This article about Getting a Toddler to Sleep on Vacation was written by toddler travel expert Celine Brewer and may contain affiliate links.
I speak from experience when I say that I understand the challenges that can come with getting a toddler to sleep on vacation. Our family has travelled internationally many times with a toddler, including traveling East and traveling West. So while I not only having experience dealing with toddler jet lag, I also have experienced some trips when our toddler won’t nap on vacation and other times when getting a toddler to sleep while traveling was challenging.
These tips are based on my personal experiences dealing with toddler sleep while traveling. If you’ve ever wondered what to do when your toddler won’t sleep on holiday or what to do if a vacation ruined your toddler’s sleep, then you’ve come to the right place.
Whether you’ve ever worried about your toddler sleeping schedule or how to manage your toddler not sleeping on holiday, you should know that you are not alone. In this post, I share all my best tips to help your toddler sleep on vacation PLUS any toddler travel essentials that will make that even easier!
Best Tips to Help your Toddler Sleep on Vacation
When your toddler won’t sleep on vacation, it can impact all areas of your family trip. I’ve compiled all my learnings from our years of traveling with toddlers to improve your chances of getting your toddler to sleep while traveling.
1. Toddler’s Sleep Schedules Are Still Important
As parents we go so many stages of sleep with our babies. While a sleep schedule doesn’t always work for everyone, if your toddler has a sleep schedule at home then you should honor it while you travel.
I get it, while on vacation you might not want to return to your hotel or lose an afternoon while your toddler naps. However, there are ways to be flexible while still trying to get your toddler the sleep she needs.
Keeping up with your toddler’s naps and bedtime will help your toddler sleep while traveling. While this won’t always be possible and there’s not reason to stress about it, if you can adjust your schedule to accommodate a nap or early bed time then it can help make for a well rested toddler.
This might mean heading for a walk in a quiet park so your toddler can sleep in the stroller or planning long drives when your toddler needs a nap.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to do Earlier Bedtimes
Travel is exhausting for everyone and especially toddlers who will be working hard to take in these new surroundings! While it’s tempting to stay out late when traveling, it never hurts to have a few nights with earlier bedtimes.
Any time we found our toddler starting to not sleep well on vacation, we’d do a few nights of an earlier bedtime. Even with toddlers, sleep begets sleep. This usually helped with longer night sleeps and a happier toddler the next day.
We try to remind ourselves that these years are short and that these small travel sacrifices won’t last forever. The small sacrifices (like extra naps or early nights) are well worth it in the big picture.
3. Get Creative in Managing Toddler Naps While Traveling
It’s not always easy to get a toddler to nap when life is pretty exciting around them. Getting a toddler to nap on-the-go can prove to be quite challenging some days. This can especially be true for toddlers who still take more than one nap a day or a long nap in the middle of the day.
Sometimes you need to get creative with naps. As mentioned earlier, a long walk in a quiet park with your toddler in his toddler travel stroller is an excellent way to fit in a nap while traveling.
If your toddler has gone too many days without a nap, it’s time to start doing some early bedtimes or even have one parent stay behind to catch up on a nap. You can also do the first nap back at the hotel and one nap on-the-go.
Stroller covers can work wonders at creating a dark environment on the stroller to help your toddler nap on-the-go. Two stroller covers I’d recommend are the CoziGo Stroller and Bassinet Cover or the SnoozeShade Plus Stroller Cover. If you plan to go this route, make sure you try it out at home before traveling with it.
4. Bedtime Routines Can Work Magic
Routines are just as important for toddlers, and your bedtime routine is one of them. Whether you are flying with a toddler or staying in a new place, use your bedtime routine to signal to your toddler that it’s time for sleep.
I recognize that replicating an exact bedtime routine isn’t always possible while traveling, but you can do some key parts like a bath, pajamas then stories. You’ll skip the bath on a plane, but getting pjs on and reading a story is still completely possible!
5. A Familiar Sleep Environment is Possible
While traveling, everything is going to feel new to your toddler. The sleep environment you create can offer a sense of familiarity for your toddler. Think about your toddlers room at home. Is it dark? Is your toddler used to falling asleep with white noise?
These are easy things to replicate when you travel. If your toddler still sleeps with a sleep sack, pack it. A portable white noise machine is also easy to pack. If your toddler sleeps in a crib at home, start using a pack n play or travel crib at home before you travel so your toddler is used to it. This will be easier than getting on your trip and finding that your toddler won’t sleep in a pack n play.
If your toddler sleeps in a bed at home, you can pack a toddler travel bed or toddler bed rails to keep it similar while you travel. I do recommend using one of these best toddler travel beds and don’t wait for your trip to use it for the first time. Practice with naps then a full night sleep at home so it’s not so new to your toddler.
To keep a dark room, no matter where you go you can either pack travel blackout curtains or use a SlumberPod (which will fit over portable toddler beds). A SlumberPod is especially useful if you’ll be sharing a hotel room with your toddler, who may not be used to going to sleep with someone in the same room.
