All Our Tips For Traveling With Kids (and Not Disrupting Their Sleep)•
Everyone loves going on vacation. But the word “vacation” takes on a whole different meaning once you have kids.
Disruptions in routines, a change in environment, a difference in time zones—all these things can throw off your carefully-created schedule, turning your sweet little angels into confused, sleep-deprived nightmare children.
That is, if you don’t take the proper steps to prepare. There is a way to travel successfully with young children to keep their sleep schedule on track and their dispositions on the sunnier side—yes, even across time zones.
Read on for all our tips below.
Stick to your schedule …
… as much as possible. Some disruptions can’t be helped, of course. If you have a 5 AM flight, baby will have to wake up before their regular time so you can all get to the airport.
But our number one tip for traveling is to stick to a regular schedule as much as possible. This means that feeding, naptimes and bedtimes should all stay more or less the same.
Remember: daytime sleep controls nighttime sleep. Too much or too little sleep at naptime will affect your child’s ability to go to sleep and stay asleep at night, regardless of where you’re traveling to. As much as possible, try not to neglect their nap schedule while traveling.
What if I’m changing time zones?
Traveling across time zones is challenging for baby’s sleep because being exposed to light and activity at unusual times leads to circadian confusion—also called jet lag.
There are two ways to deal with this.
Solution One: Stay On Your Own Time Zone
Our first recommendation: not switching time zones at all, body-clock wise.
For short trips—a week or under—we actually recommend not switching up baby’s schedule at all. That’s right—if you’re traveling from, say, Los Angeles to New York, and your baby normally goes to bed at 7 PM, put them down at 10 PM. Normal wakeup at 7 AM? Change it to 10 AM. It sounds weird, but this way, your baby’s circadian rhythm isn’t interrupted at all—as long as you keep the light and noise situation the same as what they’re used to (more on that below.)
Some may balk at keeping a baby up until 10 PM, but this plan will be the least disruptive to your baby’s sleep routine in the long run. And then when you return home—there’s nothing to do but continue to follow your careful routine.
If you're traveling a longer distance, or simply can’t stick to your former time-zone schedule due to the activities you have planned on your trip, however, there is another solution: the gradual shift.
Solution Two: Gradually Shift to Your New Time Zone
If you have to adjust your baby to a new time zone—you have too many activities planned, or it’s a 12-hour time difference and you’re not so excited to experience your new location solely at night—the least disruptive way to do this is to shift your baby gradually to their new sleep schedule.
To adjust your baby to this new time zone, gradually move your baby or child’s routine by 30 minutes each day before you arrive at your destination. This is especially important if flying east, e.g. New York to Europe, or from the West Coast to East Coast.
This strategy hits a wall once it collides with your family's logistics—there's only so much wiggle room in most families' schedules, with school and work start and end times, as well as daycare and babysitter/nanny schedules. Still, typically you'll be able to shift everybody's schedules up to 2 hours earlier before you travel, which will significantly reduce jetlag.
For example, if you’re flying to London from New York, you’re dealing with a 5-hour time difference (usually—check if you're in the middle of Daylight Savings Time.) London is 5 hours later than New York. So 7 days before your flight, shift your baby’s schedule by 30 minutes per day, starting with wake-up time, then naps, and bedtime. Also all meals, and any other activities if possible. Then shift it 30 minutes more each day.
This will make for some strange days, with a 5 AM wake time on the day before your flight, but that's ok. The magic is that you will already be halfway there when you arrive. You can use our Kulala app for this process: simply change your desired wake time every day by 30 minutes, and you will have the right schedule and know exactly what to do each day.
Once you're at your destination, honor your body's clock by continuing to shift slowly. Or if you're staying for less than one week, stay on that middle-of-the-Atlantic time zone for the whole time, meaning late wake-ups and late bedtimes.
To prepare for the trip back home, do the same, but in the opposite direction. Like we said, it will make for some wonky scheduling—but at least baby (and parents) will be getting their sleep! If you're still not quite on your home time zone when you're back, use the Kulala app to continue slowly shifting back by adjusting the desired wake up time.
This shift likely won’t occur without some fussiness. A disruption in schedule is just that: a disruption. But shifting sleep by 30 minutes to an hour is far less disruptive than trying to do a 3-hour or 5-hour shift all at once.
Keep in mind that flying west is much easier on the body, because our circadian clocks adjust more easily. So for shifting west, do it in 1 hour daily increments, before, during, and after travel.
How do you successfully shift your child’s sleep schedule? By using light, of course.
The Tools You Need for Successful Sleep While Traveling
The big thing you need when traveling with kids and shifting their sleep, is to replicate your child’s sleep environment as best you can while on the go.
At home, there are a few things you use to help your baby sleep: namely blackout curtains, white noise, an appropriate sleep space, and anything else they’re used to having (for example pacifiers, or a sleep sack) to sleep.
If you’re not going to have the same sorts of tools in the place you’re going—bring all this with you.
1. Black out curtains and a red light lamp
As we’ve explained before, light is a huge factor when it comes to sleep. Blue light, or the kind that comes in sunlight and most artificial lamps, signals to your body (and your baby’s) that it’s time to wake up. Absence of that blue light signals that it’s time to go to sleep.
When you’re shifting your child’s schedule—or keeping it the same, i.e. with the 10 PM bedtimes and 10 AM wakeups—you will have to rely even more on the light cues you create in your child’s bedroom than you normally do. You will need to make it dark when it’s time to go to sleep, and keep it dark or use only red light, like the Kulala Baby Sleep Lamp, while it’s time to stay asleep, letting blue light in only at your desired wake times.
Because there’s usually no way to know what the curtain or light situation may be in the place you’re staying, we strongly recommend bringing along your own black-out shades or pods when traveling. There are these basic, affordable, portable shades from Amazon. You can also check out Snoozeshade and Slumberpod, which both make products that are designed for getting your baby that much-needed blackout sleep when on the go.
2. White noise
Whether baby is sleeping on the go or in a new environment, there’s no telling what the noise situation will be. A white noise machine means it doesn’t matter how loud things are around your baby. So long as they have the noise they’re used to falling asleep to, they’ll be fine.
Many white noise machines are portable and can last a decent amount of time without being charged. Or you could always use an app, like Guva, with a variety of sounds on it. This means you don’t have to pack anything extra at all, as it can be accessed from your phone.
3. The right sleep space
Obviously, you need a safe, comfortable place for your baby to sleep while you’re not at home. We always recommend baby sleep in their own space. If possible, have a crib or bassinet at the destination you’re going, either rented or borrowed.
If that’s not possible, there are some great travel crib options, like this one from Baby Bjorn, that fold up super compact and are easy to fly with. Remember to bring a change of sheets!
If you have an older child, you may be able to get away with a regular bed at your destination. We just recommend replicating the sleeping space they’re used to as much as possible to minimize disruptions to their routine.
4. Baby soothers
When on the go, it’s important to make your child’s sleep environment as close to the one they’re used to as possible. That means bringing along their sleep sack, a pacifier (or 5), lovey—anything they normally sleep with should come on the go with you, too.
When You Get Back Home
When you get back home, make sure to get back to your carefully created sleep routine as soon as possible, using all your tools you already have at home, including your Kulala Baby Sleep Lamp.
For more tips on traveling with babies and kids, Sofia's book How Babies Sleep has everything you need. We highly suggest picking up a copy before your next trip.