Oh Baby, Let’s Travel for the Holidays:
Eight Sleep Tips for Your Baby

Cara Dumaplin, Founder

November 17, 2017

As we approach the holiday season, our calendars are filling up with parties, shopping, and travel plans. However, if you are traveling with a baby, “vacation” can often feel like more “work” than staying home.

Let me share a conversation I had about this time last year with a mom of a 9 month old:

“Cara, I’m thinking of canceling our trip. My family has only seen my daughter once. I miss them so much, but I just don’t think we’re going to fly back home.”

After pressing further, she shared this: “We were so sleep deprived for the first seven months of my daughter’s life. The last two months of her sleeping has been so great that I just don’t want to mess it up.”

Want to hear my advice?

Please, please, please do NOT cancel your trip. Do NOT let your fear of sleepless nights rob you of one moment of joy. Holidays create priceless memories with family. Please, GO!

I went on to give her some of my tried and true sleep tips for her travels.

I’d like to share some of those same tips in case you’re concerned about baby sleep while traveling over the holidays:

1. Start with a well-rested baby.

During the holiday season, we have schedules full of parties, shopping, and packing to do, even before we travel. This can make your days hectic and also interfere with your little one’s sleep. Do your best to protect your baby’s sleep time before your trip so that you don’t start your travels with a sleep deficit. An overtired baby nearly guarantees a rough trip.

2. Plan accommodations carefully.

If your baby is accustomed to sleeping in her own space at home, you will want to TRY to continue this while traveling. Remember: your baby, even sleeping, is incredibly aware of your presence.

If you’re staying at a hotel, try to book a room with a separate living area or attached room. Honestly, in a pinch, the bathroom of your hotel room works just fine too, as long as it has adequate circulation!

If you’re staying with friends or family, talk to them in advance about the possibility of separate room accommodations for you and the baby. (Even an office works great as a make-shift nursery!) Maintaining your baby’s own sleeping space is the best-case scenario for making sure EVERYONE gets a good night of sleep! If this simply isn’t an option, try to provide a barrier, or at least considerable distance, between your bed and the baby. (A sheet hung with command strips from the ceiling does a great job of dividing the room. Just keep the sheet safely out of reach. Here is a video showing exactly how to do that.)

3. Recreate the baby’s bedroom.

Try to replicate your baby’s normal nighttime surroundings as closely as possible. Bring your sound machine, special blanket/lovey, lots of pacifiers, sleep sack/swaddle, and even his own crib sheet.

If you’re staying at a hotel, you can request an actual crib. For some babies, this can work much better than a pack-n-play. Also, check out Baby’s Away for renting a crib (or other baby equipment) if you are staying with family.

Some babies do very well sleeping in a pack-n-play. If this is your plan, do a trial run with the pack-n-play in your baby’s room several nights before your departure. Practicing nights in the pack-n-play while in the familiar environment of your baby’s bedroom can set her up for success while traveling.

If your baby is used to sleeping in a DockATot, make sure to take it with you.

4. Maintain your bedtime routine while away.

A familiar bedtime routine is a cue for your baby’s brain that sleep is imminent. If you typically do a bath, give a mini massage, dress in jammies, feed her, and then read a book before placing her in the crib, continue to do that while you travel. This predictable series of events remind her that bedtime is coming, even if her surroundings are slightly different. Consistency in this routine is key!

5. Try to get one good nap a day.

During holiday trips, we often try to pack in as much family activity and visiting as possible. Unfortunately, these festivities can turn into an absolute disaster with a cranky, over-tired baby. If your little one is taking more than one nap a day, attempt to get a solid morning nap at the hotel (or at the home where you are staying). Make some hot cocoa, sit by the fire, wrap your last minute presents, and enjoy some cozy family time, all while allowing your baby to get those important Zzzz’s.

Starting the day rested can allow future naps to happen in the car seat, in grandma’s arms, or in the stroller at the mall.

Remember: Traveling can be tiring! Watch sleepy cues for naps, and follow the guidelines from the blog post Nap Schedules 5-25 months. Recognize that if naps are short or happen on the go, bedtime may need to be earlier than usual.

6. Be aware of the time change.

If possible, keep your baby on his own time zone. Holiday travels are often short trips, and shifting times can be difficult—even for adults!

