Traveling with a child or children can often be exhausting, frustrating, and potentially the unraveling of a great sleeper, but it doesn’t have to be. Yes, you will probably have to work hard at keeping your child on their normal schedule (at least part of the time) while you’re away and yes, you will likely have to work even harder putting your child back on their original schedule once you get back home, but doing so will hopefully keep the tantrums to a minimum along the way.
I couldn’t possibly write this blog without making it part factual, part tips to follow, and part sarcasm. Anyone who has ever traveled with a child knows that is far from fun and even farther from relaxing, but we all have to do it at one time or another. Every parent needs to put in their time in creating memories and the best family vacations possible (I did mine earlier this year in the form of a week long trip to Disney with my 4 kids, hubby, and parents). So how do we do that without losing our sanity??? Well, let met me break it down for you in 10 great tips…
- Rest up before you travel! The more well-rested your child (and your entire family) is the better they will be able to cope with time zone changes, being away from home, and traveling in general. And we all know how much rest parents get on vacations, so you might want to sneak in a few extra naps before leaving.
- No matter the mode of transportation, you’ll want to pack a bag for traveling! I’m not talking about their travel suitcase with their clothes, diapers, and essentials, I’m talking about packing a special bag just for the transportation part. If you have a baby, then you want to stuff that diaper bag full of more than just diapering items. You’ll want to include toys, bottles of milk/formula or juice (if you’re using them), pacifiers, books, wipes, non-refrigerated snacks, and basically anything else not nailed down in your house. For toddlers, you want to do most of these things, but then also include coloring books, an ipad/tablet, LOTS of snacks, and any toy that doesn’t make noise (no sense in annoying yourself in a car or others on an airplane). Distraction will be your friend for most of the traveling part, so be prepared to do a lot of entertaining to and from your “vacation”.
- If you’re changing time zones, you want to immediately switch to the new time zone if you’ll be there longer than a day or two. Try to avoid letting your child take excessively long naps at the wrong times. Don’t let your child skip meals, naps, or bedtime! Timing of meals, activities, and light/dark can help tremendously in adjusting to the new change. Luckily, most hotel rooms have nice thick, dark curtains on the windows so you have no idea if it’s day or night, so that should make things a little easier. Thankfully children are more resilient than adults, so chances are good that he’ll recover faster than you do.
- Keep naps and meal times the same as normal. Again, while it can be difficult to do this on the road, doing so will greatly help your child’s body remain on schedule, which will make him a happier traveler. Remember, your baby’s body is used to your at-home schedule, so you can’t expect him to just go with the flow for eating and sleeping. It takes time to adjust to these things!
- If baby won’t nap in this unfamiliar place, don’t panic…go to Plan B instead! Babies need to have their naps if you’re going to have any chance at a decent vacation, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t fight you tooth and nail with taking one. If that happens, take your child for a walk in the stroller, a ride in the car, or wear them while you walk. You want to do what you can to ensure baby gets her naps! Then, when you get back home, you’ll need to have her go back to sleeping independently in her crib so this vacation doesn’t go down in your child’s history as “the vacation where she stopped sleeping”.
- Eat familiar things when you can, or bring a back up supply of your child’s favorite things. If you know you’ll be going out to restaurants with unfamiliar foods, it would be a good idea to pack some snacks or a sandwich for your child in case she doesn’t like what’s on the menu. While you might want your child to try new things, you shouldn’t expect that they will adjust their food preference and gobble up an entirely new meal. They might, but if not, bringing snacks will go a long way to avoiding meltdowns! Remember those snacks I told you to take with for traveling? Well, get about 4 times that amount to cover you for restaurant visits, snack times throughout the day and in the evenings, and for on your way back home.
- Don’t over schedule! I know that can be really hard not to do, especially if you’re going on vacation, but it is so necessary if you want to have a pleasant child. Your child will most likely be happier in the morning, so try to schedule activities then and plan to be back in the early evening. You’ll want to have some down time scheduled into the day too so that your child has a chance to run off some energy throughout the day and decompress before bed. If you get back too late, your child will have caught his “second wind” while you’re exhausted. It’s never fun to have your 3yr old jumping on the bed singing and dancing like it’s 9am instead of 9pm, when all you want to do is melt in the mattress.
- You want to take as many of your child’s favorites bedtime items with you as possible. This means that you should take their lovey, white noise machine, favorite sheet/blanket, books, and/or any other key component of their bedtime routine. You want them to be as comfortable and consistent as possible. And be sure that you continue with their normal bedtime routine no matter where you! Hopefully your child has a lovey that’s small enough to fit into their suitcase, or else you might have to buy it a plane ticket. Either way, it’s gotta come with!
- Keep your child’s bedtime at about the same time (within 30 mins) as when you’re at home. Going to bed too late will only increase your chance of night wakings and early morning wakings. Try to travel during naps or bedtime, breaking up the traveling if it’s too long. Like I said, being overly tired leads to children catching that dreaded “second wind”, so try to get them to bed before it’s too late.
- Be understanding about your child’s potential crankiness. Jet lag, a long car ride, new faces, new environments, new foods, and a new bed can be overwhelming to a child. They might be tired, they might be cranky, and they might be clingy, but they are resilient and should recover in a few a days. Just in time for you to get back on the plane or in the car and return home!
I can’t help with the pure exhaustion that goes with traveling with a child (or 2 or 3 or 4), but if you keep these things in mind when planning your next vacation to Disney, Grandma’s house, or the beach, your child’s schedule and sleeping should be ok. If not, you might have to do a little sleep retraining to get them back to normal, but after a few days of your consistency they should be back to their old routines. And if that doesn’t work, you can contact me! You can visit the Sleeptastic Solutions website for more information or set up a time to chat. I offer free 15min phone assessments, so you can tell me all about your wonderful trip and what’s wrong now because of it. 😉