It’s finally spring and time for a much needed vacation! Can you picture it? The sun shining warmly above you, while you lounge on the beach enjoying the smell of the salty sea air mingled with suntan lotion, and the cries of an overtired child.
Did you say overtired child?
Yes, unfortunately many people avoid taking vacations with their little ones for fear of wrecking their child’s sleep habits. They imagine a miserable time away from home where no one enjoys themselves, and they are destined to sit in a dark hotel room each evening attempting to maintain some kind of a sleep schedule for their young child. So much for being able to enjoy vacation!
The good news is this-it doesn’t have to be this way and you can actually go away for spring break and have a great time! Will each day be picture perfect and will your little one sleep as well as if you were home? Probably not, but there are some things you can plan to do ahead of time in order to make your vacation the best it can possibly be without totally disrupting your child’s sleep habits.
Plan as Much as You Can Ahead of Time So You Can Enjoy Vacation
See to it that your child is well- napped before leaving on your trip. You don’t want to start the vacation with your little one already in a sleep deficit. A well-napped child is sure to endure some changes in their routine much better than a child who is already sleep-deprived.
Think about sleeping arrangements ahead of time. Will you be staying with a friend or relative? Will you sleep at a hotel? These are important details to consider before leaving home. If you are staying with someone in their home, try to get an idea of where you will be sleeping and plan to have your child stay in the same place (even the same room and crib or bed) for the entire vacation. Even though you are away from home, consistency will help to ensure that your child gets much needed rest.
If you will be staying in a hotel, consider a “suite” that has another room besides the bedroom, and possibly a kitchenette. It may cost a little more on the front end, but you will be so glad you spent the extra money when you are able to actually do something like watch a movie or have a glass of wine and a quiet conversation while your little one recharges their battery. If a suite is not an option, go for a room with a balcony so that you have your own space where you can relax without having to sit in a dark hotel room next to your slumbering child.
Think about How Your Schedule Might be Affected by Time Zones
If you are traveling to a different time zone, consider starting to modify your child’s daily routine by either 15 minutes earlier or 15 minutes later each day for a week before leaving on your vacation. These daily small changes will help get your child in tune with your destination’s difference in time and enable sleep to happen more easily.
If you are unable to make these small adjustments over the course of a week, you could also follow your child’s regular bedtime, as I explain in my book, Good Night Sleep Tight:
“If you are traveling across time zones, get your child up at his usual wake-up time, both when you start your vacation and when you get back home. In other words, if he wakes up at 7:00 a.m. at home in Miami, wake him up at 7:00 a.m. Pacific time in Seattle, and then when you get back home to Miami, wake him at 7:00 a.m. eastern time. Do this the day you arrive on vacation, or if you all need to recover from a long trip or a red-eye, do it the next day.”
Take a Little Taste of Home with You on the Road
In order to make your child feel more at home while you are away, pack his precious lovey, a few extra pacifiers (if that’s his thing), a crib sheet and snuggly blanket from home, the night light, some lullaby music or his white noise machine and maybe a few special books or toys.
Since there is no such thing as traveling light when you have children, go ahead and pack all those special items that are part of your child’s bedtime routine. This will help to create a soothing bedtime and a sense of normalcy despite the environmental change.
How to Handle Bed or Room Sharing While on Vacation
Your options for sleeping arrangements may be rather limited while on vacation or while visiting relatives. Having two rooms or a suite is ideal, however, that is not always possible. If you have to share a room with your young child or baby while away from home, consider bringing a pack and play or portable crib.
Many hotels have cribs that are available on a limited basis, but during a busy time like spring break, do you really want to take your chances? Also, if you’re like me, you wonder how often these cribs and mattresses are cleaned.
It is really best if you bring your own- you know it’s clean, in good condition, not a recalled item plus your child might find the familiarity of their pack and play comforting.
Try to create your child’s sleeping area as far away as possible from high traffic areas like the bathroom, hall, and doorway. You also might need to get creative and move around some small pieces of furniture to make the area near the crib a bit more secluded. Consider hanging a sheet from the ceiling to help buffer some of the lights and noise in the room.
Don’t be surprised if your little one ends up in bed with you during your vacation. If this is not the normal sleeping arrangement at home, tell your child that this is a special circumstance. Explain how sharing the bed is okay for now since they are in a strange place, but once you are back home, they will be sleeping in their crib or big boy bed, and you will be sleeping in your own bed.
It is important to remind children of the sleep rules even while you’re breaking them. Children will have an easier time understanding your expectations once you are back home.
You may have planned every detail of your vacation, made lists and itineraries, and packed all of the comforts of home but your child still loses it and has a major meltdown. Travel can be the best of times, and the worst of times when it comes to cranky kids!
Try to stay calm and find some quiet time so everyone can recuperate and get back on track. If possible, keep your first day of the vacation light so you can get much needed rest once you get to your destination.
Make Returning to Your Normal Routine a Priority When You Get Home
I would advise you take a vacation after your vacation! In other words, try to have at least a day home dedicated to rest and recuperation once you return from your trip. Keep the goings on light and focus on getting back on track with your flexible daily schedule.
Make nap time and bed time a priority. Now that you had a great vacation and your children are sleeping well, reflect on the best parts of your trip and plan to do it again soon!