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Get Your Kids to Sleep On Vacation: The 8 Tricks I Use to Get My Kids to Sleep Anywhere
When we first started traveling with our kids, my biggest concern was whether my kids would sleep well on vacation. I spent many a late night googling ‘baby sleep travel tricks’ and ‘toddler travel sleep ideas’ frantically searching for ideas. As a result of this, I pretty much own every toddler sleep aid and baby sleep gadget sold on Amazon! For real. My house is a shopping mall for sleepsuits, toddler sleep sacks, sleep bags and other things I had no idea where ‘a thing’ until I had kids.
My first, our “spirited” and “independent” child is a terrible sleeper. Really terrible. If you have a terrible sleeper, you will feel me on the desire to do ANYTHING to help everyone get some shut-eye, especially when you’re supposed to feel relaxed on vacation! A well-rested mother is a happy mother, and a well-rested toddler is also a happy toddler. As such, I will go the extra mile to make sure my kids sleep well on vacation.
Here are my tips for beating toddler jet lag, getting your baby to sleep on vacation, and keeping your sleep routine while traveling!
Trick One: Recreate the Bedroom (= WHITE NOISE + DARK)
When my son was a baby, we did some sleep training, and he slept in a pitch black room with a noise machine on. On vacation, we had to recreate this space. We would bring along our noise machine (if you don’t have room, youtube has white noise tracks), and we would use these amazing travel blackout blinds to darken any space we were in. Many nights my son spent sleeping in a bathroom or walk-in closet to keep things dark.
Trick Two: Stick to “The Sleep Routine”
I know, I know, we all know about the importance of ‘the routine’. When I was trying to find ways to get my first child to sleep I wanted to pull my hair out every time I heard about this ‘magic routine’. I tell you, my kiddo did not get the memo about looking or feeling tired after a ‘consistent bedtime routine’. Once we did a sleep training program, the routine really fell into place, and I do think it’s an important reason why our travels generally go smoothly.
We have a quick and simple sleep routine for our kids. We like to keep it simple because often we don’t have time for a long drawn-out routine, and also a simple routine makes it MUCH easier to travel. Our routine is: brush teeth, washroom/diaper change, ONE book, and bed. It can be recreated anywhere and this helps my son to know it’s wind-down time for bed.
Keeping it consistent with our routine in a cramped hotel room 🙂
Trick Three: Don’t let them stay up late!
Some kids are flexible with their sleep routine. If you are reading this blog, yours probably isn’t one of them. If my kids are up late there is a 100% chance they will wake up at least 1 hour earlier. There is also a 350% chance they will be grumpy all day. Even though I would love my kids to be up dancing to music all night and enjoying dinner with the rest of us, I make sleep happen. See my stroller tip below for doing this without cramping your own style on vacation.
Out to dinner in the stroller
Trick Four: Make sleep happen ‘on the go’
My kids both sleep well when they are moving. If one is resisting a nap and starting to get into over-tired tantrum central I make a nap happen with a car ride or stroller. Stroller naps are also great on vacation because you don’t have to stay in your room. We bring our kids asleep in the stroller to dinner and out at night. The ZoeXl2 stroller below is great when space is tight and you can’t bring a full-size stroller on your trip. See my toddler travel hacks post for more on strollers on vacation.
If your little one doesn’t nap well ‘on-the-go,’ then renting a house or vacation villa might work out better than a single hotel room with no designated ‘nap space’. Check out my post on the best types of trips with young kids for more ideas!
Trick Five: Babywearing for the win!
Babywearing on vacation is essential. Our youngest absolutely loves to be in the carrier and the carrier is a great way to make a nap on the go happen. Babywearing also can help for the middle of the night wake ups, when our first was still waking up in the night we used the carrier to get him back to sleep. My favorite carrier currently is the MiaMilly carrier I got off Kickstarter. I like that it carries most of the weight on the hips and doesn’t hurt my shoulders/back.
I was so afraid that my first was going to sleep horribly on vacation I actually ‘practiced’ with our travel playpen in the week leading up to the trip. I used it for one nap a day and every other night just to get him used to sleeping in something that wasn’t his crib!
We use the Phil and Ted’s traveler on vacation and I absolutely love this crib. It is super compact and light, and it is longer than a typical playpen which is great for taller children. We used this until my son was three! Depending on our accommodation we may also use the crib/playpen they provide but it is nice to have something that my kids are used to so that its another familiar thing in their bedtime routine. Check out my full review on my post on ‘The Best Toddler Travel Beds‘
Ok, so this is more a trick for getting my kids to STAY asleep. One of the WORST things that can happen on vacation (in my mind) is having your little one pop into your room at 4 am READY TO GO FOR THE DAY. It’s happened to me several times, and there was no time change involved!
