Traveling with kids. Sigh. There’s good. There’s bad. There’s ugly. And usually? There’s exhausted.
If you’re anything like me, I don’t even call it vacation anymore. If the kids are going, it’s travel, basically just parenting away from home. And the hardest part, aside from packing, is typically figuring out how the heck to get these kids to sleep in beds and rooms that aren’t their own.
So what’s a mom to do?
Today, I’m putting on my Sleep Consultant hat and spilling the tea. Here are my top seven tips to help your kids actually sleep away from home this holiday season.
Re-create the Home Sleep Environment
The number one thing I suggest to families is to re-create their healthy sleep environment as much as possible on the road. Take with you all the sound machines, loveys, pacifiers, special blankets, and nightlights that your child is accustomed to at home. If your child needs total darkness at night or is accustomed to blackout curtains, pack some black trash sacks and painter’s tape to cover any windows that might leak light into the room. I also suggest taking some familiar books or toys so you can help them feel more at home in their new sleep space.
Scent is Powerful
One often-overlooked sensory piece of nighttime is smell. If you know what type of bed your child will be in and can take your own sheets, I highly recommend it. They will feel and smell like home, even when placed on strange beds or cribs. If your young child or baby struggles with separation anxiety, you can even try sleeping with that sheet under mom’s or dad’s pillow for a few nights before leaving town, for an extra scent of comfort.
Limit Sugars & Food Dyes
This one is tough because as much as we want to let our kids loose to have “fun” on vacation, excessive sugar and consumption of food dyes, especially when combined with over-tiredness, are major contributors to nightmares and sleepwalking. Overnight blood sugar spikes can also lead to night waking. Treats in moderation should be no problem, but be sure they are mixed with healthier options to keep blood sugars stable.
Loosely Follow the Regular Routine
Just because you’re away from home doesn’t mean your kids don’t need their bedtime routine! Taking those 15-30 minutes to help your child wind down before sleep is more essential than ever after a long, overwhelming day of new people, new places, and travel. If you don’t already have a bedtime routine, consider a bath, pajamas, a book or two, and some snuggles for connection.
A Word on Screen Time
Let’s be real; screen time is essential to a mama’s survival sometimes. Especially when it’s cold outside and you’ve got cooking to do. But I want to encourage you to have your kids turn them off for at least the hour before bedtime. (I know. Don’t stone me.) The blue light that powers phones, tablets, and other electronics interferes with our body’s natural production of melatonin in the evenings. And when we’re already dealing with a new environment and wonky schedules, we don’t need yet another thing preventing us from settling down for the night. Encourage your kids to take a long bath, read, color, play a game, or (gasp!) talk to their relatives before bed instead.
Travel at Nap Time
If traveling by car, I highly recommend leaving as close to a nap time as possible. I try to get in some physical activity before leaving so they’re more likely to be calm and settled for the trip. Filling their bellies before leaving home is also important and will lead to better road naps!
Get Back on Track at Home
At the end of the day, we can do all the right things and kids are simply kids – they’re going to struggle away from home. Your cousin’s dog is going to bark and wake them from their nap early. Your mom will make a 7:30 dinner reservation for the family even though she knows your son’s bedtime is 7pm. Despite our best efforts, they may not nap in the car like we’d hoped. My encouragement to you is to do your best to ENJOY IT ANYWAY.
If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that time with the ones we love is precious and not guaranteed. Go with the flow, adjust as needed, and know that you can get back on track and resume your regular routine after the holiday is over.