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How To Manage Travel and Your Toddler’s Nap


Read answers about Washington, DC hotels and Great Lakes getaways from Ask FamiliesGo!

Question:

We have three kids (5 and 3 years, and 7 months). We’re doing a city vacation this summer and are not sure how to fit in a nap for the younger two. We’d like the older one to have a rest as well. Any ideas?

child takes a nap in a carFamiliesGo! says:

Our rule when traveling was that we had to keep the same schedule as at home for naps and bedtime, give or take an hour. So Tiny Traveler wasn’t so far off her schedule that she’d be cranky and miserable, but we had some flexibility. If your baby and preschooler have different nap times at home, I’d go with the baby’s for vacation. The older child will fall back into his normal schedule back home more easily than a baby will.

But I’m a believer that kids will sleep when their tired regardless of where they are. Up until 3½, we could count on her to conk out in her stroller, car seat or backpack carrier (heck, even a bicycle seat) if she was tired. When it was about that time, we would strap her in for a long walk or drive, then fatigue and boredom would combine to knock her out. She was a pacifier kid, too. For better or for worse, that was an easy and portable “sleep signal” for her.

All kids are different, though, so your travel nap and bedtime practice might be different. Here are some tips:

1. Gear:

If the middle child will sleep in a stroller I would bring a stroller for him and a carrier for the baby. If you think it will give the older one some important rest time, I would even consider bringing a foldable double stroller.

even bigger kids can take a nap on vacation2. Little Things:

The baby, of course, will sleep when she needs to, even if it takes a little longer in a new and exciting environment.

The 3YO is more likely to need familiar cues. If there is a naptime essential like a cup of milk, a pacifier, a cuddly toy or blanket, I’d do my best to bring one along. A No Throw strap is handy for making sure toys and sippy cups don’t fall from the hands of sleeping kids. Single-serving packs of shelf-stable milk are great when you’re traveling with kids who need their moo juice.

Plan around “quiet time” for the oldest, rather than nap time. Without giving yourself too much to carry, pack a few picture books, a pad or coloring book and crayons, a reusable-sticker kit, or a Doodle Pro, or even a tablet preloaded with cartoons (find these items in our store!). If she sleeps, yippy! If not, at least you’re prepared.

3. Nap on the go…:

If your kids will nap on the go, than plot a long walk through a quieter part of town or a large city park at the right time of day. Once they’re asleep, you can stop at a park bench or under a tree and have some downtime yourself: read, play a card game with the oldest if she’s awake or let her romp around a playground (if it won’t wake the other two). If all three nap, have a “mini-date” by stopping at a café, spending an hour in a museum or doing some window shopping.

some babies will nap anywhereOr nap at “home”:

If you’ve been strict about making sure your kids always nap in their beds, vacation naptimes could be challenging. You’re probably better off returning to your hotel or apartment for a mid-afternoon break that’s very close to your routine at home.

Until we were completely through with naps and diapers our chosen vacation splurge was a hotel or apartment central to the sightseeing we planned to do. This way we could easily pop back if the stroller nap just wasn’t happening–or if we had a mishap like a diaper disaster or really messy spill.

5. Get the ya-yas out:

On city vacations kids might be less active than they would be at home, which can make napping harder. If we stay at a hotel with a pool we swim every day. We also make a point of finding a playground, green space for running around, or a public pool every day. This way TT uses enough excess energy to sleep when it’s time to.

Hope these tips help. What’s your vacation nap strategy? Share your tips!

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tips for fitting in toddler naps on vacation

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11 Comments

  1. July 6, 2015 at 7:48 am — Reply

    So cute…

  2. July 6, 2015 at 6:05 am — Reply

    I am so glad to be past this stage. Funny how quickly I forget about nap time, although lately, it’s me that wants a nap 🙂 Great tips here for those with wee ones.

    • July 6, 2015 at 10:46 am — Reply

      I joke that when your kids are little you need a hotel or apartment with bedrooms so you can stay awake when they sleep. Eventually you travel with teens and you need a hotel or apartment with bedrooms so they can stay awake and you can go to sleep.

  3. July 4, 2015 at 3:12 am — Reply

    Great tips, especially the one about staying central to your planned activities. When we do roadtrips, I’d always try to plan our long driving during naptime. Last week, my kid fell asleep at dinner, allowing us grownups some extra time to linger over our meal. Unfortunately, he’s a 6-f00t-tall teenager and wouldn’t wake up easily when it was time to go. Appreciate the times when they’re small and portable! Thanks for co-hosting #WkendTravelInspiration.

  4. July 4, 2015 at 2:52 am — Reply

    I remember those days well and staying centrally is a great idea.

    • July 6, 2015 at 10:47 am — Reply

      It’s harder to find a good deal, but for that small window of time, it really makes a difference.

  5. July 4, 2015 at 2:16 am — Reply

    We always took the pram, it seemed to be his safety zone, if we weren’t able to be back in hotel room he happily nodded off here.

    Now he is 7, if we are out for dinner he will go to sleep across a couple of chairs. We just have to reassure him we will not leave him behind 🙂

    • July 6, 2015 at 10:48 am — Reply

      I was quite happy to no longer have to travel with a stroller, but in that one way, it was nice!

  6. July 3, 2015 at 3:56 pm — Reply

    Great pictures! It’s amazing how some kids fight naps only to grow-up, get full-time jobs where you are supposed to be alert and awake all day and wish they could take a nap during the day.

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