If you’re traveling west to east, the time difference can actually make your life easier. For example, if you are traveling from Phoenix to NYC and your baby’s typical bedtime is 7:00 pm, staying on your same time zone means you can put your baby down at 9:00 pm NYC time. This will feel like the same bedtime to your baby, but you won’t have to leave grandma’s Christmas party in the middle of dinner!

If you are traveling east to west and the time difference just isn’t feasible to maintain your same time zone, try adding in a catnap to help your little one make it to bedtime. For example, six-month-old Ella typically goes to bed at 7:00 pm in NYC. While visiting family in LA, that would equate to a 4:00 pm bedtime. This simply isn’t possible. Her parents let her take a “catnap” from 4-4:40 pm and then aim to put her to bed for the night at 7:00-7:15pm LA time.

Other parents find just pushing bedtime an hour or so later helps when the time change is just two hours. For example, Lukas is used to a 7:30 pm bedtime in Tennessee, but while visiting Arizona, his normal bedtime would only be 5:30 pm local time. With all the family activity, he was well entertained and did okay staying awake until 6:30 pm local time. This “splitting the difference” works for many babies.

When adjusting to a different time zone, make sure to use light to your advantage! During your baby’s awake time, be active and exposed to as much daylight or even bright indoor light as possible. This naturally helps your baby to adjust to the local time. As for early morning wakings: please be sure to keep the baby’s room as dark as possible. This will help to keep your baby from waking up quite as early in that unfamiliar environment. (Here are some fabulous travel black out shades.)

7. Break the rules a bit.

If you have been consistent at home with your baby’s sleep, now is the time to let go a bit. Relax and have fun; enjoy your family time. You have a great sleeper so don’t stress over how much (or how little) sleep your baby is getting. This is a short-lived time with your family and friends. Your baby will get back on track when you return home. Yes, your sleep coach is giving you this advice!

(Side Note: If you took “Will I Ever Sleep Again?” you don’t have to stop implementing your newborn tips during your travels, but feel free to relax a bit! The same techniques can certainly still be applied on your trip.  Remember—you can even let your sweet little one nap in Aunt Margaret’s arms most of the day without ruining the night sleep you’ve established.)

8. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Okay, so you didn’t go to Vegas, but whatever happened during your holiday travels, stays there. Once you are home, go right back to your normal routine.

If you have already completed “The ABC’s of Sleep,” pull out your booklet when you return home and read it again. Get right back on track. Be 110% consistent. Typically within 3-5 nights, you’ll have your great little sleeper back.

Case in point: Remember that 9 month old whose mom was considering canceling their Thanksgiving plans last year?

She admitted it was the best Thanksgiving ever; her family simply fell in love with her daughter! Now, the trip wasn’t 100% blissful: naps were rough on a few days. They had some middle of the night wakings and twice fed her in the night (even when mom knew she wasn’t hungry).

Guess what?!? Within just three nights of returning home and implementing The ABC’s of Sleep, they were back to 10.5-12 hour nights.

If your nights are tough even before you’ve considered traveling, you can still apply the tips above to help you survive the holiday season. When you return from your trips, we have help for you! “The ABC’s of Sleep” gives you a step-by-step plan to follow. It is an online class with a balanced approach in teaching your little one to sleep in her crib while still providing hands-on reassurance. It is a 14-night journey to restful nights AND peace of mind knowing that your baby can quickly recover from an exciting (but exhausting) holiday vacation.

Cara Dumaplin

Cara Dumaplin


Cara Dumaplin is not a blogger. She is, however, a mom to four kids who keep her laughing daily. Although she swore she would never date a doctor, it is with joy that she admits marrying her husband, a pediatrician, was the beginning of a crazy-amazing life together. (Albeit, she has had to learn to forgive him for constantly feeding their kids Pop-Tarts for breakfast.) A registered nurse with 18 years experience, Cara’s eyes light up when she discusses her passion of educating, encouraging, and empowering new parents.  Follow Taking Cara Babies on Facebook or Instagram for helpful baby sleep tips, successful infant sleep stories, and a glimpse into this chaotic, yet blessed life. For more blogs by Cara, you can click HERE.

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