Throughout the year, I get requests for traveling sleep tips for babies. Specifically, moms ask me where their baby should sleep when traveling and what to pack for baby’s vacation. They also want advice for flying with a baby and car travel sleep tips.
I get it! These moms are worried about good sleep routines getting ruined or baby sleep regressions after a vacation.
Let me assure you, traveling with your baby is a GREAT idea because it exposes you both to new places, people and experiences. Plus, it’s great for helping us moms get out of our “daily rut” and shake things up a bit.
A lot of parents tell me that their babies pick up new skills when they travel. For instance, my daughter started walking on a summer vacation we took to England. She had been practicing at home with no luck, but as soon as we put her bare feet on the English grass, she took off! It was especially sweet because being on vacation meant my husband and I were both there to witness it.
If there’s any time you really want to relax (& sleep) it’s on vacation! So these 6 tips to help your baby sleep great while traveling walk you through what to do, what to bring and what to not stress about.
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6 Tips to Help Your Baby Sleep Great while Traveling:
Tip #1: Create a familiar sleep space when traveling
This basically means that the space where your baby sleeps when traveling should be as similar to his home sleep space as possible. This helps your happy little sleeper continue sleeping great on vacation and helps you avoid unwanted habits like bed-sharing or early wakings.
You don’t have to go overboard hauling your baby’s entire bedroom with you. Bringing along just a few essentials will ensure that your baby sleeps well on vacation, so you can too!
What to pack for baby’s vacation:
- If your baby sleeps in a co-sleeper or bassinet at home, bring along a travel bassinet. This can also double as a diaper changing station on vacation.
- If your baby sleeps in a crib at home, a Pack n Play is your best chance for a good night’s sleep. Call your hotel in advance and reserve a baby crib. If they don’t provide one, then bring it with you. In addition to a sleeping space, Pack n Plays also provide a safe, contained space for baby to play during the day. This gives parents peace of mind because hotel rooms (and Grandma’s house) aren’t baby-proofed.
- Let’s be honest, Pack n Play mattresses are pretty pathetic. (I wouldn’t want to sleep on something so hard and thin!) Many moms swear by this mattress for baby’s travel crib.
- Make sure to pack 2 crib sheets (laundry can be difficult when traveling) a few sets of pajamas, and a sleep sack.
- Staying consistent with baby’s bedtime routine helps your little one know that it’s time to sleep. So make sure to pack your baby’s favorite bedtime books.
- White noise helps people sleep deeper and longer by blocking noises from waking your baby (like a noisy hotel neighbor.) Bring along a small white noise machine or download an app to your phone. You need to play white noise all night, because 4-6 am are the lightest hours of sleep. Trust me, you DON’T want your baby waking at 5 am everyday on vacation! Also, put your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode overnight. This prevents incoming calls or messages from shutting off the white noise. (I learned that the hard way!)
- Blacking out baby’s sleep space on vacation is vital! Light is a strong cue that tells our brains to wake. So unless you’re up for a sunrise stroll, best to black out the bedroom. Bring along these travel blackout curtains or these inexpensive blackout films.
Baby Travel Sleep Options
Tip # 2: Have separate sleep spaces (if possible)
Baby sleeping in a Pack n Play in a separate bedroom is your best chance for a good night’s sleep. If your baby is used to having her own bedroom, sharing a room on vacation may be too distracting or exciting for her to sleep.
Upgrade to a hotel suite or reserve an AirBnb with an extra bedroom. You can justify the extra spending by cooking dinner every night rather than eating out.
If you can’t manage to have a separate bedroom for your baby, that’s ok. There are plenty of ways to get creative with your baby’s sleep space.
Tips for sharing a hotel room:
- Have baby sleep in a Pack n Play in the bathroom. Yep, I said it. My daughter has slept in many hotel bathrooms in the last few years. (Luckily, she’ll never remember it!) Bathrooms are more sound-proof and darker than hotel rooms. Leave the door slightly opened for air flow and use the bathroom down the hall.
- If you’re staying in an AirBnb, walk-in closets are great spaces for baby to sleep in when traveling. (Again, leave the door open to allow air flow.)
- Darken baby’s travel crib with a Snooze Shade. This breathable cover gives your baby the darkened sleep space he needs to sleep well and allows you to “hang out” while baby sleeps. Older babies and toddlers may fight you covering the crib, so wait until your little one is asleep before putting it on. This is a fantastic way to avoid early wake ups without having to black out any windows.
