One of the most perplexing questions when traveling 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 right answer to the question of where your baby or toddler should sleep is different in different travel situations. 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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Factors to Consider When Planning Where Your Baby or Toddler Will Sleep
Before we dive into specific sleep solutions and products, a few general guidelines are helpful. Before any trip, these are the four questions I usually ask myself when evaluating the sleep options available to me.
1. What is Your Child’s Age?
Planning a travel sleep solution for a newborn is very different than one you might use for an older toddler. Different safety factors are obviously in play, but also very different practical challenges. A young baby might fall asleep easily even when there are some distractions, but an alert toddler might not be able to sleep with other things happening in a small hotel room. Be prepared for your sleep strategy to change with each passing trip as your child gets older.
2. What is your Child’s Personality?
The right travel sleep setup will also depend a lot on the personality of your child. As the parent of two kiddos with very different personalities, I learned this lesson quickly. My independent and active daughter needed a quiet and separate place to sleep successfully when we traveled. My snuggly and sweet son was happy anywhere cozy and near mom. Before purchasing a product or bringing it with you on a trip without ever testing it out, consider carefully whether it’s a fit for how your child rolls!
3. What Kind of Accommodations Will You Be Staying In?
The right sleeping setup will also depend heavily on where you are staying. Figuring out where a small child should sleep in a hotel room is tricky. There’s often not a ton of space and there is rarely any separation to block light and sound, unless you opt for suites-style hotels or adjoining rooms. Staying in a vacation rental, condo, or even at grandma and grandpa’s house usually means more space and more separation, making different sleep solutions more viable.
4. Are You Flying or Driving?
Last but certainly not least, I always think about my method of travel on a particular trip. It’s a whole lot easier to take larger sleeping gear on a road trip than it is on an airplane. When we travel by car, we choose the sleep solution that works the best for our child, no matter what the size. When we fly by plane, we often have to compromise on the perfect fit to use a sleep solution that is more compact.
7 Places Your Baby or Toddler Could Sleep When Traveling
So now that you know what factors to keep in mind, let’s get on to some specific sleep solutions! Here are 7 products and places our kids have slept successfully, whether in hotel rooms, vacation rentals, or visiting family.
1. Bed Sharing
Bed sharing is obviously an easy travel solution that requires no gear or preparation. I was never much of a co-sleeper with my independent daughter, but have done it on occasion with my son. The major 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.
Confirm that you will have a bed big enough for co-sleeping at your destination before you take off without an alternative. And if you have an infant, also consider carefully whether co-sleeping is something you feel you can do safely (and consult with your pediatrician if you have questions!).
2. Pack ‘n Play or Travel Crib
A Pack ‘n Play is a product so many families have, and it can work well for sleep in many travel situations. A Pack ‘n Play works for a variety of ages, from infants up to toddler up to about 30 pounds. They can be easily set up in a quiet corner of a hotel room (or even a walk-in closet!). And the basic models are pretty inexpensive too.
So what’s the catch? Their size. My family used them often for road trips when we could throw them in our trunk, but Pack ‘n Plays are not as great of a solution for air travel. They are heavy and bulky if you are trying to lug them through airports. Additionally, the checked bag fees required to transport them add up quickly.
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. There are ways to save on those bag fees, either with airline elite status, holding an airline’s credit card, or simply choosing to fly Southwest – the last US airline that doesn’t charge for bags (Related: 7 Free Things on Southwest Airlines). Finally, some baby gear rental companies will rent travel cribs as well, so you don’t have to lug them yourself.
Pack ‘n Plays are also a great solution for sleeping at grandma and grandpa’s house. Order a cheap version to keep permanently at their house for all the grandkids to use. This one at Target is just $59, or consider another brand for even more savings (Evenflo makes this super-cheap alternative!)
There are also now quite a few more lightweight travel cribs on the market now, like the Lotus Travel Crib or the BABYBJORN Travel Crib Light. They are still fairly bulky when folded but at least they aren’t quite as heavy. Just be prepared to pay more for the superior design.
3) Hotel Crib
If you are staying in a hotel, most major hotel chains will provide a crib to you at no extra cost when you travel with a baby or a toddler. This solution is great for certain types of travel when you can trust that the hotel will have something safe, comfortable, and clean for your child. We’ve had especially excellent luck with Westin brand hotels, which provide their signature “Heavenly Crib” to kids. Disney hotels are also always reliable!
So what are the risks and pitfalls to be aware of with hotel cribs? First, 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 worked out fine because our children were equally comfortable in a Pack ‘n Play as they were in a crib. I know many children, however who never got used to a Pack ‘n Play for whom the difference is essential! Call ahead to confirm exactly what kind of crib you will receive if this is an issue for your child.
Second, also be aware that most hotel cribs are more compact than a full size crib you will have in your home. Bigger toddlers may not always fit.
Finally, there’s the question of safety. Just like renting a car seat, you won’t know the safety history of a hotel crib. It’s hard to know whether it is well-maintained or perhaps even the subject of a safety recall. I myself received an obviously highly unsafe Pack ‘n Play at one hotel in my travels. For younger infants especially, this may be one situation parents don’t want to leave things to chance.
4) KidCo PeaPod
Looking for a more compact product where your child can sleep separately? Enter the KidCo PeaPod. We were late to discover the PeaPod, as I thought it looked a bit too constricting for my independent and active first born. Live and learn. We bought one with my son and used it successfully on a wide variety of trips for several years.
The Peapod works like a tiny popup tent, with a very thin (almost camping-style) mattress on the bottom. The obvious advantage of the PeaPod over a Pack N Play is that it is much more compact. 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? It can only be used with kids ages 1+, so it won’t work for infants. Some of the reviews also state that it gets a little hot and stuffy in the tent-like structure, but my son never complained. We always made sure to set it up somewhere with adequate ventilation. Additionally, the mattress underneath didn’t seem thick enough for me, but when set up on the soft carpet of a hotel room, it always was sufficient for our child. See my full review of the KidCo PeaPod for more info.
5) Toddler Air Mattress
Eventually, our children outgrew the Pack ‘n Play and Peapod. Our next step was using a toddler air mattress. This product has been our solution for road trips for several years and even occasionally for air travel. It’s quite a bit smaller than a traditional twin bed size air mattress when folded and is surprisingly lightweight. In fact, we found we could save on airline bag fees by stuffing it into our daughter’s check car seat bag on occasion. You could also easily bring it on board a flight as a carry on bag with no problem. Bonus that is has small raised “bedrails” to keep younger kids from rolling off.
6) Hotel Sofa Bed
When we stay in hotels with kids of toddler and preschooler ages, my family often puts the kids on a pull-out sofa. A lot of hotels have king bed rooms that include a sofa bed. We often went out of our way to book this room type for awhile. This option is nice for everyone – my husband and I have plenty of space and our child would have 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.
Luckily, we had a long period where our older child was in the sofa bed and our younger child was still in a travel crib. The challenge, of course, arises when you have more than one child. We found some sofa beds are too small for them to share successfully.
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.
My kids aren’t great at sharing a bed either, so consider this possibility when booking hotels. Some hotels will also offer rollaway beds, but those come with hefty extra fees in many instances. We’ve been successful in getting some hotels to waive those fees on occasion, but we don’t count on it!
Looking for more travel and sleep advice? Stay tuned for my upcoming guide with tips for handling naps and sleep schedules with babies!