Among the many wonderful things summer brings, one of my favorites is vacationing. Because of great weather and time off from school and activities, summer is prime travel season. And it’s something I’ve always looked forward to. At least I did until I had kids. While I still love travel in theory, ever since I became a parent I find myself dreading trips out of town. The reason is simple. My kids don’t sleep when we’re away from home. So, instead of resting and relaxing on our family vacations, I spend the entire trip in a sleep deprived fog. The truth is I’m tired of dreading my summer vacations and I’m sure you are too. So, I’ve rounded up the best advice from experienced moms to create this ultimate guide to helping your child sleep away from home.
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How to Help Your Child Sleep Away From Home
1. Stick to Their Schedule
This tip is a no-brainer for me. My rigidity about my kids’ schedule is legendary among family and friends. There isn’t much I let interfere with my kids eating, sleeping, and even playing on a pretty set schedule. Having said that, traveling can make sticking to your schedule hard.
I’ve been thwarted in my attempts to keep my kids on schedule when they need to sleep away from home by hotels with late check-in times, long drives, and unfortunate skylights shining right into the cribs. But it’s important to do the best you can. My roundup of experienced traveling moms agreed.
Celine from Baby Can Travel advises not skipping any naps if you can help it. And sticking to your usual bedtime. Most parents can attest that an overtired baby or toddler does not sleep well at night. Celine also suggests parents can take turns going out to avoid everyone being cooped up in a hotel room at naptime. This is especially true if you have an older non-napping child in addition to your little one. What a great opportunity to give them some one-on-one time while their younger sibling naps.
Kayla at Parenting Expert to Mom advises keeping your baby on your own timezone rather than switching when traveling long distances. Especially if it’s only for a few days or you will be traveling through multiple time zones. It’s hard enough adapting as an adult. Caitlin at Real Mom Recs has the same advice about timezones and emphasized the importance of keeping bedtime the same as it would be in your timezone at home when traveling to avoid disrupted sleep.
Your child will benefit from keeping their schedule consistent. And hopefully adjusting to sleeping in a new place will be easier when they are put to sleep at the usual times.
2. Do the Usual Bedtime Routine
For many kids, a bedtime routine is an essential start to a good night’s sleep. Routines help kids develop good habits and help them feel safe and secure. For many kids, they also help them transition between play time and settling down to go to sleep. Which can be even more important when you’re trying to help your child sleep away from home. So, it’s important to take this show on the road!
Maggie at Mama Sew Crafty says her kids sleep great on vacation when she sticks to the same bedtime routine they follow at home. For her family, this means a bath before bed and some familiar books and blankets. So everything feels the same at bedtime.
I am a big believer in bedtime routines and I have also found this tip to be helpful for getting my kids to sleep when we’re on vacation. Last year I went so far as to purchase a fold up rocking chair to take on our vacations. Rocking is a huge part of my youngest daughter’s bedtime routine and without a rocker, sleep was not happening. So, now I have to find room for my rocker every time we head out of town. But it does keep the bedtime routine intact. And it has been a big help on the last couple of trips.
3. Bring Their Stuff
By far the number one tip given to me by experienced moms was to bring your kid’s sleep stuff when you need them to sleep away from home. We always bring a Pack N’ Play for our littlest, which helps. And of course a favorite stuffy friend. And as many moms suggested, I always bring a white noise machine when we travel. We use it at home, but it’s even more helpful on vacation to drown out hotel noise or loud campground neighbors. Or as Susan from Glorious Mom Blog reminded me, to drown out one kid’s crying if you have multiples and only one is sleeping. Just don’t forget the batteries.
Liz at It’s a Twinkie Life suggests bringing your child’s lovey, blankets, sound machine, and anything else that reminds your little one of home. And Nicole at The Professional Mom Project says she always brings her own sheets from home for her child to make sure they aren’t allergic to the hotel’s detergent. This is a huge tip for me because my youngest is allergic to a huge number of things.
Sophie at Real Foodie Family suggests bringing your own stroller if you plan on kids taking naps on the go. It’s going to be more comfortable and familiar than a rental. Sophie said they used this tip on a Disney trip with great success. I’m up for anything that will keep the Happiest Place on Earth from becoming the Tantrumiest Place on Earth.
4. Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment
If you want kids to sleep, the first step is creating a sleep-friendly environment. This can be tough on vacations. One summer when we rented a yurt, my biggest sleep challenge with my daughter was the giant skylight sending beams of sun right into her face no matter where I placed the Pack N’ Play. Some creative blanket placement helped, but it was a huge sleep challenge. One of many we’ve encountered while traveling. Here are a few suggestions from moms who’ve been there for creating a sleep-friendly environment, wherever you might be.
