Traveling with an infant or toddler can be stressful. I am one of those mommas that loves to travel but I would DREAD the thought of sleep going sideways as a result. Often little ones are super curious and become over stimulated with all the hustle and bustle of an airport, all the gadgets in the plane, new people, lights, loud noises etc. My kids, being just like any other very easily become overstimulated, so, I have realized there are things I can get on top of before getting to a potential tantrum phase. Then of course, there can be hotels, friends and family visits etc., BUT we do not have to throw consistency completely out the window! I can tell you firsthand, I have been that mom with the screaming toddler sitting on my lap prior to take off. I have had to travel during nap times, and I have learned through each experience. I learned how to do things better the next time around. Below I have some tips to help guide you so you may avoid, as much as possible, making the mistakes I have in the past!
The most important thing while traveling is to really respect and honor your child’s sleep needs. This is something I realized early on with my daughter Isla, who is a child that thrives on schedule and routine just like her momma. Now I am not saying that you cannot enjoy your vacation because your babies sleep is number
1. I am simply saying that it is a good idea to try and overcome hurdles before they happen and stick to the “norm” as best you can. For me, some of the hurdles would include catching Isla’s tired signs when they happen, not when it’s too late. Bringing items from home. SNACKS. I always try to keep my kids busy during times I expect they likely will not sleep. Like a game, a story book, I Spy, simple things!
Here are some suggested tips to make travel and sleep much easier for your whole family!
Book airplane travel for early morning flights when they are their freshest and the happiest. Do not expect them to nap on the plane, but bring their favorite snuggly, blanket and book on the plane and let them sleep in your arms if they can. Some “quiet play” or down time can go a long way!
On our trip to Hawaii early 2020, we had no choice but to book our first flight in the afternoon, nap time, arriving in Hawaii past midnight. This is the worst-case scenario. I was DREADING this day. So, I did things to prepare. Chris and I purchased the Jet Set Kids carry-on bag that can convert to a bed when in flight (we double checked that Air Canada would allow us to use this – and turns out you can!). I knew that Isla, who now required her own seat, would really benefit with having the ability to stretch her legs and get as comfortable as much as possible. We packed a small pillow, eye mask, her bunny, and a light blanket in her bag.
For Jagger, who was 2 months old at the time, I purchased a wrap from Solly Baby (SO COZY) and planned to wrap him after take-off. This way he could be close to my chest and allow me to be virtually hands free and have easy access to breastfeeding. I definitely felt as prepared as I possibly could be. The flight went well! There was a short period of time where my very over-tired toddler had a mini meltdown, but I knew for her, the key was to remain patient, calm, and to just give her love while she was exhausted. As for Jagger, well he slept most of the flight! Do not stress if they do not nap at all on the way to your destination – it is just one day.
On arrival to our Airbnb, we set up Islas room. We were lucky enough to have a separate sleep space for her- huge win! While I tucked Isla into bed dad did the same with Jagger, who we were able to put in a pack n play in the walk-in closet! (If you can find an Airbnb that supplies thing like this that is a great find! Ours had two pack n plays, a stroller, booster seat and beach toys!!) We expected the kids to wake early due to the overtiredness from the night previous therefore we had normal nap routines as we would at home and counted on an early bedtime the first night.
The red eye flight on our way home from our wonderful family vacation turned out about the same. We made some minor tweaks in who sat where (I chose the window seat this time with a pillow to rest my arm that Jagger would slump into) and we all felt as rested as we could be. Isla had a very nice 3-hour sleep on the plane and the rest of the time she kept busy with games or watching movies.
Overall, I really like to tell families to take it easy on themselves during travel. There are always unforeseen circumstances, and this is the best time to go with the flow so you can really enjoy your vacation.
When it came to Hawaii and our middle of the night arrival, I made sure to pack our sleep gear in one easy access spot. I also packed this bag at least a week ahead of departure. I had a list of last-minute items I could not forget, like a nice light sleep sac for Jagger. There are many options out there, I would suggest something light for a warm vacation like the ergoPouch 1.0tog Sleep Suit Bag or Sleep Onsie. We also packed Isla’s bunny and favorite blanket. As soon as we arrived, we were able to set things up very quickly and run through our normal routines. Keeping things as consistent as possible helps your kids understand that it is time to unwind and prepare to go to sleep.
