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How to Ensure Healthy Sleep While Traveling with Infants & Toddlers

Traveling is one of the most rewarding experiences a family can have together. There is the excitement of seeing a new place. The joy of bonding as a group away from the distractions of home. And of course, the residual benefits everyone receives from a little rest and relaxation.
However, for parents of infants and toddlers, family travel can provide a sense of dread and anxiety…namely related to sleep. In fact, here’s a recent note we received:

Going from Ottawa to Hawaii with 9.5-month-old. Absolutely dreading this. Any tips?I feel stressed to somehow keep him up later prior to the trip so I guess 9pm will feel like 3pm there and then trying to get him to bed at 6pm once on Hawaii time? I dunno I’m so stressed it’s ruining the idea of the vacation altogether…

Needless to say, this parent is super worried about maintaining the healthy sleep habits she’s developed with her child while they’re away in paradise. And for good reason. Habits are something that require consistency in order to stick, and so deviating from them can have detrimental effects. 
But this doesn’t mean you need to cancel all your family travel until your kids are older. In fact, we’ve developed a series of tips for family travel so that mom, dad, and the little one(s) can enjoy their time together away from home as a family without sleep problems getting in the way.
Planning a family trip of your own? Then check out our list of infant and toddler travel sleep tips below:

The Journey

Of course, before you even arrive at a new destination and have to worry about the time zones and new sleeping quarters, there is the journey itself to consider. Whether via car, train, or airplane, travel can be a pretty arduous task, so be sure to prepare ahead of time for your little one to minimize the effect it has on their mood and their sleep schedules.
Looking for some tips? Here are some of our top tips for parents traveling via plane or car:

Airplane Travel
• Book airplane travel for early morning flights when they are their freshest and the happiest. Do not expect them to nap on the plane, but bring their favourite stuffy, blanket and book on the plane and let them sleep in your arms if they can.
• Try to get an early check in at your hotel so your baby can have an afternoon nap once you arrive. If this is not possible, count on an early bedtime at 6pm the first night. Do not stress if they do not nap at all on the day you travel to your destination – it is just one day.
• If you cannot get an early check in for a nap in the hotel, enjoy a stroller or a car ride nap. Still do your nap routine before you put them down for their nap. Keep driving or walking for at least an hour while they sleep – enjoy the views of your new destination.
• Depending on your chosen destination, you might want to break up your flights. I suggest focus on trying to arrive at the hotel by 6 pm their body clock time in case they need to go to bed early. (With newborns, of course, you can go direct as they are happy to be held for 10 hours straight).

Car Travel
• I suggest doing road trips at the start of the day when they are in good spirits and well rested! And depending on how far you are going, you will most likely be at your destination by bedtime or shortly after. If naps happen on the road, then that is just fine!
• When you arrive at your destination–2 hours, 4 hours, 6 or 8 hours later, you carry on your regular day routine depending on where things land in terms of nap of usual bedtimes.
• If they cry going to bed or for naps at the new place (which will be rare if you have a good sleeper), then just make sure you check in on them every 5-10 minutes to let them know it’s ok to sleep, even though they’re in a new space.

The Destination – Staying with Friends & Family

With the travel done, it’s time to acclimate your child to their new sleeping environment. Now, depending on where you’re traveling and where you’re staying, there are different considerations you’ll need to make. 
For those traveling to visit and stay with friends or family, here are some tips to get you adjusted quickly:
• Request a separate sleeping area for your child and their playpen – even if it is the laundry room, walk-in closet, or an en-suite bathroom. Make sure it is well ventilated and as dark as possible.
• Honour their nap time(s) and bedtime and stick to your routines.
• Friends and Family can do the routines for you! Your child will be happy as long as the routine is exactly 100% the same as it is with you! You can start his bedtime at one house and finish it at another – even with a car ride in between. This is much better than having your child get overtired and trying to stretch him to 9 or 10 pm at night. Plus it will be more relaxing for you.

The Destination – Staying at a Hotel

If your travel plans involved staying at a hotel with your little one(s), you will definitely have some challenges ahead. Thankfully, these can all be navigated successfully with a little proper planning ahead of time. 
Here are some things to consider when booking hotel travel with your kids:
• Make sure to have a separate sleeping area for your child. If you are not in a suite then I recommend traveling with a double sheet or asking the hotel for one so that you can create a little sleeping area (travel with wood tacks, but not in your carry on!)
• You can usually fit one end of the crib into a hotel closet when doors are opened up. I suggest doing that and tacking the sheet up around the open end to create a little mini room for your child
• Ask the Hotel to set up the playpen or crib before you arrive. Take an extra playpen as a backup if you like.
• If you have a suite, set up the playpen/crib in the master room where you are going to be sleeping later that night. Do your bath routine and bedtime routine just like you are at home. Bring along some of his favourite bath toys and bath towel and favourite books. Put them to bed at their regular bedtime (as early as 6pm if necessary if they have not slept well during the day) in the crib in your room. They shouldn’t fuss too much… but if they do, give them some comfort by checking back every so often to ensure they know it is time for sleep and ok.  It is the routine and bedtime hour that are the crucial elements to success – not the environment in which they are sleeping.
• I also suggest traveling with a white noise machine so the loud sounds in the hall or in your room from the TV don’t wake your sleeping little one. Plug it in by their crib and turn it up! Go into the living area and order room service and enjoy your evening watching a movie. Some hotels can also get babysitters for you if you want to go out for dinner.
• Do your regular bath and bedtime routine. Once again, they will likely not protest and should drift off to sleep shortly after.

Dealing with Time Zones

As mentioned in the recent letter we received, one of the biggest concerns a parent has with travel involves jumping time zones. If you baby is used to going to sleep at a certain time on EST, how can they be expected to go to bed at the same time when switching several zones?
Simply put, the best method is to just jump right into the new zone. Babies and toddlers that are well rested actually adjust much better than us adults. The reason? They are not carrying the same sleep debt we are! A primary cause of jet lag in adults is neglect of our own sleep needs. Since well rested children do not have these same problems, the effect of jet lag is much less significant. 
Of course, it will still take a little time to get acclimated, and you may need to make adjustments on the fly. Just be patient and cut you and baby some slack – it is a holiday, after all!

Enjoying Family Travel

Sleep concerns should never stop you from booking holiday travel plans with your family. These trips create memories of a lifetime, and it would be a shame to miss out just because you’re uncertain of how to handle your health sleep routines for the kids. 

With all of WeeSleep’s experience over the last decade working with parents and children across North America, we can tell you firsthand that travel can be done successfully, even across many time zones. Follow this list of tips, and book that trip with your family. We promise it will be worth it!

And of course, if you ever have any additional questions or are thinking about sleep coaching but have questions to ask, know that WeeSleep is here for you! We’ve helped thousands of babies and toddlers find restful, healthy sleep – and would love to do the same for you. Book your free 15 minute consultation call today!