Planning a family trip but wondering how to maintain your kids’ sleep routine? Learn how to handle your child’s sleep schedule on vacation.
I had been planning our family trip, down to the sites to visit, the restaurants to eat, and the rental house we’d stay. But as much as I had planned for what we’d do once we got there, I realized I hadn’t considered my kids’ routine, particularly their sleep schedule.
Even now, I work hard to keep a normal bedtime routine at home, so much so that they hardly sleep anywhere else. You know those pictures of kids who fall asleep in the middle of eating a bowl of spaghetti? That would never happen to them.
Because—other than the occasional car ride—they only sleep in their beds.
So, the thought of going to sleep anywhere else but at home scared me a bit. We’d been following the same sleep routine to a T. Would our vacation be one disaster after another?
How to handle your child’s sleep schedule on vacation
Thankfully, we were able to enjoy ourselves and get the sleep we needed. The kids adjusted to their temporary sleeping arrangements and went on outings between their regular routines. The best part? We returned home with no major overhaul or sleep habits undone.
If you’re planning a trip with your family, follow these tips to avoid ruining your child’s sleep schedule on vacation:
1. Keep a consistent schedule before leaving
Routines get a bad rap sometimes. We assume strict schedules push flexibility aside, and kids can’t enjoy spontaneous activities or a late night out. However, a consistent routine allows your child even more flexibility because she can be more open to change.
With a consistent schedule, your child can see your family vacation as an exciting diversion from the norm. She’s less likely to resist the changes, knowing that a vacation is a special treat.
Plus, keeping a consistent schedule before leaving gives both of you a chance to practice your routine often enough that it becomes automatic. The familiarity of the routine, even in a new environment, can make sleep smoother than if she had nothing consistent to compare it to.
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2. Bring familiar items
I had made a big mistake.
I planned my kids’ sleeping arrangements except for one important item I had left at home: A fan. Not because the weather was hot, but because at home, the fan provided the white noise they needed.
So when we arrived and got ready for nighttime sleep, my kids took forever to fall asleep because of the pitch silence in their room. Plus, without a white noise machine muffling their sounds, I also had to tiptoe around the rental house so I wouldn’t wake them up.
Lesson learned: Bring the items you need that can simulate your child’s sleep environment at home. This includes a sound machine, lovey, any special blankets, nursery songs, pillows, or bedtime books he relies on to fall asleep.
3. Provide your child with their own sleeping space
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On a previous trip, I thought I’d save some money by having our then-toddler share the bed with me. I figured he was tiny, and he might feel overwhelmed sleeping in a large bed all by himself.
Not my best decision. Even with ample space, the little guy still took over the bed and woke me up with constant tossing and turning.
My advice? Provide her with her own sleeping space so you don’t disrupt each other’s sleep.
A portable cot or travel crib is a perfect solution—you can still save money by getting a single room while providing her with a sleeping space of her own. The cots are also useful for camping and outdoor adventures because they’re more comfortable than sleeping bags on the ground.
Another option is to get a different room for her. As frugal as a single hotel room may be, a huge downside is that you’re sleeping in the same room. This may be fine during the day, but both your sleep might be disrupted—you end up with an early bedtime while she’s sleeping past hers.
Book a hotel or rent a home with a separate bedroom. This allows you to make use of the other spaces without calling it a day come your child’s bedtime.
4. Maintain the same routine
One of the reasons your toddler suddenly won’t sleep on vacation is a lack of routine.
With vacation a special treat, it’s understandable if you skip nap time or push bedtime back a bit. But if possible, try to maintain the same routine even when you’re on vacation. Your child may feel overtired, especially from all your outings.
For instance, try to head back to your hotel or rental for naps, and keep the same bedtime if you can. At first, I thought this would be difficult, but then I realized many of our outings could fit either before or after the naps, and few of them needed the kids to stay up past their bedtime.
Maintaining the same routine helped make our stay more enjoyable, especially when the kids were able to get the rest they needed.
5. Give your child plenty of downtime
It’s tempting to pack every minute of your vacation with something to do, almost like you’re trying to make it worth your while. But with so much going on, plus adjusting to a new environment, a packed schedule can make your child feel overwhelmed.
Instead, give him plenty of downtime. He can recover in your hotel or rental if the schedule feels too hectic so he’s refreshed to go on the next outing. Schedule downtime by padding each outing with time to lounge at home, or you set aside several hours to a whole day without an agenda.
6. Don’t forget time differences
Depending on where you go, you may have to adjust for the time differences between your local time and your destination. Account for time spent on a plane, or what time it’ll be when you land and expect potential jet lag.
Then, shift your child’s schedule at home, gradually if need be. Let’s say you’re traveling to a place that’s two hours ahead of your time zone. Change her daily schedule a few weeks before leaving so the new time zone isn’t so jarring.
Before kids, a vacation may have been a time to relax away from home, but with kids in tow, family vacations aren’t always relaxing or conducive to a toddler sleep schedule.
Thankfully, your routine doesn’t have to change too much, even while on vacation. Maintain your child’s sleep schedule on vacation by keeping a consistent routine before leaving, as well as during your time away.
Bring sleep items that are part of your routine to make the new environment feel more familiar. Give him his own space such as providing a sleeping cot or his own room. Include plenty of downtime to buffer the constant outings, and adjust for time differences gradually.
Vacations don’t have to ruin his sleep schedule—even if forgetting to bring the fan might.
Get more tips:
- Realistic Examples of a 3 Year Old Schedule
- How to Establish a 2 Year Old Bedtime
- Smart Ways to Cope When You Feel Tired All the Time
- Beach Essentials for Toddlers for Stress-Free Family Fun
- Things to Do in Los Angeles with Kids
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