Maintaining routines when travelling with children

Maintaining routines when travelling with children

The trick to getting your kids to sleep when out and about begins at home. After all, if they don’t sleep well at home, how will they do so on holiday? A lot of the principles and tricks to good sleep that I’m going to show you will help when travelling with children, but also on trains, when visiting relatives and generally any time you break a child’s normal routine.

Plenty of sleep experts have said it already – routine is the key to good sleep for children. So naturally it can be tough to get children to sleep well when you’re breaking their routine by going away. Many parents assume that when travelling with children, all routine goes out the window. This doesn’t have to be true. For everyone’s sanity, you should pay even more attention to making sure your children get the rest they need.

So how on earth do you keep their routine when pretty much by definition a holiday is a break from routine?

Well, when you’re travelling with children, the key is to maintain as many of your home routines as possible and to gently guide your kids over those you can’t.

If you’ve got a little while until your holiday, you can also start now by creating travel friendly routines for your children.

First, lets go over the elements of a child’s routine anywhere (not just when we’re travelling). Then we’ll talk about what we can do when we’re travelling with children.

The elements of a child’s routine

  • Timing
  • Key events during the day
  • Pre-sleep routine
  • Sleep aids


Many parents forget about this element of routine when they’re travelling with children. Or perhaps they feel it’s impossible to replicate.

Although, of course, you won’t be at home to give them lunch at exactly midday, and then put them down for a nap at 12.45, you can be aware of when they’re likely to get tired and plan accordingly.

When toddler would be due a nap at home, I try my best to get him to sleep wherever I am. This may mean excusing myself so I can walk him round in the stroller until he falls asleep. Many a time have I been seen walking round and round a park with my child in a stroller, while my husband and friends drink beer and chat in the sun. It sucks at the time, but it’ll be worth it. You’ll get a break while your child’s sleeping, and then have a much more pleasant afternoon once they wake up.

If I’m on a plane or train then I’ll try to get two seats. Then I can have him sleep across both. It’s definitely harder to get him to sleep in these conditions. I find that if I try during his normal ‘nap time’, more often than not it’s successful.

And once it is, I love basking in the admiring gazes and compliments of fellow passengers who didn’t think for a moment that he’d actually fall asleep. 😀

Key events during the day

Getting dressed, having lunch, having a bath can all be part of your child’s daily routine. Think about what events your child has throughout their day and which of these you can duplicate while on holiday.

Pre-sleep routine

Lots of parents have a short routine that they do right before a child is ready to go to sleep. Often they will do a longer version for bedtime and a condensed version for naps.

This is our routine for our 2 year old

  • Snack (usually yoghurt and fruit). This snack should be something calming that helps them sleep. I find that a mix of carbs (from wholewheat or fruit) and dairy is the best bet for my child
  • Vitamin
  • Take off daytime clothes
  • Change nappy
  • Get into PJs and sleep sack (the clothes that he sleeps in are really important to him and have become a sleep aid)
  • Clean teeth
  • Read story
  • Say goodnight to everyone
  • One of the adults takes him through to the room, gives him a cuddle then puts him down saying ‘Have a good sleep. I love you very much. We’ll just be in the other room.’

Condensed version of the routine for naps

  • Lunch
  • Nappy change
  • Get into sleep sack
  • Take him through to the room and say ‘Have a good sleep. I love you very much. We’ll just be in the other room.’

You’ll notice that both versions of the routine involve mostly essential elements. Everything that we do is portable, so whether we’re in the flat or out and about, we can do this routine. If you’re travelling with children a lot I’d recommend doing the same thing. Try to keep your child’s routine to things you can replicate when out of the house.

Sleep aids

A sleep aid is an item of comfort that you give to a child to help them calm down and prepare for sleep. Examples of sleep aids are:

  • A soft toy
  • A blanket
  • PJs
  • A sleep sack
  • A sippy cup (this one’s also good because it means that they can’t use ‘water’ as an excuse for not going to sleep)
Travelling with children - sleep aids
Sleep aids

Personally, I love using clothes as sleep aids. I’ve known my toddler to be a wild, frantic, kicking and screaming mess but to calm down instantly as soon as I get him into his sleep sack.

We always bring his sleep sack with us on holiday, as it can be instrumental in getting him to sleep whilst out and about.

Toddler sleeping on a plane in his sleep sack

Successful travelling with children is about maintaining their normal routines

So, in summary, what can you do to maintain routines when travelling with children?

  1. Keep timings as similar as possible. If it would be nap time at home, it should be nap time on a plane.
  2. Mimic key events during a normal day when travelling with children. If they always have a glass of milk before bed, ask a flight attendant if you can have milk for them at a similar time.
  3. Have a pre-sleep routine that you can take with you when travelling with children.
  4. Bring your child’s sleep aids with you when travelling with children

Articles on sleep when travelling with children

Helping your child to sleep whilst travelling

Toys and entertainment when travelling with children

What toys should you bring on planes and trains?

Why you shouldn’t bring your kid’s favourite toy on trips

Other tips and hints for travelling with children

Long haul flight with toddler and baby

Tips for travelling with small children

Travelling with babies is easier than you think

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