Last updated on April 4th, 2024

Author Avatar

Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

Learn More

Holiday Sleep Tips for Toddlers: Sleeping on the Road

holiday sleep tips for toddler

No matter how hard you try to keep your child on a predictable and comforting routine, the holidays sometimes make sleep disruptions unavoidable. Some toddlers are more adaptable than others. If you’re worried about getting off-track this season, check out these holiday sleep tips for toddlers.

Good Sleep at Home

As a general rule, the better a child sleeps at home, the better the odds are that he will sleep well when you travel. Even if he does get out of kilter while you are away, if he’s a good sleeper, he’ll probably return to good patterns.  Conversely, if your child has only recently started sleeping through the night or going to bed without a great deal of fussing, try to postpone any discretionary travel for at least three weeks. Dare I even suggest having the holidays at your house this year?

Have Toddler, Will Travel

If that is not an option and you must travel with your newly sleep-coached child, be prepared for a little necessary backsliding. Try not to throw out all your gains and try not to rely on whatever sleep crutch you’ve just eliminated. For example, if you just got him to stop visiting you in the middle of the night at home, you’ll want to keep that consistency. Instead, try some extra soothing and comforting on the road.

If your child needs extra reassurance to go to sleep in a new place, consider regressing in your chair position. For example, if you have progressed to no longer sitting in the room at bedtime, you may want to sit by the door or closer to her crib while away. You could also do more frequent checks instead of regressing completely back to your original sleep crutch. Don’t worry — you can resume The Shuffle when you return home at a quicker pace because you are reminding them of a learned skill, not introducing it from scratch.

Sharing a Bed on the Road

I like reminding children of sleep rules even while we’re bending them.

“I know you’ve joined mom and dad in the hotel bed for this trip, but I want to remind you that you and Mr. Monkey will sleep in your own bed, in your own room again when we go home.”

Even very young toddlers understand some of this, and older ones get it quite well. It helps to make the rule-breaking less confusing to them, makes the intermittent reinforcement less powerful. They may have an easier time re-adapting to their old routine and understanding your expectations once the holidays and traveling have passed.

Don’t Forget the Kitchen Sink

Let’s face it — there’s no such thing as traveling light with a toddler. Always bring along the lovey (and a spare) and pack a night light. There are phone and tablet apps available that can act as a night light too.

Take along favorite books and toys. Many families bring crib sheets or blankets too.  You want the child to have items that feel and smell comforting and familiar. Don’t forget favorite bedtime snacks or cups, or anything that is part of your soothing bedtime routine.

Hotel Stays

Before you go, talk to the hotel about whether it has cribs, port-a-cribs or pack-n-plays if your toddler is young enough. Inquire about sheets, or even consider bringing your own bedding. The smell of their own sheets and pillowcases might help a young toddler soothe himself at night.

With older children who are no longer in a crib, you may request a roll-away bed, or if the child will be in a regular hotel bed in your room, you may see if you can move it closer to the wall for safety. Put an extra pillow on the floor in case he falls out. You could also put the bed or cot mattress on the floor so it doesn’t matter if he rolls off. Place the mattress near your bed so that the little one is reassured by being close to you.  If he ends up in your bed, carefully explain that he can sleep with you in the hotel (or at granny’s house) but will have to go right back into his own bed when you get home.

Visiting Family

If you are visiting relatives, ask what kind of accommodations they have for your tot. Staying in a room with the cousins sounds fun, but staying with you in a spare pack-and-play or even your bed is probably better for her sleep.
You’ll learn quickly what your child can adjust to, and you’ll then be able to pack and plan accordingly on subsequent travel.

If you are visiting several relatives, it may be worth sleeping in one home for the entire trip. Having a single “base camp” allows your child to become familiar with their sleeping arrangements once. Carefully explain to the family that you need to be consistent for your child’s rest. Organize day trips to see other family, and promise to stay somewhere different next trip.

Get as Much Rest as Possible

Travel naps can be tricky. A toddler on a regular schedule at home may be able to nap on the road. However, the excitement of new surroundings can keep him from settling down for naps. That can make everyone a little cranky.

A three-year-old can probably skip a nap here and there and be fine. A younger toddler is going to need that daytime sleep.
While a bed is the best place for a nap, desperate times call for desperate measures. If you can arrange day trips long enough for a nap in the car, that’s one way to get her to sleep. If the weather is nice enough, a long stroll with the grandparents might be the ticket.

Try to make any car or stroller rides long enough to avoid a disaster nap.

Time Zones

If you’re traveling across time zones, keep your child on his regular schedule. If he wakes up at 7:00 a.m. at home, wake him at 7:00 a.m. wherever you are. For example: if you live in California and travel to New York, wake your toddler at 7:00 a.m. New York time. Do this the first full day of your trip. If you’ve traveled a red-eye, consider waiting until the next day.
Switch naps and mealtimes to the new time zone too. As with any schedule, be flexible. A snack or some quiet time (perhaps a nap) might happen at a different time than usual. Along with those car or stroller naps, things will calm down. Just make every effort to get naps and bedtime to stay on track.

Back to Reality

Keep your activities very light for a day or two when returning home to really focus on getting napping and bedtime back in place. These days will also help you recuperate and become familiar again with your household’s routines.
These are just guidelines to follow, and each family member’s individual personalities should be considered when traveling and adjusting to their routines.

Author: Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

My name is Kim West, and I’m the mother of two beautiful girls, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 21 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. My sleep journey began when I started experimenting with gently shaping my daughter’s sleep by not following the conventional wisdom at the time. After having success (and then more success with my second daughter!), I began helping family and friends and my step-by-step method spread like wildfire, exactly like an excellent night of sleep for a tired parent should!