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Hey, hey!

I'm Michele DiSpirito

I've been where you are.

Tired. No. Exhausted! Frustrated and confused as to what to do with an adorable little one that just. won't. sleep.

I'm a mom to three boys ages 6 and under, wife to Kyle for 17 years, and all about getting some good sleep for us all! While struggling to make sleep consistent and a reality with my oldest, I scoured the internet for answers and was left more frustrated and confused than when I started. I wanted a clear path; someone I trusted to just tell me what to do, how to do it, and when. What I wanted was what I'm here to be for you today - a Pediatric Sleep Consultant.

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How to Sleep Well While Traveling with Babies and Children

Travel season is upon us!

When my oldest was a baby, I remember thinking it would be impossible to travel because there would be no way he could sleep in the car or in any new environment. (I wasn’t completely wrong. He takes terrible car naps.) And in all honesty, as a homebody myself, I wasn’t totally opposed to the idea of never traveling. But, a forever travel ban isn’t quite plausible.

Alas, there are a few things that have made sleep a blissful reality on vacation and eased my fear of poor vacation sleep that I can lump into two categories:

1. Preparations; and

2. Expectations.


Preparations are all the things.

Lists to write; arrangements to make; items to pack; details to remember.

It can feel so overwhelming that your vacation starts to lose its shimmer and you question why in the world you’d even consider traveling with children, let alone actually do it.

Let’s not get there; I got you covered!

Make a list and check it twice (or 3-100 times, like I do and still feel like you forgot something…)

Actually, make multiple lists. Lists within the list.

If you’re not a list person - teach me your ways!

Here, I’ll teach you mine:

1. I do a brain dump of all the things floating around in my head about the trip:

  • when we’ll be leaving,

  • how long we’ll be en route,

  • will we be en route during nap time(s)?

  • categories of things we’ll need to pack: bathroom stuff, medicines, sleep stuff, etc.

  • you get the idea.

2. Create the lists!

Once my brain is on the page, I start organizing it a bit and create as many lists as I need. Some lists being what to pack and others being what to do (like finish laundry, spring clean the entire house… you know, stuff everyone does before going on vacation... Right??)

Then, I fill in the details of my “to pack” list categories, including the things that I “for sure won’t forget.” (I will. I will forget them.)

I’ll spare you the many lists and just give you the one you’re here for; the “the stuff I need to take to help my children sleep well on this trip” list.

Essentially, take everything you can to recreate your baby or child's sleep environment as best as possible.

This is what you’ll need:

  1. Everything you use during their nap time and bedtime routines:

    1. Shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, diapers, wipes, diaper cream, or underwear, lotion, jammies, sleep sack, lovey/blanket (for kids over 1 year), pillow (for kids over 2 years old), portable sound machine (one that will work for in the car, if necessary. Though, playing a white noise “song” without a fade on your music app works, too! Just put it on repeat.), toddler clock, favorite books.

  2. Pack-n-Play/mini crib & fitted sheet

  3. Blackout solutions: (anything to keep all the light out! Options b-d below go directly on the windows)

    1. SlumberPod! (what we now use and love!! Use code GOODNIGHTFAMILIES20 for $20 off your order!)

    2. Black trash bags and painter's tape (done it.)

    3. Tinfoil and painter's tape (done it.)

    4. Black poster boards and painters tape

    5. A windowless, well-ventilated closet or bathroom

    6. Rolled up towel for under the door. (done it.)

    7. A fitted Twin sheet for around the bedroom door. (done it.)


I’m so big on expectations because I’m naturally inclined to be anxious. Control-freak? Maybe. I don’t know. But I do know I like to know what’s going to happen and when and for how long and where - basically, I want to know what to expect.

And so do children.

Children find comfort in knowing what’s to be expected of them. When we’re mindful to keep them in the loop (when we’re able to), they’re not only more comfortable, but more willing and able to “go with the flow”. Probably because they know where the flow is going.

Helping you know what to expect

But before we start helping your child with expectations, I want to help you with yours.

1. Lower sleep expectations on travel days. (Like, really lower them!)

If you have flexible travel time:

Depending on your circumstances, you likely have more flexibility in your timing when driving to your destination.

If that’s the case, try to time your drive so your baby is fed, dry, and ready for a nap when you get on the road. If you have multiple nap schedules to think of, cater to the child that is most affected negatively by a missed nap.

Or, if you can handle it, you can do like we’ve done and drive through the night and the babies and children sleep the whole trip and you’re exhausted the whole next day while your children are rested and ready to do all the things. I don’t highly recommend this option, but some people do well with it. (Kyle and my dad shared responsibility for driving when we’ve done this, thankfully! I don’t trust myself to do that. I have old lady eyes and don’t see well at night and, strangely enough, I get really tired in the middle of the night…)

If you have a set schedule for travel days:

If you’re flying or have set times you need to leave that won’t perfectly align with your child’s schedule. It’s ok!


Though kids love routine and predictability, when the majority of their life is that way, they handle an off day or a few much better than we think they will.

Do what you can to help them get some rest while on the flight or in the car. They may still nap, it just may be at a different time than normal.

Again, it’s ok.

Travel days are survival days.

Do what you gotta do to get to where you’re going without losing your mind.

If you don’t handle off days well, focus on what you can control, no matter how little or insignificant it may seem.

And know, if you have a great sleeper, travel days and vacations may cause a blip on the radar, but it will not ruin their sleep for good.

2. Sleep may not be “perfect” like it is at home and that is OK!

Do you sleep well on vacation/anywhere that’s not your bed?

