Summertime is prime time for some rest and relaxation with friends and family, and that sometimes involves traveling. What once sounded like music to your ears — travel for a vacation — now makes your palms sweat. You are concerned that all the gains you have made with your child’s sleep habits are in jeopardy if you change time zones or sleep in a strange place!
Well, you may be right. Sleeping in a strange bed in an unfamiliar room can easily unsettle most children for at least a few days. And babies certainly don’t automatically adjust their sleep when we cross time zones.
Vacation Naps? Is That Realistic?
The most common problem when you travel with a small child is that their nap schedule falls by the wayside. Your child may simply refuse to nap, or naps at the strangest times. The reality is that naps can be hard to fit in while visiting family or on a different schedule. And who really likes to sleep in strange places? Not me! Add in the hustle and bustle of a house full of guests or hotel full of people along with lots of activity and our children easily become overstimulated and have a difficult time settling down for sleep in the middle of the day. You end up with an exhausted child during the very days you need everyone well-rested and at their best.
Here are some ways that you can prepare for summertime travel while not disrupting your child’s nap schedule too much:
Preparation Is Half the Battle
Make it a priority to be sure your child gets all of his naps in the few days leading up to your travel. The trip will take a toll on your child, and you really don’t want to start the vacation with your child in sleep-deficit. He will be much more equipped to endure the stressors of travel — a strange schedule and sleeping arrangements while traveling, a different room and bed, potentially, and a whole lot of new faces and noises — if he begins the trip well-rested. Think about how much better you manage a little extra stress if you had a good night’s, rest versus a bad night of sleep? Your child is even more likely to be affected to changes in his routine. So, the first thing to do is start your trip with a well-napped child.
Does this sound easier said than done? Well, I give you permission to get those naps in any way you can. Use a stroller, a carrier, or a swing to help him get to sleep, or even go for a ride in the car if that is the magic bullet for your child.
Plan Your Sleeping Arrangements
Staying with relatives or friends? Ask if they have a crib or pack-n-play you can use and if there’s a room that is large enough for you and your child to share.
Or staying at a hotel? Some hotels offer cribs but these amenities are not always reliable. Reserve one ahead of time so you can be sure it’s available when you arrive. To be safe you can also bring a pack-n-play along with you. If your plan is to bring your own, you can set it up at home the week before you leave and have your child take some naps in it. You will know that it is a reliable sleep space and your child will go into the trip more familiar with it.
Once at the hotel or home, set up your child’s sleep space as far from the flow of traffic and out of the way as possible. It may help to move some small pieces of furniture around to make a secluded area for your child. Blocking noise and light as much as possible will help your child take a nap in an unfamiliar place.
The goal here is to provide as much consistency and comfort as possible in your child’s sleep space so that he can successfully nap every day.
Upgrade If Possible
Will you be staying in a hotel? Consider upgrading to a suite so that there is a bedroom with a door that can be closed. This can make all the difference when helping an easily-distracted child settle down for a nap. The extra cost isn’t ideal, but it can also provide you a respite while your child sleeps in another room. You can have a quiet conversation or watch a movie while your little one takes an afternoon nap. A less expensive idea is to find a hotel room that offers a balcony. You can head outside to the balcony to relax instead of sitting in the dark while your child naps!
Travel Like a Pro
If you will be traveling a long distance, consider breaking up your drive into pieces so that naptime is the core portion. If appropriate, you can even start super early, getting your child up at 4 or 5 a.m. Keep them in their jammies, and drive until 7 a.m., or their normal wake up time. At that point you can take a break for diapering, dressing, feeding, your own personal pitstop, a little play time, and then start your drive again.
Does your toddler still take a morning nap? Make a big deal out of it by converting the car into a nap zone. Turn off all music and radio noise, cover up a bright window or two with a window shade, give your child his favorite lovey, and drape a blanket over the upper part of the seats as if they are in a tent. Sing a familiar song and say “night night” just like at home. Just be sure you and your car are ready to travel without stopping for a while! Your next break is for lunch.
You may be able to leave a little later and keep older children very engaged all morning so that they are more apt to take their afternoon nap. If you aren’t going too far consider leaving just after lunch so that the afternoon nap happens more naturally at its normal time.
