Let’s say it’s your family’s first vacation since your baby was born, and you’re looking forward to finally taking a trip again (as you should be!) However, your little one is sleep trained. Maybe you just successfully sleep-trained her, or he’s been on a solid sleep routine and schedule for the past few months.

What do you do when dinner reservations or extended family members are excitedly waiting to meet your baby on your trip? Do you throw your baby’s sleep schedule out the window and hope for the best? 

Our answer is, please don’t. 

Getting your baby on a sleep schedule took time and effort that you wouldn’t want to go to waste. Remember how many nights it took you to finally get them on a routine that works best for your family?

If you suddenly change your baby’s sleep schedule during your trip, you’ll end up with an overtired and cranky baby. And this condition will most likely bring about the same sleep challenges you worked so hard to resolve. The problem is that your baby won’t return to their regular schedule when you get home. They might or might not. 

Most likely, they won’t, and you’ll have to start coaching and training your little one again. Don’t get us wrong, we want you to enjoy your vacation! It will just take a little more planning and effort to make it work for you and your baby’s sleep.

Getting to your destination

Whether you’re getting there by car, plane, or train, these tips apply:

Use nap time as travel time

If your destination is a drive away and your child sleeps in the car, schedule the drive to coincide with nap time. 

Book flights during the day

Avoid booking very early morning, late night, and red-eye flights. These flights interrupt night sleep and will most likely interrupt your child’s sleep schedule even before the trip starts. Try to give your child a full night’s sleep before you begin travelling to stick to your routine as much as possible.

Prepare surprises throughout the trip

Bring special snacks and small toys you can give your child on the way to your destination. Stickers, a new colouring book, or a new toy are great ways to keep them occupied and in a good mood. This tip is especially handy for long-haul flights or long drives.

Dress for sleep success

If you can’t avoid a late flight or a night sleeping on the plane, change your child to their usual pyjamas to keep them comfortable and in a sleeping mood. For day trips, dress your child comfortably. Now is not the time to bring out a new outfit!

Relax your rules

Travelling with young children and babies can be challenging, don’t add to your stress by forcing your usual rules on a plane. While sticking to the rules gives a child much-needed consistency, don’t force them if they’re not working for you during a trip. Will some screen time buy you half an hour of peace and quiet? Give in and move along! Please don’t beat yourself over it.

Room and sleeping arrangements

For children two and half years old and younger

Babies and young toddlers should always sleep in a crib or Pack and Play for safety reasons. If you can’t bring one along, make arrangements with the hotel you are staying at or borrow one from the relatives you are visiting. 

For children two and half years old and older (older toddlers and preschoolers)

Create a defined “sleep space” for your child. If a crib or Pack and Play are not convenient options, you can create a “sleep space” for them. Move around furniture or bring a toddler bed or mattress. If your child ends up sleeping in their own big bed, as they do at home, tell them that the rules are the same. For example, they need to stay in bed until morning time.

Sharing rooms

You will most likely be sharing a room with your child while on vacation. Create a partition in the room so they can’t see you from where they are sleeping. See if you can hang a bed sheet or blanket to block their view.

 If you can, get a Slumberpod! A Slumberpod fits over a smaller crib, Pack and Play, or toddler mattress. It instantly gives your child their own sleeping space separate from you.

Sleep Environment

Keep the room dark

When it’s sleeping time, keep the room dark. If the room doesn’t have blackout curtains or window shades, improvise using garbage bags or travel shades.

Match your sleep environment to your home sleep environment as much as possible

Try to recreate your sleeping environment as much as possible. If you use a specific night light or a white noise machine, bring them with you on your trip. Bring your child’s favourite lovey and usual pyjamas. 

Sleep Schedule

Try as best as you can to stick to a sleep schedule but don’t stress over it

Maintain your child’s naptime and bedtime as much as possible to help them stick to their usual sleeping habits. However, if it’s your grandmother’s 85th birthday, having your baby stay up for an extra hour isn’t the end of the world. 

