How to Travel with Your Baby AND Maintain Their Sleep
When my youngest son was 1.5 years old, we went away with four other families on a trip where we were all staying in the same house. My little guy, at home anyway, was a sleep champion! He would normally take 2.5-3 hour naps at home, so, we were in a pickle when he decided to refuse his naps THE ENTIRE WEEK we were at this house. I tried laying with him. The room was dark. There was a sound machine. It still didn’t happen. I truly believe it was due to a major case of FOMO – the fear of missing out.
However, we tried every day because that’s my expectation.
In order to make up for these nap refusals and lack of sleep, we made sure that he’d get to bed early so that he could still get a solid 12-13 hours of sleep at night. While that wasn’t ideal for our nightlife with the older kids, it’s what needed to happen to make sure this whole trip wasn’t a bust. My husband and I took turns staying back while he slept, and the other would go out and about with the others. It worked out fine. Sometimes you just have to make it work.
I’m here to share my best travel tips and all the things I’ve learned in my experience as a mom and sleep consultant.
Tips for the day of traveling with your baby
- If possible try to leave during nap time…or possibly at night.
If you can time things accordingly, it might be a fairly nice trip if your baby can sleep for a good chunk of the time. Here’s my best advice…prior to putting them in their car seat, go through their whole nap time routine. Then, instead of putting them in their crib to sleep, buckle them in their car seat and hit the road! Don’t forget to bring a portable white noise machine for the car, and their lovey item if they’re over 12 months.
If you have a long drive and want to leave during the night, make sure you leave before 2:00 a.m. If you try to leave later than this, say 4:00 a.m., the drive to sleep during those early morning hours isn’t as high, and you’ll likely have a tired and cranky baby on your hands.
- Plan for stops, especially to keep the feeding schedule on track.
Having the mindset that you’re probably going to need to stop for breaks will help all the stops not seem so annoying. Especially if you have a younger baby, you’ll need to keep the feeding schedule on track. If it’s possible, offer a little movement break or tummy time before putting your baby back in their car seat. If you have a child who’s potty trained, you might even want to consider bringing a portable potty to keep things moving.
- Bring a bin of toys.
Depending on the length of the trip, your baby probably won’t sleep the whole time. And as you may very well know, many babies don’t like being in their car seat for long periods of time, if at all. Bring a bin of toys that you can pull from to keep your baby happy and occupied. They’ll probably end up all over the floor of the car, so scoop them up at your next stop and start all over.
- Use a pacifier for a really young baby.
Since a young baby won’t be able to keep their hands too busy, you’ll want to remember the pacifier. This can help with keeping your baby calm while in the car seat, and might even lull them into sleep. Try using a paci-clip and hook it to the carseat strap, in an attempt to avoid losing the pacifier. I don’t know how many pacifiers we’ve lost to the parking lot – a clip can be your saving grace, especially during a long care ride. Also, know that if your baby sleeps a lot during the ride…more than usual during the day…they’ll maybe be more awake at night.
- Sit by your baby if possible.
If possible, take turns sitting in the backseat with your baby or toddler when they’re awake. Babies (especially when rear-facing) last much longer when they have a partner in the backseat with them! Talking to them, rotating toys, etc. can really help keep a baby engaged rather than upset that they’re still strapped in their car seat.
Sleeping in a new environment
Stick with your baby’s nap time and bedtime routines, their schedule, and their wake windows. Keep as much as possible the same as at home to ensure that your baby receives the same cues that it’s time to sleep, regardless of the environment.
You’ll also want to make sure it’s dark. An easy blackout solution for a hotel or guest room is to bring some foil and painter’s tape along and put that up over the windows, completely blocking out the light. Also, bring some black electrical tape to cover up any little appliance lights like alarm clocks that may be shining in the room.
You might also want to consider getting a SlumberPod, which offers a little privacy if room sharing during your travels and a full blackout solution for your baby. This canopy fits over your baby’s play yard and provides total darkness – think of it as their own little sleeping pod! It also has pockets for a fan and your monitor so you can check in on your baby while they’re sleeping.
If you don’t have a SlumberPod or a blackout solution, consider putting your baby in a bathroom or walk-in closet. It can be really helpful for baby to have their own space to sleep, away from all the other distractions that can go along with a hotel or guest room;.
Bring your baby’s sheets and a sleep sack from home to infuse a bit of familiarity in this new environment. If it feels like home, they’re going to sleep better.
And, finally, don’t forget the white noise! White noise is great for sleep in general, and when traveling with your baby it can also help drown out exterior noises that might wake them up. It’ll help you sleep better too if you’re room sharing.
The most important part – WHEN YOU GET HOME
It’s safe to say that travel will throw off your baby’s sleep. You may have even reverted to some old habits to help your baby sleep while you were traveling, like rocking or feeding them to sleep.
Habits you’ve worked to get away from might creep back and that okay, it happens!
When you get home, however, if you want to get back to the way things were before your trip, it’s essential that you go back to your regular routines and expectations around sleep. Hold your boundaries and your little one will likely fall back into the good sleeping patterns that they had before your trip. Consistency is key!
When we got home from our trip, I made sure naps got back on track – 1.5 years old is way too young to drop the nap, so you better believe I did everything I could to get him back on track. After a few days, he was back to his regularly scheduled naptimes.
Give it a bit of time and your baby should get back on track in a few days. If they don’t, you can always do a sleep “reset” and refer back to whatever sleep training method you did with them initially.
Reverting back to old habits in the moment seems easy, but it can really cause some issues down the road. I hope you can take some of these tips and use them for the next time your family is traveling!
Your Sleep Bestie,
AM Smiles is a highly effective baby sleep coaching service designed for busy families.
I help you harness the power of sleep training to improve the spirits and lives of you and your family through proper rest. I’d love to talk to you about your little one and help you get back to living life well rested! ❤️