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If you are planning a family trip, one of your concerns will likely be – How do I get my toddler to sleep on vacation? Vacations are important because they give us the chance to unplug, relax and connect with each other.

However, nothing throws off a sleeping routine like taking your children from their own bed to an unfamiliar place. Of course, we don’t want this to deter you from enjoying a family trip.

So we created this step-by-step guide to getting your toddler to sleep on vacation.

How to get your toddler to sleep on vacation

If you’ve vacationed with your child before, you know how hard it can be to get your child to sleep at the right time.

If this is your first time vacationing with your toddler, you’ve probably heard from other parents what a challenge it is.

Thats us, we have been in the toddler trenches for 11 years running now.

Getting the most from your holiday means balancing between your plans and the child’s sleeping needs. A little preparation goes a long way to getting your toddler to sleep on vacation.  

We will start with Preparation and Packing Before You Leave Home. Then we will move on to how to get your toddler to sleep once you are at your destination.


1. Reserve Kid Friendly Accommodation

The first step in a successful trip with a toddler is to choose kid-friendly accommodations. Family-friendly hotels, cabins, AirBNB HomeAway or VRBO rentals are all good options that we search regularly. 

Midrange hotels with suites and amenities for kids, such as a pool and free breakfast are a good option.  A pool at the hotel is always at our top of the priority list because kids just sleep better after swimming.

Another option we frequently choose is a AirBNB or VRBO for our family.  Separate houses are great because I don’t the to worry if nighttime fussing or crying will disturb others.  You can have separate bedrooms and kids sleep better when the environment feels more home like.  Plus the adults are not stuck in a dark hotel room with toddlers at bedtime. 

In fact the cabin we rented for our large family gathering was from VRBO.

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Cabin in the Colorado Mountains perfect for a family gathering

My strategy to find the best hotel is to check Booking.com for the best deals on hotels in the area.

This website the best resource for checking multiple properties at once. Plus they have free cancelation on nearly all rooms. So you can grab your favorite place, and cancel later. Or if you find a better deal, the price match guarantee will save you money.

Then I check TripAdvisor for reviews of hotels that I am interested in. The worst (1 and 3 stars) reviews actually tell you a lot. Are people complaining because of problems with the pool, noise at night, funny smells of smoke? That’s a bad sign and worth looking into more.


2. Adjust Before You Leave Home

Being in a different time zone can be difficult for toddlers. Most parents tackle this by vacationing in areas not too different from their time zones. But so many amazing family vacations lie more than 1-hour difference?

Related Content: Need more inspiration to travel to another time zone? Read our article on 22 Amazing Places in the World to Travel with Toddler

One of the effective tips for getting your toddler to sleep on vacation is by starting to adjust even before you start your vacation. Studies show the importance of good sleeping routines for kids.

You can also prepare your child’s sleeping patterns by delaying their nap time or keeping them up to a certain point. In the course of a few days, the child will start getting accustomed to the new routine. When you kick off your vacation, the child will already be used to the new time.

It is, however, key to mention this should be a gradual process. You should not try to adjust your toddler’s sleeping patterns the night before you start your vacation. You could end up traveling with an exhausted toddler.

Additionally, once you’re back home, you’ll need to take time again to adjust them back to the original sleeping patterns.


3. Reserve a Crib or Bed Ahead of Time 

Again, to have your young one sleep, you need to have an environment that is as similar to what they are used to.  If you are not able to bring your own bed or pack and play (tip #5) make arrangements ahead of time to have one ready for your arrival. 

Reserve a crib or rollaway for your vacation rental before you arrive to help your toddler sleep better
Reserve a crib or rollaway for your vacation rental

Many hotels have a crib, rollaway or pack and play to borrow. These will be set up in your room if you reserve one ahead of time.  They generally only have a couple though and can run out if you wait till you arrive to reserve one. 

Another option is to rent a crib or bed.  Renting baby and toddler items has become common in many vacationing spots.  Many companies will even deliver to your hotel or other accommodations. 