Crib naps

Try to get at least one nap in the crib or Pack and Play for daytime naps. A good-quality nap or two will help keep your little one in high spirits.

Keep a half-hour bedtime window

Your objective should be for most bedtimes to be on time or within a half-hour of your usual bedtime. One late night during your week-long vacation probably won’t ruin your child’s sleep routine, but five out of seven nights likely will. Try to stick to your usual bedtime as much as possible.

Stick to your routine

If a story and a goodnight kiss are part of your bedtime routine, continue it during your vacation. A familiar bedtime routine will help your child sleep better. 

Tell your family and friends

Be open with your family and friends and tell them that sleep is a priority for your child. Work with them to schedule and move around special activities and occasions to work as best as it can with your child’s sleep schedule.

Prepare for bedtime

Don’t expect your child to go straight from a party to bed easily. For a calm bedtime, make sure you allot enough time to settle down and do your usual routine before your child goes to bed. 

Travelling across time zones

Remember that each child is different, and it might take them a few days to adjust to the new time zone. Usually, it takes a child one to two weeks to fully adjust to the change. Be patient!

Trip will last three days or less

It may not be worth adjusting your child’s time zone for a trip that lasts three days or less. Try to split the time difference instead. For example, if there’s a 3-hour time difference, adjust to a 1.5-hour time difference during the trip.

Trip will last more than three days

Try to adjust to the new time zone immediately. It might mean adjusting bedtimes and awake windows, but getting on the new time zone even before you arrive will help you have a smooth trip.

For international trips with a time difference of six hours or more

Spend a lot of time outdoors and in the sunlight to help your child’s circadian rhythm. This will help them adjust to the new time zone faster.

If you arrive late, go straight to bedtime and make your child go to bed.

If your child wakes up in the middle of the night, allow them to stay awake for one hour. Keep the environment calm and the lights low. Do some quiet activities with them (like reading), and then after an hour, tell them it’s time to go back to bed.

Again, remember that this is temporary, and try not to stress too much over your child’s sleeping habits.

Going back home

Similar to going on a trip, arriving back home also entails some adjustments. Most babies and toddlers will experience some degree of sleep regression and will need to re-adjust to go back to their usual sleeping habits. Remember to be patient!

For minimal regression

Use a “leave and check” solution. Put your child in bed and leave the room. If they start to cry or complain, wait 10 minutes before going in to comfort them. Leave the room again. Repeat this process until they fall asleep.

For moderate regression

This needs a more rapid sleep training approach. Stay by your child’s bed for one to two nights, then slowly leave the room to help them learn to fall asleep again independently. You can also do regular check-ins, with ten minutes between checks.

Severe regression

Severe regression means you need to start the sleep training and coaching process again. This situation might happen after an extended trip or when a child couldn’t stick to their routines and sleeping schedules during the trip. 

It’s okay! These things happen. Get the help and support you need to get through the sleep training process again.

Must-bring packing list for good sleep

  • Lovey or special blanket
  • Favourite toy
  • Favourite bedtime books
  • SlumberPod, dark trash bags, or travel shades
  • Night light
  • White noise machine
  • Travel Cot or toddler bed
  • Comfortable pyjamas
  • Swaddle or sleep sack

While vacations and family trips are always fun, prepare for some challenges and necessary adjustments when travelling with a sleep-trained baby or toddler. Remember that each child is different, and the same goes for their sleep. Some toddlers might have no problems doing their bedtime routine in a hotel room, while others will need more time to adjust to an unfamiliar place.

Be flexible and be ready to undergo the sleep training process again if necessary. This is all part of parenthood. Remember that the days are long, but the years are short. Before you know it, your child won’t need any help to sleep, and you’ll be forcing your teenager to get out of bed at noon.

Vacations and family trips are an excellent time to create core memories your child will bring with them throughout their lives. So, don’t stress, be open, and relax. Have fun! Do your best to stick to your routines, but if not, there’s always tomorrow to try again.