Mom and baby travelling on an airplane

Holiday Travel Tips from a Pediatric Sleep Expert

By Kylee Sallak

As the weather cools down and the days get shorter, that means only one thing; it's time to gear up for the heavy-hitter holidays. While this time of year is all about being merry and bright, it’s also about spending time with the ones you love, and sometimes that means we have to travel. Traveling with children can be a challenge, especially during the holiday hustle and bustle. Luckily, there are things you can do to minimize the holiday stress, at least when it comes to changing time zones and flying with your little darlings.

The thought alone of traveling with kids over the holidays can be stressful, especially if it involves crossing time zones. Not to worry, here are my top tips to minimize the holiday travel stress.

Rule #1- Stay Calm

Traveling with a baby (around the holidays or any time of year) can be stressful and overwhelming. Did you know that your baby reads, feels and responds to your stress? It’s on your face, in your body language, your energy, and your tone of voice if things get a little tense.

While this is easier said than done, try to do your best to embody a calm, warm, light demeanor while at the airport and boarding the flight; your baby will have a much better chance of joining you in remaining calm.

Rule #2- Short trips headed East don’t need a schedule adjustment

If you will only be away a few days, an hour to three-hour time change is totally doable for a short trip East. Keep your baby on your home time zone and enjoy the later bedtime and later wake up time for a few days.

Rule #3- Headed West? Adjust ahead of time

Here are 2 sample babies, one headed East and one headed West. You will need to adjust for your own time zones and destinations, but this should help give you a starting point and you can make your own adjustments from here.

  • East babies headed west. Baby Dean goes to bed at 7pm EST at home in NYC, which is 4pm PST at grandma’s house. Eight days before his flight, Dean’s parents need to begin moving his bedtime later by 30 minutes every two nights. That’s two nights at 7:30, two nights at 8pm, etc. This way, when they arrive to grandma’s house, he will be getting sleepy closer to 6pm instead of 4pm. You can spend the next two days continuing to bump him back by 30 minutes so he is back to a 7pm bedtime.
  • West babies headed east. For short trips 3 days or less, see rule # 2. But for longer trips, you will need to adjust too.
    Baby Emma goes to bed at 7pm PST at home in San Francisco, which is 10pm EST at grandma’s house. Two days before your trip, move her bedtime earlier by 30mins. When you arrive, put her to bed at 9pm (that’s 6pm on her body clock) on night one, followed by 8:30pm on night two. Continue if you want to push her to her regular 7pm bedtime, or enjoy the extra snuggle time with her while you are on vacation, since you’ll need to adjust when you get home.

Rule #4- Don’t be hard on yourself about schedules

Even though your baby will adjust more seamlessly with absolute consistency and predictability in terms of schedules, we have to be realistic. You are on vacation, things are going to be a little less on schedule and that’s okay. Your baby is resilient and can handle the schedule being jostled a bit as you find time for sightseeing and extended family-seeing. A week or so somewhat off schedule is not going to throw your baby into a spiral of sleep deprivation. Try to get bedtimes close, try to make all naps happen in a crib, but if they happen in a stroller or the car, or in grandma’s arms, so be it! Enjoy your hard-earned vacation!

Rule #5- Mimic home as much as you can

While you can give yourself some wiggle room on schedules as discussed in rule #4, you will want to make her sleeping area as similar to home as possible. If her room at home has blackout shades, a noise machine, a lovie or music, then please take steps to make the hotel room or the guest room seem like home. The best way to black out the shades in a pinch is ask for extra blankets and toss them over the curtain rod. Duct tape is always an effective option if you don’t have a curtain rod to work with. You’re crafty, you will get it pretty dark in there somehow. Lastly, bringing your baby’s favorite sleep books or sleep lovie that smells like home (don’t wash it!) will also make a huge difference.

Rule #6- Leave your plans for the day you arrive fairly unstructured

Your arrival day plans will likely be ruined if you plan to do anything besides lay low. No big outings, no shows or dinner plans. Just get there, get settled, and let your baby nap if the time is right. You have no idea what mood your baby will be in after a long flight and a time change.

Rule #7- Sunlight and fresh air help baby adjust

The more sunlight and fresh air you expose your baby to, the faster he will get on THAT time zone. It’s the most natural way for your baby to reset. Staying inside doesn’t do anything to help his little body clock realize it is in a new time zone.

While traveling during the holidays can bring on extra stress, remember, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. With these tips, taking that trip to grandma’s house will be filled with joy and cheer with all of those closest to you.

About Kylee Sallak

Founder of Back To Basics Parenting in New York City, Kylee specializes in newborn through 5-year-old sleep and behavior. The overall premise of Back To Basics Parenting is that happy parents raise happy children. Kylee brings the issue of managing parental happiness to the forefront of the conversation with all of her clients.

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