Traveling Tired: Getting Your Baby to Sleep Anywhere But Home

sleeping baby

If anyone tells you that sleep isn’t an issue for tiny travelers, then…well, whatever. Maybe that someone has a unicorn baby who will sleep anywhere, but chances are if you have a baby and you want to travel, you’re going to face a bit of a battle with sleep. Babies don’t like to sleep away from home. They just don’t. They don’t know where they are. Their bed is weird. The ceiling is weird. The walls are weird. Where’s their cute owl wall hanging and their Baby Einstein aquarium crib soother? They don’t know! All they know is that everything is weird and the only cure is mama, mama, and more mama (or maybe for you it’s daddy).

Still, don’t let that stop you. If you want to go traveling, just count on traveling tired and make the best of the situation. Here are some things that I keep in mind to keep my sleep sanity on the road, and some things I tried to get Little Monster sleeping while we were gone on our most recent trip (but they didn’t work…nothing worked!).

Sleeping in hotel with a baby
This looked like a cute little nook for the Pack N Play, but street light came through that white curtain. Bathrooms are better for darkness…not as great for actual bathroom use.

You might be a prisoner.

If you’re staying in a hotel and traveling with a Pack N Play, you might just need to put that Pack N Play somewhere dark and quiet. Sure, you can try the corner of the room, but when daddy (or mom) starts snoring or when you trip over your bag strap in the night and you wake the baby, being all in one room may or may not work out so well. If baby goes to bed earlier than you do, also count on having lights out and quiet time unless you have a super sleeper who doesn’t mind you going on about your life.

Our Little Monster was sleeping so wretchedly at night that I decided not even to try the Pack N Play for naps. So I just parked myself in a dark room and held her. No, it’s not exactly how I love to spend my vacation time, but a well-rested baby is pretty much the path to nirvana as far as I’m concerned.

You might have to pee in a water bottle while your baby sleeps in the peacefully dark bathroom.

We tried having the Pack N Play out in the main hotel room with us, but everything from street lights coming in from the window to the insanely bright alarm clock light didn’t work for Little Monster. What also didn’t work? The hotel alarm clock set for 6 a.m. just as we got her back to sleep after a long night wake up. So we tried to find a space to put the Pack N Play that was dark and quiet, more like how she’s used to sleeping at home. Sometimes that meant the bathroom. And, for the record, Little Monster sleeps great when we put her in the hotel bathroom with her white noise machine. Ah, so dark. So soothing. But given that most hotels don’t come with two bathrooms, your option may be to sneak into your baby’s newfound bedroom to pee in the night or get more creative. Your choice.

Dinner at a hotel
Hotels also aren’t great for feeding a baby. We brought along a portable highchair, but this felt more comfortable.

Try to keep your routines intact.

Try. Sometimes it doesn’t work and you can’t get hung up on that, but I did my best to try and keep meal times at approximately the same times, to get naps in when they were supposed to happen (hahahahahaha), and generally do as much of our sleep and feeding processes that we do at home on the road. Did it work? Did we get sleep? Heck no! But…maybe it will work for you.

You might have to spend half the night rocking your baby to sleep even though you haven’t rocked him or her in months.

Little Monster generally doesn’t need rocking in the middle of the night anymore, but if she wakes up in unfamiliar surroundings, rocking or just holding her is where it’s at. You can try to stick to your routine, but chances are it won’t work when you’re away. If you rock for a few days while you’re out of town, don’t worry about messing everything up when you get home. Babies recognize their own beds. In the case of ours, she had never been happier to be back in her own bed.

They might stay up all night long.

My Little Monster is in many ways a unicorn child. She’s happy and sweet and generally easy to parent. But all babies have their “thing” and hers has always been sleep. When her schedule is not just right, her nights get messed up…and by “messed up,” I mean she wakes up in the night and stays up for several hours. I wasn’t really able to find a solution for that either, but this is my burden to bear with a tricky sleeper.

Getting kids to sleep when traveling
Try cosleeping, they said. It’ll work, they said. I don’t have a picture of getting poked in the eye at 3 a.m.

Try co-sleeping.

One solution that repeatedly came up in conversation was co-sleeping. Take her into bed with you. Why don’t you bring her into your bed? She’d sleep better if you bring her into bed!



I gave in and brought her into our bed and Little Monster did the opposite of sleep. Instead, she started what can only be described as singing as she chirped R2-D2 bleeps and blorps right next to my ear. To accompany her night opus, she repeatedly poked me in the eyes and put her fingers up my nose. At one point, she even somehow got her tiny finger up under my eyelid and if there’s anything more horrifying than a sudden finger under your eyelid at 3 a.m., I don’t know what it is. This went on for about two hours before I finally just begged Daddy Monster to rock her because I needed to get some sleep.

What you can do:

Try not to worry about sleep and your routine (if you’re a routine-driven parent) while you’re gone. Unless you’re gone for weeks and weeks, chances are baby won’t have too much trouble getting back to the usual routine once you’re home. Be there for them while everything is unfamiliar to them. If baby won’t sleep without rocking, then rock away. If you have someone to split the rocking time with, then divide and conquer. One parent might focus on staying up at night and catching a nap in the day, while the other handles baby naps by day and focuses on sleep at night. There’s no easy answer for baby sleep on vacations from what I can tell. You just have to figure out what works, or you have to settle with the fact that nothing works, and do what you can.