‘Tis the season for traveling with children! Few things instill fear in the hearts of parents quicker than deviation from sleep environment and schedule. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration – but seriously, as the holidays approach and travel is inevitable for many of us, there are some considerations we have to make in order to make sure everybody stays well rested while still managing to have some fun.
My family and I travel between coasts at least four times a year, and so this is a topic that comes up for us frequently. I’m pretty strict about my children’s sleep (“Pretty strict?,” say my little ones from up in their nests), and so traveling can sometimes be stressful for me. Luckily, I’ve done it enough now that I have a few good tips that always help us adjust quickly and enjoy our time away.
Recreate your home sleeping environment as much as possible. This is particularly important for younger babies, but it works well with older children too. If your baby is going to be sleeping in a crib at your destination, bring a crib sheet from home – and don’t wash it before you go. The smell will be familiar and will help baby transition a little bit easier. Do the same with a sleep sack, lovey, portable crib sheet, etc. This means less prep laundry for you and a greater sense of security and familiarity for your child.
Bring some portable blackout blinds. You know that the environment you’ve created in your own home works, but when you get to where you’re going, circumstances are often different. These “travel” blackout shades are lightweight and easy to install. If you don’t want the added expense, spring for a box of black trash bags. A bit unsightly, yes, but this isn’t the Four Seasons – you know what I mean?
Blackout shades help us all sleep a little better and are of particularly good use to curious children who might want to spend more time looking around their new surroundings than settling in for some rest.
Use a white noise machine. This is one of my favorites, as it is small, lightweight, inexpensive, and has a battery back-up option. It’s ideal to use a sound that is consistent with what is in your home, particularly since when visiting family, there are different voices and house sounds for children to adjust to.
If you visit family frequently, as we do, it’s great to buy and keep your treasure trove of travel items at the houses you visit. You don’t have to worry about remembering them and have the added benefit of no extra bulk in your bags.
Get creative with personal space. It’s always tough to carve out space for a transplanted family, particularly when you’re staying with relatives. But where possible, try to set the baby up in the most private space you can find. On one of our trips to the grandparents’ house, our infant son slept in a well-ventilated laundry room just off of our bedroom. (See photo above. We called it his studio apartment. Imagine that – a studio with laundry!
It worked out well for everybody. The baby got some space he needed away from the hubbub of the house, and it was also easy access for my husband and me to feed him at night, which made us feel a lot more comfortable with having him away from home for the first time.
Remind everyone of the sleep rules. This is particularly important for older children. When we visit either grandparents’ house, there is a tendency for my older child to regress a bit. She likes to get out of bed for some middle-of-the-night bedside visits to the grandmothers (cue the creepy horror movie music).
While grandparents might not mind, I do – particularly as it relates to how she’ll behave when we return home. So manage your child’s expectations before you go. Let him or her know that the same rules that you have at home will apply anywhere else.
Don’t let jet lag get you down. Parents often ask me if they should try to adjust their child ahead of time to the time it will be at their new destination. While I think it can work in some cases, more often than not I find that it’s just another thing to think and worry about in the already very busy ramp-up to a big trip. Our bodies are actually quite good at adjusting for us. So my vote and experience says to jump into local time right away, even if it means stretching kids a bit.
Change that watch and don’t look back. Make sure everybody gets out into natural light the first full day you are there (or, if you land in the early morning at your destination, get out and about that day). Eat meals at the correct “new” times and keep everyone well hydrated as well.
Try to relax about things. I probably need to be better at following my own advice. The truth is, if you follow a healthy, age-appropriate schedule for your little ones at home, it makes traveling and deviating from that schedule a whole lot easier. So “rest” easy as best you can and enjoy these special times.
Kristina Amerikaner is the (mostly) rested mom of two and a certified pediatric sleep consultant with Good Night Sleep Site New Jersey. You can also connect with her on Facebook or over on that newfangled contraption known as Twitter. When not thinking about sleep (yours and hers), she loves reading, baking, and tackling The New York Times crossword puzzle. She lives with her family in Northern New Jersey, her native state.
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