The holidays are here and if you are like us, that means you have some big travel days up ahead! In the last year, we have done a lot of traveling with our little one, both air travel and road-tripping. I am here to share my tips as a sleep consultant and Mom on how to prepare for travel (both air and car), what to pack, how to handle sleep while you there, and how to get back on track once you arrive at home. Sleep is possible even while you are away!
Preparing for Travel:
Well-rested children will do better.
When children are well rested, missed sleep does not have the same affect as with overtired children. If you know you will be traveling soon, begin working on their sleep a few weeks (or months) before. If you’re making a small change and are consistent, your child will be well rested & ready for a day of travel. However, for big changes like, transitioning from a parents’ bed to toddler bed, I recommend waiting until after travel to address these. Trying to make big changes while in a new space can delay the process & just is not fair to the child.
I have done a lot of air travel with my little one in the past year and the best piece of advice I can offer is: Set your expectations low. Their will be hiccups and that is okay! Travel is NEVER perfect, but with a realistic mindset, you can get through anything thrown at you.
That being said, there are some things you can do to set you and your child up for success. Along with lots of snacks, some toys, books, and maybe an iPad, be sure to pack a few sleep items:
A sleep sack is a great cue for sleep so bring it along! After take-off, once things settle down a bit, zip on the sleep sack to help cue for sleep.
Travel white noise. There are lots of new sounds on an airplane, so when you are ready to try for a nap, turn on some white noise to block out some of that outside noise.
Bring comfort items. If your child has a favorite blankie or stuffed animal, bring that along for the flight and offer it for comfort as your try to help them to sleep
Sleep on flights does not always come easy, especially for children, so if sleep just is not coming. Don’t force it. If your child does not sleep at all during the flight, that is okay! Prioritize sleep as soon at your arrive at your destination.
Motion sleep in the car is not as restorative as sleep in a bed. If you are driving, I generally recommend avoiding driving through night if you can. Night sleep is the most restorative, so we want to protect that! Bring along activities that your child can enjoy in the car through the day and make frequent stops so everyone can get out to stretch. To encourage sleep in the car, bring along a thin blanket to block out light from the windows and pack a travel white noise machine to place beside the carseat to block out other noises from the car. This attempts at “re-creating” their sleep space will help minimize distraction and lull them into sleep.
As always, once you arrive at your destination you will want to Prioritize sleep to help combat any overtiredness from a day of motion sleep (or no sleep at all).
What to Pack:
Bring comforts from home.
This could be a favorite lovey or stuffed animal, a white noise machine, or even their favorite pair of pajamas. If your child is used to falling asleep with something at home, bring it along. I’m not saying pack up their whole room, but if at home you use white noise, bring a small travel machine or download a white noise app. Let them pick out their favorite pj’s or a stuffed animal (or 2) to bring along for snuggles. This will bring a sense of familiarity and comfort to an unfamiliar sleep space.
Black out curtains.
When traveling, you have very little control over window and lighting situations in the place you are staying. You can find some great travel black out curtains online, but if you’re looking for a cheaper version all you need is a black trash bag and painters tape. Simply cut the bag to fit the window, tape it around the window, & voila! You have a DIY black out curtain! Added bonus, it doesn’t take up much room in your suitcase, so maybe you can pack that extra pair of shoes ;)
At Your Destination:
Stick to your routines.
Continue doing your normal sleep routines. These routines are familiar and will help cue your child for sleep just as it does at home. If you need to shorten them up a bit, no problem! Stay as close as you can to your normal routine as possible and be flexible when needed.
Managing different time zones.
When traveling to a different time zone you will stick to your normal schedule in the local time zone. In other words, if your child normally wakes at 7:00am in the Eastern time zone, you will still wake your child at 7:00am in the time zone you are visiting. Day 1 is usually a recovery day from travel, so begin this switch your first full day after your arrival. All naps and sleep times will follow the local time. Exposure to sunlight will also help your child’s body reset to the local time, especially in the morning. Don’t worry if their schedule gets a little off (it most likely will) do your best and enjoy your time!
Enjoy your family time.
When you’re on vacation sleep is just off. It's going to happen and that's okay! . Do your best to stick to your normal nap and bedtime schedule to help your child stay rested. But, still enjoy your family time. If you miss a nap, that’s okay! Try for an early bedtime and shoot for a nap the next day. If you have to offer extra help to get your child to sleep, that's okay to too! Be flexible when necessary and try not to stress too much over sleep. I promise, You will get back on track!
Once You are Home:
Get back to business as usual.
While you were gone, you may have taken extra measures to make sleep happen, like rocking or lying down with them and that’s okay! If this is the case, sleep may not come as easy as it did before you left. Quickly stepping back into your normal schedule and routines will help them adjust and get back on track. Keep in mind, it can take a few days or even a week to adjust back to normal.
While yes, sleep is important; spending time with loved ones is irreplaceable. Don’t let sleep (or the fear of not sleeping) stop you from enjoying the little moments. Do your best and give your children (and yourself) some grace! You’ll get back on track again when you get home.