Updated: Dec 9, 2019
Travelling is certainly very different with a baby or young children compared to pre-parent status that's for sure! Here are some great tips to consider.
It’s taken you a few weeks to get your baby into a good schedule and sleeping well. Now that you’ve put in the time, effort, and energy to make this big change in your family’s life, that trip you have planned for next month is starting to stress you out! If you’re like most parents, your biggest fear is that a trip is going to derail all the progress you and your baby have made and cause you to start this process all over again. Sometimes the mere thought of it frightens parents so much that they cancel all trips and just vow to stay home until the child leaves for college.
The good news is that you do not have to cancel all travel plans and confine yourself to the house for the rest of your child’s life. It is possible to have children who travel really well.
Here are a few things to keep in mind and also information on dealing with jet lag and time-zone changes:
1. Accept the fact you’re travelling with kids: When it comes to surviving the plane ride or road trip, we need to just ACCEPT the fact that we’re traveling with kids! So plan ahead and bring as many things that you can think of to keep your child occupied and comfortable. If you have to resort to “old ways” to get your child to settle down, then do so. Just know that as soon as you arrive, it’s back to the plan!
2. Avoid overscheduling: The biggest mistake parents make is that they over-schedule themselves. They try to pack in all the fun and adventure they might normally have had back in their “child-free” days, forgetting an important fact: They have a child now.
3. Give some opportunities for routine: An occasional car nap or slightly later bedtime probably isn’t going to do too much harm, but if your baby spends a couple of days taking car seat naps here and there and having late bedtimes, she may become so overtired that by the time bedtime rolls around a few days later, she has a complete meltdown and seems to “forget” all her sleep skills and just cries the house down. If you can’t avoid this (as happens sometimes) then just be more mindful of giving more wind-down and that there will be some upset at sleep time.
4. Careful not to revert: If you do find things are a bit derailed like in point 2 above, you might start to get very nervous because (a) your baby, who has been happily chatting herself to sleep for weeks, is now crying again, and (b) your mother-in-law is standing outside the door repeatedly asking you if you’re sure the baby is okay!! You may start to give into pressure (internal or external) and bend your expectations for your baby’s sleep. It’s easy to see how you could revert back to your own familiar ways in no time
5. Testing boundaries: It’s very normal for babies and toddlers to test the boundaries around sleep when they are somewhere new. Just because the rule is the rule at home, that does not necessarily mean the rule is the same at Grandma’s house. This may mean that your baby cries for some time at bedtime or has a night waking or two. The best way to handle it is to not do too much different than you would if the regression happened at home. You can go in every five minutes or so to offer a bit of reassurance, but other than that, don’t revert to previous habits that caused so much trouble for your little one in the first place. If you hang on tight to your consistency, within the first night or two, your child will be used to the new environment and will be sleeping well again secure in your calm leadership and love.
6. Sleep toy or blanket: Make sure you bring your child’s sleeping toy and/or blanket!
7. Bed sharing: Another big mistake parents make is to bed share with their baby or toddler while traveling. Bed sharing can create significant challenges even it’s it is only for a few nights. If your baby decides this is her new preferred location, you could find yourself starting all over again when you get home. Most hotels have a crib you can use or rent, or take your travel cot along.
8. Room sharing: If you cannot get a room for your child and your child is eight months or older, we advise you try to make some sort of a private space for your baby to sleep. This could be the bathroom (if it’s big enough) or another safe space that is available and separate. If the accommodation means you must share the room with your child we advise building some sort of a partition between you and your baby, so that if they have a wake up in the middle of the night they are not so excited to see their two favorite people that they end up wide awake thinking it’s play time!
TIME CHANGES AND JET LAG
1. Well-rested children handle jet lag much better than sleep-deprived adults: If your child has had a great schedule leading up to the trip, they should slide into the new time zone without too much trouble. It is best to adjust to the new time zone as quickly as you can.
2. Extra Naps: If you really feel like your baby needs an extra nap to catch up a bit, try to limit it to 45 minutes. Try not to let them nap too close to bedtime. If it’s a choice between a strangely timed dinner-hour nap and an earlier bedtime, we suggest you go with the slightly earlier bedtime.
3. Use the sunlight: Sunlight is a useful tool in helping both you and your child adjust to the new time zone, since light is the most powerful time-cue our bodies have. Try to plan meals and socialising around the new time zone as well, and get an hour or two of fresh air in the early afternoon.
4. Use the dark: Make sure you do just the opposite when evening rolls around. Use the blackout blinds, and keep light to a minimum a couple of hours before you want your child to go to bed. This will help stimulate melatonin production, making them sleepier.
5. Getting back on track: In spite of best efforts, many parents find themselves reverting back to old and familiar sleep props with their children when they travel. If you find that it’s all fallen apart in just a week or two, the good news is that it’s just as easy to get back on track within a week or two, too! So as soon as you get home, start your plan over, speeding it up by two nights at each step – and hold tight to the memory that your child is capable of doing this! They just need guidance in the right direction from you!
The biggest tip we can give is of course to enjoy yourselves. While it can sometimes be stressful travelling with kids, just remember it's also a time to create wonderful memories and laughter.