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Traveling with babies, toddlers, and kids is a mixed bag of emotions – it can be overwhelming, a bit stressful, and even a bit scary, but it’s also incredibly fun, exciting, and enjoyable. One of the key factors that can make or break your trip is managing your child’s sleep effectively. We all know that an overtired, cranky child can put a damper on the entire journey, affecting not only the child but also the parents and travel companions. So, as a Sleep Consultant, I often work with families to ensure that their little ones get the rest they need while on the road, making the trip a truly enjoyable experience. Here are some of my top travel tips to help you make the most of your adventures with your kids.

Sleeping in a Different Environment

One of the biggest challenges of traveling with children is helping them sleep in a new and unfamiliar place. Just as adults have their preferred sleep environments, so do kids. Here are some tips to make their sleep more comfortable:

1. Make it as familiar as possible:

Replicate the sleep environment as closely as you can. This includes bringing familiar sheets, loveys, sleep sacks or blankets, sound machines, and night lights. Ensure that the room is suitably dark if your child is used to sleeping in a pitch-black room. You can even improvise with black trash bags or foil and portable black out curtain if needed. A travel cot is a must-have and I especially like the Babybjörn Travel cot

2. Create a separate sleep space:

If your child is accustomed to sleeping in their own room, try to establish a separate sleep area for them while traveling. If a separate room is not available, get creative. You can make a “fort” around their bed, or place the cot in the walk-in closet if there is one.

3. Practice makes perfect:

If your child will sleep in a cot, practice a few naps in it before your trip. Familiarity with the sleep space in their own room will help them adjust when in a new location.

4. Stick to routines:

Maintain your bedtime and naptime routines as consistently as possible in the new environment. The familiarity of these routines can make your child more comfortable and help them sleep better.

Air Travel

Air travel with kids can be intimidating, especially when you’re worried about your child’s sleep on the plane. Here’s how to handle it:

Baby Sleep:

Do whatever it takes to get your baby to sleep during the flight. Nurse, feed, use a pacifier, rock, hold, sing, or anything else that soothes them. On the plane, the usual independent sleep rules can be relaxed temporarily, and it won’t set you back in the long run.

Toddler Sleep:

For toddlers, bring their lovey or comfort items to set the stage for rest and possible sleep. Be prepared for the fact that they might not sleep, especially during daytime flights. Toddlers have more stamina than babies and may stay awake due to the excitement. Bring entertainment, snacks, and toys to keep them occupied.

Pro Tip: Don’t count on your child sleeping on the plane, and be prepared for possible overtiredness upon arrival. Adjust their bedtime accordingly and prioritize setting up their sleep space at your destination.

Car Travel

If you’re traveling by car and your child takes naps, plan your trip around their nap time to fit in an on-the-go nap. If you’ll be in the car for an extended period during the day, ensure your child gets at least 30 to 60 minutes of active play to help them sleep better at night.

Adjusting to Time Zones

Adapting to a new time zone can be challenging, especially with young children. Here’s how to do it effectively:

1. Sunlight:

Natural light helps reset your child’s body clock to the local time. Encourage exposure to daylight during their awake times to signal that it’s time to be awake. In contrast, creates a dark sleeping environment at night to promote sleep.

2. Grounding:

Allow your child to have bare feet on the ground and engage with nature. Studies show that grounding can help reset the body clock by using the Earth’s energy field.

3. Get on the new time zone:

Transition to the new time as soon as you can. Start by transitioning bedtime to the new time within two to three days. Balance this with avoiding overtiredness and adapting to your child’s specific needs.

Striking a Balance

While you want to enjoy your vacation, ensuring that your child gets enough sleep is crucial. Striking a balance between maintaining routines and allowing flexibility is key. Here are a few ways to find that balance:

1. 50/50 Rule:

Aim for a 50% adherence to your child’s normal sleep schedule and environment, and allow 50% for exceptions. For example, if your child usually takes two naps, plan for one nap on the go and one in their sleep space.

2. Plan Around Activities:

Adjust your child’s sleep based on your daily activities. If they have an on-the-go nap, plan for an earlier or normal bedtime. Balance late nights with subsequent early bedtimes to help your child recover from missed sleep.

Managing Expectations

It’s essential to manage your expectations when it comes to your child’s sleep while traveling. Be prepared for some adjustment time and potential night wakings. Your child may need extra comfort and support, but the goal is to let them fall asleep in their sleep space as they are accustomed to. Remember that it’s normal for your child’s sleep to need a bit of time to get back on track when you return home.

Some Free Resources: Packing Lists

Baby Packing List

Toddler Packing List

If you’re planning a trip and need more support in preparing for your child’s sleep while traveling, consider scheduling a complimentary Sleep Discovery Call with me to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey:

Here’s to happy, healthy sleep and making the most of your travels!