Preparing for a family trip is exciting—just think of all the fun you’re about to have! But a vacation with the kids can easily go awry if their sleep schedules are out of whack. As a dad of two, I know from experience that new, unfamiliar places can make it tough for your little ones to fall and stay asleep. After nearly a decade of extensive trial and error, I’ve learned a trick or two to getting my 2-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter to sleep peacefully while on the go. Here are my top five go-to tips for helping kids get some ZZZs while traveling.
1. Time Your Road Trips Around Naptime
I learned (the hard way) that the best sleep environment for kids is one that’s flat and motionless—pretty much the opposite of a moving car. But while napping while on the road isn’t as restorative as in their beds, it’s definitely better than no nap at all. So how did I get my kids to fall asleep during car rides? My son passes out pretty quickly in the car, so I don’t typically have problems with him. My daughter, on the other hand, was another story. It took her a long time to unwind enough for her to fall asleep in the vehicle. When she was young, I made sure to hit the road at least 30 minutes before her naptime to give her an opportunity to relax and settle in. Once her normal naptime rolled around, she was good and ready to get some shut-eye while I drove.
2. Build Downtime Into Your Itinerary
Babies and toddlers have sensitive temperaments. My 2-year old senses all the stress and excitement that vacations can bring and gets easily overwhelmed by the numerous activities in store for him, making it difficult for him to fall asleep while traveling. On any trip, it’s important to set aside some form of "downtime" for your kids, whether you’re embarking on a long voyage to visit relatives or just a quick jaunt to the beach. Take it from me—you’ll be surprised by how much a little extra planning will help your kids get more restorative, deeper, longer sleep during your travels.
3. Invest in a White Noise Machine
Whenever we’re traveling, my kids are always excited to be going to a new place. They’re also nervous about being away from home's familiar comforts—and anything that creates anxiety can mess with their sleep. One of the best tricks that work for me is using a portable white noise machine to reduce their worries when traveling. The soothing sound helps put them at ease (and block out any jarring surrounding noise) and sends them off to sleep in no time.
4. Bring Your Kids' Comfort Items
Bringing a piece of home while traveling works wonders for my kids—in particular, packing whatever items they can’t do without for their night’s sleep. Whether it’s a baby blanket, a doll or teddy bear, I always make sure I’ve packed these items and have them easily accessible while traveling. Having a familiar lovey in an unfamiliar place helps them feel more comfortable and at peace, which in turn makes bedtime all the easier.
5. Keep Kids On a Schedule
One of the things I’ve learned as a parent is that for kids to function at their best each day, there has to be a routine set in place for them—especially when it comes to matters of sleep. While traveling, try to stick to your regular schedule as much as you can. Begin the day around the same time you would back home, keep their meals and naps at the same time every day, and most importantly, don’t let your little ones stay up too much beyond their usual bedtime.
I’ll admit it—it can be challenging to get your kids to sleep when you’re on a trip. From dealing with travel logistics to time changes to new daily routines, there’s plenty that can throw a wrench into your little ones’ regular sleep patterns. But with some smart planning before you even leave home, getting your kids to sleep soundly is absolutely achievable. These five dad hacks have served me well over the years—hopefully they do the same for you and yours.
Tommy Rosenfield is a freelance writer. He studied journalism at New York University and these days writes home and garden product reviews on his blog, HomeExpertReviews.com. He loves traveling, camping, gardening and healthy living, and as a dad of two is constantly on the lookout for tips and tricks to make life easier and spend more time with his family.
Published November 2018