Traveling to a Different Time Zone with a Baby in Tow

Mar 10, 2021

Because of the Coronavirus, you might have traveled less in the last year than you liked. Graduations, weddings, and baby showers were canceled across the country as we tried to stay safe. But with the promise of normalcy on the horizon, you might be starting to plan for a family trip in the near future.

As wonderful as it is to have your whole family with you on a trip, traveling with a baby is no small feat. Changing time zones can be especially challenging because tired babies are often crabby babies.

So what can you do as you get ready to travel into a new time zone? Our expert sleep trainers put together a few tips to help baby get the rest he needs so everyone can enjoy their vacation.

Go Slow

You will need to help your baby adjust to a new time zone, and it will likely be a slow process. If you’re only going to be gone for a few days, it might not be worth it to change anything. On the flip side, if you’re moving to a new place or crossing several time zones, it’s probably in your best interest to start to change things before you hit the road.

The easiest way to change your baby’s schedule is to shift everything forward or backward 10-20 minutes per day (depending on the direction you’re traveling). That means, if you’re jumping several time zones, you need to start the process a few weeks in advance.

If you’re only adding or taking away an hour, you can either change the schedule before you leave or once you get to your destination. An hour difference should only take about three days to incorporate, so it’s probably worth it if you stay for a week or more.

Keep the Routine

Babies and children thrive on routine, so do your level best to keep as much the same as possible. Going on a trip means a lot of new things – new people, scenery, foods, living conditions – and your baby will definitely notice.

Change is hard for babies, but one thing you can do is keep the bedtime routine the same (as best you can at least). Take a warm bath, use lavender lotion, read books, sing songs, and snuggle with their lovey – all of those things can help your baby wind down at the end of the day. You might also consider turning down the lights and shutting the blinds during your bedtime routine to help your baby feel ready to sleep.

Adjust the Ambiance

There’s often not a lot you can do to change the ambiance where you’re staying. It’s not like you can install blackout curtains at your mom’s house or in a hotel room, but a dark room can significantly help with bedtime.

So what do you do?

If you have a thick blanket or access to dark fabric, you can hang it up on the wall using painter’s tape. Additionally, taping aluminum foil up on the window can block out the light quickly and cheaply.

If your suitcase has the room, you might also want to throw in your child’s nightlight and sound machine. The familiar light and sound will not only help your child get to sleep faster, but also feel more comfortable in his new environment.

Too Tired = Bad News

We get it: it’s really tempting to cut out baby’s nap, so he’ll be extra tired and therefore sleep super well, right? I mean, that kind of logic works for adults!

For babies, the exact opposite is true. Overly tired babies often sleep worse than well-rested babies, so regard those naps as sacred. We know that it’s hard to keep your everyday schedule when you travel, but if you can adjust your itinerary to allow your baby to nap in a dark room away from stimuli, he’ll have a better time sleeping at night. Just be conscious to adjust your baby’s naptimes, so they’re not accidentally butting up against bedtime.

Get Out and About

We mentioned your baby’s circadian rhythm in this article about getting your baby to sleep longer in the morning, but it’s worth talking about here, too. The circadian rhythm is our body’s way of letting us know when it’s time to wake up and when it’s time to be asleep. There are many things that contribute to your circadian rhythm, but one is the amount and type of sunlight you get each day.

One way to help your baby’s body get adjusted to the new time change is to start your baby’s day with the sun. Open the window or drapes, buckle them in the stroller, and get a sunny walk first thing in the morning. Getting out into sunlight right away will help your baby know that it’s time to wake. Additionally, a few brisk walks in the sun each day helps provide stimuli that will make your baby tired by the end of the day.

As you approach bedtime, try to stay out of the sunlight as much as possible. That can be tricky – especially if you choose not to adjust to the new time zone or the sun is staying out later – but coming inside early can help your baby wind down and be ready for sleep.

Traveling with your family is an opportunity to make memories for a lifetime, but a tired, grumpy baby can make those memories less than pleasant. As you prepare for your trip, keep these tips in mind so that everyone stays happy, healthy, and well-rested.