You've worked so hard to get your little one(s) to sleep well at home and now the big test comes. What will happen on that week-long trip with the extended family? There are a ton of variables that can help or hurt your child's routine in a temporary place, and it's totally up to you to control the situation for a successful outcome.
Let's just be honest: vacation with kids is hardly a vacation at all. It's a trip to go somewhere and back, and with all your belongings in the trunk. But if you've been a rockstar at getting all your peeps into a normal sleep routine, you can keep your groove going with some quick tips. And don't be surprised if your companion travelers (family, friends, random people at the resort) are in awe of your kids sleeping so well, as well as frightened by your rigidness. You can do this!
Bedding: find out in advance what type of bed your child will be sleeping in. Whether it's a twin bed, a pack n play, a normal sized crib or a pad on the floor, bring one or two sheets from home that fit the mattress. The scent of home will normalize things a bit on that first night going down to sleep. I recommend more than one sheet- because, well, you know, Mom. Water bottles and diapers all tend to leak.
Pacifiers and Snuggley Friends: If your child sleeps with a pacifier, lovey, small blanket or pillow, etc., it is super-duper important that you BRING THAT WITH YOU! We don't even bring ONE of my daughter's bunnies on trips, but we bring BACK-UP BUNNY, too. And face it...no one is trying to drive home 8 hours to find the spare lovey. At least pacifiers can be picked up a local market, but I wouldn't take the chance.
Lights: Whether it's adjusting the lighting in a room when you arrive at your destination or bringing your OK-to-Wake clock, your child(ren) will be much more inclined to sleep their normal hours if the room feels like home. Too much light coming in at sundown? I recently went through a closet of season clothes on hangers and spare bath towels to shade the windows at a friend's beach house... Just try to set things up before bed time and mimic whatever happens at home.
Routines: One of the harder tips on a family vacation is sticking with your child's routine as much as possible. It's easy to forget bedtime while you're enjoying a nice BBQ outside with family, or to skip today's nap because the trek to the beach was so labor intensive you really don't want to head back yet... But if you can be that parent who simply prioritizes your child's sleep, you'll appreciate your time away even more. Evenings to yourself and less meltdowns due to a skipped nap are WORTH the routine! Try to stay within 15-30 minutes of normal nap/bedtimes. Whether it includes a bath, books, singing or a specific snack - make it happen on vacation, too.
Talk about it: Something that helped our 2.5 year old adjust really well to a week away this summer was talking to her about it for the prior week leading up to the trip. We explained we'd be going "to a big house" with her cousins where she could have a room to share with her brother (they don't share at home) and she was really excited when we arrived. I am sure this calmed some nerves she may have had about going to a new place. We also told her who else would be there so she was 100% ready and excited when we arrived!
When to share a room: If your child DOES have someone else with a similar schedule as they do, it would be wise to room share them - at least for nighttime. Waking up in a foreign place can be scary that first day or two, but knowing they have a familiar buddy in the room can make it easier in the AM.
When NOT to share a room: On the flip side, if your child has a totally different sleep schedule than other children on the trip, do not feel compelled to have them share a room! Keep kids on schedule by keeping them apart to the best of your ability. Make sacrifices for your own sleeping arrangements if it means giving the kids what they need. All your effort will feel futile if someone else's child is screaming their way through bedtime or having multiple MOTN wakings.
Pajama Party: Make vacation fun with pajamas. If you can afford it, purchase a new pair for the big trip and use them as an incentive to get kids psyched about bed time. This may totally side-track them about being in a new place and keep them focused on their regular bedtime routine.
Books, toys & all that jazz: If your child usually has a book collection or some toys that are specific to their bedroom, it would be wise to bring them along. Make their new room feel like home! Sorry - I know, this is another bag you'll need to pack.
Make it an Adventure: Last but not least... this trip (notice that I did not call it a vacation) may be mundane place for you, (i.e.: visiting your parents out of town), but it's an adventure for the kids! They're young and have been to so few NEW places in their lives. This will be really exciting and full of opportunities for them to learn and see new things. Their temporary new room can be special. My daughter is used to a twin mattress but on this past trip we told her that her bed was a princess bed because it would be much higher than her bed at home. She resorted to coining it her "Frozen Princess Bed" but it WORKED! Encourage them to understand that this is a special treat and they should be excited about it.
If you have questions leading up to or during your next family vacation, please feel free to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the number at the top of my site. Follow us on instagram @lullabymagicsleepconsulting for more tips and daily life!