Flying with Pack n Play? Read more on all our tips for flying with a pack n’ play.
6. Get On Local Schedule
If you are traveling internationally with your toddler, or even crossing a few time zones, getting on the local schedule right away is especially important to help combat toddler jet lag. We always try really hard get on the local schedule as soon as we arrive. We then incorporate our toddler’s sleep schedule on the local schedule.
7. Toddlers Need Time to Play and Explore
This one was a hard lesson for us. It’s easy to spend the day sightseeing while your toddler enjoys the view from a travel stroller or on your back in a toddler travel carrier. Unfortunately, toddlers who aren’t given the time to burn off energy may have trouble sleeping and it might become even more difficult to manage naps while traveling.
We found that could affect both naps and nighttime sleep.
I recommend finding time each day to find a park or playground for your toddler. Let your toddler tire herself out. Your trip will be so much better for it!
8. Don’t Use Toddler Sleep Gear for the First Time on a Holiday
If you want to try some new toddler travel gear to help you toddler sleep on holiday, try it at home first. Again, if it’s familiar to your toddler when you use it on your holiday, there’s a much better chance it will help your toddler sleep. If you spring something new onto your toddler while traveling, there’s a good chance it will be distracting and will impact their ability to sleep.
Sure, sometimes it’s inevitable if you are using a hotel crib for your toddler, but make sure you bring other familiar items to make it a familiar sleep environment for your toddler.
We let our son sleep in his KidCo PeaPod Plus Travel Bed several times at home before using it on vacation.
We always try a new sleep environment it for a nap first, then after getting a few successful naps on it, we’ll try a nighttime sleep.
If you are planning to use a toddler travel bed on your family vacation, set it up in your toddler’s room at home before you go. Putting a new sleeping option in a familiar environment makes it less distracting for them, helping them get to sleep.
Similarly, if you are expecting your toddler to sleep in the stroller or in a carrier, try it out at home first! It might take a few tries before your toddler has a successful sleep on-the-go.
9. Practice Having Naps Out of the House
If your toddler is used to having every nap at home with the room completely dark, they might not be able to nap on the go as easily as you would think. Take the opportunity to do a nap on the go at home before you travel with your toddler.
10. Book Hotels or Vacation Rentals with Separate Sleeping Space
If your toddler is used to sleeping in his own room at home, it may be difficult for him to sleep with the excitement of being in the same room. Toddler friendly hotels or vacation rentals with separate rooms can help this! You can always use one of these baby monitor apps or pack a travel baby monitor to keep an eye on your toddler.
If this isn’t possible and you are sharing a hotel room with your toddler, a SlumberPod can also work wonders to create a separate sleeping space or keep your toddler from trying to get your attention all night.
11. 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 or toddler time to explore.
Parks are the perfect spot to take a picnic lunch and relax while you give your toddler time to burn off some energy and explore. All that fresh air and exercise is a magic formula to help get your toddler to sleep on vacation.
All that sunshine will help with toddler jet lag too!
12. Get Toddlers To Sleep on Airplanes
If at all possible, start your vacation with keeping your toddler well rested, as it’s much easier to get your toddler to sleep if they aren’t overtired. We also have several tips for getting toddlers to sleep on the airplane and we always pack an inflatable toddler airplane bed when doing long haul flights with a toddler.
What If Vacation Ruined Toddler’s Sleep
If your toddler 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 toddler well rested. You can always get your toddler back on her sleep schedule when you get back home.
We always found that our toddler’s sleep routine returned after a week or two once we were back home and in our old routines.
If you are worried that vacation ruined your toddler’s sleep, you’ll just need to focus more on a routine and be consistent for sleep. Thankfully, that’s much easier to do at home. The next trip, use these tips to help keep your toddler sleeping well on your holiday.
What to Pack to Get Your Toddler to Sleep on Holiday
1. Stroller Covers
A stroller cover can really help with naps on-the-go. The best ones, like the CoziGo stroller cover, are breathable and will block most of the light!
2. Toddler Travel Bed
By packing your own toddler travel bed, you’ll be creating a familiar sleep environment for your toddler wherever your trip takes you! Just remember to practice using your portable toddler bed before your trip.
3. Portable White Noise Machine
A white noise machine is great at blocking out noise but also helps to create a familiar sleep environment if you use one at home.
4. Travel Blackout Curtains or a SlumberPod
Blackout curtains for travel, like the Sleepout curtains, are easy to install and will help make any room as dark as your toddler is used to at home.
A SlumberPod can work to create a dark environment and create a separate sleeping space for your toddler in a hotel room.
5. Toddler Carrier
6. Baby Monitor for Travel
A travel baby monitor or baby monitor apps for a smartphone device can help you keep an eye on your toddler while on holiday.
7. Stuffy, Blanket or Sleep Sack
What does your toddler love to sleep with at home? Add it to your toddler packing list to help get your toddler to sleep on vacation!
We consulted the sleep experts at WeeSleep to put together these tips to help toddlers 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.