Often we are asked how do we manage jet lag with toddlers. From our jet lag experiences with toddlers and young kids there is only one piece of advice: go with the flow. Accept that jet lag is a part of the family travel experience. Plan to deal with it rather than avoid it!
I read blogs that say you can “avoid” jet lag with toddlers, but I don’t think that is possible. Rather we need to accept what is happening and change our “adult” expectations. It is one thing to have “pushed through” the need to sleep as a backpacker, it’s entirely another thing to be traveling with kids.
In our experience, avoiding jet lag in toddlers, and in adults, is impossible. You can possibly minimize the effects by following our tips below, but the best way to deal with jet lag is to: accept that it is likely to happen and plan accordingly.
In order to let our bodies naturally adjust, we allow about 3 nights in a hotel at our destination to quite simply “do nothing.” We have no plans so that we can do what suits us best. To date, forcing toddlers to stay awake has been an abject failure and the only solution has been to have no expectations and essentially nothing to do, so we can listen to our bodies.
Travel these days seems to about jamming in as much as one can see in a short time. We do like to be active and see lots of things – but at a pace that doesn’t stress out the kids, and that definitely applies when working on a very different body clock.
Check-in – What is Jet lag exactly?
Jet lag is a slang term for the psychological condition known as desynchronises which confuses your sleep-wake patterns. Jet lag is basically a disruption in your bodies circadian rhythm caused by rapidly crossing times zones west to east or east to west. This condition is mainly felt when flying across multiple time zones, thus the term “jet lag” was coined. Some people experience jet lag much more acutely than others.
Our tips for dealing with Jet lag with Toddlers
- When booking flights, do consider how the flight times will affect the children and their sleep time. If there are two flights – one good for the kids sleep – and the other not so good for the kids sleep – and they are priced similarly, then go for the better flight.
- Consider a layover (less than 24 hours) or a stopover (more than 24 hours) if flying long-haul. We have done this, and it is definitely easier on the body. The only drawback is the “travel” seems to go on for days and I am not sure if it’s mentally the best solution. That is, sometimes flying 36 hours straight is better than being in a case of constant transit for 72 hours.
- Plan 3 nights at decent hotel upon your arrival. Make sure it is a good quality hotel that has the following features: Blackout curtains and thick windows if in a busy city area minimization, room service, and a swimming pool or garden. With two small kids and a grandmother on a recent trip we found that people were hungry at different times. Room service worked, as did a well-stocked snack bag from the plane! While Budget is always a consideration when we are traveling, I don’t believe that skimping on the hotel makes sense. Rest in a good, warm and convenient hotel so you are ready to face the world. Our kids still ask when we can have a “midnight feast like when we were in Lima?” and so we need to be mindful that sometimes when things are “not going to plan” are the things that are most memorable for kids
- Get out and about, burn some energy. Point 1 is about being able to rest and eat when you need to… but we do always try and make small forays into the streets. Find a playground or park to run and remember with kids, it doesn’t have to be more stimulating than locating the local shop to buy water and snacks. (No, we don’t advocate bottled water – but everything in moderation…going easy on our bodies vs use of plastics, body wins!!) Parks, playgrounds, and of course a swimming pool at the hotel all help burn energy and help to minimize the impact of jet lag with toddlers.
- Go with the flow; what will be, will be. (Let go of your expectations) We have done a couple ‘complete body clock reverses’ between Peru with both children as 2-year-olds. This was the most difficult time (vs being smaller babies or older) with both kids. Even 1 week after arriving they were still a bit out of sync (e.g. 4 am rises). HOWEVER, being flexible with our itineraries and midday naps seemed to do the trick! Being mindful and flexible is key when trying to overcome jet lag with toddlers and young children.
- Be healthy before your trip. In our family at least, the weeks running up to a departure are characterized by stress, late nights, and rushing to get things done. As we are aware that this is going to happen, we take extra multivitamins, eat more fruit than normal, and generally try to be as healthy as possible prior to departure. (This is a distinct contrast to being a young single traveler working 20 hours a day because “we will be on holiday soon”). Also, once we get to our destination, we consciously seek out lots of water and fruit in order to get our bodies working again! Staying hydrated and healthy goes a long way to minimize jet lag with toddlers and adults.
What about older kids?
- Talk to them about what will happen. “Just think, right now people in Nicaragua are waking up – we will be too in a few days”
- We have only experienced jet lag with children up to 6 years old at the moment. We presume that things will change once they get a bit older. That the ‘pushing through the tiredness’ will work the older they get.
Having a well-stocked activity bag is key to successful travel with toddlers and small children! Don’t use all of your winners on the plane trip – as tempting as that may be! You need to have some engaging things “up your sleeve” for the hotel room when you are exhausted yourself and they are full of beans.
Our little boy has always loved the Tegu magnetic wooden block sets. Simple, but perfect for travel and come with their own carrying pouch.
The key being the WHEELS. We keep them in a bathroom bag that we got from the Op shop.
These are three more of our favorites which will keep them occupied while everyone works through jet lag:
Looking for screen free activities to keep them busy on long flights?
Take a look at our post 21 Awesome Screen Free Airplane Activities For Children.
Check out our other resources about how to successfully travel with children: