This article about How to Get Baby to Sleep on Vacation was written by baby travel expert Celine Brewer and may contain affiliate links.
I’m sharing all my best tips for baby sleep when traveling. Our family has travelled internationally several times with a baby, so we’ve gained plenty of experience on what works and what doesn’t when trying to get a baby to sleep on vacation.
As a fellow traveling mom, I can related to the nervousness of taking a baby on a trip then being tired the entire time because your baby isn’t sleeping. I’ve been there. I’ve also experienced trips when our baby was a star sleeper and other trips where we spent the night trying to get a fussy baby to sleep.
Unfortunately, I can’t guarantee your baby will sleep on your holiday. There’s so much more that plays into a baby’s sleep like teething, sleep regressions, and more. However, I do understand the legitimate fears and challenges parents have regarding baby sleep and travel.
So while I can’t make any promises, I can help you address your concerns about baby sleep while traveling. Here are my tips for how to help baby sleep on vacation PLUS baby travel gear I recommend packing.
Best Tips to Get Baby to Sleep on Vacation
When your baby won’t sleep on vacation, it can impact all areas of your family trip, so I want to do all I can to help your baby sleep on vacation. I’ve compiled all our learnings from our years of traveling with babies to improve your chances of getting your baby to sleep while traveling.
I hope that our real-life traveling with a baby sleep tips will help you learn how to get a baby to sleep on vacation.
1. Follow Baby’s Sleep Schedule on Vacation
Traveling with an infant before they are on a sleep schedule is certainly a lot easier. Once your baby is on a sleep schedule, you need to decide if you’ll stick to your baby’s sleep schedule while on vacation.
If you are worried your baby won’t sleep on vacation, we do recommend sticking to your sleep schedule as closely as possible, even on vacation. In our experience, following our baby’s sleep schedule (as best as we could) while traveling made sleep come easier for our little one.
While it wasn’t always possible while traveling, we would try to plan our baby’s naps around the same time even if we had to try to get our baby to nap on flights and in the car.
When we found our baby showed signs of being very tired, we would slow down and take a day to catch up on sleep. This might even mean returning to our hotel or baby-friendly Airbnb for two naps with some outdoor play time outside.
While it felt like we were wasting a day of our family trip, having a well rested baby always made for better days to follow.
2. Consider an Earlier Bedtime for Baby
Travel can be exhausting and even more so when traveling with a baby. Given how tired we were, we knew our little ones were even more tired than us. Giving them an even earlier bedtime often worked well to keep them happy the next day.
Every time we found our baby not sleeping on vacation, doing a few nights of an earlier bedtime seemed to help. Sleep begets sleep.
I get it. Vacations are for going out for late dinners and enjoying the new environment. We had to remind ourselves that our baby’s needs came first, and these travel sacrifices were just for a short time in our lives.
The overall quality of our family trips was always much higher when we successfully got our baby to sleep on vacation. The small sacrifices (like extra naps) were well worth it in the big picture.
3. Manage Naps while Traveling
Getting a baby to sleep anywhere is so helpful for traveling with a baby, but this doesn’t always work for all babies. We wish we knew a magic trick for how to get baby to nap on-the-go, but baby naps while traveling were always hit or miss with our daughter. This was especially true when she was still having more than one nap a day.
What we found worked to get the best baby sleep on vacation was having a solid morning nap. We would try to do the second nap on-the-go, which we had some success with. If the second nap didn’t happen, we’d adjust bedtime earlier to make up for it.
I recommend getting a CoziGo Stroller and Bassinet Cover or SnoozeShade Plus Stroller Cover. Either of those will block the majority of the light and are still breathable, allowing your baby to be less distracted by the world and hopefully fall asleep better on-the-go.
I do recommend trying any stroller cover out at home first!
4. Stick to Baby’s Bedtime Routine
Baby’s thrive on routine, so to help your baby sleep on vacation, I recommend you stick as closely as possible to their bedtime routine. Granted, I learned that replicating our exact bedtime routine isn’t always possible while traveling, but we always tried to do the key parts of it. Often we’d put on pajamas, feed our baby and read stories or sing songs. We always followed her bedtime routine, regardless if we were on a plane or in a hotel.
