Tips for Traveling with Babies and Toddlers
Travel is a fun and essential part of our family dynamics. After having kids travel suddenly becomes a bit more complicated! In this blog, I will outline some tips and tricks for traveling with babies and toddlers, and we will discuss how to get enough sleep on your vacation. Vacation is never as much fun if we aren’t well-rested.
Planning Before You Go
When deciding where to go on vacation with your family, it is important to consider the logistics of your destination and your child.
Some things to include in your planning:
- Time zone change
- Age appropriate activities
- Sleeping arrangements
Changing time zones with kids can be difficult, but definitely not impossible. It can take weeks for a body clock to adjust to a time change, and most vacations don’t last that long, so taking into account how long you will be there and how different the time zone is will help plan and set expectations.
If the change in time is minimal (1 hour), you can adjust your child’s schedule by 30 minutes to accommodate the time change. If it is more than 2 hours, you can start to adjust them by 30 minutes a day before you leave. Traveling is very stimulating, and your child will be tired, so let them sleep when they need to sleep. It’s generally easier to let your child’s body clock dictate when they are tired for the first few days. After the first few days, your little one will start adjusting to their environment, be patient with them.
When planning your trip, it’s important to consider what activities are age appropriate. My husband and I made a huge mistake when we took our 3-year-old daughter to Europe and tried to spend the day enjoying architecture and museums. She did not appreciate the art nearly as much as we did and expressed her boredom very loudly after the 3rd church we tried to visit. We were first-time parents and naively had not put it together that she would be understandably bored!
Also, try to prevent overscheduling. I am a goer on vacation; I like to do it all and see it all. But when we travel with our kids, I have learned to cut way back. They get tired, overstimulated, and need a quiet place to rest, eat, and revive.
Sleeping arrangements can be a huge source of stress while traveling. We have stayed in hotels, Airbnb’s, with family, RV’s, cabins, you name it. We always try to ensure that our kids have their own beds to sleep in, even if we are all sharing a room. Using a SlumberPod or pack-n-play is absolutely worth it. Maintaining their own sleep space will help your little one relax and feel at home on vacation so that everyone can get sleep and keep their spirits up.
Naps on the Go
As tempting as it may be to let baby skip a nap or let bedtime fall back an hour or two so that you can fit these extra activities into your trip, I highly recommend you allow your little one to nap in their travel bed at in their sleep space for at least one nap. It will not always be possible to stick to your home schedule, and that’s expected but allowing them to take a break from all the commotion associated with travel and get a good rest. My husband, mom, and I would take turns returning to the cabin for nap time. Sometimes it’s nice for parents to take a break too.
Babywearing and strollers are great options when your little one has to nap on the go. Try to stick to an eat, play, sleep schedule even with your toddler. Hungry kids are cranky kids; snacky kids are cranky kids, and hungry kids don’t nap as long.
Modes of Transportation
One of the biggest stressors in traveling with kids is getting to your vacation spot. Are we taking a plane, train, or automobile? Will it be nap time? How do I keep them entertained and quiet? Here are a few tips for the various modes of travel and how to make it simple for everyone.
- CAR- Do your best to plan your travel around naps. If your little one needs to sleep in the car, plan a stop about 15 minutes before nap time. Get out of the car, walk around, stretch out, and then reset in the car for nap time. Offer a favorite blanket or a pacifier and turn on a battery-powered sound machine to mimic their home environment. Plenty of breaks are important, so your drive will take longer than usual.
- PLANE- Airports are stressful even in the best of times. When traveling with your baby, bring their stroller or your baby wearing wrap through security. Giving your baby a place to sit and tune out will help avoid overstimulation. During take-off and landing, offer your toddler a snack or your baby a feed. This will stimulate saliva production and encourage them to swallow so their ears can pop as the plane changes altitude. When I travel with my baby, I will keep expressed breastmilk in a thermos to keep it warm. If you’re using formula, you can ask a restaurant in the airport for hot water, then add some cold water to it from your water bottle until it’s the appropriate temperature. You will, of course, have to hold your little one on the plane if they fall asleep. Enjoy it! Just soak up all the cuddles.
- Crying in public- Your child is going to cry on the plane, at the gas station, or in the bathroom. It’s ok. Kids are allowed to cry. Set your expectations so that when they get overtired, upset, or hungry and start crying, you’re ok with it. Travel can be hard on littles, but they may surprise you. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
Setting Up for Success at Bedtime
Sleeping in a new place can make everything feel a bit off. Even babies can have trouble settling into a new environment. Do your best to make sure they can sleep in a calm, quiet space, separate from other activities. They need a break to reset and calm down. If you are all sleeping in one room, I recommend putting your little one as far away from you as possible. Giving them the illusion of independent space will encourage them to calm down, and they will be less distracted.
Stick to your bedtime routine just as if you were at home. It may be tempting to skip a few steps but keep things as normal as possible, especially for the first night or two. Once the routine is complete and your little one is in bed, you have a couple of options. If you can step out of the room while remaining within hearing distance, step away and give them a few minutes to get to sleep. I have stepped into hotel bathrooms and sat on the edge of the tub, hallways, adjoining rooms; you name it. Just give them some space. If it’s not possible to leave the room, then quietly lay down on your bed and be still and quiet; try to avoid using your phone or tablet as the light will stimulate your baby.
Your little one may protest being in a new place, be patient with them. We’ve all experienced trouble sleeping in a new place, and it can be hard to nod off. Keep the room dark, cool, and calm and try not to panic. I know it’s every parent’s worst nightmare to get to the end of a long day when everyone wants to relax, and your little one is fighting bedtime. Stick to your routine and your boundaries. If you don’t do it at home, try to avoid it on vacation. It sends mixed messages to your child and adds more confusion.
At the end of the day, just know that nothing is perfect, but the memories made will last a lifetime. Some of our family's best vacations had moments of mess. Mess is part of life and part of having kids, especially with travel. I often come home from a family “vacation” more tired than before we left! But I’m making time for my family, and we are building our relationships, and I’m giving my kids life experiences. Don’t shy away from travel just because you have kids. Set boundaries but be flexible. If everything goes out the window, then hey, that’s life. Get back on track when you get home. Bon voyage!
Stephanie founded Stephanie Hewitt Sleep Consulting, a Pediatric Sleep Coaching agency. She is a Certified Sleep Coach with training in behavior modification, newborn care, baby-led weaning, and newborn sleep hygiene. She is the mother of 4 children and has experience with pediatric sleep apnea, OCD, and anxiety.
She aims to support families towards their best sleep, using gentle, proven, and science-backed techniques tailored to each family.
Sleep is the foundation for which the house is built, and there is no reason for families to continue to struggle with sleeplessness while solutions and support are available to so many families in need. She works with parents and children of all ages who have unique struggles in the realm of sleep. It is her top priority to create a daily schedule and sleep plan that is customized to each family to find solutions that work for them.