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My Top 5 Sleep Tips for Traveling With a Baby

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Cara Dumaplin

RN, BSN, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

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traveling with a baby

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Traveling with your baby can be such an exciting adventure. My goal is to ease some of the worries you may have so you can focus on making wonderful memories with your family. 

A mom of a 9-month-old told me, “Cara, I’m thinking of canceling our trip. We were so sleep deprived for the first 7 months of my daughter’s life. The last 2 months of her sleeping have 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 priceless memories with family and friends. Please, GO!

Let me share some of my tried and true sleep tips for traveling with a baby.

Planning to fly? My interactive guide, Flying with a Baby or Toddler, is here for you!  Let me help you take the guesswork out of flying. I cover everything you need to know from booking your trip, getting through the airport, handling sleep and entertainment on the plane, navigating time zone changes, and more. 

How do I get my baby or toddler to sleep while traveling on vacation?anchor

1. Start with a well-rested baby or toddler.anchor

The days leading up to travel can be hectic. We have loose ends to tie up, errands to run, and packing to do. This can interfere with your little one’s sleep. Do your best to protect your little one’s sleep time before your trip so that you don’t start your travels with a sleep deficit. Starting a trip overtired can make sleep harder during travel.

2. Plan accommodations carefully.anchor

If your baby or toddler is accustomed to sleeping in their own space at home, you will want to TRY to continue this while traveling. 

  • 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 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 your little one. (An office or well-ventilated bathroom can work great as a makeshift nursery!)

If a separate sleeping space simply isn’t an option, try to provide a barrier – or at least a considerable distance – between your bed and the baby. Check out the Slumberpod too (Code CARA).

 3. Pack the essentials to recreate the baby or toddler’s bedroom.anchor

Try to replicate your baby or toddler’s normal nighttime surroundings as closely as possible. Bring your:

  • Sound machine 

  • Lots of pacifiers

  • Sleep sack/swaddle

  • Crib sheet

  • Portable blackout curtains 

  • Bedtime routine essentials

If you’re staying at a hotel, check to see if you can request an actual crib. For some babies, this can work much better than a portable crib.

Also, check out rents4baby (code Cara for 10% off) or Baby’s Away for renting any baby equipment if you are staying in a rental home or with family.

4. Maintain your bedtime routine while away.anchor

A familiar bedtime routine cues your baby or toddler’s brain that it’s time to sleep. If you typically do a bath, give a mini massage, dress in jammies, feed, and then read a book, continue to do that while you travel. This predictable series of events reminds your little one that bedtime is coming, even if the 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.anchor

During trips, we often try to pack in as many activities as possible. Unfortunately, your carefully planned fun can turn into a disaster with a cranky, overtired baby. If your little one is taking more than one nap a day, aim for one nap to be at the hotel (or wherever you’re staying) most days of your trip. 

I recommend attempting to get a solid morning nap at the hotel (or at the home where you are staying). Send someone out for a coffee run, plan out your day, or just enjoy some relaxing quiet time, all while allowing your baby to get that restful nap. 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!  You’ll need to be flexible when it comes to how your plans fit into your baby’s nap schedule. If your baby is under 5 months, sleepy cues are important to keep your baby from becoming overtired. If one of your baby’s naps is short or on the go, you may need to make bedtime 30-60 minutes earlier than usual.

Our travel includes a time change, how do we help our baby adjust to a new time zone?anchor

If the time zone difference is 1-3 hours or if your trip is only a couple of days, I typically recommend keeping your baby on your home time zone. But, if the time change is too big, you’ll be away for several days, or this simply isn’t possible, here’s my advice: 

Make sure to use light to your advantage! During your baby’s awake time, be active and expose them to as much daylight or even bright indoor light as possible to adjust to the local time. On the other hand, keeping your baby’s sleep space as dark as possible during the early morning hours and sleep times will also be helpful for adjusting to the new time zone. It will also help minimize distractions during wakings in an unfamiliar environment. (Here are some fabulous travel blackout shades (use code Cara for 10% off.)

If you’re traveling east to west and need to adjust to the new time zone, you can try adding in an extra catnap in the late afternoon to help your little one make it to bedtime. If a catnap isn’t an option, you can try to shift bedtime later by keeping your baby awake a little longer (think 10-30 minutes.). Keep an eye out for those sleepy cues to try to avoid pushing your baby into a completely overtired state. 

If you’re traveling west to east, the time difference can actually make your life easier. The few hours you get traveling east will allow you to put your baby down for a “late” bedtime, even though it may feel like the same bedtime to your baby. So if your baby’s bedtime is typically 7 pm, maybe it gets “moved” to 9 pm. And the added bonus is you won’t have to leave your fun evening plans in the middle of dinner!

Keep in mind, shifting times can be difficult—even for adults! As your baby adjusts to a new time zone, you may see some wakings during the night and nap struggles. Try not to let this ruin your vacation. I promise you- you can get back on track when you get home. If you need a plan, I have classes to help. 

Help! My baby won’t sleep on vacation, what should I do?anchor

First, take a deep breath. Vacations can be tricky for baby sleep. Read through my tips above and see if there are any tweaks you can make. 

If you have been consistent at home with your baby’s sleep and you’re having a bit of trouble, 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.

If you need to provide extra sleep support while you’re traveling, it’s okay to do that. This might look like holding or rocking them to sleep (even if they are typically able to fall asleep independently). Just remember, vacations are temporary. If you need a plan to help you when you get back, check out my 5–24 Month Collection.

Please Note: If you took my newborn class, 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.

Where should my baby sleep while on vacation?anchor

My general recommendation is to have your baby sleep like they do at home. If they share a room with you at home, they should also share one with you on vacation. If they have their own sleeping space at home, try to give them their own sleep space on vacation – as much as this is possible (Take a look back at tip #2 for more). Just keep in mind that even on vacation all of our same safe sleep rules apply.

How do I help my baby sleep on a plane? anchor

Bring anything you might need to make your baby’s sleep on the plane successful: sound machine, sleep sack/ swaddle, books, pacifiers, bottle.

Whenever you expect your little one to sleep, take your baby through a mini version of their normal sleep routine. Keep in mind, it’s okay to provide rocking or extra support to help with sleep. You may also find it helpful to babywear them for sleep on the plane. 

At the end of the day, all you can do is try your best. It’s your job to offer the nap, and it’s your baby’s job to take it, so don’t stress about it. You can offer a cat nap later or move bedtime earlier to try to avoid overtiredness. Remember, what happens on vacation stays on vacation. 

Did you know I have an interactive guide all about Flying with a Baby or Toddler? It has all of my best tips for flying with your little one. It covers everything from booking your trip, packing lists, entertaining your baby at the airport and on the plane, sleep while traveling, and so much more.

What do I do when I get home from traveling with a baby?anchor

Once you get back from vacation, return to your normal routine and leave any tricky vacation sleep behind. If your nights are tough before traveling, all of my tips above can still help make your travels smoother. When you return home, if you need a plan for getting restful nights, my 5-24 Month Collection is here for you. It’s a customizable, step-by-step plan that will help you achieve consistent days and nights- it will also give you peace of mind knowing that your baby can quickly recover from an exciting vacation. 

If you already own my 5-24 Month Collection, you can get right back to your sleep plan. Be 110% consistent. Typically within 3-5 nights, you’ll have your great little sleeper back. If you need a refresh, the section “Getting Back on Track” is also there for you. 

Are you ready to have a great little sleeper?

If you're overwhelmed, exhausted, or just not sure where to start. I was there too. Let me show you everything you need to confidently handle sleep so your whole family can thrive!

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