At home, we started using a toddler alarm clock to know when to wake up in the morning and it was MAGIC! Now my son knows to get up “when the bunny is sunny!” Usually, if my son wakes up early, he won’t go back to sleep, but he will stay quiet if we remind him to wait for the bunny. This has been especially important when our younger son is still (blissfully!) sleeping in. We bring the alarm clock for traveling ESPECIALLY if there will be a time change, it is a must-have!
Trick 8: Get them to sleep on the flight!
So I am pretty proud of myself for having MAGICAL POWERS for getting my kids to sleep on airplanes. Particularly because my eldest is such a challenging sleeper, I consider it a huge success when he is sleeping on the plane and I can actually look at … gasp… a MAGAZINE!
Depending on the length of the flight and the temperament of your child you may want to plan a flight that coincides well with nap time.
For my first ‘challenging’ sleeper: As a baby, I would put him in the baby carrier 30 minutes before we were about to board our flight. I would have kept him up prior to this so he would be tired. Then I POWER WALK. Usually, he falls asleep before we get on the plane. Then I have to NINJA my way out of the carrier since the flight attendants won’t let you keep it on.
For the toddler stage, I have made sure they are nice and tired for takeoff – my kids do tend to fall asleep with motion. I have them their lovey or blankie and try to hold off on any iPad time until the plane has taken off.
If you are planning to take a red-eye flight with your little one, check out these awesome tips by ‘Have Diapers, Will Travel’
Should I use toddler sleep medication?
Benadryl? Gravol? Melatonin? Should you use medication for toddler sleep on vacation? We have tried various over the counter medications over the years to help our kids sleep when they are traveling, especially on the plane. Of course, we only use these as a ‘backup plan’ in case of an epic plane disaster, or an overtired toddler who can’t wind down. If you are thinking about bringing one of these options along, it’s worthwhile trying them before you go, as some kids have the OPPOSITE effect. I have found that melatonin works really well for my toddler when needed. As always, check with your doctor first.
So… What is the ONE THING that helped both my kids to sleep ANYWHERE?
Obviously, I’ve used a combination of all of these tips to get my kids to fall asleep on vacation. However, if there is one thing that we CANNOT forget on vacation it is our sleep sacks. My kids are ATTACHED to these things and when they get to cuddle them it does bring on the sleepy dust! For the littlest ones, I can’t say enough good things about the Merlin Sleep Suit. For the older ones, I am a huge fan of the halo sleep sacks.
This suit really is magic! For real. My youngest son was taking 30-minute naps until we used this suit and now he sleeps 3 hours a nap. I can not recommend this product enough. It’s great because its easily packable and helps to create a similar sleep environment even if the crib, playpen, bed etc is different than whats at home.
Toddler Sleep Sack: Halo Sleep Sack
Once your baby can roll in the Merlin Sleep Suit, they are too big for the suit. Around 7 months we switched over to the Halo Sleepsacks for both our kids. My oldest son (who is now 4!) STILL sleeps with a halo sleep sack. Sleep sacks have become the ‘blankie’ in our family and there was a time where we didn’t go ANYWHERE without them. Although my four-year-old doesn’t actually wear his sack anymore, I do like that Halo makes sacks for bigger kids.
Other Vacation Sleep Hacks
Use a baby monitor to enjoy your vacation
The last thing I want to do on vacation is sit in a small dark room from 7 pm onwards. When we go on vacation we always bring our baby monitor with us. This is why we tend to prefer suites or villas that have a separate bedroom or even better a pool or lounge space close by. Read more in my post about why I love Airbnb for family travel for this reason. Occasionally we haven’t had room for our monitor or the concrete walls have interrupted the signal. In this case, we use the app iCloud baby monitor. It works on wifi so as long as you are connected to wifi you can keep an eye on your kids.
Dealing with Jet Lag?
Jet lag in toddlers is the worst! I have to admit we have been a bit reluctant to travel too far out of our time zone with kids at this point. The most we have done is a 4 hour time change. I was surprised at how quickly our kids adjusted simply by keeping them up a bit later on the first day. I’ve been told by my friends who are seasoned ‘timezone travelers’ that it takes about one day for every hour of the time change to adjust! Keep this in mind when you are considering the length of time you are planning to travel!
Wishing sleepy dust for your next vacation!