- Create distance between your beds. You can put the Pack n Play in the corner of your hotel room or place a few chairs between your bed and baby’s travel crib. Try to prevent your baby being able to see you from her bed, as that can distract her from falling or staying asleep.
- Enjoy Netflix while baby sleeps with ear plugs and a splitter.
- If your baby finds it hard to fall asleep with you in the room, you should hide! My husband would go for a walk to get takeout at bedtime while I caught up on emails in the hotel bathroom. Whatever works!
- Toddler sleeping arrangements on vacation are usually a bit easier. If your toddler still fits comfortably in the Pack n Play, keep him there. But if he’s outgrown a travel crib, put him in a twin bed or a comfy pallet on the floor. (You may need to put some pillows around his bed in case he rolls.) Explain to your toddler that this is a “special vacation bed” for him and when you get back home he “gets” to go back to his crib. (Then pray to the sleep gods! 🙂 )
Tip #3: Stick to a loose daily routine
Tip #4: Consider the time change
A good rule to follow is to allow one day to adjust for each hour time difference. With small time changes, this is pretty easy.
For example, if you’re changing time zones by 2 hours, allow 2 days for baby to acclimate to the new time. Then have baby’s sleep times be at the same time as home.
It can be difficult to stay on your “home time zone” when traveling. Our bodies are naturally programmed to adapt to our environment. Your baby’s body clock will want to change sleep times based on sunrise and sunset, and your daily activities. So if your trip will be 3 days or more, plan to adjust to the new time zone.
Example 1: Back home your baby eats dinner at 5:30 pm and has bedtime at 6:30 pm. Your vacation spot is 2 hours time difference and you’ll be away for one week. Take 2 days to adjust to the new time, then baby has dinner at 5:30 pm and bedtime at 6:30 pm (new time.)
Example 2: Back home your baby eats dinner at 5:30 pm and has bedtime at 6:30 pm. Your trip is only for 2 days and you’ll be 1 hour ahead of home. Your baby should have dinner at 6:30 pm and bedtime at 7:30 pm (because this suits his normal body clock.)
To minimize jet lag on big international trips, you need a structured plan. My Guide on Surviving Baby Jet Lag gives you a detailed, 3 day plan to help you and your baby conquer jet lag and avoid being awake for hours every night!
Hear Me Explain Baby Sleep Tips for Traveling
Tip #5: Plan travel according to baby’s schedule
A lot of parents ask me for traveling tips for car travel or flying with a baby. Although it seems like the “right answer” is to travel when your baby typically sleeps, I’ve found that this doesn’t always work out.
Sometimes planes get delayed or baby refuses to sleep in her car seat. And your best intentions get thrown out the window! So although it’s a good idea to plan your travel around your baby sleep schedule, I wouldn’t expect your baby to comply perfectly.
In general, I recommend travelling during the day to avoid “ruining” baby’s night sleep. To me, night sleep is the most precious and deserves being protected.
If you plan to take an overnight flight, and your baby refuses to sleep, your next day will be wrecked. On the contrary, if you fly all day and baby refuses to nap, you’ll definitely have a cranky baby on your hands. But a good night’s sleep hits the “reset button” for a new day.
If you have no other choice than to fly overnight, go for it. Many little ones sleep just fine! Bring along your baby carrier or reserve a seat for baby to sleep in. I always grab an extra airplane blanket and tie it above baby’s seat to darken her sleep space a bit more. You never know if the person sitting next to you on the plane will have their light on the entire flight!
Tip #6: Hop right back into your routine once you get home
Baby sleep regressions after vacation are a real thing. If your baby’s sleep routine went out the window or you resorted to co-sleeping, your baby might fight going back to the crib or a set routine at home.
But just remember that babies adapt quickly with our guidance. Your baby fell into new sleep habits in a matter of days on vacation. So a few days of being consistent with your routine back at home will get your baby sleeping well again.
If you changed time zones, give your little one a few days for her body clock to reset. Then start waking her at a consistent time in the morning, following awake times for naps and getting back into a peaceful bedtime routine every evening.
My daily schedules guide helps you create an age-appropriate daily routine for your baby.
And my free Exhausted Mom’s Survival Kit guides you through setting your baby up to sleep great at night.
It’s normal to feel nervous or worried about traveling with your baby. I’ve found that a bit of preparation will ensure that your baby sleeps well while traveling. We never know how our kids will react, so you may as well go for it! Your baby will thrive from new experiences and maybe pick up a new skill. And you’ll get a lovely break from your daily grind. HAPPY TRAVELS!