Here are some tips to make your vacation as smooth as possible, sleep-wise.
Prepare a sleep-friendly environment. Whether you’re staying in a hotel, rental house, or with family, try to create a sleep-friendly environment for your little ones. Bring along unwashed crib sheets (the familiar scent will be soothing), favorite loveys and blankets, sound machine, and night light. If you’re not sure the window shades will be dark enough, pack black trash bags and masking tape or thumbtacks for makeshift blackout shades. The Phil & Teds “Traveller” cot is a great alternative to traditional pack n plays; it is small and light enough to fit inside your suitcase, has no uncomfortable crossbars, and has the added advantage of an optional top in case you’ve got a climber on your hands. (More on that subject in another post!)
Respect your child’s need to sleep – even on vacation. Yes, your child may miss a few naps due to travel and bedtime may be a little later due to older cousins. But try to not abandon your child’s schedule altogether, particularly if you are away for more than a few days. If normal crib naps are not possible, plan to drive during nap times, squeeze in catnaps to take the edge off, and opt out of a late dinner if your little one is showing signs of fatigue. You’ll be glad you made the sacrifice – over-tired children usually don’t make the best travel companions anyhow.
Maintain the rituals. Try to maintain your family’s pre-sleep routine, or at least an abridged version of it. The familiar books, songs, and other positive sleep associations will be especially comforting to them as they adjust to their new environment.
Talk to your children. Even one year olds often understand a lot more than we think. Let your little ones know that you are doing things differently than usual because you are traveling. “Today we are going to take our naps in the car because we have a long drive to grandma’s house. You can rest in your car seat, and we will wake you up as soon as we get there!”
Avoid using the same crutch you just broke. Sure, some sleep regressions may happen during travel. However, if you have recently worked hard to stop nursing your baby to sleep, try rocking her or patting her down instead. It’s less confusing and less intermittent reinforcement, which means ultimately it will be easier to undo.
Nip bad habits in the bud. Let your little ones know that once you are back home, it’s back to business as usual. So if you had a co-sleeping nurse-athon in order to keep her quiet at your in-law’s house, the “open bar” officially closes when she kisses grandma goodbye. It’s much easier (i.e. less crying) to tackle new sleep issues before they are fully engrained.
Enjoy your vacation!