13 Toddler Travel Sleep Tips from a Child Sleep Expert

Sleeping well is one of the biggest challenges of traveling with babies and young children. Nothing ruins a vacation faster than lack of sleep, regardless of age. Help your whole family get a good night’s rest during your travels with these toddler travel sleep tips from Davis Ehrler, a postpartum doula and child sleep counselor.

Toddler sleeping on vacation
Toddler sleeping on vacation (Photo credit: quintanilla, Depositphotos.com)

I interviewed Davis Ehler about her 3 Day Sleep Solution program, which teaches parents of children to instill good childhood sleep habits. The focus is on understanding children’s biological needs, from newborn to 8 years old. As the mother of three daughters, she knows how challenging it can be to sleep soundly while traveling with children. Here’s her expert advice for a restful vacation.

If your child is used to sleeping on his own at home, seeing mom and dad in the same room can make them stay awake on vacation
Sleepy toddler (Photo credit: leungchopan, Depositphotos.com)

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1. Be patient.

According to Ehrler, your child will need two to three nights to adjust to the new surroundings and schedule while traveling. She says, “The first couple of nights, you don’t sleep well on vacation. We adults might watch TV until we fall asleep or read longer than usual, even if we don’t do that at home. And some of us will even have a glass of wine or two.”

Ehrler advises, “Children are no different than we are. Parents expect too much from themselves and from children while traveling. Know that we all need some time to adjust. Period.”

Young child sleeping with a stuffed toy
Sleeping toddler with a beloved stuffed toy (Photo credit: romrodinka, Depositphotos.com)

2. Squeeze in nap time.

If your child still takes naps, Ehrler suggests returning to the hotel room to put your child down midday when possible. 

I asked what she thinks of using long car rides or stroller walks to induce vacation naps. Although Ehrler insists on regular naps in the child’s crib or bed at home, she says, “On vacation, the naps may take place in strollers or the car seat and at the beach. It’s sleep, but it’s junky sleep. But you have to do what you can to make the naps happen.”

Parents reading a bedtime book to children
Bedtime stories (Photo credit: Wavebreakmedia, Depositphotos.com)

3. Arrive before bedtime.

According to Ehrler, reaching your destination before your child’s bedtime lets the family start your vacation on the right foot. Getting a good night’s sleep from the start is better than playing catch-up throughout your stay.

Remember this when scheduling flights with babies and car trips with toddlers. Consider different time zones and attempt to get on the new schedule right away. Booking a red eye might seem like a good option, but it will likely set up your family for toddler jet lag and all-around crankiness.

Toddler and baby having a bedtime bath
Nighttime bath (Photo credit: FamVeldman, Depositphotos.com)

4. Recreate bedtime routines.

Ehrler says, “You might blow their naps, but be sure to get them to sleep at night.” To do that, you should stick to at-home bedtime rituals even while on vacation.

Whatever you do at your house, maintain the same sleep routine in your hotel or vacation home. This includes reading stories, taking a bath, or singing lullabies.

Well-rested child under covers on a bed
Well-rested young child (Photo credit: svetamart, Depositphotos.com)

5. Make new environments feel familiar.

Ehrler recommends packing crib sheets your child has already slept on at home. You can put these on the hotel crib, toddler bed at grandma’s house, or your packed travel toddler bed at the vacation home. This will help make the new place feel like home.

Ehrler says babies and young children rely more on their sense of smell than older kids and adults. A favorite blanket or beloved stuffed toy from home can be comforting, too.

Hiccapop Inflatable Toddler Travel Bed with Safety Bumpers
Hiccapop Inflatable Toddler Travel Bed with Safety Bumpers (Photo from Amazon.com)

6. Use the right crib or bed for toddler sleep.

Ensure your child has a cozy and safe place to sleep when traveling. There are many travel cribs and toddler travel beds to choose from for a variety of budgets and needs.

Best Toddler Travel Beds

Young child sleeping in bed
Sleeping child (Photo credit: shirotie, Depositphotos.com)

7. Book more than one room.

When possible, book more than one room while traveling with children. Ehrler says, “If you can, get a suite or condo. It will always make your vacation so much better.”

Take a look at VRBO vacation rental homes or doing a home exchange for plenty of room to spread out and sleep well while traveling with kids. Of course, you’ll want to pack your baby monitor if sleeping separately.

Little girl and cat during a home exchange vacation
My daughter during one of our home exchange vacations (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

8. Divide the sleep space into two.

Sometimes, your family vacation budget or circumstances don’t allow for more than one room on vacation. Ehrler recommends using a visual barrier between the baby and parents when you must sleep in the same room as your children.

She says, “If they can see you, they’re going to want mommy and daddy.” She suggests hanging a bed sheet so your kids can’t see you. 

Parents and baby sleeping in bed together
Co-sleeping family (Photo credit: michaeljung, Depositphotos.com)

9. Break some rules.

According to Ehrler, you should follow strict guidelines to ensure good sleep most of the time. She says, “Break the rules 20 percent of the time. Vacation should be your 20 percent.”

That may mean allowing a child to co-sleep with you, even if you don’t co-sleep at home. Or you may do naps in the stroller instead of the crib. She compared strict sleep habits to a strict diet while on vacation, saying, “No one wants to eat salad every night on vacation!”

