5 Ways to Help Your Baby or Toddler Nap While Traveling

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It’s summer here in the U.S., and for many of us, summer means vacation! Whether you’re off to a tropical resort, to a cabin in the woods, or just to your parents’ house, vacation offers you the chance to escape your real life and spend a few days or weeks relaxing.

Unless, that is, you’re vacationing with a baby or toddler. If that’s the case, scratch the “relaxing” part; your vacation might feel like a whole lot of work! As this Momastery.com post puts it,

“DUDE. Vacation is hard. Everyone came WITH me. And they all need the same amount of food and grooming and such as they do at home.”

And let’s not forget the sleeping, shall we? Nothing throws off a naptime routine quite like uprooting your little one from her familiar surroundings and whisking her away to a new place.

Think she’s going to nap well? Think again.

We know vacation can destroy your little one’s naptime schedule, leading to short naps (or no naps at all!). We’ve been there. We’ve felt the pain first-hand! So we’re offering you some simple ways to make naptime as painless as possible while your family is traveling. Put these 5 tips into practice the next time you’re traveling with your baby or toddler, and make naptime more restful for everyone.

1. Stick to the schedule as much as you can.

If you want your baby or toddler to nap well while you’re traveling, you’re probably going to have to stick to his normal schedule as much as you can. So if he normally naps mid-morning and mid-afternoon, do what you can to make sure he’s able to nap at those times during vacation, too. Don’t plan activities that’ll force him to miss his nap; instead, try to prioritize his sleep.

Of course, some circumstances might make this impossible, and that’s okay. If a nap can’t happen when it “should” every once in awhile during your trip, simply roll with it, and then do your best to make sure the rest of his naps are restorative.

What’s more, if you have a highly-adaptable baby, sticking closely to the schedule might not be necessary. Your baby might sleep beautifully on a beach chair, or in her stroller. If that’s the case, congratulations! Enjoy. The rest of us are just a little jealous. ;)

2. Pack some good napping products.

We shared this post a few weeks ago on fantastic napping products. And guess what? Most of these are totally portable, so make room in your suitcase! The loveys, the noise machines, the swaddle blankets, and the stroller covers should all fit nicely in a bag. You can even find portable room-darkening blinds; the Gro Anywhere Blackout Blind has suction cups that stick to any window, making it a great option for traveling. (Note: our readers in the U.S. won’t be able to purchase these portable blinds, unfortunately. But if you’re in the U.K., Australia, or New Zealand, you will!)

3. Make the napping area feel like home.

There are limitations to this, obviously; you can’t exactly pack your baby’s or toddler’s entire room and haul it on vacation with you! But you can take small steps to make sure that the place your baby or toddler naps while you’re traveling feels homey and familiar. That might mean bringing along his crib sheets and bedding, or packing the lullaby CD that you always play for her at naptime. And of course, you’ll definitely want to pack all of your little one’s comfort items — loveys, stuffed animals, favorite books, etc. Surround him with things that feel like home, and it’ll help him settle down and nap when he needs to.

4. Lay some groundwork before you leave.

This is especially important if you have a slow-to-adapt baby, or a toddler who’s really sensitive to disruptions in the routine. If that’s the case, starting a few days to two weeks before you leave, begin napping your baby or toddler in whatever she’ll be sleeping in while you travel (if possible) for at least one nap per day. Set up your pack-n-play or portable crib in her room, and have her take her naps there. This will help her adjust to to a new sleeping arrangement before you hit the road, which will be easier on everyone.

5. Give yourself a pep-talk.

Even if you take every single precaution you can, there’s still a good chance that your baby or toddler just isn’t going to nap as well on the road as he does at home. Such is the reality of vacationing with a tiny child! So be prepared to be flexible, and to make the best of whatever comes.

And then, when you get home, schedule yourself a pedicure, or a massage, or an afternoon out — anything that’ll help you feel relaxed. After all that vacationing, you’ll probably need a break. ;)

Nicole’s Note
“After traveling, the biggest thing we see in the Helpdesk is that even if schedules were perfect on vacation, traveling is tiring for everyone, including your baby. Plan for an earlier bedtime for several nights to help your baby ‘catch up’ on sleep and rest up!”

