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How to Help Your Little One Sleep When You’re Away from Home

The Pandemic is over, summer is coming, and everyone is antsy to get out of the house. It’s travel season! I hope you have some great experiences lined up! The number one concern I receive about travel: How do we keep our good sleep habits while traveling?

Of course, I have tools and guidance to set you up for a successful trip! But I think it’s also important to set realistic expectations for travel, so I’m going to do both!

Golden Rule: Everything you can keep the same DO keep the same

One of the major issues with sleep and travel is that your child is completely away from their normal! They have new surroundings and new routines! This new stimulation can make your baby resist sleep because they are on high alert! So how do we combat this? Consider what IS in your control! I recommend you:

1. Keep your bedtime routine the EXACT same. Make time to do your bedtime routine while on vacation, and bring items that you normally incorporate into your bedtime routine at home (books, lovies, etc).

2. Pack a few of your child’s bed sheets from home! While they may be sleeping on a different crib or sleep space, we can at least make this new sleep space smell and look like their bed from home!

3. Bring a sound machine! If you can’t pack your normal sound machine, then consider purchasing a portable sound machine like this one!

4. If your toddler uses an Okay to Wake clock, bring it!

Focus on the Sleep Space

One of your most important tasks is focusing on where your little one is going to sleep! I’m mostly concerned about night sleep here. Yes, it is great if your little one can get in a nap or two during the day in their sleep space, but for travel this may be unrealistic and that’s okay!

1. If you are staying in a hotel, call ahead! Many hotels have cribs or pack-n-plays that you can reserve if you call ahead of time!

2. In a pinch, a pack-n-play CAN fit in a large suitcase (tested and verified by yours truly) but be aware that a pack-n-play is not light and may put you over the weight limit.

3. Check out baby gear renting sites! My favorite to use is BabyQuip! Not only can you rent sleep spaces, but you can also rent other gear like strollers, high chairs, car seats, or baby baths! Other popular sites to rent baby gear include Rents4Baby and Wee Travel is a great option for Canadian residents!

Keep the Sleep Space DARK

Chances are, if you have been following me for a while then your child’s room is completely blacked out at home. Like, hardly a sliver of slight is getting through those curtains. This is going to be one of the biggest changes to your little one’s sleep!

Thankfully, this is 2023 and we have OPTIONS about how to keep things dark, even while traveling! I have something for every budget in mind! Read my most favorite fixes up top, and read my more budget friendly options below!

One of my favorite options is the SlumberPod. It’s like a tent that can fit over a pack-n-play, mini crib, or blow-up toddler mattress. The tent almost completely blacks out the sleep environment, and it has pockets to include a fan for extra airflow and a space for your monitor! This is the BEES KNEES of travel gadgets. Use the links below to shop SlumberPod in Canada or the US, and use the code teensyweensysleepers$20 for a discount! Plus check out SlumberPod’s blog on helping your little one adjust to the SlumberPod before you travel.

My other favorite option is Mahalo Eco Blackout blinds! This Mama-owned small business is based out of Australia and their blinds are amazing! We even use them in my own boys’ room! They completely blackout the room and they come with travel strips. The best part? They now ship worldwide! Use the link below to shop and receive an automatic discount on your purchase!

Short on packing space or on a tight budget? Throw a roll of painter’s tape or some sticky putty into your suitcase. Black trash bags can go a long way toward darkening your sleep space! Just make sure they’re WELL out of reach of the crib if you have a mischievous toddler who likes to get their hands on everything!

Go by Wake Windows, NOT the Clock

If you have an older baby, you’re probably on a by-the-clock schedule at this stage, but it is likely going to be very unrealistic while you are traveling! Naps will naturally be shorter if they are on-the-go, and sleep overall may be more unpredictable.

Use wake windows when determining the time of a nap as opposed to your time-based schedule! Keep in mind that your baby will likely need shorter than normal wake windows if their naps are shorter.

Not sure what your child’s wake windows should be? Don’t worry, I’ve created a free resource that will be PERFECT for you!

Light is your BEST tool to use if you are changing time zones

Traveling to a different time zone? Your best resource to help your child adjust is LIGHT. Keep things BRIGHT during the day, and DARK during sleeping hours.

If you are only looking at a 1–2-hour time difference then it might be worth it for your baby to have a late bedtime for the duration of the trip so that you don’t actually have to change anything about their schedule!

If your adventure is taking you overseas then we may need to do a little more planning! For large time differences (more than 3-4 hours) I recommend two steps:

1. Meet partway: You don’t need to adjust ALL the way to the other time zone, but consider adjusting partway so that your bed and wake up time are not too uncomfortable.

2. Consider starting this adjustment about a week before your trip by slowly adjusting your child’s bedtime or daily wake time – that way you can get the most out of your vacation!

Overall, you may be surprised- for little ones who can’t tell time, they might feel the time change less than you do!

Expect the first night to be bumpy

Chances are, the first night is going to feel a little chaotic. Everyone will be overtired from a full day of traveling, you are in a new environment, AND you may even be experiencing a drastic time change. Expect for their to be sleep disruptions the first night and have a plan for how you will respond to those night disruptions.

I always recommend pausing for at least a few minutes before responding to any abnormal night disruptions. If your child continues to be upset, then intervene with as little stimulation as possible. Keep the room dark and your interactions comforting but boring

Have a plan for when you come back

Some children will adjust just fine to returning home. After all, home is the NORMAL. It’s not abnormal to experience a bit of a regression after coming home, though! I always find it best to be prepared with a PLAN! Details to consider in your plan:

1. What sleep training method will you be using?

2. How will you respond to night wakings?

3. If your child is older, verbally remind them that they will be returning to their old sleeping routines.

Relax and ENJOY your vacation

Here’s the deal, all of these things will HELP with your travels, but sleep will NOT be perfect. The last thing I want you to do is focus so much on your child’s sleep that you don’t enjoy your trip. You will need to be more go-with-the-flow with sleep. You will experience more disruptions, and that’s okay! Control what you can, but don’t let it take away from your joy while you are traveling. We have to balance sleep hygiene with also living your life!

You should especially keep in mind that a few off days or weeks will NOT ruin sleep forever. We can always return to our sleep foundations at home.

Let me know in the comments what exciting adventures you have planned for this summer!

Safe travels!

Edited by: The phenomenal Emily Schafer

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