Before having kids, I didn’t know vacation could be stressful. First, there is the packing. With a baby, that means a long list of necessary and we-will-most-likely-not-need-this-but-we-have-to-bring-it-anyway items. Second comes the dreaded flight with children alternating between exhiliration and meltdown mode. Then at last, the blissful joy of checking in to your hotel… just to realize that your child is too wired to sleep! Want more proof that vacation with kids is stressful? Just look at the faces of the tired-looking parents of young children on the way back home. The truth is, vacation with kids can be relaxing if you prioritize the best kind of relaxation: S.L.E.E.P.! Here are our top sleep tips to pack away in your suitcase on your next vacation.
1. Get your child and yourself as rested as possible before vacation
A sleep deprived baby with two sleep deprived parents are NOT great travelling buddies. Your family will benefit the most from your vacation if you have filled your sleep tank to the rim prior to leaving. This will make you more cheerful, patient and relaxed. You will also see sleep benefits in your child: a well-rested child is also more likely to sleep well on vacation than the wired, overly excited, yet cranky child.
2. Planning the flight
In ideal circumstances, plan to fly around a sleep period. If that’s impossible, book an early morning flight. This will give your child more time to adjust to the new environment. For a nap on the plane, make sure to bring a sleep mask or a blanket you can pull over your child to provide as much darkness as possible. Use tablets or smartphones as last-resort distractions, not only because it can interfere with sleep but also because there are plenty of cheaper alternatives that you can find at the dollar store like crayons, stickers, figurines. Healthy snacks that children can eat themselves are also great distractions.
3. The room situation The general rule of thumb is to try to reproduce the home environment
Email the hotel in advance to have a crib placed in the room. If you know your little ones will get distracted from seeing you in bed next to them, put a visual barrier between you and them. You can rearrange the furniture or even place the crib in the bathroom(!). When slightly older kids too big for the hotel crib and if you don’t want to pack a playpen or you worry about the big bed, you can bring a play tent (ikea sells some for $20). Well-packed, it is light and takes nearly no place in your loggage. Kids will want to camp out all night but make sure you reserve the tent only for the use of sleep, at least during vacation. You can talk to your child about this special sleeping arrangement before going on the trip.
4. Help them wind down
A day on vacation is filled with exciting things for kids, and they can find it hard to relax and get ready for sleep. A dark room with some white noise (an app or a ceiling fan works) can help set the mood for restful sleep. Bring your child’s lovey, blanket and sheets to get the same textures and smells associated with sleep at home. For slightly older kids, you can tell them how comfortable they look in their sleep environment (crib, playpen, bed, tent) and also sell them on the consequence of a good night sleep (ex. “You need to be well-rested and have lots of energy to swin longer and build the tallest sand castle with me tomorrow”). I know it sucks to stay in a hotel room for a few hours in the afternoon, so take turns between parents so everyone gets a little “me” time. If you are lucky enough to go to a hotel that offers rooms with plunge pools, book that room! You will be able to relax at your pool while your kids enjoy their naps. Win – win!
5. On vacation, rules are meant to be broken (a little)
While some structure is important, routines should also be fun. Keep a similar sequence of sleep routine (e.g., right after lunch), but why no add some fun elements as well (ex., before each nap, everyone must have ice cream, we must say nighty night to the birds in the sky)? You can also relax the rules a little: later bedtime, more stories, etc. As long as there is some routine that is maintained, say 60% of the time, you child’s sleep will not be disturbed.
6. Let yourselves adjust
We all need a little time to adjust to a new environment. Just because your child doesn’t sleep well the first couple of nights doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a sleepless vacation. Give yourself a few days to adjust. Children adapt better than adults so trust that you and your child can have a restful sleep on vacation.
7. Back to reality little ones
So what if you haven’t followed those tips and gave in to your child’s night meltdowns? No worries, if your children have learned good sleep habits before this trip, they will return to being super sleepers in no time. Make sure that you are consistent with your sleep rules and routine so that your child knows what happens on vacation stays on vacation. This is particularly important for those of you with quick little learners who want to check out whether you’ll give the same leeway as you did during the family vacation.
Have a relaxing vacation dear families!