It has taken you a few weeks to get your baby into a good schedule and sleeping well. Now that you’ve put in the time, effort, and energy to make this big change in your family’s life, that trip you have planned for next month is starting to stress you out! If you’re like most parents, your biggest fear is that a trip is going to derail all the progress you and your baby have made and cause you to start this process all over again. The good news is that it is possible to have children who travel really well if you keep a few things in mind.
The biggest problem parents often have is that they over-schedule themselves. However, it is important to try and respect your child’s schedule. Although you may vary slightly from your child’s normal schedule, try your best to stick to it as closely as possible.
- Try very hard not to skip a nap. An occasional car nap is ok, but try not to make a habit of it. However, a car nap is better than no nap if you have no other option. Additionally, a slightly later bedtime probably isn’t going to do too much harm, but if your baby spends a couple of days taking car seat naps here and there and having late bedtimes, she may become so overtired that by the time bedtime rolls around on day two, she has a complete meltdown and seems to “forget” all her sleep skills. So just be careful. If this happens, you might start to get very nervous because your baby, who has been happily chatting herself to sleep for weeks, is now protesting again, and you are worried the crying may bother your hosts or other hotel guests. You may start to give into to your nerves and bend your expectations for your baby’s sleep. It is easy to see how you could revert back to your old ways in no time, so again be careful.
- It is very normal for babies and toddlers to test the boundaries around sleep when they are somewhere new. Just because the rule is the rule at home, that does not necessarily mean the rule is the same at Grandma’s house or in a hotel. This may mean that your baby cries for some time at bedtime or has a night waking or two. The best way to handle it is to not do too much differently than you would if the regression happened at home. You can go in every five minutes or so to offer a bit of reassurance, but other than that, try your best not to bend your rules. If you hang on tight to your consistency, within the first night or two, your child will be used to the new environment and will be sleeping well again.
- Make sure you bring your child’s sleeping toy and/or blanket (comfort item). Also if you use a sleep sack at home, bring that along too. Stick to your nap and bedtime routine as closely as possible. You want the sleep environment to be as familiar as possible.
- Another problem parents run into is the bed share with their baby or toddler while traveling. Bed sharing is a big no-no! Even if it is only for a few nights, if your baby decides this is her new preferred location, you could find yourself starting all over again when you get home. Most hotels have a crib you can use or rent, or take your pack and play along and use that as a crib.
- If your child is eight months or older, our advice is to try to make some sort of a private space for your baby to sleep. This could be the bathroom (if it’s big enough) or the closet. Anywhere that you can build some sort of a partition between you and your baby so that if she has a wake up in the middle of the night she is not so excited to see her two favorite people that she ends up wide awake thinking it is playtime! Of course, getting an extra bedroom for your child is great if that is an option for you.
When it comes to surviving the plane ride, the best piece of advice we can offer about traveling with kids is just to accept the fact that you’re traveling with kids! So plan ahead and bring as many things that you can think of to keep your baby occupied and comfortable. If you have to resort to “old ways” to get your child to settle down, then do so. Just know that as soon as you land, its back to the plan!
Well-rested children handle jet lag much better than sleep-deprived adults. If your baby has had a great schedule leading up to the trip, he should slide into the new time zone without too much trouble. It is best to adjust to the new time zone as quickly as you can.
If you really feel like your baby needs an extra nap to catch up a bit, try to limit it to 45 minutes. Try not to let her nap too close to bedtime. If it is a choice between a strangely timed dinner hour nap or an earlier bedtime, we always suggest you go with the slightly earlier bedtime.
Sunlight is a useful tool in helping both you and your child adjust to the new time zone since light is the most powerful time cue our bodies have. Try to plan meals and socializing around the new time zone as well, and get an hour or two of fresh air in the early afternoon.
Make sure you do just the opposite when evening rolls around. Use the blackout blinds, and keep light to a minimum a couple of hours before you want your baby to go to bed. This will help stimulate melatonin production, making him sleepier. We always travel with some pegs to secure curtains and tinfoil and tape to cover windows if needed! Also, if you use a white noise machine at home, bring it along.
In spite of their best efforts, many parents find themselves reverting back to old, familiar sleep props with their children when they travel. If you find that it has all fallen apart in just a week or two, the good news is that it is just as easy to get back on track within a week or two, too! So as soon as you get home, start your plan over – and hold tight to the memory that your child is capable of doing this! He just needs a push in the right direction from you.
Sleep can be a challenge and we are always here to help with great free training, downloads, and resources. Join my free Slumber Made Simple Facebook Group, I host monthly free training on Newborn Sleep and for children from 4 months through 5 years in my Save Your Sanity Sleep Bootcamp, and share my secrets to sleep in my 7 Tips for Restful Sleep Guide, which you can access here and start changing your sleep today! Also, check out my Instagram where you can get even more tips and tricks for successful sleep!
My name is Courtney Zentz, a Pediatric Sleep Consultant from Philadelphia, PA, Postpartum Doula, Lactation Counselor and founder of Tiny Transitions. As an award-winning sleep consultant, I help exhausted parents teach their infants & toddlers to sleep well every night with gentle, customized solutions and both group and private coaching options, so your family can all be at their best. Based in Philadelphia, I work in-home and virtually to provide the support families around the globe that need to all be at their best. Join me in my Slumber Made Simple Facebook group, where you can ‘meet’ me in my live weekly Q&As, get valuable free content and build a healthy sleeper for life!