How do you help your baby or toddler sleep well when you’re traveling? Share your tips!

Travel plans in your future? Be sure to check out our free guide, 7 Common Napping Mistakes and/or check out Mastering Naps and Schedules, a comprehensive guide to napping routines, nap transitions, and all the other important “how-to” of good baby sleep. With over 40 sample sleep schedules and planning worksheets, Mastering Naps and Schedules is a hands-on tool ideal for any parenting style. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3 Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (for babies) or The 5 Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (for toddlers). Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your baby sleep through the night. Have a newborn at home? Download our free guide on newborn sleep, 15 Baby Sleep Facts New Parents Need To Know, or purchase a copy of our comprehensive e-Book on newborn sleep, Essential Keys to Your Newborn’s Sleep. Or, join our Members Area packed with exclusive content and resources: e-Books, assessments, detailed case studies, expert advice, peer support, and teleseminars. It actually costs less to join than buying products separately! For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations. Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a sleep plan; sometimes you’re just close to the situation or too tired to!

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15 Responses to 5 Ways to Help Your Baby or Toddler Nap While Traveling

  1. Nicole Clancy says:

    The first time we travelled didn’t work very well as I didn’t do any preparations, but after this I found “pre-sleeping” in the portacot very useful and led to us all having much more peaceful breaks!. Bubba would sleep in it for both naps and nighttime for 2 days before going away. I’d use sheets with a pattern on them and take them with us so they were familiar in sight and smell. Since turning one, she’s much more adaptable but I still take her current sheets with us but don’t worry about presleeping in the portacot anymore.

  2. Rebekah says:

    With my second child I started putting her in her pushchair for naps as she always seemed to fall asleep just around the time I had to walk out to get her brother from nursery. I’m so glad I did that – it seemed like a bad idea but when we had a trip to Canada she napped really well in her pushchair, just like back at home. Turns out a portable napping place is a great option for us!

  3. Joleen says:

    We travel often by car and I do many of the things suggested and find it really goes a long way to keeping my daughter as well rested as she can be.
    It is really helpful to keep everything as similar as possible from home. Same sheets, same lovey, white noise, the same PJs she slept in the night before, etc.
    One time, we thought we’d give the hotel’s complimentary crib a try and had it rolled to our room.
    Big mistake! It was like a squeaky monkey cage on wheels with my daughter enjoying every minute as the monkey!
    Good thing we had our Pack N Play in the car!

    Someday I hope for one of those “highly adaptable” babies that I hear so much about…. lol.

  4. Meagan says:

    This might seem obvious to everyone else, but we bought an extra mattress for the pack n play. Our son would go down for bed or naps without too much trouble, on schedule, then wake up after too short a time. We couldn’t think what to do, but it finally occurred to us that the pack n play “mattress” is just a quilted piece of board over four rigid bars! We got an extra mattress for our last trip and he slept beautifly. Just make sure to buy the “extra firm” version for a baby… The one we got is awfully spongy, and if my son were any younger I’d have worried about SIDS.

    I have a question about nap transitioning… My son is 14 months and on two naps… We fly out to the west coast in 2 and a half months and I’d kind of like him on 1 nap by then. He isnt walking yet, so I’m still anticipating that extra need for sleep when he starts. When do you recommend switching to 1 nap for late walkers? Should I wait until after the trip to avoid too much change right before, or start earlier to give him time to recover? He didn’t really transition naturally from 3 to 2… I had to decide when he was ready, so he may end up being the same way this round… When do most kids transition to 1 nap?

  5. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Nicole Clancy — glad you’ve found that “pre-sleeping” works for you! I have, too. I think the feel of the pack-n-play is different enough for babies that they need a day or two to adjust.

    @ Rebekah — good point! I suppose that if your travels are going to include lots of time walking around and pushing baby in the stroller, then it’d be crucial to get her used to napping in the stroller. Way to think ahead!

