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The 8 Tricks I Use To Get My Kids to Sleep Anywhere

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Get Your Kids to Sleep On Vacation

When we first started traveling with our kids, my biggest challenge was trying to get my kids to sleep well on vacation. I spent many a late night googling ‘how to get your baby to sleep anywhere’ and ‘how to get toddler to sleep on vacation’ frantically searching for ideas.

As a result of this, I pretty much own every toddler sleep aid and baby sleep gadget sold on Amazon! My house is a shopping mall for sleepsuits, toddler sleep sacks, sleep bags and other things I had no idea were ‘a thing’ until I had kids.

If your toddler won’t sleep on vacation, or if you are looking for tricks for getting baby to sleep on vacation, you have come to the right place! These idea are all the ways go get kids to sleep that we have tried and tested on vacation.

I have a sleeping disorder. It's called children.

My first, our “spirited” and “independent” child is a terrible sleeper. Really terrible. If you have a terrible sleeper, you will feel me on the desire to do ANYTHING to help everyone get some shut-eye, especially when you’re supposed to feel relaxed on vacation! A well-rested mother is a happy mother, and a well-rested toddler is also a happy toddler. As such, I will go the extra mile to make sure my kids sleep well on vacation.

Here are my tips for beating toddler jet lag, getting your baby to sleep on vacation, and keeping your sleep routine while traveling!

Trick One: Recreate the Bedroom (= WHITE NOISE + DARK)

If your toddler won’t sleep on vacation, it might be because their room is so different from home. When my son was a baby, he slept in a pitch black room with a noise machine on. On vacation, we had to recreate this space. We would bring along our noise machine (if you don’t have room, youtube has white noise tracks), and we would use these amazing travel blackout blinds to darken any space we were in. Many nights my son spent sleeping in a bathroom or walk-in closet to keep things dark.

Trick Two: Stick to “The Sleep Routine”

If you want to get your baby to sleep anywhere, having a consistent sleep routine is key. I know, I know, we all know about the importance of ‘the routine’. When I was trying to find ways to get my first child to sleep I wanted to pull my hair out every time I heard about this ‘magic routine’. I tell you, my kiddo did not get the memo about softly closing his eyes and magically falling asleep after the routine was done. Once we finally did a sleep training program, the routine really fell into place, and I do think it’s an important reason why our travels generally go smoothly.

We have a quick and simple sleep routine for our kids. Our kids can sleep anywhere now because they are so comfortable with this routine. We like to keep it simple because often we don’t have time for a long drawn-out routine, and also a simple routine makes it MUCH easier to travel. Our routine is: brush teeth, washroom/diaper change, ONE book, and bed.  It can be recreated anywhere and this helps my son to know it’s wind-down time for bed.

Keeping it consistent with our routine in a cramped hotel room 🙂

Trick Three: Don’t let them stay up late!

If your toddler won’t sleep on holiday, it’s likely because they are OVERTIRED. Overtired kids have a hard time falling asleep and we have definitely learned this the hard way.

Some kids are flexible with their sleep routine. If you are reading this blog, yours probably isn’t one of them. If my kids are up late there is a 100% chance they will wake up at least 1 hour earlier. There is also a 350% chance they will be grumpy all day.  

Even though I would love my kids to be up dancing to music all night and enjoying dinner with the rest of us, I make sleep happen. See my stroller tip below for doing this without cramping your own style on vacation.

how to get your kids to sleep on vacation

Out to dinner in the stroller

Trick Four: How to get baby to nap anywhere (on the go)

My kids both sleep well when they are moving. If one is resisting a nap and starting to get into over-tired tantrum central I make a nap happen with a car ride or stroller. Stroller naps are also great on vacation because you don’t have to stay in your room. We bring our kids asleep in the stroller to dinner and out at night. The ZoeXl2 stroller below is great when space is tight and you can’t bring a full-size stroller on your trip. See my toddler travel hacks post for more on strollers on vacation.

If your little one doesn’t nap well ‘on-the-go,’ then renting a house or vacation villa might work out better than a single hotel room with no designated ‘nap space’. This way you can make one room dark, and keep the space consistent. Check out my post on the best types of trips with young kids for more ideas!

Trick Five: Babywearing for the win! 

Babywearing on vacation is essential. Our youngest absolutely loves to be in the carrier and using a baby carrier is a great way to get baby to sleep anywere. Babywearing also can help for the middle of the night wake ups, when our first was still waking up in the night we used the carrier to get him back to sleep.

My favorite carrier currently is the MiaMilly carrier I got off Kickstarter. I like that it carries most of the weight on the hips and doesn’t hurt my shoulders/back. It’s also a great carrier for the airplane because you can leave the hipseat part on and have a place for your baby to rest on your chest.

We use a baby carrier AND a stroller in the airport. We often get our kids to sleep in the carrier first and then either transfer them to the stroller or bring them onto the airplane asleep so we can enjoy an hour of the flight without having to keep our kids entertained.

Trick 6: Use a Familiar Bed

I was so afraid that my first was going to sleep horribly on vacation I actually ‘practiced’ with our travel playpen in the week leading up to the trip. I used it for one nap a day and every other night just to get him used to sleeping in something that wasn’t his crib!

We use the Phil and Ted’s traveler on vacation and I absolutely love this crib. It is super compact and light, and it can even fit into the overhead compartment of an airplane.

