One of the most perplexing questions of travel with babies, toddlers, and young kids is where to put them to bed at night. There are a variety of options, none of which are as ideal as your child’s own crib in a quiet room alone. On the road, however, you have to learn to be flexible. The answer to the question of where your baby or toddler should sleep may be different in different situations. Whether you are in hotels vs. staying with family, flying vs. driving, or traveling with an infant vs. a toddler all make a difference. My family has utilized almost all of the options below at different locations and at different stages in our daughter’s (and now our son’s) life.
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1) Bed Sharing
I was never much of a co-sleeper with my independent daughter, but bed sharing is obviously an easy solution that requires no gear or preparation. The only downside is that you may get no sleep if you have a squirmy little one, especially if you aren’t used to sharing a family bed. Before you go, confirm that you will have a bed big enough for co-sleeping at your destination before you takeoff without an alternative.
2) Pack N Play
Pack N Plays are a great solution for infants and smaller toddlers under 30 pounds for road trips, as they are almost as large as a crib and can be easily transported in your trunk. Pack N Plays are not as great of a solution for air travel, however, as checked bag fees required to transport them add up quickly. Additionally, they are heavy and bulky for lugging through airports. That said, we have taken our Pack N Play occasionally on airplane flights when we have been on longer vacations where our daughter really needed her own space. And we’ve saved on bag fees on those trips, as someone in our family had a free baggage allowance thanks to airline elite status. Pack N Plays are also a great solution for sleeping at grandma and grandpa’s house. Order a cheap one to keep permanently at their house for all the grandkids to use.
3) Hotel Crib
Most major hotel chains will provide a crib to you at no extra cost, so this solution is great for certain types of travel. Be aware, however, that many hotels will state that they have a “crib” on their website, but when you arrive, you will be given a Pack N Play. In our experience, this has worked out fine because our daughter liked her Pack N Play, but I know some of you have Pack N Play-hating children for whom the difference is essential! Also be aware that most hotel cribs are more compact than a full size crib you will have in your home, so bigger toddlers may not fit. And, in some cases, hotels have been found to provide defective or outdated cribs, so if you are a stickler for safety, check out the crib closely or opt for another solution.
4) KidCo PeaPod
The PeaPod was one of the few travel bed solutions we did not try with my daughter, but we have since tried it with my son with great success. The obvious advantage of the PeaPod over the Pack N Play is that it is much more compact, and it also has a longer life since it doesn’t have the Pack N Play’s 30 pound weight limit. So what are the cons? Some of the reviews state that it gets a little hot and stuffy in the tent-like structure, and that was always what kept me from purchasing one for so long. It just seemed a little claustrophobic for my active daughter, but it was the right solution with our more mellow second baby. See my full review of the KidCo PeaPod for more info.
5) Toddler Air Mattress
This product has been our solution for both road trips and air travel after our daughter outgrew her Pack N Play. It is surprisingly lightweight, and we save on airline bag fees by stuffing it into our daughter’s carseat bag. You could also easily bring it on board a flight as a carryon with no problem.
6) Hotel Sofa Bed
When we stay in hotels, my family is with increasing frequency opting to put our daughter on a pull-out sofa bed. A lot of hotel rooms have king bed room that include a sofa bed. This option is nice for everyone — my husband and I have plenty of space and our daughter a compact place of her own to sleep. Most sofa beds are a little lower to the ground and also have a little bit of bedrail-like protection because of the armrests of the sofa, which can help keep a restless toddler safe from falling out. We also pile up the cushions removed from the couch around the bed for extra protection.
7) Hotel Extra Bed
Alternatively, many hotels have rooms that include two queen or two double beds, so the adults can sleep in one and the kid(s) in another. The only downside is that these beds are higher and offer no bedrail protection if you have a little one prone to rolling out of bed. You can always line the sides with pillows as a last resort.
Updated 11/15/2014: Since this post was originally published, the original PeaPod was recalled from the market in 2013. A new and improved version of the PeaPod was made available in early 2014, which is the version we have used with my son.