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How To Preserve Your Child’s Sleep When Traveling On Vacation

picture of a mom and a toddler on a plane
Christine Brown

Christine Brown

Thinking about your child’s sleep while traveling on vacation can bring on a full blown anxiety-fest in parents. So I want you to take a DEEP BREATH with me and let’s explore how to preserve your child’s sleep when traveling on vacation! If you are a planner, this will help ease some of the anxiety leading up to your trip!

Oodles of patience, plus realistic expectation

As you may know already, babies and toddlers don’t like change at all.  It will help to know that sleep will likely be a little off for a few days at the beginning of the trip and when you return home.  This is normal and not a reason to cancel all vacations forever!   

Having realistic expectations before your trip is helpful. If you go into the trip knowing ahead of time that sleep may be off, you can make the best of it. That whole “expectation is the route of all disappointment.”

Also keep in mind that when you return home from vacation, your child’s sleep is likely to be a little bit off for a few days while they adjust to being back home.

Packing for Your Trip

Preserving your child’s sleep while traveling on vacation, starts before you even leave!

As you are making your packing list, make sure that you have the applicable items from below on it. The comforts of home will help your littles to feel more comfortable and to adjust to their unfamiliar surroundings. 

  • Your child’s lovey or comfort item
  • An unwashed sleep sac – it will smell like home and may help to calm your child
  • A crib sheet from home – the feel and smell of the sheet from home will feel familiar
  • Your sound machine
  • For toddlers, their ok to wake clock and any sleep safe nightlights
  • For big kids, their Zenimal Meditation Device (use discount code: BELLALUNAFAMILY for 5% off)
  • A Slumberpod (use discount code: BELLALUNAFAMILY for 5% off) – or –
  • Black trash bags and wide blue painters’ tape.  You can black out hotels, Air BNBs or a relative’s house, which will help your baby or toddler to nap and sleep well at night. See an example here.
  • Your child’s bath products and anything else that you use for the routine – keeping the bedtime routine the same is important to help with the transition

Planning out travel days

Here are some suggestions on how to plan out your travel days to give your child the best chance at getting some rest while you en route to your destination.

Travel by car

  • Shorter car trips, between 1-3 hours, drive during naptime. 
  • Longer car trips, over 6 hours, it can help to drive overnight, especially with younger children. 

Travel by plane

  • For air travel, if it is in the budget, book a separate seat and bring your little one’s car seat.  This increases the likelihood that your child will take a nap.
  • Bring loveys or comfort items – this will help your little one to fall asleep.
  • For babies and nursing toddlers, nurse or bottle-feed at take-off and during landing.  This will help with the pressurization of the cabin and help your baby’s ears to clear.  For toddlers that are no longer nursing or bottle-feeding, provide them with a chewy snack to help clear their ears or have them drink something. 
  • On air travel days, sleep is likely going to be off – don’t stress about it.  If your little one naps – great!  If not, you can always compensate with an earlier bedtime.
funny meme about how we don't take vacations with our kids, we take trips. vacations involve umbrella drinks and no one saying your name

When you arrive

It’s almost time for fun, but first, get your little one’s sleep space set up:

  • If your little one has the option to have their own room, that is the best option. 
  • If you are room-sharing, try to put the crib or pack-n-play as far away from where you will be sleeping as possible.  Also, think outside the box – a walk-in closet can make an excellent, dark temporary nursery.  Another good option for families that travel a lot is the Slumber Pod or the Snooze Shade.
  • Hanging a sheet from the ceiling with command strip hooks will create a visual barrier.  This can help your little one to settle at bedtime and resettle at night if they can’t see you.
  • Black out the room with the black trash bags and painters’ tape if the room doesn’t have adequate blackout shades/curtains
  • Turn up your sound machine
  • If you are traveling time zones, check out this article for additional guidance

Before bed

In a new environment, your child’s bedtime routine from home will help to make them feel safe and prepares your little one to settle into sleep.  Try to stay as close to the routine as you can.

Scheduling tips

There is NO WAY you will be 100% on schedule on vacation and that’s ok!  But try not to completely throw the schedule out the window.  Here are my top schedule sleep tips:

Early morning wake ups

  • Try to ignore an early morning wake-up if your little one is happy – they may put themselves back to sleep!  If they are unhappy, try to soothe your little one back to sleep as to not wake everyone else.

Naps

  • Try to book your room near the beach or the pool. This will help you sneak back to the room for a good-quality nap.
  • If you are on the go, have a stroller that reclines so your little one can get a snooze on the go.  If you can rest your feet while your little one naps, even better.
  • Sunglasses on your little one (if they’ll keep them on) can help create a darker environment for sleep. Or you can use a breathable cover or shade.
  • Plan travel times around nap time so your little one can nap in the car between destinations.

Bedtime

  • Try to keep bedtime at the normal time if at all possible.  Our children respond best to a consistent bedtime that will enable them to get the required amount of sleep based on their age.  Babies, toddlers and preschoolers normally need in between 11-12 hours of nighttime sleep.  For school-aged children they need 10-12 hours nightly. 
  • If your little one didn’t sleep well the night before and took naps on the go, you may want to move bedtime earlier. This will help them make up for the lost sleep. 

Nightwakings

It’s hard to know how to handle nightwakings when we are traveling! We don’t want to create new habits, but also we don’t want to wake others! Here are some tips on how to handle nightwakings:

  • If your little one wakes throughout the night, try to do as little intervention as possible. Scale back if you can as your child adjusts to the new location.
  • Bringing your little one into bed with you should be a last resort. This is such a slippery slope and this can quickly become a new habit that you’ll have to break when you get home

When you return home

Once your vacation is over and you are getting back to reality, keep in mind that it will take a few days to adjust back to normal and for your little one to recoup any sleep debt that they accumulated over vacation. 

I hope that these tips to preserve your child’s sleep when traveling on vacation help you and your entire family to enjoy your trip AND get the rest you all need to truly enjoy it! 

Let’s connect

Need help getting back on track when returning from vacation? Or is sleep a hot mess all the time? We’d be happy to help you figure it all out. Schedule a discovery call and we can talk about working together during a free intro call. Tag us @bellalunafamily in your vacation pictures to show us your sleeping kiddos! 

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