It’s finally almost summer and this warm weather is making me think about the beach. I’m craving a vacation. Remember the days when you could decide to go away for a weekend (or longer), pick a beachy destination, book it, pack, and go?
We didn’t know how easy we had it.
My husband and I recently took our two boys away for five days and, let me tell you, I love them to pieces but that trip was WORK. Everything is a bigger effort when you have little ones along for the ride and, while I wouldn’t change a thing about that trip, I was exhausted when we came home. And my kids slept while we were away! I cannot imagine how I would have felt if they hadn’t napped or slept through the night.
Even babies and toddlers who are great sleepers at home can struggle on vacay. It’s a new environment, everything is exciting, rules seem to be flexible, they’re staying up late, naps are being missed…in other words, mayhem. It’s tricky striking a balance between fun and sun and “When is this trip done?”. On one side of that line you have reasonably rested kids who are having a great time and on the other side you have crazy, overtired kids who seemingly tantrum at a slight ocean breeze.
Don’t let that scare you into delaying that trip to the beach, the cottage, your in-laws’ house (gulp), or wherever you fancy because there are things you can do to set yourself up for vacation success.
So I give you my five tips for how to get a baby (or toddler) to sleep on vacation.
Tip # 1: Lean on that routine.
Bedtime and nap-time routines aren’t just good for teaching your little one to sleep well at home. They come in handy when you’re away from home too! Sing the same song, put on the same sleep sack, and give the same cuddles. If your son or daughter has a favourite bedtime book, bring it with you.
Whatever your routine is at home, do your best to copy it while you’re away.
Tip # 2: Mimic their sleep environment.
Obviously, as you’re away from home, your baby is going to be sleeping in a new space. It won’t sound, look, or smell the way their room at home does. However, do what you can to replicate the sleep environment they’re used to. If you use white noise at home, download an app on your phone to create the same noise while you’re away. If your child has a lovey that they sleep with, bring it with you. Try to create a dark corner in your room for them to sleep in, especially during naps.
All of these details will help your little one to feel at home. The more secure they feel, the better they’ll sleep.
Tip # 3: Respect that schedule of theirs.
If you’re on vacation, your days will likely be packed with activities and your nights will be later than usual. It’s important that you’re able to enjoy your time away but it’s also much easier to have fun when your kids aren’t melting down because they’re overtired. Not all of their naps are going to happen as they normally would and their bedtime will inevitably be later some of the time.
The key is to give your little ones enough healthy naps and reasonable bedtimes to keep them from becoming overtired.
Tip # 4: Jump right on that time change.
When travelling to a different time zone, do your best to slip into the new zone right away. If your family is normally up at 7:00 a.m., try to get up at that time in your new location. Do the same for naps and bedtime, particularly for the first couple days. Kids are really sensitive to light and dark cues so exposing them to lots of daylight when they’re meant to be awake, and trying to keep the environment as dark as possible when it’s time to sleep, will help greatly.
It’s hard to immediately jump into a new time zone, especially when the change is more than a few hours. I once fell asleep sitting up in England when I tried to shift my clock by five hours my first day there. But the faster you can do it, the faster everyone will adapt so hopefully your family handles it more gracefully than I did!
Tip # 5: In this case, more is more.
Travelling with kids isn’t cheap. Additional plane tickets, rented car seats, bigger hotel rooms, etc. Not to mention, I would buy ANYTHING if I thought it would keep my guys happy and quiet on road trips and (especially) plane rides. Because of this, I’m all for vacationing on a budget.
My one exception is that it is worth the expense to get a suite, cottage, or Airbnb with multiple rooms. It may be fun to imagine putting your little ones to sleep and quietly hanging out nearby but, in reality, it’s stressful. The more space your children have from you, the less likely it is that they’ll be disturbed. And it’s not just about them! Don’t lose the ability to enjoy your time while your kids are napping or already asleep for the night. If you can, splurge on the extra space and enjoy your adult time being able to move around, talk above a whisper, and clink your wine glasses without fear of waking your brood!
Despite all of these tips, It’s also important to remember that vacations are for fun and flexibility. Yes, you want to do your best to respect your little one’s sleep needs but you also need to enjoy the experience.
If your child misses a nap or has a terrible night’s sleep, don’t let it stress you out.
Worst case, you have a few extra tantrums along the way and you come home with an exhausted child. After a few days, they will have caught up on their sleep and will be back to their delightful selves.
My one last piece of advice is to get right back into your regular routine once your family is home. It’s tempting to stay in vacation mode for a day or two while you’re settling in and unpacking but the fastest way to get your little one sleeping well again is to make it clear that being at home means that you’re back to business as usual.
That’s it! As much as you can, recreate your child’s routine and environment, try to keep to their schedule based on local time, give yourself some space, and have fun! Oh, and take lots of pictures because vacations with young’uns are hectic but you’ll come home with some incredible memories.