Planning to travel with a baby? You’ve worked so hard to establish good sleep habits and a naptime schedule back home, and many parents fear that traveling with their little one will undo all that hard work. Learn how to best manage naps and sleep schedules while on the road and in the air.
One of the biggest challenges of traveling with babies and toddlers is sleep. The little ones need lots of it. But naps and early bedtimes can really eat into the time you’d prefer to spend exploring your destination.
Once your baby transitions to one nap some time around 12-18 months, the travel schedule is easier. A good option many days is to take a mid-day break after lunch for a nap. One parent can even take older children out on a separate adventure during nap time.
But what do you do when you have a younger baby on a fairly rigid two nap schedule? Here are some tips for managing baby sleep schedules successfully while still having time to experience your family travels:
1. Make sure your baby gets one good nap a day.
If your baby is like mine, the best naps are ones in a crib in a quiet and dark room. If you try to do this twice a day, you will likely spend 3-5 hours of the best part of the day in a hotel room while your baby sleeps. This is not a recipe for travel success.
Instead, commit to getting one good nap a day, either in the morning or the afternoon. The other nap can be taken on the go, either in a stroller or baby carrier, or it can be skipped altogether.
2. Try to stick to bedtime most days.
If your baby isn’t getting great daytime sleep, it is important to stick to bedtime most nights. This is your baby’s chance to catch up. Retiring for the day at 7 or 8 pm, however, can cause you and your older kids to miss out on night time sights at your destination. Consider hiring a babysitter on your vacation for an evening or two so your little one can still sleep and you can have an evening out.
Alternatively, if you manage to fit two decent naps into your schedule one day, give yourself permission to stay out late one evening.
3. Bring the supplies you need for sleep success.
You probably already thought about where baby should sleep on your trip (Pack N Play, hotel crib etc.). But don’t forget other sleep-related gear. Since you will be aiming for naps on the go, be sure to bring tools to make those naps possible: baby carriers, reclining strollers, blankets, loveys, and more. My 9 month old son really likes to snooze on my chest in a carrier. Some of my friends’ babies prefer sleeping in a stroller with a blanket covering the hood to block light and sound. My daughter was a master napper in her car seat during roadtrips. Whatever your baby’s preferences, be sure to bring the gear you will need to make naps happen. If you aren’t sure what will work, try a few options at home the week before your trip as a dry run.
4. Take advantage of time zone changes.
On some travels with baby, changing time zones can be a real challenge. Babies get jetlag too!
But on some trips, time zone changes can really work to your advantage. For example, I live on the West Coast and often travel to the East Coast to visit family. I try to keep my little ones on West Coast time during our trips. This allows them to stay up until 9 or 10 pm on the East Coast and then “sleep in” the next day until about 9 am on East Coast time. This schedule works much better for maximizing our sightseeing. Better yet – no need to readjust back to a new time zone when we get home.
5. Don’t stress about it.
I always say babies can smell fear. If you stress about how much (or how little) sleep your baby is getting on a trip, your baby will too. Relax and it will go better for everyone. Yes, sleep is very important for babies. But having a few days off from your normal routine will not harm your baby’s development or permanently destroy your baby’s ability to sleep.
6. Get right back into your normal sleep schedule when you get home.
When you return home, your little one may be out of whack after days of sleeping on the go or as a result of trying to readjust to a time change. It is important to try to get your baby back on schedule as soon as possible. Sometimes parents find they may have to revisit sleep training after a trip. Other times, your baby’s adaptability may surprise you. Some babies never miss a beat and return right to their prior routines.