Sleep Tips for Traveling with a Toddler

Table of Contents

How to make sure your family gets enough z’s during your trip.

Planes, trains and AirBnbs… if the idea of getting your baby or toddler to sleep while traveling sends chills down your spine, you’re not alone. Traveling with young children can be stressful and exhausting for both you and your little one — but it doesn’t have to be.

Believe it or not, there is a way to travel with your baby where your vacation actually feels like a vacation! Once here you all get the rest you need, and everyone is ready for the day ahead. And we’re going to share all of our tips for how to get there. Whether you\’re dealing with a time change, the unknown at a hotel, or three flights with a cranky toddler, our founder and sleep expert Lola Sanchez knows exactly what to do.

Hotel or Airbnb stays

  • Make sure your temporary home base comes with a crib or pack ‘n play so you don’t have to bring your own, BUT do consider bringing your own sheets so your little one gets the feel and smell of home.
  • If your little sleeper needs total darkness, you can buy \” on the go\” blackout shades like these to make the room dark if the place you\’re staying doesn’t have good blackout options. And a small white noise machine will help, too, especially if you’re sharing a room with your baby.
  • Stick with your sleep routine. If you already have a solid sleep routine at home, keep it up! When babies have good sleep habits at home, they’ll be able to fall asleep in another crib following their regular sleep routine.
  • Talk to your baby to tell them what is different about this new space. Show them the new room when you get there. \”We are spending a few nights here. This is your crib and here will be our bed. Would you like to sit in the crib for a little bit to see how it feels?\”

Car Travel with a Toddler

  • Plan the trip around your child\’s naps. For babies on two naps, you can choose to leave early so they will get their first nap on the road and can take the second when you get to your destination.
  • Stick to an early bedtime during that first night of travel. If possible, after a long road trip (and especially if car naps did not go well), give children some time to run around and get fresh air — but plan to catch up with an early bedtime that night to recover from the trip.

Plane Travel

  • Expect the unexpected. “Flights are tricky,” Lola says. “In my own personal experience, there is a big dose of luck in how the trip goes with children. There will be trips that will be perfect and others where your children will have a very hard time relaxing and cooperating. The good thing is that eventually you\’ll get to your destination and will be able to catch up on sleep.”
  • Consider a baby carrier. Air travel can be uncomfortable and overstimulating for babies and toddlers. If your baby finds the carrier comfortable, bring it. It’ll keep him or her close and snuggly and able to sleep easily. The downside is that you may not be allowed to wear it during take-off or if there is particularly bad turbulence.
  • Some families choose to bring the car seat on the plane. For this option, your baby will need their own paid seat (until age two, they can fly on your ticket as a lap child). If you choose to bring the car seat instead of renting or buying one at your destination, it could help you set your baby in a comfortable, safe place both when asleep or awake. But keep in mind: then you’d have to carry a car seat.
  • Check into bassinets for long flights. Most large airplanes have specific seats that allow a mini bassinet for babies. This is usually better for newborns, as the weight limit is usually around 11 pounds. You’ll have to call the airline and ask to book this specific seat in advance; an option to do so is not usually available when booking online.
  • Stay calm. While you can think of everything you might need, always remember that it\’s ok if your baby cries. Babies cry — and for the most part, people get that. Do your best to stay calm and try to take turns with a partner if you’re not traveling solo.

Traveling to a different time zone

  • Be patient. Our internal clock will initially be out of sync with the local time. Typically, it takes our bodies one day to adjust for every hour you gain or lose. Your kids may be a little cranky as they sort this out.
  • If your trip is short, you might choose to keep your child in their original time zone. For example, if you are traveling to a place where it is 3 hours later and your child usually goes to bed at 7 p.m., put them to bed at 10 p.m. during your trip.
  • If you are staying in a different time zone for several weeks, give your body (and your children’s bodies!) time to adjust.
  • Always use the first day and night to recover from the trip. Try not to plan activities and get some good rest before going into more adventures. The next day, start doing everything at the local time.
  • Getting your baby (and everyone else!) exposed to natural light and fresh air is the best way to help the body adjust to the new time zone. Thanks, circadian rhythm!
  • Consider a little short-term help. “I am not in favor of melatonin as a solution for normal children\’s sleep challenges. However melatonin has been shown to be helpful for jet lag,” Lola says. “Ask your pediatrician if they consider this is a good option for your children the first night of your trip.”

 The Return Home

  • Traveling from West to East is always harder than traveling from East to West. So, depending on where your destination was you might have an easier way back or a harder way back.
  • As you settle back home, ideally try to return a couple of days in advance from sending your children to school again to allow them a few nights of good sleep to feel better rested.
  • You might have had different sleep arrangements during your trip, but as you return home help your children follow the routines that work best for everyone. This might mean showing your children that they will sleep in their own rooms and not with you.
  • \”I personally enjoy being back in my own bed and room when I come back from a trip. Help your children embrace this feeling of being back in their own rooms too\”.

Above all, says Lola, be flexible! We know this doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but it really is imperative to have an open mind and some flexibility when you’re traveling with your baby. Accept that you can’t control all the variables, and allow yourself to relax into your vacation.

“Some families enjoy staying on a regular schedule, while others enjoy just going with the flow,” Lola says. “Whatever type your family is, remember that we always need to sleep. So even if you enjoy no schedule, paying attention to your baby’s sleep cues or your children’s need for sleep, in general, will be necessary to make the time pleasant for everyone.”

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