If at all possible, and depending on your chosen destination, you might want to break up your flights. I suggest you focus on trying to arrive at the hotel or Airbnb by 6 pm their body clock time in case they need to go to bed early. (Newborns can go direct as they are happy to be held for 10 hours straight, like Jagger on our Hawaiian vacation).
Request a separate sleeping area for your child and their playpen – even if it is the laundry room, walk in closet or an en-suite bathroom. Make sure it is well ventilated and as dark as possible.
Honor their nap time(s) and bedtime. Often family members will try to push back bedtime, but I always reassure them that our kids are much more fun in the morning after a nice big consolidated nighttime sleep.
Stick to your routine. If there is a tub, I will almost always give my kids a quick bath as this is typically our nightly routine at home and a great way for them to burn some excess energy.
Friends and Family can do the routines for you! Your child will be happy as long as the routine is exactly 100% the same as it is with you!
You can start your little one’s bedtime at one house and finish it at another – even with a car ride in between. This is much better than having your child get overtired and trying to stretch him to 9 or 10 pm at night. Plus, it will be more relaxing for you. Sticking them in their comfy pjs, like the ergoPouch pajamas makes the transition from bed to car to bed much easier!
I suggest doing road trips at the start of the day when they are in good spirits and well rested! Depending on how far you are going, you will most likely be at your destination by bedtime or shortly after. If naps happen on the road, then great! I have always had great success with this. If I know I can keep my kids up during the car ride. until nap time then we will hit the road within an hour of them waking. Then, I cover the windows when possible, hand them their snuggly, turn up the fan or turn on their portable noise machine and say goodnight!
When you arrive at your destination – 2 hours, 4 hours, 6 or 8 hours later, you carry on your regular day routine depending on where things land in terms of nap of usual bedtimes.
It is ideal to have a separate sleeping area for your child. However, if you are not in a suite then I recommend traveling with a double sheet or asking the hotel for one. It doesn’t hurt to ask if an upgrade is possible upon arrival- occasionally we will get lucky!
You can usually fit one end of the crib into a hotel closet when doors are opened up. I suggest doing this and tack the sheet up around the open end to create a little mini room for your child- this will provide a space with no distraction for your child. I specifically bought the Phil & Teds v4 travel play pen because it is so much smaller than the pack n play. I can fit this bed almost anywhere. I usually have great lucky fitting it into a closet!
Ask the hotel to set up the playpen or crib before you arrive. This is something I make a point of doing when I know we might be pushing nap or bedtime on arrival.
If you have a suite – set up the playpen/crib in the master room where you are going to be sleeping later that night. Do your bedtime routine just like you would do at home. To put this into perspective, for Isla, this includes a bath, pjs, story, and song. For Jagger, the routine is very similar. Bath, pjs, story and song, into his cozy sleep sac (I love these as they offer me piece of mind that my baby will be warm and cozy all night long) Put them to bed at their regular bedtime or earlier if they have not slept well during the day.
I also suggest traveling with a white noise machine so the loud sounds in the hall or in your room from the TV don’t wake your sleeping little one. Plug it in by their crib and turn it up! I use the HoMedics and Marpac machine on white noise. I love how it can be used plugged in or on batteries. I always have it on a continuous setting.
Go into the living area (or to the bed if you are in a single room) and order room service and enjoy your evening watching a movie. Some hotels also can arrange a babysitting service to come in if you want to go out for dinner.
The best advice I can offer is that you allow yourself to enjoy travelling. You are on vacation! Sometimes extra treats happen, naps on the go happen but when you have the opportunity- stay consistent and your kids will sleep like a dream!
If you have some personal questions about your little one’s sleep you would like to have answered, please contact Natalie Moran at firstname.lastname@example.org or book a FREE 15 minute call at https://weesleep.as.me/natalie