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

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Getting good sleep while on vacation is one of the biggest challenges of traveling with kids. Read these eight travel sleep tips for babies, toddlers and children from a child sleep expert to ensure restful nights during your family getaway.

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

I learned how to pack in restful vacations for the whole family during an interview with Davis Ehrler, postpartum doula and child sleep counselor. Her 3 Day Sleep Solution program teaches parents of kids aged newborn to 8 years how to instill good childhood sleep habits. The focus is on understanding children's biological needs. As the mother of three daughters, Davis knows how challenging it can be to get a good night's rest while traveling with children. Here are her travel sleep tips for babies, toddlers and children to help the whole family sleep well during your travels.

It may take a few days for kids to adjust to sleeping well on vacation

It may take a few days for kids to adjust to sleeping well on vacation (Photo credit: svetamart, Depositphotos.com)

1. Be patient.

According to Davis, it will take two to three nights for your child 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.”

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

Grab naps where you can when traveling with babies and young children

Grab naps where you can when traveling with babies and young children (Photo credit: gorchichko, Depositphotos.com)

2. Squeeze in naps.

If your child is still taking naps, Davis suggests returning to the hotel room to put your child down midday. When I asked what she thinks of using long car rides or stroller walks to induce vacation naps, Davis said although she insists on regular naps in the child's crib or bed at home, “On vacation the naps may take place in strollers and in cars 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.”

Try to arrive before bedtime to establish good sleep habits when traveling with children

Try to arrive before bedtime to establish good sleep habits (Photo credit: Wavebreakmedia, Depositphotos.com)

3. Arrive before bedtime.

Reaching your destination before your child’s bedtime allows the family to start off your vacation on the right foot, according to Davis. Getting a good first night of sleep is better than playing catch-up throughout your stay.

It's important to recreate bedtime routines when traveling with children

It's important to recreate bedtime routines when traveling with children (Photo credit: FamVeldman, Depositphotos.com)

4. Recreate bedtime routines.

Davis says, “You (might) blow their naps, but be sure get them to sleep at night.” To do that, you should stick to at-home bedtime rituals even while on vacation. This includes reading stories, taking a bath, or singing lullabies.

Bringing a sheet from home can make a hotel smell and feel more familiar for young children

A beloved stuffed toy can help kids feel more secure away from home (Photo credit: romrodinka, Depositphotos.com)

5. Make it feel familiar.

Bringing along your own crib sheets so the new environment will feel like home, says Davis. This is because babies and young children rely much more on their sense of smell than do older kids and adults. A lovey or beloved stuffed toy from home can be comforting, too.

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

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

6. Book more than one room or divide the room in two.

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

If you must bunk down with the kids, Davis recommends using a visual barrier by hanging a bed sheet so your children can’t see you. “If they can see you, they’re going to want mommy and daddy.”

Take a look at HomeAway and VRBO vacation rental options for plenty of room to spread out and sleep well while traveling with kids.

You may need to break bedtime rules a bit while on vacation

You may need to break bedtime rules a bit while on vacation (Photo credit: michaeljung, Depositphotos.com)

7. Break some rules.

You should follow strict guidelines for ensuring good sleep 80 percent of the time, according to Davis. 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 doing 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!”

Get back to regular sleep habits as soon as you return home from vacation

Following these travel sleep tips will help your child better on vacation (Photo credit: shirotie, Depositphotos.com)

8. Get back on track at home.

Davis 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. To do that, get back into a regular nap and bedtime routine right away. “Don’t bring your vacation habits home with you.”

Get back to good bedtime habits as soon as your family returns home

Get back to good bedtime habits as soon as your family returns home (Photo credit: FamVeldman, Depositphotos.com)

Additional Helpful Resources for Parents

If traveling with a baby or toddler, you may want to take a look at our Airplane Kit for Babies and Toddlers. (Psst! It works great for road trips, too!) Also helpful is our list of Travel Toys for All Ages, from Babies to Teens. For additional tips for traveling with babies and young children, I think you'll really enjoy my book, The Travel Mamas' Guide.

Do you agree with these travel sleep tips for babies and children? Do you have any additional tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!

About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments

  1. Chris Hernandez says:

    Exceptional, I passed this on to a friend of mine, and he actually bought me lunch because I found this for him, so let me rephrase: Thanks for lunch.

  2. Can you share Davis Ehler contact info please?
    I’d like to ask for help with my kids
    Thanks

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

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

  5. Makeba Giles says:

    Great tips! Traveling with babies or toddlers can be enjoyable, but also trying. I’ll have to use these the next time we travel with our kiddos.

  6. Melissa Chapman says:

    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.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      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!

  7. Theresa says:

    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!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      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. Carol Cassara says:

    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!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

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

  9. brianne says:

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

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

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

  10. Flyingkids says:

    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!

  11. Jill Greising-Murschel says:

    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!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

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

  12. Britney says:

    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?

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

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

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