4. Plan for Time to Rest 

When you are planning your vacation, take into account your toddlers rest and sleep needs.  Gone are the days of power sightseeing and going till you drop.   Create a flexible plan and build in rest times both during the day for naps and early bedtimes. 

You are likely trying to get the best from your vacation. Staying up till late and getting up early will wear your kids out quickly.

When creating your itinerary set a limit to the day’s activities.  Also build in some flexible things to do.  Then, if you don’t get everything done, either skip those things or consider moving the activities to the next day. 

When you’re done with the day’s activities early, you give both yourself and your young time to relax and get ready to rest.  Schedule at least an hour of relaxation and unwinding before sleeping.


5. Packing Tips for the Best Sleep on Vacation

A few essentials from home go a long way to getting your toddler to sleep on vacation.  

Special blankets or stuffed animals: Take along some of basic comforts from home.  Your child may be used to sleeping with blankets, loveys or certain toys.  Ensure you carry these objects when packing for the vacation.  I  try to carry and extra blankie or baby.  We have lost a doll on vacation once – ouch the outcome was painful.

Baby and toddler with a doll for comfort to bring along while traveling
Baby and toddler with a doll for comfort.

Music:  Bring your own white noise or music for sleeping.  Hotel rooms can be noisy and unfamiliar sounds can make sleeping difficult for a child. Plus,  they might be used to sleeping with a noisemaker at home. 

Our first toddler got used to sleeping with a heartbeat machine and that thing had to go with us everywhere.  Now we use the phone and a little portable speaker with either classical music or nightime sounds. 

Portable beds and bedding:  If you are driving you can bring your own pack and play, portable crib or sleep tent. Alternatively, a small sleep tent will fit in your suitcase.

My sister-in-law taught me this trick for comfort and cleanliness. Even if you are flying, you can bring your own crib sheets and pillowcase.  It doesn’t take much room in a suitcase and can make any bed look like home. 

Night Lights: Bathrooms in hotel rooms can be bright if you have to use the bathroom or get a drink of water at night.  The bright lights will disrupt everyone’s sleep so bring a nightlight to use in the bathroom. 

More Resources: We have a comprehensive packing list for your next vacation. Read and download the Ultimate Family Packing Checklist

You have been preparing for months for a family vacation and are all packed. You are armed and ready to take on the toddler sleep challenge. Now, let’s move on. Sleep Tips While You are on Your Vacation 


Tips for getting your toddler to sleep while you are on vacation

Once you arrive, your toddler is likely struggling to adjust to the unfamiliar surroundings and dealing with jet lag if you have flown.

Jet lag is a temporary sleep disorder where your body’s natural clock is out of synch with your new environment. You can learn more about Jet Lag here at Tuck.com

6. Try Sticking to the Routine

Vacationing brings out the adventurous side of the family. Of course, you don’t want to miss out on anything and neither do your children. You’ll likely fill your day with as many activities as possible.

While as parents you can adjust your sleeping habits to match the new environment, your child will struggle to adapt to the new arrangements.

In most cases, you’ll see your child wants to take naps the time they are used to. So hopefully you already implemented tip #2 – and started to adjust before you left home.

One of the best ways to ensure your child sleeps during vacations is by sticking to their sleeping schedule.  If you’re in a different time zone, this may mean missing a few activities to get your child to nap or sleep.  

If you plan ahead according to your routine at home and build  in some flex time, staying in a routine will be easier.  

When you follow the same routine as normal, it signals the toddler it’s time to sleep or to take a nap. 

For example, you may feed and shower your child before they sleep. While you’re on vacation, try and stick to this routine. 


7. Get Lots of Exercise During the Day

When your toddler is overly tired, they’ll be overdone and have a hard time falling asleep. 

On the flip side, if they have leftover energy they will not rest well either.  If your child is still active and energetic, falling asleep may be difficult.

Plan ahead with outside activities that are fun and engaging for the kids.  Natural light and activity during the day help combat jetlag reset and our natural clocks. Picnics, outdoor adventures, walks, swimming, beach time and playgrounds are all good ideas.  