If bath time is important to your bedtime routine, plan ahead by giving a sink bath or packing an inflatable travel tub. Things like baths and stories can be sleep cues for your baby, so it’s worth doing them.
5. Create a Familiar Sleep Environment
If your baby won’t sleep on vacation, try creating a familiar sleep environment for them while sticking to safe sleep guidelines. This is one of my best tips for how to help a baby sleep in a new place. Consider what your baby’s sleep environment is at home and replicate it as best you can.
For example, at home our daughter always slept in a sleep sack, so we brought her sleep sack every time we traveled. We also used a portable white noise machine, because she was used to having a sound machine on at night. White noise can also help block out other unfamiliar noises.
Those two items, along with a familiar bedtime routine for her, helped create a familiar sleep environment. Other things to think about is give your baby her own sleep space and packing a familiar travel crib (especially if you are moving around a lot).
We made sure all of our must-have baby travel gear for sleep were with us on our family trips.
It was always dark in our baby’s room at home, so we tried to replicate this as much as possible. The SlumberPod is the perfect way to do this and especially if you are sharing a room with your baby on vacation.
One option we really like are the Sleepout Curtains which have industrial-strength suction cups plus extra Sleepout pads to help stop any light from coming through on the edges! Use code babycantravel for a discount!
You can also read our full review of the Sleepout travel blackout curtains here.
6. Get on Local Schedule
If you are traveling internationally with your baby, or even crossing a few time zones, getting on the local schedule right away is especially important to help combat baby jet lag. We always try really hard get on the local schedule as soon as we arrive. We then incorporate our baby’s sleep schedule on the local schedule.
Yes, we’ve learned that adjusting to a new time zone has its own challenges, but we’ve learned that being disciplined about this baby sleep strategy usually pays off quickly.
7. Give Baby Time to Play
This one was a hard lesson for us. On our trip to New York City with a baby, our little one wasn’t sleeping very well. We were doing everything we could to help her sleep in her own travel crib, but nothing was working.
Then we figured out that because we had her in a stroller all day long, she wasn’t getting any physical activity. We didn’t appreciate how much this would affect our baby’s sleep on vacation, but when she wasn’t getting sufficient time to play during the day it would affect both her naps and night sleep.
Once we started taking time every day to let her play, she suddenly started to nap better and went to sleep better at night. If you find that your baby won’t nap on vacation, try giving your baby some time to tire herself out! This is one of our most important tips on how to get baby to sleep on vacation. It’s one that we can all easily miss, since we are still out all day and excited about sightseeing.
8. Practice with New Sleep Options at Home
If you are wondering where do babies sleep when traveling, now is the time to figure it out and try it at home! Most parents will travel with a pack n play or use the hotel crib. There’s nothing wrong with either of these options, but you might find your baby not sleeping in the pack n play on vacation.
If you have had a trip where baby won’t sleep in the travel crib or pack n’ play, then it’s worth trying it at home before your next trip. Set it up in your baby’s room and start by doing a nap in it. Once your baby has had a few successful naps, try a nighttime sleep.
If you spring something new onto your baby while traveling, there’s a good chance it will be distracting and you might find your baby won’t sleep away from home. Sure, sometimes it’s inevitable if you are using a hotel crib for your baby, but make sure you bring other familiar items to make it a familiar sleep environment for your baby.
Similarly, if you find your baby won’t sleep in a hotel room and want to try a SlumberPod, make sure test it at home first.
9. Practice Getting Baby to Sleep Anywhere
If your baby is used to having every nap in her crib at home with the room completely dark, you might end up with a baby not sleeping on holiday (especially when you try to do a nap on-the-go). Take the opportunity to do a nap in the stroller or a carrier at home before you travel with your baby.
