Practical Travel Tips

6 Tips for (Sorta) Maintaining Your Toddler’s Routine on Vacation

What can you do to help your toddler stay on schedule during a vacation and even overcome jet lag?

What’s the one word The Husband and I would use to describe the first night of our first trip abroad with Little A?


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Here’s the nap we were trying to avoid.

Coming from the US, The Husband, Little A, and I were on an overnight flight to Manchester. Little A had been a champ going through airport security, getting situated in the plane, and generally being charming. She cried only once and that was when the pilot had to circle MAN for 20 minutes before landing.

But Little A has a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out), and that means she slept less than half of the 8-hour flight — a lot less than we had hoped for. There was too much to see! She had to sit in my lap and her dad’s. She had to stand up and wave at the passengers behind us. (Apparently she was pretty popular with the folks a few rows back.) And she had to fiddle with all the fascinating stuff with her meal. So much dropped cutlery!

Check out this related post from the Mostly Minimalist series: Essential Gear for Traveling with a Toddler.

Instead of sleeping 8 hours, she slept about 3. Great.

It goes without saying that The Husband and I didn’t sleep on the flight. We haven’t managed that since our 20s.

By the time we landed, we were all pretty worn out. Fortunately we were going straight to Auntie E and Uncle S’s house. We weren’t on the hook to sight see or do anything else touristy. Our only plans were to enjoy time with family and stay awake as long as possible.

But could we do it? Could we stay awake until a semi-reasonable bedtime? Or would we crash out before lunch?

How daunting is the prospect of caring for a toddler and keeping yourself awake for 12 hours on just scraps of bad airplane sleep?



I would have been happier dashing up Mount Everest than trying to stay awake until 8PM.

Little A dragged her older cousin off for an adventure in the sunny garden.

So what can you do to get through that first day or two and establish a schedule for your little person?

Here are a few things you can do to help your little one adjust to being in a new time zone, being in a new place, or just being on vacation.

  1. If you’re flying, book flights for naptime or overnight, and dress your little one in pj’s for the flight. Flying overnight didn’t make much difference for us, but it could work for you! (If you’re lucky.) At least Little A was comfy in her pj’s. Note: Stick with two-piece pj’s. You do not want to wrestle with a pair of footie pajamas in an airplane bathroom.
  2. If you won’t have access to a bathtub at your destination, get your little one accustomed to showering before you leave for the trip. If you have a bedtime bath routine, you’ll want your little one as ready as possible to bathe or shower an unfamiliar place. Bringing travel sizes of your usual soap and shampoo could help too.
  3. Make bedtime seem like home. Pack your little one’s favorite pajamas as well as the lovey he or she sleeps with. Little A was happy to have Lammie with her. Take favorite bedtime books but also something new but familiar. Little A loves the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems, so we packed two of her favorites, A Big Guy Took My Ball and We Are In A Book,  as well as one she hadn’t seen, Should I Share My Ice Cream?
  4. Get on schedule — even in a different time zone: Stay out in the sun as much as possible. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “Daylight is a powerful stimulant for regulating the biological clock.” Avoid naps if possible. Otherwise keep them short and early in the day.
  5. Stay hydrated to avoid “digestive slowdowns”! Make sure your little one is drinking plenty of water and dilute juice. Fresh fruits and veggies also help keep little tummies happy.
  6. And when all else fails, go with bribery. You’ve spent a lot of money to travel. Don’t let your principles get in the way of your happiness and sanity. The promise of an ice cream or a special toy or a visit to a horse farm can motivate a toddler or preschooler to head toward the bath or get into pj’s. Just be sure to follow through on your promise. Tiny humans NEVER forget these things!

    Little A took advantage of the sunshine at Cotebrook Shire Horse Centre.

Fortunately, when we went to Britain the weather was beautifully sunny. Obsessed with her auntie and uncle’s garden, Little A got lots of sunshine and settled right into her routine after that first dreadful night. (Honestly, it was bad. The Husband and I were nearly in tears and seriously discussed flying back to NC the next day. Yeah, that was an overreaction.)

What has worked for you when helping your little one maintain a schedule during vacation? Do you have any tips for quickly overcoming jet lag?

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