Noob sleeping in a hotel-provided crib, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (9 months old)
Ahhhh, sleep. An ongoing challenge for most parents of small children, even at home. Throw traveling into the mix, and nighttime (and naptime!) can become a downright disaster.
When traveling, there is only so much you can do about jetlag, missed naptimes/bedtimes, overactivity leading to overtiredness, and other kid-sleep-busters. But at least you can try to plan an environment that is as conducive to good sleep as possible.
Where to stay?
When traveling, we try to find places to stay that have multiple rooms, so that Hubby and I can stay up in one room while the kids sleep in another room. We've stayed in 1- or 2-bedroom suites at a variety of Residence Inns for this reason. We've also found places like the Douglas Fir Resort during our visit to Banff National Park, where we had a lovely condo with a separate bedroom. We put Littles to sleep in the bedroom and then hung out in the living room until we were ready for bed. As a bonus, many of these places also have a kitchenette, so we can cook meals at "home," rather than having to drag the kids out to eat at restaurants every night.
If we can't find a reasonably-priced suite-style hotel at our destination, we can make it work in a regular hotel room, too. It often means falling asleep when the kids do, but when you're on vacation, having an excuse to go to sleep early isn't always a bad thing :)
What to sleep in?
That depends on age. We have an Eddie Bauer infant travel bed that we've used with both kids up until about 6 months of age. I love it and I've been so sad when they've each outgrown it. It is lightweight, it folds up very small, and it provides easy access to a floppy newborn. Just be aware that the sides are relatively low, so it won't contain a crawling baby.
So, with mobile kids, we usually request a crib from the hotel. Hotel cribs get a bad rap, but in many many hotel nights, we've never had a bad/unsafe one. I do try to remember to bring a sheet from home, as some hotels will simply wrap a full-size sheet around the crib mattress, which isn't very safe for young infants.
I should also note that most hotels have provided a pack-n-play style crib, not a "normal" crib like the one you see in the picture at the top of this post. I don't think pack-n-plays can be fully sanitized, but honestly, it doesn't bother me, and we've never had a problem with it. If you're a germophobe, you might want to call ahead to see if your hotel does use pack-n-plays, and plan alternate arrangements if they do.
On occasion, we've stayed at hotels that don't provide cribs at all (such as the Old Faithful Lodge Cabins in Yellowstone National Park), or we've taken trips where we stay with family or friends who don't have cribs. For the Yellowstone trip, we actually lugged our own pack-n-play from home. I don't recommend that when flying :) Pack-n-plays are huge and bulky and generally a pain to fly with. (They're not too bad when driving, though. As I've previously noted, we usually do bring it on road trips.)
In fact, with airline baggage fees being what they are these days, you might find it is no more expensive to purchase a cheap pack-n-play at your destination and leave it there. That saves you the hassle of lugging the pack-n-play around, and if you're visiting someone who you might visit again in the future, you can leave the pack-n-play with them so that you have it for your next visit.
Of course, if you travel frequently like we do, spending $50 multiple times per year to fly with a pack-n-play or purchase a new one at your destination just isn't feasible. So we now have a Kidco Peapod, which is fabulous! It's a little pop-up tent that folds up small enough to fit easily in a suitcase.
Noob in the Peapod (with a few other accessories :), camping on the Guadalupe River near New Braunfels, Texas (4 months old). Here, he was using the Peapod as a playpen, but he also slept in it for naps/nighttime on this trip.
Besides its size, another huge advantage that it has over a pack-n-play is that the child can be zipped inside. So if you have a child who can climb out of a pack-n-play, the Peapod is a great option to keep him/her contained. In fact, Littles used the Peapod daily at her sitter's house once she started climbing out of her pack-n-play (at 19 months old).
We have the Peapod P101 model, and Littles fit in it until about 2.5 years of age, although it was definitely a tight fit towards the end. If you have a larger child or just want to get more use out of it, you might look into the Peapod Plus, which is a little bigger.
Littles now sleeps in the "big bed" when we stay in hotels. We make sure to get a room that either has two beds or one bed plus a pull-out couch. I will say, getting her to actually sleep in the big bed is usually a challenge. Too bad our suitcases are usually jam-packed with the stuff we need for all of us, or I would seriously consider getting a Peapod Plus for her to use...
Littles sleeping (at least in theory) in a "big bed," Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (3.5 years old). This was taken at about midnight, when we thought she had been asleep for hours -- wrong! She had been getting out of bed and goofing off all night long.