In theory, vacationing with your kids is a fabulous idea, but the reality is that taking your little travelling circus on the road can be super stressful and disruptive to a solid sleep routine you’ve spent weeks, months, even years perfecting. (And getting even less collective sleep than usual is not exactly anyone’s idea of a vacation.)
But here’s the thing—you should still go! The world awaits. It will be OK with a little planning, and a willingness to be flexible, instead of obsessing over every detail. And while it can be tempting to pack everything but the kitchen sink to mimic that sensory deprivation chamber you’ve got going in your kid’s bedroom at home, don’t overload yourself. There are some pretty easy and clever travel hacks to create a comfortable toddler or baby sleep environment, without spending—or carrying—a tonne.
If your Airbnb or in-laws’ guest room doesn’t have proper blackout blinds and you’re not willing to let your kid wake up at the crack of dawn, you need to think about window coverings, stat. Those handy Gro Anywhere Blinds go for $70, but you can easily make do with a roll of aluminum foil or garbage bags and painter’s tape for under $10. They’ll be lighter and take up less space, too. (If you do prefer to buy something a bit more “done,” consider these Home Depot temporary shades which are cheap, light and easy to schlep along.)
Lots of hotels have pretty decent curtains, but some light still gets in from the sides. So look in the closets for some skirt hangers (or call housekeeping to request them) and use them to pin together those pesky drapes. Big chip-bag clips, clothespins or even hair claw clips could easily work as well. They’re especially handy for getting your babe to wind down for a midday nap.
There are some pretty cool products out there that solve the need for portable bed rails, but honestly, who needs ’em? If your child is older than 12 months, you can roll up extra towels, sheets or pillows and stuff them under the fitted sheet to keep your sleeping toddler or preschooler snug and safe from falling off the bed. If you’re travelling somewhere beachy, you can also do this with foam pool noodles, or consider packing these inflatable travel ones.
This might sound slightly gross, but if you can’t book a two-room suite, and you really want to get more bang for your buck with that one-room hotel or Airbnb, how about turning the bathroom into a charming little nursery for bébé? There are plenty of resourceful parents out there doing their research to make sure the bathrooms they choose are roomy, well ventilated and dark. And the washroom fan substitutes for white noise. Brilliant, right?
Unless you or your older kids have to pee in the middle of the night, which could be a wee (ha) awkward. (Well, it’s not awkward to pee in front of your baby, since we’ve all done it a million times.) But you would have to manoeuvre around the travel crib, and then pray that the tinkling doesn’t wake them up.
On the flipside, there are also lots of parents who opt to put their baby to bed in the main room, and then eat their take-out dinner in the WC, or out on the balcony, if your room has one. The things we do for our kids’ sleep!
Sometimes you need to partition off an area of your hotel room for the baby’s crib. In addition to shower curtains and magnetic hooks, you could pack some dark curtains, sheets or towels, and strong clothespins, thumb tacks or suction cups. Some hotel rooms have ironing boards in the closets; you can drape an extra blanket over the ironing board to create a light-blocking “wall.” (Whatever you do, make sure the fabric is securely fastened, and never attach anything to the crib itself or put a blanket over a travel crib or Pack ‘n Play.)
Cruise-ship suites are notoriously cramped—and your bathroom sure won’t be big enough to serve as an “extra room”—so get some sturdy magnetic hooks and a couple of shower curtains to give your kids their own space (and so that *you* can have some privacy). Ship cabins are often made of metal, so those hooks should work like a charm. Bonus: during the daytime, they’re perfect for hanging clothing, swimsuits and room keys by the door.
This isn’t really a hack per se, but it bears mentioning that if you really want your baby to go down for bedtime and naps more easily, consider not just bringing their favourite stuffie or toy, but their sheet, favourite sleep sack or blanket too, so their bed smells and feels more like home.
For those toddlers and older kids who may go bump in the night, glow-in-the-dark tape is a pretty crafty way to mark off those large, wooden and painful pieces of furniture that someone will probably hit themselves on. You can even mark the way to the bathroom for those middle-of-the-night calls. (Or consider packing those small Ikea nightlights.)
There are some pretty interesting hotel hacks out there for DIY toddler beds (we’ve even seen parents repurposing the luggage rack?!) but a safer bet is to push a sturdy two-seater loveseat against the wall. Turn it around so the flat backside of the couch is facing the room, creating a cozy, toddler-sized spot for a sweet slumber.
If you don’t already have a portable sound machine like the Homedics one or the Baby Shusher, you can just use an app such as Baby Sleep Sounds or a pre-downloaded white-noise playlist on your phone. A great hotel-room hack is putting the radio or TV on a static channel. You can also ask your Airbnb host (or relatives) to pull an extra fan out of the closet for your family ahead of time.
Go ahead, let them stay up as late as they want, jump on the bed, watch too much hotel-room TV, and then cosleep with you or your partner when they—eventually—get super tired and crash for the night. (What could go wrong, right!?) All jokes aside, some parents swear that messing up bedtime for the first couple nights means their kids sort themselves out for the rest of the trip. Here's hoping!