It’s taken you a few weeks to get your baby into a good schedule and sleeping well. Now that you’ve put in the time, effort, and energy to make this big change in your family’s life, that trip you have planned for next month is starting to stress you out! If you’re like most parents, your biggest fear is that a trip is going to derail all the progress you and your baby have made and cause you to start this process all over again. Sometimes the mere thought of it frightens parents so much that they cancel all summer trips and just vow to stay home until the child leaves for college. That is how important your baby’s new sleeping regime has become to everyone.

The good news is that you do not have to cancel all travel plans this summer and confine yourself to the house for the rest of your child’s life. It is possible to have children who travel really well, if you keep a few things in mind:

Don’t over-schedule

The biggest mistake parents make is that they over-schedule themselves. They try to pack in all the fun and adventure they might normally have had back in their “child-free” days, forgetting an important fact: They have a child now.

A nap in the car isn’t the end of the world

An occasional car nap or slightly later bedtime probably isn’t going to do too much harm, but if your baby spends a couple of days taking car seat naps here and there and having late bedtimes, she may become so overtired that by the time bedtime rolls around on day two, she has a complete meltdown and seems to “forget” all her sleep skills and just cries the house down.

You may start to give into this pressure and bend your expectations for your baby’s sleep. It’s easy to see how you could revert back to your own familiar ways in no time if you gave into this pressure and fear.

Keep to your routine as much as possible

It’s very normal for babies and toddlers to test the boundaries around sleep when they are somewhere new. Just because the rule is the rule at home, that does not necessarily mean the rule is the same at Grandma’s house. This may mean that your baby cries for some time at bedtime or has a night waking or two. The best way to handle it is to not do too much different than you would if the regression happened at home. You can go in every five minutes or so to offer a bit of reassurance, but other than that, don’t bend your rules. If you hang on tight to your consistency, within the first night or two, your child will be used to the new environment and will be sleeping well again.

Familiar items are always handy

Make sure you bring your child’s sleeping toy and/or blanket!

Bed sharing is probably the worst idea

Another big mistake parents make is to bed share with their baby or toddler while traveling. Bed sharing is a big no-no! Even it’s it is only for a few nights, if your baby decides this is her new preferred location, you could find yourself starting all over again when you get home. Most hotels have a cot you can use or rent or take your pack and play along and use that as a cot.

Try and put your baby in another room if possible

If your child is eight months or older, my advice is to try to make some sort of a private space for your baby to sleep. This could be the bathroom (if it’s big enough) or the closet. Anywhere that you can build some sort of a partition between you and your baby, so that if she has a wake up in the middle of the night she is not so excited to see her two favourite people that she ends up wide awake thinking it’s play time! Of course, getting an extra bedroom for your child is great if that’s an option for you.

Travelling with a baby or child can present some tough challenges for parents. This is especially true when it comes to adjusting to new sleep patterns. Disruptions to your child’s sleep cycle can occur regardless of whether you cross time zones, as many parents encourage sleep during the travel itself, throwing their schedule off. Here are a few tips for managing sleep difficulties during your holiday travels.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Regardless of where you are going, how long you will be gone or how you are going to get there, preparation is key. One of the first things you need to do is call airlines and hotels (if appropriate) to find out their child travel policies. Questions to ask include:

  • Can you board early?
  • Are infant/toddler care seats allowed?
  • Is there a bassinet or other infant sleep accommodations?
  • Is the flight or train booked? (You may request to be put next to an empty seat if not)

Another key to preparing is to consider how long it will take to get to your destination and how long you will be there. You can never truly ‘pack light’ when traveling with a child, but being gone for a few days will certainly require less packing than being gone for a month. Regardless of how you travel, getting into luggage will not be easy. You want to keep a bag of essentials close at hand. Your bag should include:

  • Nappies and wipes
  • Small bag of toys and/or a mini DVD player
  • Snacks, food and drink
  • Change of clothes (at least one; more for an infant)
  • Blankets and perhaps a pillow

Travel Sleep Solutions – The Journey

The big question is whether you allow or encourage your child to sleep during your travels. Whilst a sleeping child on an airplane may seem like a godsend for parents and passengers alike, it can ultimately wreak havoc upon reaching your destination. Some things to consider:

  • How long it will take to get there
  • How long you will be staying
  • Whether you are crossing time zones

If your travel time is long, napping and sleep are inevitable. This is especially true if your child is lulled to sleep by motion, as many are. You may not be able to avoid it. Consider your time of arrival: if you are arriving late at night, a child who has spent the day sleeping (off schedule) will be difficult to manage. Be prepared to entertain your child during the trip. Play games, interact and talk – even if you are travelling with an infant. Babies, toddlers and preschool children all have different activity and sleep needs. The best course – whenever possible – is to stick to regular sleeping cycles and nap patterns.

Jumping time zones presents an extra challenge and needs additional consideration. A dual time watch can help you monitor home time and destination time, allowing you to set up a schedule to help your child adjust his or her sleep patterns during the trip. Incremental adjustments are best, but not always possible.

Travel Sleep Solutions – The Destination

Many children have difficulty adjusting their sleep cycles whilst on holiday for the simple fact that they are in unfamiliar surroundings. Surrounding them with familiar items and keeping on schedule as much as possible minimises the disruption. Take your own infant crib or carrier sheets and your child’s favourite toys – especially those they associate with sleep. Read the same books at night and sing the same songs.

If you have to bunk up with an older child, make sure you explain that it is only temporary and that upon arriving back at home, they will be expected to sleep on their own again. Do this positively and offer a small reward for them to return to sleeping on their own – gold stars, a new book and a lot of praise are good.

Travelling with baby need not be a traumatic experience for either parent or child. Preparing adequately before your journey, asking the right questions and bringing along familiar items can significantly reduce the impact of travel on your children’s schedule and sleep patterns.