Juggling Food, Travel, and Naps
Sometimes you just need to eat fast food on the road and feed your child on the go. But toddlers and older children really need to stretch their legs or they get stir crazy on long trips. When you can manage it, consider bringing your food along in a cooler. Then Google “playground” along your route so that you can stop, have a picnic, and let the kids run around and get the wiggles out. When you get back into the car it’s officially naptime. Your non-napper may be so tired he naps, too. Your non-driver as well!
Make Naps a Priority
Once at your destination, make your child’s nap time a priority in your schedule. Gently explain to your family or friends how important it is to your whole family that your child fits in his nap(s). The truth is that once you are past this stage of life you tend to forget the details — like how children really depend upon their sleep to function well — and lots of folks just need a little reminder to be flexible with you and your child.
Take the time in the morning and/or afternoon to do your normal nap routine in your room. If you begin to short change your child on his naps, it won’t pay off in the end. He will become cranky or even unmanageable. Your enjoyment of your vacation will plummet, and you will begin to wonder why you ever left home. Don’t get to that point! Take time for naps and you will enjoy your time away much more.
RELATED: It’s Nap Time! Your Essential Nap Guidelines for Ages 0-4
Siblings with Different Nap Needs?
If you have an afternoon napper and one who has graduated from naps, you will need to get a little creative. First of all, your non-napper may revert to needing vacation naps. Don’t rule that possibility out. Set them up with a truly relaxing quiet time and ask them to lie down and shut their eyes for a while. You may be surprised at what happens!
If the non-napper is a good bit older and insistent that she will not nap, she may still need some downtime. Who doesn’t? Provide a quiet place for her. You could consider saving up any allowed screen time and coordinating it with your other child’s naptime. Be sure to bring some comfortable headphones your older child can use.
In a hotel with a napper and a non-napper? Let your non-napper make a fort ahead of time and spend that time reading, drawing, or watching a show with headphones. The comfort of her own space may help her stay there quietly for longer, especially while you are helping the other child get down for a nap.
Make Time for Extra Comfort and Communication
Expect that your child will need some extra time from you and lots of love and comfort in a new place. Plan to spend some time with them at naptime and bedtime, letting them know you understand it is a new place to get used to. Sit near by them or at the doorway while they fall asleep, if they prefer, but don’t regress to nursing or rocking them if these are habits you have already moved away from.
The Professional Traveler’s Best Kept Secret
Ok, you’re not going to like this one but it really is the secret sauce to helping you stay happy during summer travel — especially if you are all sleeping in a hotel room together. Mom and Dad have to go to bed early too. When your kids are young, you will find yourself wiped out if you try to stay up late as well as get up early with them. Add in lots of vacationing all day long and soon you may get sick and a little bit cranky. If you go to sleep when the children go to sleep, or right afterwards at 8 p.m., you will all enjoy your well-earned vacation days a lot more.
Naps Still Elusive?
Sometimes no matter what you do, your child refuses to nap. You may get the sense that insisting on a nap will work if you stay at it long enough. Or maybe you have the sense that you could spend the whole afternoon in your hotel room and he still won’t sleep a wink.
Be prepared to get creative while on vacation so that you can get those naps in. Infants need naps no matter what! A three year old can probably skip naps for a few days if you just get him to bed at night earlier than usual.
For those children who resist but need naps, there are two good options:
- Bring along a stroller whenever possible. Take a long walk and cover him up with a SnoozeShade. It helps block outside light and filter UV rays as well as protecting him from insects, wind, and light rain. Your little one will nap much more easily when he is shaded from the elements and in motion.
- Take a ride in the car with some calming music or silence, if that is better. You can use a SnoozeShade on your carseat as well to block the daylight and create a little cocoon for your child.
Back to Normal
Once you get home you can return right back to your normal nap routine. It’s a good idea to keep the calendar free of extra activities for a few days so that you can help your child return to his normal routine. That being said, it’s ok if he needs some extra sleep because of all of the activity and travel time. Sometimes we all need a little vacation from our vacation!