  6. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Joleen — Agreed! Those hotel port-a-cribs are just ridiculous. Pack-n-plays to the rescue!! ;)

    @ Meagan — thanks for the extra mattress tip!

    Regarding the nap transition — I’m in the same boat. :) My youngest, who’s 13 months, is proving to be a late-walker, too, and she’s still taking 2 naps a day. I keep waiting for her to give me the signs that she’s ready for 1, but they’re just not happening! She seems perfectly content with 2.

    In terms of when the transition happens, I think most people find it comes around the 12 month mark. But we’ve found that 15-18 months is actually a more “average” age.

    This article on might help; it’s written specifically about the transition from two naps to one: http://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-naps-2/12-month-olds-one-nap-transition/

    Let us know what you end up doing!

  7. Anna Talis says:

    For room darkening, you can get Redi Shade at any Home Depot or Lowes. They attach to the top of the window case with an adhesive strip, can be cut to size and come in room darkening or blackout. At $5-6 each, you can get a few to cover whatever windows you might encounter in your travels with a minimal expense. They even come in a 4-pack. :-)

  8. Laurie says:

    Oh my. this came at the perfect time. After hubby and I decided not for me to go to NH with our 9 month old son to visit some relatives, I am now having to go for a cousin who is not doing well. We leave in a few weeks and this is the best help I’ve seen that might let us survive. We’ve done the hotel playpen crib and my mom has one at her house, but he can be near impossible to get down. We are flying so bringing a mattress along may not work, but if anyone has other suggestions for bedding I’d love to hear it.

    And please… we are on a plane for a long time. Any experts out there that can give me hints to surviving that. I even upgraded us to the extra leg room seat on the longest segment just so we would be too squished.

  9. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Anna Talis — awesome tip! Thanks so much for suggesting this. See, this is why it’s so great to have a community of readers — I didn’t even know this was an option. Thanks, Anna! :)

    @ Laurie — so glad this article will help! As for tips regarding the plane trip: bring lots of snacks. In my experience, that’s the most expedient way to keep a little one happy on a plane. :) You’ll also want to bring a few of his favorite toys. Finally, take advantage of the time when the “fasten seatbelt” sign is off and walk around with him a little.

    Hope it goes well, Laurie! And I’m sure other moms (who are more well-traveled than I) will be able to advise you on this.

  10. mary beth einhorn says:

    Laurie…..I found this and am thinking of getting it. It’s like a hammock for a plane. Not sure how big your baby is, but it could work. Flyebaby.com

  11. Laurie says:

    Thanks Mary Beth. That looks interesting and he is still under the weight limit.

  12. CJ says:

    My toddler (18 months old) still has never been on a vacation cuz i am too scared ot take her for fear of lots of disruption – we have things silent in the house while she sleeps as well. very OTT i know, but we are also waiting for when she is in a big bed so we dont have to buy a portacot! tell me im crazy??

  13. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ mary beth einhorn — thanks for helping Laurie out with this!

    @ CJ — not crazy at all! I have three kids, 5 and under, and we don’t do a lot of traveling because of the kids. I figure we’ll save our money and take nice trips when the kids are old enough to enjoy it. At this stage, though, a vacation would be a ton of work; easier to stay home and do little day trips :)

    So I think you’re very normal! It gets much easier to travel as your kids get older; they need less “stuff”, and they’re better able to adapt to new places.

  14. Lori says:

    This is a great article! However, you left one thing out. The best way to get a little one to nap away from home is to first have him sleep there at night. My husband and I travel several times a year to visit family and for religious conventions. Our son (now 25 months) is not what I would call highly adaptable. If possible, we try to travel at naptime so he sleeps in the car and his first sleep at the hotel or MIL’s is at bedtime. I bring the sheets from his crib for the pack n’play, but that may be too soft for younger baby. It’s also best if he has his own room, but that’s not always possible. As for darkening the room, I just tape up black trash bags if needed.

  15. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Lori — So you’re saying that it’s better if the first “sleep” in the new place is at night, instead of during a nap? Interesting insight! I hadn’t though of that, but it makes sense. Thanks for sharing!