on white noise machine, this portable speaker and white noise combo, or a toy that also makes white noise, like a sheep sleep. Even if you usually don’t use a white noise machine, using one on vacation could help cancel out the unfamiliar noises that could keep baby awake.
11. Don’t start habits that will be hard to break when you get home
If you are not a co-sleeping family, vacation is not a great time to start being one. Resist allowing baby to sleep in bed with you. If neither one of you is used to sleeping together, it’s unlikely anyone will get better sleep.
And this will be a hard habit to break when you get home.
However, if you end up accidentally having everyone in your giant king hotel bed while watching a movie, and they all fall asleep easily and soundly (including you and your spouse), don’t tempt fate. Let sleeping dogs lie (so long as they are old enough to do so safely). You aren’t going to completely ruin anything. Let them sleep! You’re on vacation!
Hopefully these tips have made you less afraid of that upcoming beach trip.
I love going on trips with my family, but I also love sleeping. As parents, we can make a lot of our decisions from fear of the unknown.
And vacations have a lot of unknown variables that can be scary. If you take a few precautions and focus on the right attitude, your next family trip could make lasting memories!
Do you have any other travel tips for taking baby along with you? Head to the comments section, and let’s hear them. Share this article if you found it helpful.