When planning our trip to Italy last April, I actually wasn’t too worried about the overseas flight.
We’d done plenty of flying with Evelyn, and although this would be a much longer trip than any we’d taken before, we generally knew how things would go. There would be lots of iPad time. There would be tantrums. There would be a good-sized meltdown before Evelyn would finally give up and go to sleep. You know, all the usual “traveling with kids” stuff.
But what I really had no idea about? The dreaded jet lag. How would our almost-2 year old daughter feel once we arrived in Europe, 7 hours ahead of her normal schedule and on little sleep from a long plane ride. Would she (and we) be able to recover quickly? Or would we be dealing with a cranky toddler, waking up at 3 am every day for the next week??
I was determined to get us over this extra hurdle as quickly and easily as possible, so I began researching the best ways to help prevent (or at least effectively deal with) the effects of jet lag on kids. And using a variety of methods, I’m happy to say, it actually worked! After just 2 days in Italy, we were back on a normal schedule and ready to take on the rest of country!
A little disclaimer: this is just what happened to work for us this time around. Every kid is different, and the timing of things will be different for every trip. My hope is only that by sharing what helped us get through it, you’ll be able to get through it a little easier too!
So with that out of the way, here’s how you can help kids deal with jet lag when traveling across the globe:
1. Start Adjusting Your Sleep Schedule Before You Leave
For us, one of the best things we did was start adjusting to our new time zone before leaving on our trip. 3 days before departure, we started pushing Evelyn’s bedtime up an extra hour every night. Of course, that meant she was up earlier the next day too.
But we rolled with it, making the same adjustments ourselves: waking up a little earlier each day and eating our meals a little earlier than normal. By the time we were ready to leave the house at 4 AM for our departure, our bodies were already quite adjusted and ready to take on the long travel day!
Tip: I used Jet Lag Rooster to help us develop an adjusted sleep schedule for the days leading up to our trip. It was so helpful! We didn’t follow it perfectly, but it definitely took a lot of the guess work out of it for us.
Now, I will say, I’m not sure we could have gotten our toddler to sleep earlier each night without a little help. That’s where step 2 comes into play…
2. Consider Using Natural Sleep Aids
I am in no way advocating giving out sleep aids to your children willy nilly, but when it comes to adjusting your bodies to a new time zone, it’s ok to use some help ya’ll! Both we and Evelyn took a small dose of melatonin before bed each night leading up to the trip to help us feel sleepier. Speak to your doctor about whether or not it’s the right choice for you, as well as the recommended dosage.
Once we were in Italy and our new schedule was established, we did away with the sleep aids and Evelyn got back into her normal sleeping groove just fine. We haven’t used it since, nor have we felt any sense of needing to.
3. Take a Short Nap When You Arrive
So you’ve arrived in your new country after a long flight. I’m willing to bet, no matter which direction you’ve headed, that you’re pretty dang tired. Even if you’ve been able to sleep some on the plane, it’s definitely not quality sleep. So that’s why the first thing we did once we settled into our Airbnb in Milan was take a nap!
It was just a short one, 2 hours at max. Set multiple alarms if you have to and don’t allow yourself to fall into a deep sleep. A quick cat nap will be just what you (and the kids!) need to give you a boost of energy to get through the rest of that first day!
Tip: When planning your trip, make sure you’ll arrive in your destination close to or after the check-in time at your accommodations. There’s nothing worse than arrive fresh off an 8 hour flight at 9 in the morning with nowhere to go and rest!
PS. If you’re lucky enough to be arriving at night, skip the next step and go right to bed. You’ll be in the perfect position to start the next day off fresh and well rested!
4. Get Out for Some Fresh Air
After your short nap, you should be feeling slightly rejuvenated, so head outside! Fresh air and sunlight can do wonders for your body. After all, our bodies build their sleep cycles on the environment around us! So push through, even if you’re tired, and finish out the day strong. We like to head out and grab an easy dinner (anything as long as it’s simple: take out, street food), play at the park, and walk around the neighborhood. This is the perfect time to get acquainted with your new surroundings without doing anything that requires too much thinking or energy. Speaking of that…
5. Take It Easy for the First Couple of Days
When Matt and I traveled to Paris back before we had Evelyn, we arrived at 10 AM and hit the ground running, seeing a ton of the city that very first day. We were tired, but we could manage – there was no time to waste!
Needless to say, we follow a little bit different set of rules these days. It’s just not possible to go hard right off the bat when you have a little one in tow. Instead, and without exception, plan your first two days to be pretty low-key. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do anything, but this is definitely not the time to tackle a big city tour or try out a fancy restaurant. Having some time to relax and reset will not only help the kids adjust to their new schedule, but will allow everyone get comfortable with their new surroundings. After a couple days, you’ll all be ready to hit the ground running!
6. Bend the Rules
Schedules, schmedules. We bend the rules more than I’d like to admit when we’re traveling. The iPad gets much more play, well-balanced meals go out the window, and our nightime routine tends to extend quite a bit further into the evening.
And you know what? It’s ok. We’ve never had a problem getting Evelyn back onto her normal schedule and routine once we’re home. So bend the rules a little bit. Allow the kids to crawl in bed with you. Stay up a little later at night and sleep in in the morning. Trust me, you’ll all be much happier for it. 😊
Have you found any tried and true methods for dealing with jet lag?
Read Next: 50+ Ways to Occupy a Toddler on an Airplane