Are you planning a trip or a family holiday with your little ones this year? Are you worried that things might be different where you’re going? That they’re not going to be in their usual sleep environment? And that the day-to-day routine is going to be different?
And does it concern you that you want to be able to do fun things and take days out, and enjoy your family time away without feeling totally tied to a little one’s routine, but at the same time, without completely breaking them in terms of their sleep?
Try these ideas:
Starting off with the journey
When you head off on your trip, whether you’re going by road, rail, plane, it doesn’t matter, the core principles are the same, and that is on that journey, you’re going to need to take care of a few key things. One of them is going to be entertainment.
So what could that look like? Well, think about your mode of transport and what would be suitable. For instance, there are things that you can do with your child if you’re a passenger sitting next to them on an aeroplane that you can’t do with your child if you’re driving a car so you’ve got to consider what it’s going to be. Is it something they can do themselves, or is it something that you need to assist with?
If they’re going to have some screen time, then have a think about when that’s most appropriate, when do you need to pull that one out of the bag most?
Let’s face it, as parents, sometimes that can be a useful secret weapon when we just need to figure something out, or we’re driving, or we just need to appease them for a little while, so when would that be suitable, and therefore you can then try to avoid it being ALL the time, so they’re not just glued to a screen for the entire journey.
Also, try and avoid that screen time right when you want them to go to sleep, because it will wire them, and it will stop them falling asleep.
What kinds of entertainment can you give your little ones? If they’re old enough for audiobooks, those are amazing, because you can put that on in the car, you can give them headphones and let them listen to that on any form of transport.
If you have a few children, they can listen to their own ones on their headphones, so audiobooks are great, and of course they can also fall asleep to them, so if they’re listening to one, they’re more likely to nod off than they would be if their eyes are fixed on a screen.
If they’re not old enough for audiobooks, then they maybe just enjoy some music. Put some of their favorite tunes into a playlist, and again, whether you play that to the whole car, or whether they’re on a plane and you’re going to put that on headphones, music can be helpful.
But really little ones, babies and toddlers, probably would not sit still for more than one song, and they’re going to need more physical forms of entertainment, so I recommend small, unbreakable, light toys, and I like to use the idea of pocket money toys.
I highly recommend ahead of your trip that you slowly start to accumulate a few new little toys, a variety of things that you can pull out of the bag to grab their attention for a little while on your journey. It’s like a little holiday swag bag of new things. And don’t let them delve into that bag and look at them all at once, space it out so that you can pull out a new thing at various intervals.
When you’re on the journey, they’re probably going to be hungry, unless the journey’s very, very short, so you need to think about this, and if you’re on the road, are you going to factor in stops for food or feeding your baby? If you’re flying, are you taking things with you, have you arranged with the airline… Are you going to have meals on board?
And we all know that fussy little children often don’t want what’s given to them, so no matter what mode of transport you’re on, I would recommend some handy snacks that will travel well, so dry snacks are always a good one, just to have in your bag.
You never know when you’re going to be stuck in a delay situation, whether that’s at an airport or a traffic jam, or whatever it may be, and you have no access to any food. So just imagine that worst-case scenario, you’re stuck, you’ve got nothing, and your little one’s hungry, have you got a backup plan?
Picnics are good if you can carry food with you, that’s a great idea too, and if you’re not breastfeeding, that you have then got your formula milk, or you have got supplies again to hand, a little more than you think you might need just in case.
What if you’re delayed, what if you can’t access your baggage where the rest of it is? So always take a little bit more than you need.
And the other thing to think about with the journey is their sleep
Now, don’t worry if they don’t sleep at the exact times that they normally sleep. When we travel, by whatever mode of transport, there’s always that sense of motion and white noise, and it can be very lulling, and can make us feel sleepy, I’m sure you have felt that way yourself, I know I have.
So they might nod off when they wouldn’t normally, and that’s a sign that they’re tired and could use the sleep, they won’t nod off if they are full of energy, so if they do nod off due to motion, they obviously need a bit of sleep.
Let them have it, it’s fine, because there’s also a good chance that they won’t be able to sleep when they normally would, so let them clock those hours, let them take it when they want to take it, basically.
The journey or the travel day is usually a little bit up in the air in terms of routine anyway, so whether your journey is just a few hours, or the most part of a day, you’ll likely find that it’s going to skew your routine for that one day, everything’s going to be a little off-track but once you get to a destination, you can get things straight, so don’t try to control the day too much when it’s your travel day.
When you arrive at your destination, you need to set up the environment, as the environment is going to be different to at home, obviously. Now, your little one might normally have their own room at home, but on this trip, they have to share with you, for instance, so the environment, no matter what, is going to be new and different for your little one.
This is why bringing something, a couple of comforts from home, whether that’s a pillowcase or a cuddly, or a muzzie, or even something that just smells familiar from home, can really help them to adjust and feel safe in that new environment. So if you have a baby and they’re in a crib, bring the crib sheet, and put that sheet straight from their bed at home onto their bed in your accommodation. It can really, really help.
Another thing to consider is the light. If you have a room that’s not set up for little ones’ sleep, you might need to take a travel blackout blind and stick that up and make it nice and dark when it’s sleep time.