10. Get Outside
Everyone sleeps better after they get plenty of fresh air and this is especially true on vacation. Make sure you are spending time outside and giving your baby time to explore.
Parks are the perfect spot to take a picnic lunch and relax while you give your baby time to burn off some energy and explore. All that fresh air and exercise is a magic formula to help get your baby to sleep on vacation.
This is especially important if you are still adjusting to a new time zone.
11. Get Baby to Sleep on Flights
If at all possible, start your vacation with keeping your baby well rested, as it’s much easier to get your baby to sleep if they aren’t overtired. Dealing with an overtired baby is not fun! When flying with a baby, use a familiar bedtime routine on long haul flights to help your baby sleep.
Packing a good baby carrier for travel is a great way to get your baby sleeping on flight if you are flying with a lap infant. If you plan a flight overnight and you can get your baby to sleep in a car seat, then plan to travel with a car seat. Another alternative is to book an airplane bassinet.
If you have a long layover, you can try to get baby napping in a baby carrier or in a stroller during this time in the airport between flights.
12. Vacation is NOT the Time to do Things Completely Different.
While we understand that you are on vacation, it’s not the time to completely throw all your baby’s sleep routines and naps out the window. Your baby is going to be very stimulated by the new environment and might need more sleep than at home.
NYC was incredibly stimulating to our 9-month old daughter. This was our most challenging trip from a baby sleep perspective.
If you can, plan ahead for giving your baby as much sleep as possible while on vacation. By this, we mean choosing a baby-friendly hotel room or rental apartment that gives you a separate room or a balcony. This will allow you to still enjoy some adult time while your baby sleeps.
One trick we loved to do, is when you return to your hotel for your baby’s nap in the day, we would take turns going out to explore on our own while the other parent stays behind.
If you have created a familiar, comfortable sleep environment for your baby, he should have no issues with sleeping in a new place. If your baby does wake, it’s also important to not create new habits. It’s tempting to just pull your baby into bed with you but that can be a hard habit to break.
13. Vacation Ruined Baby Sleep
It’s very unlikely that this will actually be the case.
If your baby won’t sleep on vacation, don’t let it ruin your trip by being stressed about it. Just do the best you can to keep your baby well rested. You can always get your baby back on her sleep schedule when you get back home.
You may need to be extra consistent with your nap and bed time schedules once you return home, but in time your good little sleeper will return. I always found that our baby’s sleep routine returned after a week or two once we were back home and in our old routines.
14. Slow Down as Needed
The biggest lesson we learned traveling with a baby is to slow down. We found that taking a day to catch up on naps or returning to the hotel for one nap a day made such a big difference.
The family trips where we slowed down and made sure everyone was getting enough rest were the ones that ended up making the best memories.
15. Set Expectations
It’s important to set your expectations accordingly. When traveling with your baby, you will see and do less than you would have before children, but that’s ok. Traveling with a baby has its own rewards and you’ll make some incredible family memories from your trip!
You’ll enjoy it so much more if everyone is well rested and relaxed.
We consulted the sleep experts at WeeSleep to put together these tips to help babies sleep on vacation. WeeSleep’s team of Certified Infant & Toddler Sleep Consultants, helps parents who are having challenges with their babies’ and toddlers’ sleep by providing a very personalized and high level of professional support to aid them in becoming independent sleepers. WeeSleep is for exhausted families who want their babies sleeping properly.
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This post was written & edited by:
Celine Brewer is the owner of Baby Can Travel. Not only does she have years of experience traveling with babies & toddlers, but she's helped millions of new parents travel with their babies and toddlers for over a decade. In addition to writing on her baby travel blog, she has shared her expertise on traveling with a baby or toddler by contributing to articles about traveling with a baby with the Washington Post, USA Today, the Lonely Planet magazine and Pregnancy & Newborn magazine.
Celine also writes about family travel on the site FamilyCanTravel.com, which she co-owns with her husband. Being from the Canadian Rockies, she shares her passion about her home and travel to Banff National Park and area on their site TravelBanffCanada.com.