Although sometimes you want to plan a quieter activity such as a tour, museum, or trip that takes a while to drive to.  Don’t worry, just make these short and space them out between being active. Toddlers really have an unbelievable amount of energy to burn up.

Reserve a hotel with a pool for a vacation for toddlers and kids.
We love swimming at a hotel with a pool

On raining days or after sightseeing that is not very active, such as a tour bus, your toddler may have excess energy.  Make sure to use the hotel pool or go to a nearby park to let the kids run in the sunshine.


8. Eat Right for Good Sleep

Yes, you already know your child will struggle to sleep when they eat a lot of sugary and processed foods. Studies have shown that what you eat can influence how you sleep. Unfortunately, vacation is so much fun, we as parents seem to forget this rule when we out having a good time.

While it is okay to include a few treats, you should do so in moderation.   Eating healthy, high fiber, protein-rich foods will keep your toddler, and you, off the sugar roller coaster of highs and lows.  

Some of the foods to keep away from including sugary and processed foods. I know, we tend to think of these as synonymous with vacation but its really better for everyone.

Make sure to pack healthy treats in your bag or backpack for in between meals.   I keep these snacks to distribute regularly to keep my little tummies satisfied but don’t give them any snacks right before meals. 

Ensure your child is eating well at meals.  I tell my kids at the hotel breakfast or other buffet meals “real food first” 

Watch what your child eats to better regulate their sleep durations and patterns.


9. Keep Gadgets and Electronics Off

Today, kids have access to a myriad of electronics and gadgets. From smartphones and tablets to electronic toys. These gadgets, unfortunately, can make it harder for your toddler to sleep.

Studies have determined that electronics can hinder sleep both in children and adults. Moreover, your toddler will likely be fascinated by gadgets, making it harder for them to nap. (We even do this as adult – just watch that one exrta episode or play that last round on the gme)

If you want your child to sleep soundly, keep them away from screens and gadgets as their sleep time approaches.


10. Be Flexible with Sleeping Arrangements

Being away from home, means a different beds and places to sleep.   Likely your toddler be uncomfortable and unsure in the surroundings and want to sleep with you for comfort. 

How to get your toddler to sleep on vacation. Sleeping arrangements can help with the siblings can sleep together.
Flexible sleeping arrangements can include having siblings sleep together – Family Travel Fever

You have a couple of options.  You can let your toddler sleep with you or your other kids sleep with each other.   We actually sleep with the babies and toddlers on vacation but not everyone can get good rest that way.

Of course, if your accommodations have separate rooms such as an airBNB or hotel suite, the toddler can be placed in the other room to sleep either in the bed or a portable crib.  

If you do not have separate rooms for sleeping you can be more creative with creating spaces for sleeping.   Trips with Tykes suggests having the baby sleep in a closet or the bathroom.   I admit I have used the closet in shared rooms at rental houses. 


11. Make the Room Dark

This may be one of the easiest yet most practical tips for getting your toddler to sleep on vacation. 

The brain is wired to encourage you to sleep at certain times of the day.  For instance, you’ll notice it’s harder for you to sleep during the day than at night.

The brain produces melatonin – a sleep-inducing hormone, at night when it gets dark.

Your child’s brain operates under the same rules. It is harder for them to sleep when there is light. To counter this, darken the room when it’s time for them to nap.

Hotels are not always designed to be dark.  The street lights flow in through the window, the bathroom light is bright and hallway lights come through the bottom of the door. 

If you struggle to get the room dark try covering the areas that are letting in light and use a nightlight in the bathroom. 

During the day for naptime, consider dimming the lights or turning them off completely, covering the windows and turning off the TV and other devices.


Final Thoughts on Getting Your Toddler to Sleep on Vacation

At the end of the day, getting your child to sleep during a vacation can be a challenge. However, this should not stop you from traveling with your family. Follow this step-by-step guide to get your toddler to sleep on vacation.

Additional Resources for Your Next Family Vacation:

Once you get out there and travel, you will likely have others start asking you “so, how do I get my toddler to sleep on vacation?”

What are your best tips for getting your kids to sleep on vacation?

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