In my opinion, the key to a stress-free family vacation?! Sleep, of course!
Ok, ok there are plenty of other moving parts that keep the getaway-mobile running smoothly, but in my experience sleep is a very big contributor to keeping those mini meltdowns at bay and salvaging YOUR sanity.
My family and I recently returned from a quick, but perfect, little getaway to Nevada. We decided to take Grayson on a trip to Vegas for his 2nd birthday to enjoy some sunshine, some relaxation, some swimming and most importantly some uninterrupted time with our baby boy before we become a family of four this September - eek!! I wanted to share some sleep strategies that really helped this trip run like a well-oiled machine - amazing from start to finish!
ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE TIMES
Whether you're driving or flying be sure to map out your travel times in advance. Avoid those super late/super early travel times wherever possible. It's important to give your little one as much time as possible to adjust to their new home-away-from-home before expecting them to fall asleep in a brand new environment. Travelling with an overtired baby on an airplane or in a car can be a recipe for disaster leading to more difficulty sleeping when you do arrive. And remember, when you're flying you don't typically get settled into your new space until roughly 2 hours after your flight is scheduled to arrive, so keep that in mind when trying to plan around bed/nap times.
SPLURGE ON SPACE
If you can, upgrade to a suite or a condo giving you at least one bedroom that is separate from the living room - if not for your kiddo's sake then for your own, trust me! Who wants to be committed to a 7pm bedtime on vacation because you're all stuck sleeping together in one common room? Not it. If you're vacationing to an all inclusive resort may I recommend a swim-out suite?! Relaxing poolside while baby rests? Hard yes.
REQUEST A CRIB
If you are paying for accommodation, versus staying with family or friends, opt for a place that offers a crib on request. Travelling all day with a tired baby and then having nowhere to put them down for a sleep, if needed, truly is the pits. If you're not hauling along a Pack n' Play (and lets be serious, why would you if you don't HAVE to?!) then its a great idea to call your hotel ahead of time and ask them to have a crib set up in your room for arrival. Doing this will save tons of time after you check-in.
Also, bring a used crib sheet from home!! Providing something your little one has already slept with will have that familiar scent and feel and help create a comfortable atmosphere in their new, temporary baby cave.
Speaking of familiarity, and I can't stress this enough, really focus on the sleep environment and routine. Yes, this means pack up the noise machine, pack up their lovie or blankey, the sleep sacks, favorite bedtime stories, jammies etc. Any and everything that will re-create the comforts of home! Be sure to follow your routine from home as best you can to help calm and soothe them into a sleepy state. If you're looking for a great portable sound machine I really like the Marpac Rohm White Noise Sound Machine!
If your little one is used to sleeping in the total dark, which I always push for, bring some tin foil, garbage bags or construction paper with you. Easy to pack and will help blackout the windows in their room. (Don't forget sticky-tack so you're not using tape on their walls and windows!) Often hotels will provide hangers with clips on them and I use those clips to pinch the blinds closed as well. Anything to prevent waking up with Mr Golden Sun every morning - worked like a charm!
STICK TO YOUR ROUTINE
It can be really annoying planning your holiday around a nap schedule, I know, I get it. But it really can salvage the day, if you can swing it. Maintaining a full sleep tank will keep spirits high and tantrums low. Sleep and snacks - my two travel go-to's!
I don't expect you to schedule every single moment of every single day, after all, I realize you're on holidays to escape your day to day routine! But, where possible, do make an effort to incorporate your little one's appropriate sleep times into the trip and aim for at least one good nap per day if your child is still taking multiple naps. You know I always recommend naps take place in your child's room when you're at home, but it's a bit different on vacation and sometimes napping in the car or stroller can't be avoided. As long as they're getting some form of sleep that is a-ok in my books. Something is always better than nothing!
JUGGLING JET LAG
Crossing into a different time zone can be a bit harder to navigate, but planning ahead will help with the transition once you're there. If the timezone you're visiting is only changing by an hour you may just want to ride it out and follow the same schedule you're already on, so sleep will be taking place at the same times each day as it would if you were at home. Keep it simple.
Alternatively, if you're crossing over a few time zones for a longer period of time you can begin this transition a couple days before you leave home. To do this you will start shifting your entire routine by 15 minutes either earlier or later each day - depending which direction you are travelling. This means mealtimes, nap times and bed times will all shift. When you return home you will adjust back to your usual schedule by shifting back in the opposite direction, 15 minutes per day.
For example, if you are traveling East by two time zones, you sill start to shift bedtime two hours earlier than usual to accommodate for the change coming. That means that prior to to departure you will shift meal and sleep times earlier by 15 minutes per day for 7 days.
Often a vacation suffers before it's even begun because, as parents, we naturally tend to place unrealistic expectations on it, after all, we just want the best for everyone on the trip! Give yourself a break, this is your vacation too! Leave room for unplanned imperfections and remember that it may take a couple of nights for good sleep to become well established. Just like us, kids need to adapt to their new vacation surroundings on their own terms. They are just as excited about this new adventure as we are and need time to unwind and adjust, just like we do! The difference is that, as adults, we are able to unwind by staying up a bit later, watching TV, or enjoying a glass or two of wine before bed. Our littles can't do the same so we need to offer them more forgiveness while they adjust.
GET BACK ON TRACK
Going on a holiday literally means taking a break from the routine of life, which means its ok to break the rules! So what if you all settle into one bed and fall asleep late watching a movie one night, or you skip a couple naps here and there, or you give your toddler a bottle in his crib one night to help calm him down in his new surroundings (guilty!) - I'm not judging you! It happens and its completely fine - you're on holla-daze! But once you've snapped back to reality so must the routines I'm afraid. Get back on track as soon as you can and you'll avoid any longer set backs down the road.
BONUS TID BIT
If you're flying don't forget to pack your carry-on bag accordingly!! Despite an airline's best efforts sometimes they do lose luggage, its just a fact. Don't forget to pack any 'must-haves' in your carry on so you're not left scrambling. This includes: diapers, wipes, clothes, noise machine, snacks, bottles, toys, prescriptions etc. Any and everything that you absolutely cannot do without if you arrive but your bags do not.
HAVE FUN AND SAFE TRAVELS!
LOOKING FOR MORE GUIDANCE?
Kendell Elliott is a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and the founder of Kiddie Winks Sleep Consulting,
committed to helping your family get more sleep and feel more rested!
Check out the Kiddie Winks Sleep Packages to learn more
and send a message for more sleep tips or with any specific questions!