Oh Baby, Let’s Travel

Eight Sleep Tips for Traveling With An Infant

Cara Dumaplin, Founder
Traveling can be such a relaxing treat or exciting adventure. 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 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. Vacations and holiday travels create priceless memories with family and friends. 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 with you in case you’re concerned about baby sleep while traveling:

1. Start with a well-rested baby.

Even before we travel, we have schedules full of loose ends to tie up, errands to run, and packing to do. 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. Room-sharing can lead to tough nights if your baby is not accustomed to sharing her space.

If you’re staying at a hotel, try to book a room with a separate living area or attached room. I know this is not always feasible, so in a pinch, the bathroom of your hotel room works just fine too, as long as it has plenty of space and 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.  Check out the Slumberpod too. 

(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. Watch a video with instructions here!)

 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.

4. Maintain your bedtime routine while away.

A familiar bedtime routine cues your baby’s brain to the coming sleep. 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 or if bedtime is later than normal. Consistency in this routine is key!

5. Try to get one good nap a day.

During trips, we often try to pack in as many activities as possible. Unfortunately, your carefully planned fun 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). Send your partner out for a coffee run, plan out your day, or just enjoy some relaxing quiet 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.

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 30-60 minutes earlier than usual.

6. Be aware of the time change.

If your trip is 3-4 days or less, you’ll probably just want to keep your baby on his own time zone. For vacations lasting longer, you may need to make some adjustments to help your little one adjust to the time change.

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 your fun evening plans 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 LA, that would equate to a 4:00 pm bedtime. This simply isn’t possible. Her parents offer a “catnap” from 4-5:00 pm and then put her to bed for the night at 7:00-7:30 pm 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 5:30pm local time. With all the new surroundings and constant 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, get outside when possible. Be active and expose that little one 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!

Please Note: If you took “Will I Ever Sleep Again?” you don’t have to stop implementing your newborn tips during your travels! The same techniques can certainly still be applied on your trip. Remember—you can even let your sweet little one nap in your mom’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 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. Watch your class and get right back on it. 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 travel plans?

She admitted it was the best trip 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, they were back to 10.5-12 hour nights simply by following their plan taught in The ABC’s of Sleep.

If your nights are tough even before you’ve considered traveling, you can still apply the tips above to help you survive your travels. When you return from your trip, I have help for you! “The ABC’s of Sleep” gives you a step-by-step plan to follow. It is 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) vacation.

hey there!

I'm Cara.

I’m a mom of four, neonatal nurse, and wife of a pediatrician. My passion is teaching parents how to help their babies sleep with the science of a nurse and the heart of a mama so they can reclaim the joy of parenthood.

I'm Cara.

I’m a mom of four, neonatal nurse, and wife of a pediatrician. My passion is teaching parents how to help their babies sleep with the science of a nurse and the heart of a mama so they can reclaim the joy of parenthood.