I’ve always loved traveling, and having a baby never slowed me down. I started traveling with my daughter when she was just 3 months old. Since then, we’ve regularly taken six to eight trips per year to destinations including The Bahamas, St. Thomas, Anguilla, Bermuda, Naples, Florida, Newport Beach, California, and anywhere else we can dig our toes into the warm, soft sand.
Parents often tell me that one of their greatest concerns when traveling with little ones is that their baby won’t sleep. Please don’t let that keep you from booking your next trip. Putting these tips into action will help you get plenty of rest (even without following a rigid daytime schedule) so you can relax and enjoy your hard-earned vacation and make lasting memories together with your family.
Recreate their room at home
If your baby is used to sleeping with a sleep sack, white noise machine, pacifier, or lovey, be sure to bring any and all of those items along with you. It may seem like a lot of stuff (welcome to traveling with kids!), but every thing you can do to make her sleep space resemble the one she’s used to will help her sleep better in a new environment.
Pro tip: if you’re staying in a hotel that’s providing a crib, call the front desk ahead of time and ask them to text or e-mail you a picture of it. In my experience, many hotels call a Pack ‘n Play a crib, but kids often don’t sleep as well in them as they do in a regular crib. Knowing ahead of time what to expect can help you avoid an unwelcome surprise. If the hotel only has a Pack ‘n Play available, consider renting a real crib through a company such as BabysAway at your destination.
Hotels usually have great blackout curtains in the room, but if you’re staying in a home rental then be sure to pack at least two black lawn garbage bags and painters tape. You can use them to temporarily cover the windows and block out the light in the baby’s room without causing any damage to the walls.
Make a sleep nook
If your baby or toddler is used to sleeping in her own room at home, she’d ideally have her own space during your trip, too. But of course, that’s not always possible. You still have a few options to help create a separate sleep area even if you’re in a shared room. One option is putting the baby’s crib in a well-ventilated bathroom or walk-in closet with the door cracked. (A baby sleeping in the bathroom isn’t ideal for your bladder, but these are the sacrifices we make for a good night’s sleep!) You could also try positioning a desk chair between the crib and your bed with the back facing the crib to break the line of sight. Just make sure your baby can’t reach the chair from inside the crib. This way, if your baby wakes during the night she won’t immediately see you in the bed nearby and think it’s time to play.
When planning your travel days, don’t worry too much about timing your flight around your baby’s nap time. There are too many variables beyond your control such as whether or not the flight will be on time and whether your baby will nap during the flight even if you time it perfectly. Instead, try to book a departure that doesn’t interrupt your baby’s normal wake time in the morning so you can start the day with a well-rested kid and plan to arrive at your destination in time for early bedtime.
During your trip, naps may be off. Do your best to keep your baby on her normal nap schedule, but know that sometimes your baby might fight her nap, it may be shorter than usual, or she may have to nap on the go. (Or, heck, you may be having so much fun in the pool and eating ice cream that you don’t want to go inside for a nap—live it up!)
It’s more important to plan for an early bedtime. Especially when traveling, expect bedtime to be 30 to 60 minutes earlier than normal. An earlier bedtime will allow your baby to make up for any lost daytime sleep during the night.
Reserve child-care in advance
Just because your baby’s in bed by 6 p.m. doesn’t mean you have to sit in a dark room all night, too. Mom and Dad should have some fun! Plan to stay at a family-friendly hotel with onsite child-care providers who are licensed and bonded. I started using hotels’ babysitters when my daughter was as young as 9 months old and continue using it to this day (she’s 7!) When she was little, I’d bring my video monitor from home, put my baby to bed, and have the babysitter sit right outside the room with the monitor. I’d tell her to call me if the baby woke up and didn’t settle on her own so I could come running back. This enabled me to enjoy a night out, while staying on the hotel’s premises. For me, it was always a win-win. Be sure to schedule the babysitter well in advance since they often book up, especially during busy travel times of the year. Remember, it’s your vacation, and you should enjoy it, too.
Get back on track at home
Things are going to be different with sleep when you’re traveling with a baby and that’s okay. In order to avoid creating new habits, though, be sure to return to the way things were as soon as you get home. Perhaps your baby took a nap in the car seat or stroller most days during your trip. Once you’re home, return to having your baby nap in her crib if that’s what you normally do. Maybe you fed your baby during the night while you were away to avoid waking up the entire hotel at 3 a.m. If you’d previously cut out nighttime feedings, work toward dropping them again at home. It may take your baby a few days to get back on track, but as long as you remain consistent with returning to your routine then your baby will soon adjust accordingly.