Tips for Managing Naps While Traveling with Kids

Baby asleep in a hammock

So, you have a baby. It’s no secret that babies need to nap. Even while traveling, babies still need to nap (no matter how much you’d rather hang out by the pool all day). Unfortunately, they frequently don’t want to nap, especially in hotel rooms, strange cribs and other unfamiliar surroundings. So, what’s a parent to do?

By now you should realize: your baby is special. All the people who tell you what your baby will or will not do in any given situation are lying liars who lie. Here’s the deal about traveling with your unique human, which is also my general philosophy on raising children: do whatever works for you and your kid.

Seriously. While you’re away from home, help your baby get to sleep when he/she is tired no matter what you have to do.

This is probably not what you wanted to hear. You wanted a clear prescription for where, when and how to nap your baby as you crossed time zones and boarded planes.


I have spent 90 minutes rocking a four-month old to sleep in a humid Mexican hotel room; I have nursed babies on take off and landing innumerable times; I have cursed myself every time I took a nursing baby on a car trip that was longer than three or four hours; I have gotten in the car and driven up and down the west coast of Costa Rica every day after lunch because that was the only way my 18-month-old would nap. I could go on, but the memories are too painful.

Baby not napping on vacation
Oops! Forgot the white noise machine.

Is traveling with your children fun? It is for us! Is it fun every single minute of every day? NO WAY. I hope you have a perfectly calm, adaptable baby. But if you don’t, (and I didn’t!) you can still go places…as long as you follow these three rules:

Whatever your kid uses to sleep at home, you must bring with you.

And extras, if possible. This may include: pacifiers, blankies, stuffies, white noise machines, books, music. I also highly recommend bringing your baby monitor so you don’t mess up your little one’s sleep by obsessively checking on them, if you’re used to having that monitor. Also, you can run both a white noise app and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on your iPhone BUT NOT AT THE SAME TIME. (I learned this one the hard way.)

Extraordinary measures may be required, because an overtired baby means an unhappy parent.

I have a toddler who won’t sleep when we travel unless I lay down with him (yes, this is annoying and time consuming), and I had one baby that we had to put in the car to get to sleep. However, my first would easily fall asleep in a stroller walking around town all afternoon, which was way more convenient. If you have to retire to your hotel room at 7 p.m. so that the baby will spend the evening sleeping instead of screaming, go for it. Do what you have to do because you’ll likely pay for it if you don’t. Just make somebody bring you back a margarita.

Take a deep breath, and throw your nap/sleep schedule out the window.

Baby not napping on vacation
Go to sleep!!!

You will know approximately when your little one should sleep; however, some people have babies that will sleep easily on the go, at the appointed time, and others don’t. My babies would often refuse to sleep for most of a flight and then fall asleep on descent and landing, which is fun. They also WILL fall asleep in the car on a long boring highway, prior to the appointed nap time, then wake up when you hit construction, thus screwing up the schedule for the rest of the day.

My advice: move to an approximation of the nap schedule. For example, don’t plan a tour after lunch because your kid will need a nap at some point around that time. Don’t plan to go out to dinner either, because that would be insane. Most babies go to bed early, so eat super early and go to bed. (Sunrise is amazing! You don’t want to miss that!) Alternatively, you can gamble and see if the baby will fall asleep in the stroller so you can sit down to dinner at a restaurant. I lost, and had a four-month-old screaming in a Mexican restaurant at 7 p.m.. You live, you learn.

And when you get back, having amassed all this knowledge about how your precious angel behaves in different situations, you will have to retrain them to sleep at home on a schedule.  But it’ll be worth it.

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