Whether you are traveling away from home by a little or a long distance, inevitably being out of routine and away from your creature comforts can create some degree of apprehension and insecurity for children of all ages—and consequently, their sleep (and yours) may seem to navigate south temporarily. To minimize the disruption on sleep (and behavior), the following tips may help.
- Connect and communicate. Safety heals fears and ultimately leads to secure attachment and optimal sleep ability. Letting your child know in advance —when and where—you will be going away, usually helps with their understanding and cooperation. Plenty of connection time such as play, quality one-on-one time and listening before you travel (and as soon as you arrive at your destination) will ensure you and your children are adequately prepared (emotionally) for the inevitable change to routine.
- Replicate your home sleep environment as much as possible—pack all the essential creature comforts and sleep associations such as sleeping bags, swaddles, special toys, bedding, white noise, pacifiers, and bedclothes.
- Pack family photos to place up beside your children’s bed for travel—this can help them feel more secure at sleep times.
- Maintain a dark sleep environment. To maintain a dark room for sleep times when away from home, take some foil with you to place on the windows (if necessary).
- If your child will be sleeping in a pack ’n play while you are away, then set one up at home three to seven days prior to traveling. Encourage some playtime in the pack ’n play during the day and aim to have some naps and overnight sleeps in it before you leave to increase familiarity and reduce any anxiety while away.
- Aim to maintain your normal routine (meal, nap, and bedtimes) as much as you can. The main catalyst for regression following holidays is jet lag and travel across time zones, inconsistency with bedtime at night (usually later when on holidays) and wake time in the morning (usually earlier due to late bedtime and overtiredness).
Tips for Flying with Children
- For international flights, a late afternoon or early evening departure is ideal. This way, you can encourage your children to sleep on the plane when they would normally be sleeping, and most of the flight time will have passed overnight.
- Feed young children on takeoff and landing or offer them a pacifier if they have one. The sucking motion can minimize the pressure for little ears. The airline can heat bottles for you if using formula—just be sure to ask well in advance so they can accommodate your request.
- Children under two travel free if they are on your lap or if you book a bassinet. If you’re traveling on a long flight with an infant, I recommend asking your airline or travel agent, when booking your tickets, if it’s possible to reserve a bassinet on board. The benefits of booking a bassinet are that your baby gets a place to sleep, and you get your hands (and lap) free for at least part of the flight at no extra cost. Availability is not always guaranteed, as priority is sometimes given to the youngest children on board. Check with your airline before you fly, as all airlines have varying guidelines for bassinets, with cutoff age ranging from six months to two years and varying height and weight requirements. There are no bassinets on domestic or short-distance international flights.
- If traveling to another time zone, change over to the new time zone as soon as you arrive for mealtimes, nap times, and bedtimes. Exposure to as much natural sunlight as possible during the day will help stimulate your child’s circadian rhythm and speed up the adjustment process. It is equally important to keep the environment dark for sleep times. Maintain the same routine as at home and avoid the temptation to let your child sleep for longer than usual during the day, or later in the morning—this will undoubtedly result in long stretches of wakefulness overnight! Breastfed babies may take a few more days to adjust because their mother’s milk supply needs to adjust to the time zone as well.
- For other time zones that may only differ by a couple of hours from home, you may slowly adjust to the new time zone by moving nap times, mealtimes, and bedtime gradually (i.e., forward or backward by fifteen to thirty minutes per day over a few days before your departure)—refer to sample transition steps as per “Standard Time and Daylight Savings.”
- Remain consistent and maintain your normal day-and-night routine. This includes nap times, sleep associations (and cues), mealtimes, and bedtimes. To make the transition easier, bring everything from home to replicate the comfort of your child’s home-sleep environment. This includes white noise, sleeping bag, comforter and pacifier (if applicable), crib blankets, and blackout blind or foil for darkening the room for sleep times.
- Pack the essentials in your carry-on. Useful things to pack in include essential oils, water mist spray, diapers, baby wipes, organic moisturizer, baby bottom balm, a couple of changes of loose and comfortable clothing (in case of accidents), plenty of snacks, formula, bottles, light swaddle blankets, a warmer sleeping blanket, swaddle or a sleeping bag, comforter, pacifiers, sippy cups, entertainment for older children (books, cards, movies, toys, games, and coloring), a baby carrier (for the sometimes-lengthy immigration process), iPad and phone charger (most airports have charging docks), and junior headphones.
- When booking your tickets, order a specialized meal option (e.g., vegetarian or baby). This way you’re guaranteed to get your meals first—a definite perk if wrangling hungry toddlers.
- Obtain airport lounge membership before you travel. The average is around fifty dollars per visit. Nothing compares to the comfort of the lounges, food, and drinks—and some even have a play area for children.
- Bring your stroller. Most airlines allow you to take your stroller to the boarding gate, and you can either collect it when you step off the plane or it will be available in oversized luggage. Check with your airline as to their policy and where to collect once you arrive at your destination.
- Organize your hotel transfers in advance. Ensure your method of transport can accommodate your family, luggage, and a stroller. Most transfers are arranged through your hotel, so be clear on your specific requirements when you book.