Traveling with Young Children

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It’s taken you a few weeks to get your child into a good schedule and sleeping well traveling with your child could be scary. 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 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.

Travel Tips

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 if you keep a few things in mind:

1. Over-scheduled children will lead to overstimulated children. This is not good for sleep.

2. 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 on day two, she has a complete meltdown and seems to “forget” all her sleep skills and just cries the house down.

3. If your child has a melt down, you might start to get very nervous.  Your baby, who has been happily chatting herself to sleep for weeks, is now crying again and your family remember is standing outside the door repeatedly asking you if you’re sure the baby is okay. You may start to give into this pressure 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 if you gave into this pressure and fear.

4. Remember if your child has a late bedtime or skipped nap it can affect their behavior for the next 24 to 36 hours. There will be times when this has to happen on vacation. I recommend having a fairly flexible schedule for the next 36 hours. Most of all pack your patience!

5. It’s very normal for babies and toddlers to test the boundaries around sleep when they are somewhere new. This may mean that your baby cries for some time at bedtime or has a night waking or two. Don’t stress! I often have to provide more comfort to our little man when traveling. I always start the routine like I would at home but will offer more support if needed.

6. Make sure you bring your child’s sleeping toy and/or blanket! ( I have forgotten ours and thank goodness the bookstore at the airport had one close to the one our young man loves!)

7. Another thing parents do is to bed share with their baby or toddler while traveling. Try to avoid this if you do not want to be bedsharing at home. If you do not have a choice, just know the first few nights home may be hard.

8. If your child is eight months or older, my advice is to 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 the closet. Anywhere that you can build some sort of a partition between you and your baby. You can put a sheet up, pin it to the wall. I used to build a wall between our bed and the playpen/crib with our luggage!

Time changes and jet lag

When it comes to surviving the plane ride, the best piece of advice I ever got about traveling with kids is just to ACCEPT the fact that you’re traveling with kids! So plan ahead and bring as many things that you can think of to keep your baby 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 land, it is back to the plan!

Well-rested children handle jet lag much better than sleep-deprived adults. If your baby has had a great schedule leading up to the trip, he 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.

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 her nap too close to bedtime. If it’s a choice between a strangely timed dinner- hour nap or an earlier bedtime, I suggest you go with the slightly earlier bedtime.

Sunlight is a useful tool in helping both you and your baby adjust to the new time zone since light is the most powerful time cue our bodies have. Try to plan meals and socializing around the new time zone as well, and get an hour or two of fresh air in the early afternoon.

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 baby to go to bed. This will help stimulate melatonin production, helping him sleep.


If you find yourself reverting back to old, familiar sleep props with your children when you travel, do not stress too much. You may 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. So as soon as you get home, start your plan over if needed. He just needs a push in the right direction from you!