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Most adults who travel frequently have heard that when hopping time zones, shifting your body and internal clock to the new local time upon arrival is the best way to acclimate. On the other hand, if you are a parent who is trying to get your baby to sleep while traveling, your baby or toddler may not agree with this pro tip!
Not to fear, there are several steps parents can take to get their young children to sleep while traveling. If you are planning a trip for leisure as opposed to necessity, then you likely have some choice as to where you will travel. Luckily for us, there are wonderful cold and warm weather destinations in most time zones!
Choosing the Right Time Zone for Travel With Children
This is a super critical first step and can make a big difference in how enjoyable the trip is for you and your family. Getting your baby to sleep while traveling requires being strategic about the time zone you select.
Unless you are traveling halfway across the world, the key is to look for time zones that are ahead of your current local time and NOT behind. My family is originally from New York but currently resides in California. This has been a huge benefit for us when returning to the East Coast to visit friends or family where the local time is three hours later than in California.
Babies and toddlers don’t adapt to time zone changes like adults do, so keeping them on their home time zone can make it easier on everyone. Traveling back to New York is always a delight because my kids can stay up until 10ishpm local time and then everyone sleeps in until 9! This means that we can still have late dinners, visits with friends and family and not be stressed out about rushing home for a 7:30 bedtime.
We also regularly visit the East Coast of Mexico (Cancun, Playa del Carmen) and it’s a lot of fun to be able to go out to late dinners and sleep in the next morning.
Going in Reverse
One of my sisters lives in Hawaii, so we have had our fair share of trying to get our babies to sleep while traveling to an earlier time zone or behind our local time.
This is an absolute disaster!
My kids are exhausted by 5pm and begging to go to sleep. This means that they wake up around 4am! Of course, if a trip is a week or longer they start to adapt, but it’s way less pleasant to try to spend time with friends and family and then have to wake up before the sun with a hyper infant or toddler.
If you have any say in where you travel, remember to try to identify locations that are ahead of your hometown time and not behind!
Comforts of Home
One important way to get your baby to sleep while traveling is to try to recreate an environment as similar to home as possible. For us, this means packing the following items:
- Special blankets
- A stuffed animal or two of their choosing
- Pacifiers/and or their own sippy cup
- THIS BELOVED WHITE NOISE MACHINE THAT IS UNDER $20 AND COMES WITH US WHEREVER WE GO!
- One or two favorite books from home
- Comfort food and familiar snacks from home
- Blackout/room darkening disposable shades
Room Darkening Is Essential
A lot of parents of young children and babies use blackout curtains or room darkening curtains at home to help their babies or toddlers sleep through the night.
This is absolutely essential when traveling and especially when jumping time zones as kids may need to either go to sleep while the sun is still out or sleep in as the sun is coming up.
It’s not practical to take down your room darkening curtains from the nuresery and pack them, but these absolutely amazing disposable room darkening shades have saved us time after time. For the price, they work like a charm. As packing space is always tight with little ones, we typically send an amazon delivery of curtains, wipes, diapers and other essentials directly to our destination a few days ahead so it’s all there waiting for us when we arrive.
Staying on Schedule
As mentioned above, if you are traveling outside of your time zone for less than a week, it just makes more sense to keep your babies and toddlers on a schedule in the time zone they are used to.
This means sticking to the nap schedule even if the times are earlier or later than usual. For example, if your little one typically takes a nap at noon and you travel to a time zone that is three hours ahead, the nap should be closer to 3pm. It may seem odd, but this will work out very well because they will also be sleeping in later.
In addition to time zone challenges, travel also comes with lots of outings and opportunities for nap time to be disrupted. It’s really very important to try to be consistent with naps while traveling to preserve nighttime sleep and keep everything on track.
If you need to be out an about, bringing a fully reclining stroller and blanket to black out the sun is important. Whenever possible, try to take a few hours out of the day and get your little one back to the hotel or house for a solid nap. You may sacrifice a few hours of fun, but you will more than be rewarded for it with happy babies for fun late-night activities and good nighttime sleep.
Nutrition and Hydration
It can be hard to keep up with proper meal and snack schedules when traveling – especially if you are in a different region where the food is unfamiliar but making sure your child is well-fed is one of the most important components to getting your baby to sleep while traveling.
This means bringing plenty of “comfort snacks” from home, making sure they are getting enough milk/water and taking time to stop for a proper dinner or lunch among the adventures. If a child or baby is hungry when they go to sleep, they will not sleep well even if you do everything else right!
Making Sure They Burn Off Steam
Most toddlers do not love sitting on the plane for multiple hours. Here are some tricks that can help with that and here is a post that offers some solid tips on traveling alone with a baby, but more importantly is making sure toddlers have the chance to burn off some steam when they reach their destination.
We travel regularly with our children and we constantly google and find local playgrounds to stop by for an hour between adventures, and we have discovered some seriously amazing playgrounds by doing this.
If playgrounds are not available, making sure toddlers have a chance to run around and get some physical activity in. Many cities also have children’s museums which can be great for a half-day activities– especially if the weather is not coopering. Babies still need tummy time and floor time to burn energy while on the road.
Letting children out of their strollers and giving them the chance to burn off energy will help with great naps and night time sleep while traveling.
Oh, man this would have been helpful when my son was a baby! We traveled a TON up until he was 3! Thank you for the tips! Such a great resource!
Kids sleep on vacation can be so hard! Thanks for all the tips. We take an annual family trip or two and this is always an issue for us
It can be so hard! Going to a later time zone is a game changer! I hope you have a fun trip planned for 2020~
Kale @ steakandkale.com says
Wow! My youngest did NOT travel well, so we pretty much skipped out when they were little. I really didn’t have to think much about it…I know this will help a lot of mommas who travel frequently! 🙂
Absolutely! Neither of my children have ever been good sleepers, but once they started to sleep I wanted to do everything possible to preserve it!
Diana | Wandering Hoof Ranch says
Sleep is so important! It’s not easy helping your children learn to sleep and soothe themselves let alone when you’re traveling!
Jannine MacKinnon says
So many good tips! We always travel with their little room kit including their white nose machine and do things as close to routine as possible.
My son was 21 days old the first time we traveled with him and I was so scared about how it was going to go! Now we travel with both babies all the time! Great tips! Thanks for sharing!