How to Survive Jet Lag with a Baby or Child
After speaking with several friends and asking around, it sounds like lots of people are very concerned with not only surviving the long haul flight to a destination (I mean, we get that having a baby in a confined space for an extended duration can make even the calmest parent break into a sweat), but more so the resulting jet lag that occurs when you change multiple time zones.
Now I get it. You are spending a lot of your hard earned money to take a vacation to have fun with your family and see the world. Sometimes it's easier to stay close to home. If that's you, no problem. The tips below will help with even a minor time change. But, for those of you that dream about traveling to more distant destinations without losing all of your vacation time to sleepiness, you're in luck.
In our experience, neither the flights nor the jet lag have been bad enough to not travel. The fear of the unknown is what is holding most would be travelers back, NOT the reality. But, you and I know better. We know that with a little preparation and a few tips, getting over jet lag with a baby is possible and not too difficult.
Here's how we have learned to get over jet lag in the past. Some of this is from trial and error so you don't have to learn the hard way like we did.
Tip #1: Adjust your schedule before leaving
It is much easier to make gradual changes when things are normal rather than one big change when the whole family is stressed about getting off a plane and to the hotel while you are hungry, tired, and cranky. To help ease into the new schedule we recommend making a few adjustments at home if possible. The week leading up to your trip move bedtime either up or back depending on where you are headed. We try to work in 15 - 30 minute increments. This is will not completely solve the problem as it’s not possible to be 100% on the new time, but if you can work off an hour or two it will help.
Tip #2: Get a good night sleep the night before you travel
The night before a big trip can be really stressful. Sometimes excited energy can keep you awake. Other times, nervous or anxious energy can keep you tossing and turning all night. The best thing to do is be prepared. Don’t be like the people that wait until the night before to pack. We know! We’ve been those people before and it. is. rough. Packing will always take longer than you think. And by waiting until the last minute, you will not get a proper night sleep which will just make jet lag worse. Work to have your bags packed and ready to go a full 36 hours before your flight - so by Tuesday night before bed for a Thursday flight. That will give you an extra night to grab anything you realized you forgot and your mind will be able to rest at ease knowing you are all set.
Tip #3: Do not build up the excitement until the morning you leave
Of course, you will be excited and the kids will hopefully be excited when you tell them about the trip in the first place. But, we have found it best to be calm with our daughter the night before the flight with a simple, “remember we have to be up early tomorrow for our trip.” If we are leaving later in the day, we might not even mention the trip. The morning of the vacation we will ham it up with an, “who’s excited to get on an airplane!!” and making a big deal about what we are going to do. However, it does no one any good to build up that excitement right before we expect our daughter to get a good night sleep. Remember, change and the unknown can make kids anxious too.
Tip #4: Drink LOTS of water
Yes, you will need to use the potty more, but jet lag is so much worse when you are dehydrated. Your body will already be working hard to adjust so it’s best to give it all the help it can get. That means avoiding alcohol on the plane too. But don’t worry - this is easier to do now that most airlines will charge you for alcoholic beverages even on international flights. I’m assuming everyone here is flying economy like us.
Tip #5: Book flights during sleep time
If possible, try to book the long haul flight as close to bed time for your little ones as possible. Our daughter used to sleep really well on planes and trains when she was a baby and still breastfeeding. We would always book short flights over nap time and long flights at night so I could feed her at take off and she would drift off to sleep. I can adjust to my lack of sleep easier with the help of a good cappuccino, but babies will just fall asleep whenever they are tired and wake up when they’re not, so use bedtime to your advantage. Now that Eleanor is older, she is more excited about flying and has a harder time falling asleep on an airplane. To combat this, we will try to make the longest flight the last flight. Since we often fly on miles, our flights are rarely direct. If we take one (or even two) shorter flights first, the excitement starts to wear off and Eleanor has an easier time falling asleep. We have even been known to book a flight option with a longer layover in order to get the better long flight versus the quickest flight time.
