The $24 Travel Essential That Gives Me the Best Sleep (I Never Travel Without It!)

published Jun 6, 2024
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

I’m a sensitive sleeper, and so are my kids. I can’t sleep without earplugs or an eye mask, and my two girls need dark, quiet rooms save for the gentle hum of a white noise machine.

So whenever we hit the road — which is frequent, given my work as a travel writer — I stress over how everyone will sleep. If my kids don’t sleep well, I know I’ll be up with them for most of the night, leaving me more tired than at the start of vacation. I like booking Airbnbs, so my toddler and baby can have their own rooms. But Airbnbs are not usually well-equipped for sleep.

Chic bedrooms and living areas bathed in natural light are great for your Instagram feed, but not when a lack of blackout drapes means your kid refuses their midday nap. It’s an especially common problem when I plan to have my kids sleep in a living room or area that’s not primarily used as a bedroom.

I started writing Airbnbs off until I discovered a hack that changed the way we travel: portable blackout shades. 

What are Travel Blackout Shades?

I own the Amazon Basics Portable Travel Window Blackout Curtain Shades, which I bought for just $24. It’s a portable blackout curtain that uses a suction cup to attach to glass windows, and it has velcro edges so that you can customize the panel to fit various window sizes. It only takes a few minutes (and maybe a step stool, depending on the window height) to hang it up.

When not in use, each panel — decorated in a cute moon and stars pattern — folds up neatly into a matching travel bag. And, beyond blocking sunlight, the curtains can also help reduce noise and insulate rooms.

While you can choose to buy a single panel (for $24) or a pack of two curtains (for $40), the latter is probably the best value considering it’s highly likely that any room where you’ll need to block out light will have more than one window. 

Credit: Emily Hochberg

Why I Love Travel Blackout Shades

Since purchasing my travel blackout shades, I’ve used them in Airbnbs around the country, from the beach in California to the deserts of Utah and the mountains of Colorado, in bedrooms that otherwise had too much light for my kids to take midday naps or would have woken them up at the crack of dawn.

It’s meant more sleep for my kids, and in turn, better sleep for me. I now book Airbnbs with less hesitation because I know if I pack a panel, I won’t have to stress about if and when my kids will be able to doze off. 

But you don’t need to have kids to find it useful. At under 3 pounds per bag and panel, it’s an easy, lightweight, and highly portable staple. The bag takes up little room, both in my suitcase or the closet where I store it at home, so it’s easy to bring it even if I’m not sure I’ll need it.

Credit: Emily Hochberg

What to Know About Using Travel Blackout Shades

While I primarily use these shades for my kids, as a light sleeper, I’d pack it for any travels where I want to guarantee a dark sleep space. 

Just be aware of the dimensions. One panel won’t fit every window, and gaps of sunlight can still come through if it’s especially large. I’ve found myself in Airbnbs where the panel didn’t cover the entire window, and I couldn’t fully darken a room. I’ve also been in vacation homes with rooms with multiple windows, and my one blackout panel didn’t make a huge difference. To play it safe, buy at least two, if not more.

The suction cups also require a bit of trial and error to stay tightly secured. In my experience, some have fallen off over time and I’ve needed to fix them.

But I still think they make a difference, and I never check into an Airbnb without them. I recommend this travel hack to any sensitive sleeper who wants a little bit of extra help whether on vacation — or maybe even at home.