Traveling With Children

When I first had my daughter, I tried my darndest to put her on a schedule as soon as possible after her birth.  You can probably imagine how well the first 8 weeks went.  After some ups and down and reflux and nap training, we had hit a pretty good groove by week 13.  But then came Christmas, and with it, a cross-country flight to stay with my husband’s family.  A full 6 hour flight and 3 hour time change! It was tough but I got through it.

We are now well into February and I still have clients calling to tell me that, “everything was fine until we
went out of town for Christmas...” It’s no secret that travel and vacations can wreak havoc on your little one’s schedule.  Read on for how to best deal with the changes that come from traveling with a baby.

Before the Trip
There is not a whole lot to be done in preparation for an upcoming trip, except for making sure your child is well rested prior to the trip, that you have made the appropriate accommodations for your travel, and that time you travel, whether by plane or automobile, occurs at the most optimum time possible.

Something people often ask about is whether or not they should have their baby "practice" sleeping in their Pack n' Play prior to the trip.  I personally have found both of my children, with completely opposite temperaments, have both done fine sleeping in unfamiliar cribs or Pack n' Plays.  Given the possibility that having them sleep in a play pen at home may disrupt their sleep somewhat, I would skip it.

Depending on whether you are staying with family or alone on a trip, it’s important that you inform any travel companions if you are planning on staying behind for naps or bedtime.  If you are staying with family, they probably already know that you respect your child’s need to sleep are are likely to expect you not to be out all day, every day with your still napping child.  If they are particularly kind and helpful, you can ask that they have a fan available for white noise, and tin foil/painter’s tape (to cover windows and block out light) at your disposal so you can quickly set up your baby’s room after arrival.

For travel by airplane, there is little to do in terms of timing for babies that are still napping twice a day, but I always prefer to allow baby to take the first nap at home, do the bulk of the travel once that first nap is done, and then hopefully arrive at my destination with my baby ready to go to bed for the night.  If you’re lucky, you’ll have a baby who sleeps at least somewhat well on the go, and if your child is like mine (who won’t sleep anywhere but a crib), then at least when you arrive you will be able to put your baby directly to bed. Some people swear by taking overnight flights, but I would strongly advise you to consider the temperament of you child before you book the flight, and consider if he or she sleeps well in places other than home. 

During Your Trip
 As mentioned above, it’s a good idea to try to mimic your baby’s sleep environment as much as possible while away.  If you will be sharing a room with your baby, opt for a Pack n’ Play over a traditional crib, since you can cover all but a back corner (for ventilation) with heavy blankets to block out noise and light. You can also try a pea pod plus or the snoozeshadeWhite noise is all the more important to cover any unfamiliar noises.

While you still want to respect your child’s need to sleep, you also don’t want to miss out on all the fun! If you are going to disrupt naps, let it not be the first nap of the day, as that nap going wrong can cause problems throughout the rest of the day.  If you know you will be out late, try to keep naps at home during the day to compensate for a later bedtime.  Ultimately, do not stress if baby is getting off schedule or if his sleep is disrupted.  Regardless of what happens on your trip, your baby will go back to sleeping well once you get home, provided you are consistent with his schedule once you are back.

Coming Home
 Be prepared for the first 3-4 days to be tough, especially if you are battling a time change.  It is important that you go right back into whatever you routine/schedule you had before you left, and be prepared for some sleep training if needed.  The real problems stemming from travel do not come from the trip itself, but what parents do once they get back home.  If you anticipate difficulty for the first few days after you return, then they won’t be as shocking or difficult for you to deal with.  The quicker you get back on schedule, the quicker you baby will catch on, and the more rest he’ll get in the long term.

Article by Natalie, My Baby Sleep Guide sleep consultant.


  1. anastasia @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

    I've learned that the baby is happiest when I listen to his/her cues instead of following a schedule, at least for my babies. Yes, we have a set routine, and the general vicinity of a set nap time - but it isn't set in stone. "Usually, not always" is our motto.

    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says

      I agree Anastasia, which is why I usually use the word routine rather than schedule. I mean the same for both(because "flexible" always goes with the word schedule with me), but it doesn't mean the same thing to all people. That is a great motto and helpful for everyone to remember.

  2. I just took my 7 month away for a long weekend and she completely ruined the trip- she was totally stressed out by the new environment and barely slept. It was terrible. She's recovering now that we're home but she's still pretty stressed presumably bc she doesn't trust that were not going to take her somewhere new. Do you have tips for making a baby who is very afraid of change more comfortable in a new sleeping environment? We brought a white noise machine and kept her bedtime routine but nothing seemed to calm her down. She was exhausted but kept having complete meltdowns and refused sleep. We have 2 more trips planned this summer and I am really dreading a repeat experience.