Tip #6: First night = easy accommodation
If you arrive at night (which we recommend), be kind to yourself and book a hotel near the airport. You will all be exhausted if you did not sleep. By staying close to the airport, you will be able to shower and hop into bed much, much quicker than if you tried to navigate your way to your final destination. Remember, figuring things out in a different country with a different language, currency, and culture can be stressful so it’s best to attempt your biggest interactions when you are not sleep deprived. The hotel near the airport might be more expensive, but it’s worth it for one night. We used this trick when we traveled to England for the first time and it worked. Eleanor was a little riled up when we got there, but slept VERY soundly once she finally did get to sleep. It was so hard to wake her the next morning, but we were on our way to our actual destination about an hour and a half north of London so it had to be done.
Okay, but some of you are probably finding this article in desperation as you battle jet lag on vacation and need help NOW. If you are no longer in the planning phase and already at your destination. For those of you still planning, be sure to use these tips when you arrive.
Tip #7: Get into the sun and move around
During the daylight hours, get out and enjoy a good dose of vitamin D. This will help your internal clock reset and adjust to the new timezone. General advice says dusk and dawn are the most important times to be out. Use the early part of your vacation to play in parks, picnic at the beach, or go on a hike. Save the inside activities for later in the trip if possible. You also want to move, exercise, and generally expend as much energy as possible. Moving encourages sleep - and not just any sleep, but the awesome deep sleep that’s desperately needed when crossing multiple timezones.
Tip #8: Relax the schedule
When you’re on vacation, the start and end times of the day matter less. The busy hustle and bustle of getting to school and work in the morning are not an issue so the timing of everything can be relaxed. When traveling, we worry less about going to bed on time and getting up at a set time. Use the first few days to gradually adjust to the new schedule. On our first trip to England, Eleanor was 12 months old and woke up for 2-3 hours in the middle of the night for the first few nights. After the first night, we all started to go to bed earlier so the middle of the night antics weren’t as difficult. Also try to remember that this will pass as you all adjust to the new time. On our latest trip to Spain, Eleanor was 5 and adjusted after the first night without waking up in the middle of the night. I think the time change was harder on the adults!
Tip #9: Embrace nap time and the new schedule
When I am working full time and not on vacation, I pine for naps. So why is it that I avoid them when I go on vacation? I have learned to stop avoiding these slower moments and in fact embrace them. Now, when Eleanor takes a nap on vacation, I try to lay down and take one too. However, at five years old these moments are becoming less frequent and so I have learned to value them even more. I also try to remember that this adjustment is temporary. In just a few days, we will all adjust naturally (if pre-planning was utilized) so we just try to go with the flow as much as possible. If you planned for jet lag, the adjustment period can be as little as one day.
Tip #10: Eat well to feel well
Now, I like to indulge on vacation just like everyone else, but I also know that I will pay the price for it if I do not do it in moderation. Even after we arrive, I remember to drink plenty of water (we swear by these travel water bottles) and eat fruits and veggies with every meal. That makes sure my body is functioning properly and still lets me enjoy gelato in Italy, croissants in France, empanadas in Argentina, and candies galore in Spain. You also want to make sure everyone’s bellies are full before bedtime. One of the main reasons children wake up in the middle of the night on vacation is because they are hungry. We do not normally have a snack between dinnertime and bedtime at home, but I usually offer it to Eleanor when we travel. If that simple offer helps us sleep through the night, I am all for it!
These are our top 10 tips for not only surviving, but beating, jet lag with a baby or child. Whatever you do, please do not listen to the negative people that tell you traveling with a baby is impossible. That is just their opinion and often their own insecurities speaking. We have traveled to at least a dozen countries with our daughter and are on the road again now. Yes, it's harder than traveling alone, but isn't EVERYTHING in your daily life. You still make it out of the house everyday and you can travel if you want to. If we can continue to travel again and again, you can too!