How To Survive Holiday Travel With Children

How to make the holidays more stressful? Just add long car rides, cross-country flights, and a few underslept kids! Our sleep expert Mahaley tells us how to navigate the mess with your sanity (relatively) intact.

By the time my daughter was two, we had taken 21 flights with her. (Yes, you read that right.) With the holidays in full swing, I get asked how to survive all the travel and festivities with a young child – so here are my best tips and strategies: 

1. When possible, give your child their own sleeping space. My husband and I will often opt for a more affordable hotel or an Airbnb so that we can get a suite or a two-bedroom apartment when we travel. Many kids do better with a little privacy (and quiet).

2. Make the sleep environment as familiar as possible. Whatever your child typically sleeps with, bring it. Make the room as dark and quiet as possible, and pack your white noise machine. Having a solid bedtime routine also simplifies traveling, because you’ll be able to use established cues to signal to your child that it’s time to sleep even though they’re not in their typical environment.

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3. Nix the time change. If you’re traveling for just a few days, you may find it easier to keep your child on their regular time zone and schedule. Make the room as dark as possible even when it’s sunny outside with travel blackout curtains – or just some foil and tape. If your trip is longer than a week, avoiding the time change will be much harder to do – so just let your child adjust as best as you can, and try and go with the flow. When you return home, try to immediately return them to their regular schedule, and avoid letting them take extra-long naps. They may be overtired for a few days, but they’ll get back on track. Protip: On average, it takes about 1-2 days per hour to adjust to a new time – but the more time you can spend outside in the sun, the quicker they’ll adjust.

4. Avoid old habits. If you’ve recently stopped nighttime feedings, avoid the temptation to feed if your child wakes up while traveling. And if you can’t resist, just go back to your original routine as soon as you get home. Avoid bringing new habits home with you!

Related Read: What To Do When You’re Stuck In The Airport With Kids

Related Read: Road-Tripping With Kids: A Survival Guide

5. Be mindful of overscheduling and overstimulation. I know, this is much easier said than done. If you’re traveling or hosting over the holidays, take a look at the overall schedule. Find a handful of days where you can stick to their nap or bedtime schedule so that you can be flexible on days when plans get in the way. If your child is on more than one nap, try to ensure that the longest nap of the day is taken in a quiet and dark space. That’ll allow you some extra flexibility with the rest of the day. 

6. Do your best, and relax. Your kids may not sleep as well as they do at home, but that’s okay. Your child will get back on track. And look: If you need to do stroller naps while you’re out and about, that’s okay too. If it’s a lousy nap day you can always compensate with an earlier bedtime. Most important of all is that you enjoy your holidays and the memories you will make. There are some days where less sleep is totally worth it – and that’s coming from a sleep consultant.

– Mahaley

Mahaley Patel is a certified pediatric sleep consultant. She is also a Masters Candidate in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy at Pepperdine University. She is the mother to a 3-year-old daughter, Amelie, and a 13-year-old Boxer, Coco, and wife to Ravi Patel. 

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