When your children are young and you are in the midst of nap and bedtime schedules, it can feel like you are a slave to the clock.
It’s true that kids thrive with predictable routines, but what happens when that routine is interrupted by holiday travel? Traveling to visit family at the holidays, perhaps across time zones, and sleeping away from the comforts of home can make it difficult to keep on a sleep plan.
Every parent needs to find the proper balance between sticking to a schedule and making the most of the memories that can be made during this time of year. My family has been traveling across the country with our 3 year-old since she was 6 months old and I have a few tips that you might find helpful.
Adjusting schedules to new time zones
Adjusting to a new time zone can be tricky, but when traveling with our little one, I have learned to not stress too much about it. We often fly from New York to see family on the West Coast. When traveling west, if her bedtime at home is 7:00 pm, we would put her down at around 6:00 local the first couple of nights, before getting back to the 7:00 bedtime in our new time zone.
Of course, we had to be ready for very early mornings for a few days. If she woke up particularly early, I would sometimes bring her into our bed just to get a little extra sleep. Crawling in bed with Mommy and Daddy is not a regular occurrence in our home and the few times we did it on vacation didn’t become a pattern.
When traveling east, it seemed to work best by making adjustments an hour at a time. So if bedtime was 7:00 pm Pacific Time and we flew back to New York, we would put her to bed at 9:00 pm Eastern Time the first night, then 8:00 pm the next night, and then back to the normal 7:00 pm bedtime the third night.
We also have family in the Midwest, so we make similar adjustments when flying across two time zones. No matter where we go, I know that adequate sleep plays a big part in how much we all enjoy the holidays, so without being overly rigid about it, we try to keep her schedule as normal as possible.
Adjusting to a new environment
Whether you are in a hotel room or Grandma’s guest bedroom, unfamiliar spaces sometimes make for difficult naps and bedtimes. Regardless of driving or flying, we bring several familiar things from her bedroom, including one or two small stuffed animals and her soft blue night light. When she was an infant, we had a stuffed giraffe that had various white noise sounds that we brought everywhere. The familiar sound was comforting, soothing, and reminiscent of home.
Keeping familiar bedtime routines—even bringing a favorite book or two for bedtime reading—helps to stabilize a little one’s transition to a new space. As she adjusted to a new place, our little one often woke up a few times for a couple of nights. It was helpful to have her sleep in our bedroom so that we were close and able to quickly reassure her that we were nearby.
With a few familiar comforts from home and well-known routines, the occasional hiccup shouldn’t slow you down too much during your holiday travels.
Trying to keep on a regular schedule but allowing for flexibility will help the whole family enjoy the holidays. I hope you find, as we did, that your little ones adjust pretty easily.
More Holiday Travel Articles
7 Tips for Holiday Travel With Toddlers - Annie Wiesman
How to Choose the Right Kind of Holiday Travel for Your Family - Jen Reyneri