How to manage sleep routines when traveling

Here it is – the ultimate guide to vacation sleep for your kids so that your trip becomes a true vacation!

kids travel sleep routine

Traveling with your child(ren) is one of the best experiences and gifts that you can bestow on them to open their eyes to the world. As a sleep consultant I get asked a lot if I ever traveled with my children when they were little, and the answer is a resounding yes!  My parents and siblings live out of state, so we’ve traveled quite a bit with our kids since they were only a few months old. While it does take some planning (as does anything with kids), with the right tools you can feel at ease hitting the road to visit family and friends or traveling to another state or country, while ensuring that your time away is fun and relaxing for everyone.

Setting Up Your New Sleep Environment

The first thing to consider is the sleep environment. You want to do everything possible to convert the room that your child(ren) will be sleeping in, into a similar environment to their bedroom at home. Your child’s sleep environment should be cool, dark and in a separate sleep space from yours if possible.

If you are staying in a hotel, at a friend’s or family member’s home or renting a place, then we will approach each a bit differently.

Staying at a Hotel

If you are staying at hotel, a majority of establishments will have black out shades already in the room so this addresses keeping the room cool and dark. For the separate sleep area, you can usually reserve a crib from the hotel.  If your child is older then a year, they typically sleep better in a crib since it provides more space and the mattress is more comfortable. If your hotel doesn’t have any cribs then you’ll want to find a baby equipment rental site that provides cribs, strollers, high chairs and so on. These are wonderful and affordable services that provide the comforts of home for your child. Alternatively if you travel frequently, consider investing in lightweight travel crib. For toddlers and older, the Dockatot Grand Dock is a favorite as it offers a comfortable and safe space for sleep, play and lounging.

You will want to put your child in the farthest part of the room away from the front door so that they are secluded from any noise in the hotel hallway. You will also want to travel with a noise machine like the Baby Shusher that you can place near your child to block out any unwanted noises.

Renting Accommodation 

If you’re renting a place, then you’ll want to make sure your child’s room is dark as well. I recommend either bringing travel black out shades for the windows or you can also utilize black trash bags or even tin foil taped to the windows to block out light in order to help with melatonin production. It may sound a bit odd to bring these types of materials with you when you travel however it will prevent your child from waking to early due to sunlight streaming into the room. As I mentioned above, you will want to have a separate sleep area for your child in a crib. If you are not able to transport these items with you, look into renting equipment from a local child equipment rental company. Again, make sure you bring a noise machine with you to block out unwanted noise like children playing, dogs barking, cars etc.

Sleep While Traveling

On your travel day, if your child is still taking naps, you should try your best to have them napping in the car or plane during their nap times. Sleep will be a bit off on travel days which means naps might not be as long or as restful but once you get to your destination you can roll your child back to their normal sleep schedule.  If you are traveling to another time zone, then you will want to gradually move them into that time zone.

An example is if you have a 2-hour time difference, you halve it the first day and put your child down for naps and bedtime an hour later or earlier (depending on what time zone you traveled to) and the following day you move bed time and nap time another hour to fully convert their sleep schedule to the new time zone.

If you’re traveling and only staying for a few days, keep your child on your time zone because by the time they adjust to the new time zone, it’ll be time to head home again. If you’re going for at least a week then go ahead and make the transition. Typically, traveling east is easier for our internal sleep clocks to adjust to, so let’s assume that the location that you are traveling to is one time zone east. If you’re looking to get them on that time zone and bedtime is normally 7pm on your time zone, then shoot for 8pm bedtime the first night and then 7pm the second night.

However, traveling west it is a bit harder, so if you are traveling west to the next time zone and your child’s bedtime is 7pm, you should target a 6pm bed time the first night and then the following night, you’ll land on 7pm.

For nap time and bedtime, keep the routine as close to what you do at home as possible so that it cues your child that we are transitioning to bed time. So if your routine is dinner, bath, book, songs and bedtime then you want to maintain the same routine at your destination so that it prompts them to start powering down for nap time or bed time. Be sure that their room is as dark as possible. Also, keep in mind that another powerful cue to help set your internal sleep clock is to head out into natural sunlight when they wake up.