Being a new mother, one of the most overwhelming challenges I’ve faced is the prospect of traveling with small children. Trying to manage what to pack, sleeping schedules, eating schedules, toys and environments is a lot for anyone to take on. This article will help to outline how best to prepare for travel, must-haves for smooth transitions and what to do when things go terribly wrong.
The most important thing to consider when organizing travel with small children, is how best to keep them in a routine that is familiar. We know that children thrive with routine and that knowing what to expect and when to expect it are crucial for the toddler brain. We know that even small babies are able to pick up on cues that come from routines. So when it comes to travel, keeping some form of familiarity in routine helps allow for restful sleep and as a result, happier kids. How to do this though is where it can feel tricky, and it’s so important to remember it will never be perfect.
Before you Leave
The best tip I can give you for before you leave is to make a list of your daily items. Start by cataloging what items you use every single day, start through to finish. Start with a list of everything, and then you can cull down to what you actually need to recreate your daily routines in a new environment. Both overpacking and underpacking can be a problem, particularly if you are flying. You want to make sure you have what you need to allow for specific comforts for your child, while not schlepping a ton of excess with you. For travel days, my number one must have is a good, lightweight carrier. This is extremely helpful for air travel, when going through security, gate checking strollers, disembarking aircraft and for when you may need to nap on-the-go.
In my experience traveling with children, and I’ve done it a lot, the best thing you can do is recreate strong sleep routines and environments in new places, and then work with a lot of warning. When looking to recreate your sleep environment, some specific things you would want to have may include:
- Sound Machine (we love our Hatch)
- Baby camera
- Swaddles or sleep sacks
- Blackout tool (ie. SnoozeShade, SlumberPod or tinfoil)
One of the best travel hacks I use is to completely blackout any environment where the kids are sleeping to the best of my ability. If you are staying in a hotel you can often fit your PacknPlay in a closet or the bathroom. You can also use a shield like the SnoozeShade or the SlumberPod, or good old fashioned tinfoil does the job just as well. I have been known to travel with a roll of tinfoil and some painters tape on many occasions. Ensuring that the room is as dark as possible helps your child to sleep by removing any stimuli but also by blocking the ability to tell you are in a different location, thus muting the difference in sleep environment. Using sound machines helps to block out unfamiliar noises that could otherwise interrupt sleep. I find the use of white noise to be invaluable on holidays, when everyone is sleeping in closer quarters than normal.
Another thing to note is that often WiFi enabled cameras do not work on open networks, like those used in hotels and resorts. I prefer to travel with a more basic version with a parent unit for easy and quick set up no matter where I am. Having a baby monitor that doesn’t rely on WiFi has also been useful when arriving at a destination only to discover there is no WiFi – yes, this happens even in 2023.
When it comes to travel and sleep, here are the best pieces of advice I can give you:
- Recreate your Home Routines. One of the first things we implement when starting a sleep plan is a schedule with strong pre-sleep routines. This is because having strong sleep associations allows for your child to understand what you are asking of them, and the ultra important what comes next. So when traveling, we can use these routines and associations to help prepare our child for nap times and bedtimes, which will in turn create smoother transitions. I like to elongate these routines when I know my child is going to have a hard time going to sleep so that they are as prepared as possible when it comes time for bed.
- Schedule for Sleep when possible. Let’s be honest, a holiday is a holiday and so sleep routines will never be exactly what they are at home, and that’s okay! You don’t need to live by a rigid schedule. Take the pressure off and enjoy your vacation mama. All you need to do is ensure that your child is getting enough sleep on a day-to-day basis to not become over tired. This may mean shorter nap times but longer night sleep, more naps on-the-go, elongating a different nap than normal, or even adding a cat nap at the end of the day so that you can go out for a meal! Whatever it is, don’t stress. You will always be able to get back on track when you get home.
- Naps on-the-go are a great tool on vacation! No one wants to be cooped up for 3 naps a day in a hotel room, sitting in the dark and quiet while your child sleeps. On-the-go naps are still naps, and while they may not be quite as restful as a crib sleep, they do still allow for your child to refuel. You can jump in the car and explore somewhere new while your little one is sleeping in the back, or have your child sleep in the stroller poolside. You can cover the stroller using a muslin or other breathable material to block out any stimulus and use white noise to help get the best sleep possible, just be sure that there is enough airflow!
- Expect things to go off the rails! It will happen, it’s almost impossible to avoid. With totally new environments and experiences, expect your little one to become easily overstimulated and overexcited. This may mean that sleep is more difficult, naps get shortened accidentally or skipped altogether. Remember that at certain times, it becomes more important that sleep happens instead of how sleep happens. If there are occasions where you need to rock your little to sleep, contact nap, carrier nap, cuddle to sleep, however you need to do it, do it. You can always focus on independent crib sleep later. Remember that overtired babies have a hard time going to sleep and so from time-to-time you may need to intervene and offer a helping hand.
When you get home, you will be surprised by how quickly your child reverts back to previous schedules. Plan to prioritize schedules especially in the first few days you are home to ensure everyone gets back on track as quickly and as smoothly as possible.
Need extra help? Get in touch today to find out how we can help you set or reset your schedule to accommodate for travel.
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