I also like that it is longer than a typical playpen which is great for taller children. We used this until my son was three! Depending on our accommodation, we may also use the crib/playpen they provide but it is nice to have something that my kids are used to so that its another familiar thing in their bedtime routine. Check out my full review on my post on ‘The Best Toddler Travel Beds

Trick 7: Toddler Sleep Clock

Ok, so this is more a trick for getting my kids to STAY asleep. One of the WORST things that can happen on vacation (in my mind) is having your little one pop into your room at 4 am READY TO GO FOR THE DAY. It’s happened to me several times, and there was no time change involved!

At home, we started using a toddler alarm clock to know when to wake up in the morning and it was MAGIC! Now my son knows to get up “when the bunny is sunny!” Usually, if my son wakes up early, he won’t go back to sleep, but he will stay quiet if we remind him to wait for the bunny. This has been especially important when our younger son is still (blissfully!) sleeping in. We bring the alarm clock for traveling ESPECIALLY if there will be a time change, it is a must-have!

Trick 8: Get them to sleep on the flight! 

So I am pretty proud of myself for having MAGICAL POWERS for getting my kids to sleep on airplanes. Particularly because my eldest is such a challenging sleeper, I consider it a huge success when he is sleeping on the plane and I can actually look at … gasp… a MAGAZINE!

Depending on the length of the flight and the temperament of your child you may want to plan a flight that coincides well with nap time.

For my first ‘challenging’ sleeper I had different methods for getting him to sleep depending on his age and stage.

As a baby, I would put him in the baby carrier 30 minutes before we were about to board our flight. I would have kept him up prior to this so he would be tired. Then I POWER WALK. Usually, he falls asleep before we get on the plane. Then I have to NINJA my way out of the top portion of the carrier since the flight attendants won’t let you keep it on.

For the toddler stage, I have made sure they are nice and tired for takeoff – my kids do tend to fall asleep with motion. I have them their lovey or blankie and try to hold off on any iPad time until the plane has taken off. And yes, I have used melatonin for kids travel on airplanes (see below).

If you are planning to take a red-eye flight with your little one, check out these awesome tips by ‘Have Diapers, Will Travel’

Should I use toddler sleep medication?

Benadryl? Gravol? Melatonin? Should you use medication for toddler sleep on vacation? We have tried various over the counter medications over the years to help our kids sleep when they are traveling, especially on the plane.

Of course, we only use these as a ‘backup plan’ in case of an epic plane disaster, or an overtired toddler who can’t wind down. If you are thinking about bringing one of these options along, it’s worthwhile trying them before you go, as some kids have the OPPOSITE effect.

I have found that melatonin works really well for my toddler when needed. As always, check with your doctor first.

how to get your kids to sleep on vacation
Felt like a SUPER MOM when this happened

Trick 9: It’s all about the sleep sacks

Obviously, I’ve used a combination of all of these tips to get my kids to fall asleep on vacation. However, if there is one thing that we CANNOT forget on vacation it is our sleep sacks. My kids are ATTACHED to these things and when they get to cuddle them it does bring on the sleepy dust! For the littlest ones, I can’t say enough good things about the Merlin Sleep Suit. For the older ones, I am a huge fan of the halo sleep sacks.

Baby Sleep Suit: The Merlin Magic Sleep Suit

This suit really is magic! For real. My youngest son was taking 30-minute naps until we used this suit and now he sleeps 3 hours a nap. I can not recommend this product enough. It’s great because its easily packable and helps to create a similar sleep environment even if the crib, playpen, bed etc is different than whats at home.

Merlin Sleep Suit Vacation Sleep

Toddler Sleep Sack: Halo Sleep Sack

Once your baby can roll in the Merlin Sleep Suit, they are too big for the suit. Around 7 months we switched over to the Halo Sleepsacks for both our kids. My oldest son (who is now 4!) STILL sleeps with a halo sleep sack. Sleep sacks have become the ‘blankie’ in our family and there was a time where we didn’t go ANYWHERE without them. Although my four-year-old doesn’t actually wear his sack anymore, I do like that Halo makes sacks for bigger kids. 

Other Vacation Sleep Hacks

Use a closet or a bathroom for the crib!

The crib in our walk-in closet

You may be wondering exactly where does baby sleep on vacation? If you are in a hotel room its hard to put baby to sleep when the rest of the room is still planning to be up for a few hours. We’ve often used a large closet or the bathroom for the baby crib on vacation. Having this separate space makes vacation so much more enjoyable when you don’t have to sit in the dark from 7pm.

This is also one of the MANY reasons why we love to rent a HomeAway or Airbnb property when we are on vacation. Having multiple rooms and a quiet, dark space for your toddler or baby to sleep on vacation makes the world of difference!

Use a baby monitor to enjoy your vacation

The last thing I want to do on vacation is sit in a small dark room from 7 pm onwards. When we go on vacation we always bring our baby monitor with us. This is why we tend to prefer suites or villas that have a separate bedroom or even better a pool or lounge space close by. Read more in my post about why I love Airbnb for family travel for this reason. Occasionally we haven’t had room for our monitor or the concrete walls have interrupted the signal. In this case, we use the app iCloud baby monitor. It works on wifi so as long as you are connected to wifi you can keep an eye on your kids.

Dealing with Jet Lag?

Jet lag in toddlers is the worst! I have to admit we have been a bit reluctant to travel too far out of our time zone with kids at this point. The most we have done is a 4 hour time change. I was surprised at how quickly our kids adjusted simply by keeping them up a bit later on the first day. I’ve been told by my friends who are seasoned ‘timezone travelers’ that it takes about one day for every hour of the time change to adjust! Keep this in mind when you are considering the length of time you are planning to travel!

Wishing sleepy dust for your next vacation!



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