As we all know traveling with kids is a bit different… Traveling with kids to a different a time zone can be downright scary. We get many questions about this each year so, here is our official answer and our best travel tips.
To begin, anytime you travel it’s wise to think ahead as you’re planning your itinerary. If possible schedule flights around nap times and bedtimes. If you’re on a longer flight and that’s not possible then plan for that first night upon arrival to be as low key and early as possible. If your children napped on the plane, didn’t nap at all or are just downright exhausted from traveling then your best tool will be planning for a super-early bedtime. If you’re staying with friends or family let them know that your first night might not be best for visits and that you’ll catch up the next day when everyone has had a chance to get some needed rest.
Be mindful of your schedule while you are planning ahead and try not to over schedule each day as well. If the expectation is that you’re going to be visiting several different family members then try to spread those visits out over the course of several days. In order to make sure naps aren’t missed, plan your travel times around nap times. The more packed your days are the more tired your child will be, and therefore the more difficult he or she may be as well. Trying to respect your child’s need for some sort of balance will probably mean a more enjoyable experience for you too!
In the weeks leading up to your vacation try to make an extra effort to prioritize your child’s sleep even more than usual. Think about filling up his sleep tank before depleting it. Try not to allow naps to be missed or bedtimes to be too late in the week or two leading up to your vacation, allowing your child to be as well rested as possible before you depart. Additionally, plan ahead as you pack and think about where it is you’ll be staying. If you know that the sleep environment will not be as dark and conducive to sleep as it should be then plan ahead and pack travel blackout shades. If your child typically sleeps with a white noise machine then buy a travel white noise machine or pack an old iPhone to be used as white noise while you are away. Make sure to pack your little one’s favorite stuffed animal, blanket or lovey and ensure that you have a safe comfortable place for him to be sleeping while you are away-which really shouldn’t be in your bed, especially if he is under the age of one and/or that’s not what typically happens at home. It’s usually pretty easy to rent a crib through a local baby equipment rental company or call ahead to a hotel to request a pack and play for your stay.
Managing travel, time zones, schedules and family expectations:
Now, how to handle different time zones. This answer is much simpler than you may think. Whether it’s a big time change or one that’s not so drastic its really non-trivial. The recommendation that we give is to switch to the new time as best you can upon arrival. Expose your child to as much sunshine as possible and utilize an early bedtime as needed. As mentioned above, the first night you arrive plan to have a very early night to allow everyone to catch up. The next day make sure to start your child’s day at his/her usual wake time. If she typically wakes up at 7 AM then based on the local time you’ll want to wake her up by 7 AM to help her adjust and to keep her on her regular nap schedule. It IS optimal to stick as closely as possible to her schedule, despite being away. Even though she will be sleeping away from home, that shouldn’t mean that her schedule is left behind. Additionally, try to have naps occur in your hotel room if possible. This will help her become more familiar with her new sleeping environment as well as provide her with more restorative sleep. Keeping her nap times and bedtimes consistent will help her to assimilate to her new environment more quickly and will make sure she stays a happy baby rather than an overtired cranky one.
If hanging around the hotel is not in the plans, make sure you have your baby in his car seat, stroller, or carrier in plenty of time to catch his nap on the go at the usual time. A few minutes before naptime do a modified version of your regular soothing routine so your little one understands it time to go to sleep. While sleeping in a stationary crib or bed is best, for a few days while on vacation it is ok to have your little one nap on the go. If despite your best efforts a nap just isn’t possible on one of your vacation days, opt instead for a super early bedtime to make up for that missed sleep. It will help to make sure your little one stays on track and doesn’t become overtired. If you are visiting with friends or family make sure they are aware of your baby’s schedule. They may roll their eyes when you tell them that bedtime is 6:30, but at least you will be traveling with a happy well-rested child!
The Return Home:
Typically, the return home is the hard part. Once you’re home you will want to immediately switch back to your local time and use an early bedtime to help get your child back on track. An early bedtime is going to be the best tool you can use so you’ll need to be prepared to use it. For the first few nights you’re back try to keep your schedule as open as possible and free from activities and events. And, once you’re home make sure all five elements of healthy sleep are in place: 1.No naps on the go. 2. No skipping naps, and make sure they happen at the correct time. 3. Make sure bedtime is on time and occurs before your little one can enter an overtired state. 4. Reestablish your routine if elements were missing while you were away and get right back into your regular routine and 5. Make sure that any bad habits that were started during a vacation are immediately stopped, and insist on your child utilizing his or her self soothing skills. Essentially, it’s right back to business as usual!
Traveling, whether to a different time zone or to a summer cottage an hour from your home, can be more complicated with children. However, it can still be enjoyable with adequate planning and the right tools. If despite your best efforts recent travel has left your family overtired and out of sorts we are always here to help you get sleep back on track!
Please also visit our blog for more travel tips and advice!
Lauren Stauffer is a Family Sleep Institute certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and owner of Well Rested Baby. She offers a host of services including in person, phone, email, and Skype/FaceTime consultations that can be tailored to meet any family’s needs and schedule. Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation.