Vacation With Baby/Toddler: How To Preserve Sleep AND Have Fun!


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

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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!

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2 thoughts on “Vacation With Baby/Toddler: How To Preserve Sleep AND Have Fun!”

  1. I’ve been travelling with my baby since she was six weeks old, and we’re currently doing a three month, multi-country/continent trip, so I’ve learned a few things.

    1. Even though you are allowed to take ice packs for breastmilk, not every security agent knows this. I had to toss two ice packs when leaving France for Rome, because the agent insisted on telling me that the ice packs were only allowed for medication. I then pointed out that the milk would spoil and why would we be allowed to bring breastmilk that would spoil. I’m fluent in French, so I wore him down. I recommend going on the website for the travel advisory section of the government for whichever country you will be transiting through and print the list that shows what you can bring.

    2. Nurse your baby during take off and landing, especially landing, to help with their little ears adjusting to the change in pressure.

    3. Babies who were champion stroller nappers will quickly decide that napping is for losers once they realise that they’re somewhere new and exciting, especially when people keep coming up to coo at them and tell them how beautiful they are. This almost never happened to me in the States, but oItnce I touched European soil, it was baby season.

    4. Try and schedule flights that take off/last for the duration of baby’s usual sleep schedule in order to ensure a peaceful flight for yourself and everyone else on board. This meant that I take several flights that take off around 6 a.m. Not only are these early flights less expensive, but my daughter was only up when I woke her to feed her and change her, fell asleep in the car, and sleeps until we land in our new destination.

    5. In the U.S., you can wear your baby in a baby carrier through security, but you cannot in Europe. Don’t put your baby in the carrier until you get through security, especially if s/he is sleeping.

    6. If your stroller is a travel system, you will have to check the carseat and stroller base onto the flight for most domestic airlines in Europe. They only allow one piece at the gate. Have no fear! Strollers and car seats are given VIP status in Europe. They are boarding last on the flight, are given special care as they make their way through the airport, and they do not get unload onto the conveyor belt with the suitcases, so no banging around. Someone puts the strollers on a cart and wheels them into the airport and leaves them either at the conveyor belt or in the area that is designated for oversized luggage. Similarly, you do not send them to the plane the usual way. You leave them at oversized luggage, and they are wheeled through the airport. Just buy a travel bag for them.

    7. My daughter sleeps through every flight, because, knowing that our lives will be filled with airplane travel, I selected the “airplane” white noise option in my white noise app for her. She wakes up once we get off the plane. You might want to try this trick a few weeks before you leave.

    8. If you have a layover in Switzerland, visit the family room. They have a huge play/eating area for toddlers and young child (with areas for you to cook food for your child) in every terminal as well as a nursing room that comes with at least two bassinets and two cribs, plush toys (lovies), blankets that are washed after each use, etc. for napping between flights. Basically, it’s a dream house for parents who are traveling.

    • @Mimi Thanks so much for this wonderful information, Mimi! I’m sure other families will really appreciate it!

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