DREAM ART Anywhere Portable Blackout Curtain/Adjustable Blackout Shades for better toddler sleep on vacation
DREAM ART Anywhere Portable Blackout Curtain/Adjustable Blackout Shades (Photo from Amazon.com)

10. Make the room dark.

A dark environment encourages the sleep cycle. Try to book a hotel room or vacation rental with curtains that can be drawn. Tip: use pants hanger clips to keep curtains shut so sunlight doesn’t wake your family earlier than you’d like. To be on the safe side, you may want to pack travel blackout curtains.

Dreamegg White Noise Machine - Portable Sound Machine for Baby
Dreamegg White Noise Machine – Portable Sound Machine for Baby (Photo from Amazon.com)

11. Use white noise for better sleep.

Controlling all noisy neighbors, hallway noise, and other disruptions while traveling is impossible. Bring a portable sound machine or download a white noise app for your smartphone to drown out the sounds of an unfamiliar place, especially if your baby or you are light sleepers. This Dreamegg Portable White Noise Machine offers 21 soothing sounds and comes highly recommended on Amazon.

Standard crib and baby gear
Rent baby gear like a standard crib (Photo credit: dasha11, Depositphotos.com)

12. Rent baby travel gear.

Lighten your load during family travel. Instead of lugging bulky and expensive sleep equipment, rent baby travel gear like a Pack N Play, a standard crib, toddler beds, and inflatable mattresses. Additionally, you can find an assortment of things to make your vacation space feel more like home, from white noise machines and humidifiers to blackout curtains and bouncy chairs.

Baby and preschooler happy on a bed
Happy children are well-rested children (Photo credit: FamVeldman, Depositphotos.com)

13. Get back on track at home.

Ehrler says, “Have a blast on vacation. Then, have the tools to get back on track when you get home.” 

She warns that it will take another two to three days for the family’s schedule to return to normal after the trip, just as it took a few days of adjustment at the start of the vacation.

Get back into a normal routine for naps and bedtimes right away. “Don’t bring your vacation habits home with you,” advises Ehrler.

My toddler in a CARES airplane harness
My toddler in a CARES airplane harness (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

More Baby and Toddler Travel Tips

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From hotels that cater to families to activities for little ones, explore Cancun with young children.

Travel Sleep Tips for Toddlers

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Travel Sleep Tips for Babies & Kids from a Child Sleep Expert

Do you have any toddler travel sleep tips or questions? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. Thank you for these! We have been lucky enough to either have a crib or have rented a crib on past trips. My son is 2.5 and has napped on a bed on the floor before and he naps on a cot at daycare. However, we have never tried overnight sleep like that. I’m going for a five day trip to a family home and not sure if I should rent again or just see how he does. He is a very good sleeper now (and has done well with travel sleep in the past). Just nervous to risk it, and yet I don’t know if I can get a crib or if he will be fine just to sleep on a mattress on the floor. Any tips?

    1. Hi Sarah – You might want to look into renting a crib in your destination and then decide if the price is worth the peace of mind for your family. If you can afford it, I’d say go for it! Good luck and have a wonderful trip!

  2. Great Tips Colleen and thanks for sharing it with us.

    All these tips are extremely helpful and easy to follow. If making these few changes lead to restful nights during my travel, I am sure gonna try these.

    A happy baby makes everyone’s life easier…Isn’t it?

    1. If baby (and parents and siblings!) aren’t well-rested, the whole trip won’t be fun. Sleep is so important!

  3. Getting sleep while traveling with children can be very difficult. These are great tips. I especially loved the ‘Break Some Rules’ 20% of the time. That’s totally our family. We’ve been known to stay up later than normal, skipped brushing teeth, and co-slept while on vacation all just to get some sleep!

    1. Yes, I love love Davis is realistic about sleep expectations and rules while traveling!

  4. Sleep can be difficult during travel especially that there’s a change in the environment and time zone (if traveling abroad). These tips are very helpful!

  5. Getting my kids to sleep was probably one of the hardest challenges I’ve had as a parent. These are such great tips!

    1. It’s so tough on everyone when kids can’t sleep, whether traveling or at home. Glad you find these tips helpful!

  6. I think this is really going to help parents with their children’s sleeping patterns. It’s nice to know what to do to help your child sleep better throughout the trip so you can make the most out of it!

    1. Agreed! A sleepy family is a cranky family! No use traveling far to relax & enjoy when no one is sleeping.

  7. Excitement from the trips always makes my kids sleep get thrown off. These are some tips that sound really helpful for our next vacation. Fingers crossed they get enough sleep now!

    1. My kids actually often adjust to sleeping well when traveling than I do! We’ve been in Mexico for four nights and my kids are sleeping fabulously and meanwhile I’m struggling. Maybe I should ask Davis if she has any grown-up sleep tips! 😉

  8. I have not thought about these issues now that my son has finally sleeping regularly in his own bed. When i traveled with my daughter we used to bring her swing so she would feel at home.

    1. My daughter was ADDICTED to her bouncy chair when she was a baby. We didn’t bring one with us on our first trip & we had to go buy one!

  9. I LOVE these tips! Travel is even more tough on a child’s sleep schedule than it is on an adult’s. And it’s NOT easy for us grown-ups. Imagine how difficult it must be for them.

    1. I always have the hardest time sleeping when I travel! So does my daughter. These tips do help, though!

  10. I think it’s more safe take a baby on travel when he/her anti-body activates aside from the vaccines. Thanks for sharing your toughts.

    1. Hi Deborah – Sure! Here is the email listed on her blog: davis(at)3daysleepsolution.com. Good luck getting some better sleep in your household!