Travelling with young children

Sleep considerations when travelling with young children

Travelling with young children can be a big undertaking. You have to pick your destination with care, you don’t want to go somewhere that is too hot, or not hot enough, you will need to try to avoid flights that are too long, transfer times that that wouldn’t suit a young baby or toddler, not to mention the accommodation, pools, activities, kids clubs-it can be exhausting just thinking about it. 

In an effort to help make your holiday the well-deserved, restful break that it should be, here’s a few suggestions to achieve that and to make sure that the family remains well rested throughout.

Once you have decided on your destination, pack accordingly making sure you remember all the essentials to get you through the first few days…nappies, wipes, bottles for example.

Be prepared for the journey so that you can occupy and distract your little person whilst trying to get to your destination.  Older children can enjoy colouring, watching movies, playing computer games but your toddler may need more attention from Mum and Dad to get through the time. Make sure that you have food and drink at your disposal and a spare pair of clothes for your younger child because if you don’t bring them, for sure, they will be wet or soiled before you touch down.

From a sleep point of view I would encourage parents to plan accordingly. If you child has a typical day and night time schedule that suits him/her, this will remain despite the fact that you are away from home.  Ideally, parents would like their children to be flexible and adjustable whilst on holiday and this often is achievable based on the temperament of your child. You will know your own child best, but if you find that typically your child doesn’t adjust well to change or being overtired then you will need to make a conscious effort to ensure that you maintain a predictable and regular schedule during the holiday. Understandably, the day that you travel, things will always be a bit disjointed, but when you arrive at your destination, you can begin to organise your sleeping arrangements.

With small children who still need a number of day time naps then you may want to try to do a nap or two on the go in the buggy or car. A snooze shade that darkens up the space can be helpful, but that won’t account for external noises that with a child over 6 months can cut their sleep short, just like you would be awoken by external noises during a rest period. 

Lots of children are great to sleep out and about, but many children will require parents to maintain their naps in a cot/sleeping environment which can mean “balcony” time for one or both parents. If you have older children, nap time for the younger child can mean some unadulterated, one to one time and that can be absolute quality for parents in general. 

Toddlers who require one nap in the middle of the day means that they can miss the worst of the heat if you are in a very hot climate. Nap time also gives parents a chance to rest when you wouldn’t normally at home, so there are benefits! Also, if you allow your child to nap well on holiday, it may also give you flexibility with bed-time and you may be able to extend it later than at home and enjoy eating out and entertainment in your location. It’s important, not to allow your child to become over-tired during the holiday period as that, coupled with sleeping in a strange room and maybe in a warmer environment can exasperate frequent night time awakenings, which will leave you needing a holiday to get over the holiday you have just had!

It makes sense to try to keep the feeding and sleeping schedule that you normally have at home, as best as possible. In an effort to help your child transition to sleeping in a different cot/bed/room, then it’s a good idea to bring with you some familiar sleep items from home. I would start with the sheet from the cot that your child slept on the night before travel; that way when you arrive at your destination, you can dress the cot with linen that smells familiar and that can help to calm your child and to take the fear and anxiety out of being placed in an unfamiliar or strange cot. If you use music or certain books during your typical wind-down, be sure to bring them with you too. If you can keep your bedtime routine the same, that can help to give your little one the sleep cues that s/he is used to and has come to know means “that it is time for bed”, which can alleviate a struggle. 

For the first few nights your child may need more reassurance than normal, so make sure you help them acclimatise and don’t start doing things that you wouldn’t normally at home like over-night feeds, sharing the bed or staying with them if you don’t typically; those habits can become quickly ingrained.

Don’t forget they we don’t sleep well if we are too hot or too cold, so adjust the clothing for sleep accordingly and try to ensure that the temperature of the room doesn’t exceed 20 degrees.

If your children don’t normally share your room and on holidays they will have to, try to move their bed as far away from yours as possible within the confines of the room, so that their personal sleep space is somewhat defined. 

I would encourage parents to be prepared and to manage any minor sleep disturbances with consistency and patience and above all, enjoy the well earned break and quality time with your loved ones.