I don’t. And odds are your children don’t either.

That doesn’t mean they won’t sleep, but it does mean the first night especially may be a little rocky as they acclimate to a new bed and a new space.

If your child sleeps in a pack-n-play at home and you can take that with you, even better! One less thing to acclimate to. (I wish I could travel with my bed!)

Here a couple of ways to get their vacation sleep as close to perfect as possible:

1. Have their sleep space set up as much like it is at home for nighttime and nap times.

When they slightly rouse through the night (like we all naturally do), odds are they won’t even realize they’re in a new space because it’ll sound and feel like their space at home. (Now, they might be confused when they wake more fully in the morning or if you’re struggling with night-wakings, so be ready to reassure them)

If you’ll be away from their nighttime space during their nap time(s), one option is to bring their sleep setup to wherever you'll be staying for the day.

If you’re not up to/not able to bring all the things wherever you'll be, but you’re still hoping to get a nap in you can either:

  1. Tweak their schedule a bit by waking them a little earlier in the morning and putting them down for their nap earlier where you’re staying or

  2. Let them get a car nap in on the long way to where you'll be.

2. Keep their nap time and bedtime routine the same.

These routines cue your child in on what’s ahead and helps their bodies wind down for sleep, so keep them in the mix, even if they’re a slightly expedited version.

Also, they're far easier to bring along than the sleep items! A few small books and the favorite lovey can go in the diaper bag so you don’t forget to take them for nap time, wherever that will be.

  • Think through the boundaries you want/need to instill on this trip - The 100%-no-backing-down-it’s-gotta-be-this-way (firm) boundaries and the I’d-like-it-this-way-but-fine-if-it-doesn’t-happen (flexible) boundaries.

Most likely, your vacation boundaries will be different from your at-home boundaries. Some of your at-home firm boundaries may become your vacation’s flexible boundaries.

Be as clear as possible with these in your own mind so you can clearly relay them to your child.

3. It’s OK to bend the house rules while you’re away! (Or break them altogether if you need/want to! You aren’t at your house after all...)

I don’t want your vacation, your time with your family and friends, to be overwhelmed with the worries of getting your children to sleep!

I know this can be a catch-22: If the children don’t sleep well, no one sleeps well. So, for everyone’s sake, we want the children to sleep well. But, yet we don’t want to overly stress about that sleep.

My best advice for this is -

Be prepared; do your best to reproduce your child’s sleep environment from home and keep with their routines and schedule, but when it can’t happen or things don’t go as planned - breathe. Keep trying if your sanity and plans allow. And if all else fails, do whatever you have to to get sleep. Then, when you’re back home, you’re back to the pre-vacation rules, boundaries, and expectations.

You can do it!!

Helping your child know what to expect

1. Start preparing your child a week or so in advance for the trip ahead.

The younger they are, the less this is necessary, but I definitely advocate communicating with even the tiniest of babies.

Babies may not understand what we’re saying, but they understand we’re saying it to them. Plus, starting a habit of communication early on instills a habit worth keeping for a lifetime.

So, for older babies and children, give them as much detail as possible about all that will be going on and keep it factual. (As in “We’re going to Nana’s next week!” and not “You’re going to love going to Nana’s next week!” because maybe they won’t love going; kids are fickle. But you know for certain they are going, so stick to that.) Let them know you’ll be taking their essentials, where they’ll be sleeping, and where you’ll be sleeping, and then listen to any fears or concerns, or questions they may have.

Keep these conversations on repeat for the week. (If you have a toddler, odds are you won’t need to remember to do this because they’ll be asking all the questions all week long!)

If you have a SlumberPod, set it up now. Even if you’ve used it before; set it up now.

Again, kids are fickle and it’s best to over-prepare.

2. When you get to your destination show them what you’ve been talking about all week.

Show them where they will be sleeping, where you'll be sleeping, where their lovey will be sleeping (if they’re old enough to have one), and where you’re setting up all their stuff - anything they want to know or have had questions or hesitations about.

3. Clearly establish the boundaries and what you expect of them while on vacation (both with sleep and behavior), but be gracious. Know your child’s limits and your own and set expectations accordingly. (This is where knowing your firm boundaries and flexible boundaries come in handy!)

You can definitely be a little laxer on vacation than you are at home. I recommend it, actually, if it’s a totally unfamiliar place for your child. They may need more reassurance and that’s ok.

It’s ok to let them sleep in your room versus their own, to do multiple checks at bedtime, or even to stay with them until they fall asleep, especially the first night.

But, do your best to make these decisions before bedtime so you can approach that time with confidence.

Your level of confidence will greatly affect your child’s which will affect their ability to fall asleep.

In Conclusion

  1. Make as many lists as you need to destress your mind and prepare you for the trip ahead.

  2. Recreate your child’s sleep environment as best as possible while on vacation for their naps and for bedtime.

  3. Buy a SlumberPod (use code GOODNIGHTFAMILIES20 for $20 off) or bring along what you’ll need to blackout your child’s sleep space.

  4. Lower your expectations of “perfect sleep”, especially on travel days.

  5. Know your hard-set vacation boundaries and your flexible vacation boundaries, keeping your and your child’s limits and needs in mind.

  6. It’s ok to break the rules from home, it won’t break your good sleeper.

  7. Get back the routines and schedule as soon as you’re back home.

  8. Have Fun!! You are on vacation after all.

A woman and two young children with their backs to the camera with backpacks on looking at the mountains in the distance


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