Make sure they’re comfortable, of course make sure they’re safe, not too hot, not too cold, so if you’re traveling into a warmer climate, you may need to make sure there’s air conditioning, having a little travel fan could be helpful.
Do they usually have white noise at home, is it something you can take with you? So just consider the environment you’re going into and how you can best set that to ensure it’s suitable for their sleep in the same way that it is at home.
The routine is the next thing to think about when you get to your destination. So if you’re changing time zones, when you arrive at your destination, you want to move immediately onto the new time zone.
Now, that might feel weird with jet lag, you might feel like, “Oh, but it feels like time to sleep.” Try not to consider what time you were in. “Oh, but my body thinks it’s this time.” Just get your mindset into the new time zone, local time, right away.
It will really help you to adjust and your child to adjust, and things like your meal times are going to really help to set the body clock to local time, so eat at local time mealtimes, adjust to local time there.
Adjust to local time for the bedtime routine and the bedtime, and of course, if jet lag is really bad, you might not actually find that you or your little one fall asleep when you would like to, but at least you’re giving your body and your brain all the right signals, so at least try to give it those signals and to get into that rhythm.
It will come much quicker if you do that than if you don’t bother because you think it’s too hard. So get into local time with your routine straight away. If you haven’t changed time zones, then that piece isn’t really that big of a deal, but you can of course still adopt your routine, so make sure that bedtime routine happens at bedtime just as it would in your normal home environment.
When it comes to bedtime routines, some of you may be thinking, “Oh, but I don’t want to put my child to bed when I do at home, because we want to have evenings out together and family meals,” and so on. Well, do this at your own discrepancy in terms of your child’s age and the knock-on effect.
If you know that keeping your little one up extra late is going to mean it ruins the next few days, it’s not worth it, but if you have a little one who’s quite flexible and you know that they’ll sleep in a bit later and it works for them, then fantastic.
But with babies, there’s no major need to change much at all, because you can do the bedtime routine, and then you can just settle them to sleep in the stroller or the pram, put a nice blackout blind over the pushchair, like the SnoozeShade, and then wheel them on out for your evening meal, and you can park them up next to you whilst you enjoy a nice peaceful supper with your partner while little one sleeps.
So you can still send them all the signals of bedtime, go through their routine, have them washed and refreshed from the sweaty day maybe, and fed and snuggled up in the pram, and then when you get back to your accommodation, you can simply transfer them from there to their sleep space for the night.
So there are lots of ways that you can stick to that, and I remember doing this with my own little ones when they were both little, in a double pushchair actually, and getting them all ready and snuggled up in the double, and then wheeling them on out fast asleep whilst we had a nice evening meal.
So, holiday rules can be holiday rules, and then when you get back home, you can get back to your home rules, and if you want to have a set routine for holiday and go, “Whilst we’re away, this is how we’re going to do things, these are going to be our timings, and it’s a little bit different to home,” then that’s okay, but just make sure that when you go back home, switch back to your home rules.
And when you have holiday rules, I would strongly recommend that you don’t make the holiday rules so incredibly different, like for instance if at home you never ever sleep in the same bed as your child, but then on holiday you do, that one might be something they’re not willing to give back up when you get home.
Now, it’s one thing being in your room in their own sleep space on holiday, and then going back home and being back in their own room, that’s a much easier transition to make because it’s simply the room and the environment, it’s not so much you as an actual sleep onset association.
If you become a sleep onset association whilst you’re on holiday, then that’s going to be a much tougher one to shift when you get back. So holiday rules, in terms of tweaking the routine,, maybe, but try not to completely and utterly throw away all your usual boundaries.
So, the third piece I said I’d cover is the return. On your return home, when you get back home, it’s like the reverse of when you get to the destination, so when you get home, switch back to your local time if you did change time zones, switch back to your home rules and routine as quickly as possible, just get back into exactly what you do at home and the way you do it.
Rather than having days of it lagging over, days of slight shifts in routine, or letting things like jet lag overtake you, try to just get back to the norm as swiftly as possible with all of that, and your routine and timings as well. So through the day, nap times, mealtimes, all of those things, just want to go straight back to how you do things at home.
If you see any resistance from your little one because they’ve been on holiday and things have been a bit different, and they start almost pushing or testing to see if they can carry on doing that now, that’s where you have to show no chink in your armour, stick to the rules and just persist,.
Yes, they may dig their heels in and try because they really are trying to say to you, “But I was enjoying doing it this way,” and you just need to show them that “No, we’re at home, this is how we do it, this is what we do at home,” and stick to it, don’t give in, don’t grey the lines with those rules and boundaries.
Like I said, a few days of resistance, as long as you are completely solid in your response and consistent, they will switch back nice and quickly.
So there you go, tips for traveling. If you’re taking a holiday or a vacation with your family, these are some key things to look out for on the journey, at the destination, and on your return.
For more help getting the very best from your little one’s sleep, take a look at ‘Sweet Dreams’ – A 6-step solution to help you and your family sleep soundly. You can access this completely free 3-part video series right here, and start sleeping better tonight!