Skye at Stay at Home Science suggests putting your little ones in a separate bedroom whenever possible while traveling. This is something I’ve had great luck with as well. If your kids sleep in their own room at home, they will usually sleep better if they’re in their own room while on vacation as well. And even better, mom and dad can stay up and hang out in the next room without worrying they are keeping kiddos awake.
The last time I stayed in a hotel without a separate bedroom we ended up rearranging furniture and making a fort out of cushions to create the illusion of separate space. Otherwise, our toddler refused to lay down. She just stood at the side of her Pack N’ Play screaming to be picked up.
Jayme at Teacher Turned Mom pointed out that many of the portable play yards used for sleeping babies while traveling are really uncomfortable. She found that purchasing a travel crib and an actual crib mattress made it much easier for her child to sleep away from home. She recommends the Dream on Me Travel Crib and mattress.
Lindsay at LindsaySatmary.com suggests talking to your kids a few days before the trip about how they will be sleeping in a new place while you are on vacation. I love this suggestion! My kids respond much better to new situations when I take the time to prepare them beforehand. But I never thought about doing it for sleeping away from home.
Juli at Mostly Caffeinated says she makes sure her kids spend time in the room where they will be sleeping before bedtime to let them explore and become familiar with the space. This is a useful tip. Any time we’ve arrived at a hotel or cabin and immediately expected our kids to nap just because it was time, we have met with crying, tantrums, and over tired kids who don’t nap.
Kim at This Ole Mom had an awesome tip for calming fears in a new sleep space by bringing Boogie Man Spray from home just in case there is one hiding under the bed in your hotel. Or maybe outside in your campsite. At my house, we call this Monster Spray, but I assume it has the same purpose.
5. Wear Them Out
Julia at Organizing Motherhood suggests spending your vacations doing lots of activities and wearing out your little ones before bedtime to ensure a good night’s sleep. I actually heard from many moms that their kids sleep great on vacation because they are worn out from busy active days. I make it a point to have my girls spend time outside both at home and on vacation. Natural light during the day and lots of fresh air are a big help when it comes to sleep.
I can’t say this always works for me on vacation. My kids are challenging when it comes to sleep, at home or away. But as my firstborn has gotten older and is able to be more physical and run around, swim, and explore when we travel, it has helped with sleeping away from home.
6. Be Flexible
No one would ever call me laid back. Ever since having children I’ve found most vacations more stressful than relaxing. And frankly, it’s a bummer. Some mamas suggested being flexible and taking a more “roll with it” approach to kids sleeping on vacation. I’m tensing at the thought of not trying to control everything. Which probably means I need this advice more than anyone.
Caitlin at Better with Babies took the most laid back approach to helping a child sleep away from home. She reminded me that a vacation is a short span of time in the scheme of things. And it may work best to be flexible. Allow for co-sleeping or a more flexible bedtime if it will help everyone get more sleep.
Heather at Real Life Mama advised sticking to routines and bringing comfort objects, but also not stressing about it all. She pointed out that sometimes the parents’ stress around having and doing all the right things to get their kids to sleep only aggravates the situation. I know I am guilty of this.
Alyson at World Travel Family has spent the last few years traveling with a young family. Alyson finds that the entire family going to sleep together works best. Everyone goes to bed and mom and dad can stay up and read or work. And everyone falls asleep when they are tired.
7. Leave Them with Grandparents
There are some trips where no amount of preparation or packing the right white noise machine, loveys, blankets, rocking chairs, or magic potion is going to make it child-friendly for sleep. For those trips, Sarah at This Awkward Mom mentioned letting your little ones spend a few nights with grandparents while you vacation. A winning solution for many parenting problems.
Putting the Rest Back in Your R&R
Vacation is supposed to be a time of restorative rest and relaxation. Sleepless nights, overtired toddler tantrums, and crabby kiddos make that a far-reaching goal for many parents of young children. But with these tips to help your child sleep away from home, I hope you can look forward to some truly restful vacation time this summer. Sleep well, my fellow travelers!
Do you have tips to help kids sleep away from home? Please share them in the comments!
Additional Resources for Newborn and Toddler Sleep
Newborn Travel Tips at EmmaDawn.com
5 Simple Tips for Helping Your Newborn Sleep Longer at Imperfectly Perfect Mama.
Sleep Aids for Babies and Toddlers at Sic Mama