As you may know, an overtired child can ruin even the happiest of vacations in a snap. (Just visit Disney World and you’ll see what I mean….soooooo many crying and exhausted children in the Happiest Place on Earth!)
But what if I told you that you didn’t have to sacrifice vacation fun in order to keep your child sleeping well? And vice versa: you don’t have to sacrifice your child’s sleep in order to have fun during vacation. You can have the best of both worlds!
Now, keep in mind, your child’s sleep during vacation likely won’t be picture-perfect. You will have to make some sacrifices, and you can probably expect sleep that is a little more fragmented and disrupted than usual. But hey – I bet you’ll take that any day over non-existing sleep that leads to cranky overtiredness, right?
Vacation with Baby and/or Toddler: 9 Tips To Preserve Sleep AND Have Fun
- Catch up on sleep before vacation. Ensure that the few days leading up to your vacation are relaxed and slow-paced. Make sure naps are happening at home, in your child’s crib or bed, and that bedtime is happening like clockwork. This will allow your child to get good and rested before you leave.
- Book sleep-friendly accommodations, if possible. Where you will be staying on vacation will mean a lot in terms of how well your child does or does not sleep. Booking a house, where your child can have her own room, may be easiest. However, a hotel suite that has two bedrooms can work just as well. That said, if you have to share a sleeping area with your child on vacation, you can make that work (more on that later in the post).
- Be prepared to do the time-zone dance, if necessary. If you’ll be crossing time zones, it may affect sleep. If the time change is just an hour, you may be fine, but if it’s more than that, you may need to do the “time zone dance”! You’ll need to modify your child’s schedule in advance of leaving and then modify it again when you get home; it makes extra work, yes, but it’ll make everyone a lot happier while you are on vacation. As for how to do this time-zone dance – we LOVE this post on the topic. We adore this family (they are former clients of ours), and they are experts on traveling with a baby in tow.
- Bring lots of comfort objects from home. You should absolutely plan to pack your child’s lovey, but don’t forget things like a favorite crib sheet, favorite PJs, a few special bedtime books, etc. If your child has a nightlight that’s part of the bedtime routine, bring that. And don’t forget any white noise machines and blackout blinds that will make your child’s sleeping area very sleep-friendly.
- Room-share like a pro. If you have to share a room with your baby during vacation, you can make it work. The biggest step will be to use white noise to block out any ambient sounds and blackout shades to block out light. Additionally, it can help to create some kind of temporary room divider that will section off your side of the room from your baby’s. A portable coat rack (like this one) + an extra hotel blanket can achieve this well. Expand the coat rack, throw the blanket over it, and you have a room divider!
- Try to plan excursions around naps (if you can – don’t stress if you can’t). Don’t be a slave to your child’s usual schedule, but certainly take it into account when planning activities. If your toddler takes one afternoon nap, try to plan an outing in the morning, or during mid-afternoon. If your child takes two naps, try to squeeze an excursion in around lunchtime.
- Be flexible – tired will happen! Your best-laid plans will not equal perfect sleep. The truth is, vacation means a different daily schedule and different surroundings, and that will spell disrupted sleep. If you do your homework and plan well, you can minimize sleep damage, but do be prepared for some fussiness, a late nap, some late bedtimes, etc.
- Book a few “getting back on track” days after you get home. Believe it or not, vacation doesn’t end when you come home. The aftermath of vacation can stick around in the form of whacked-out sleep schedules! That’s why we recommend taking a few days after you get home to get back to normal. Try to make sure you can be home during these days, so that you don’t have any errands or outings that can further-disrupt sleep.
- And of course, as a last tip – don’t forget to HAVE FUN! When you take a vacation with your baby or toddler, it’s a time to enjoy your family. So don’t get too focused on sleep, lest it suck the enjoyment out of your travels!
Build in “lazy” breaks in the midst of your activities. You may be able to go-go-go, but your child likely cannot! As a general rule, plan for one big activity per day, or two smaller outings. But also be sure to schedule in some lazy mornings or afternoons (or even days, depending on how long your trip is) so that the whole family can sleep in, nap, and generally relax.