How to Avoid Jet Lag While Traveling with Kids
Imagine the long trips we might make if jet lag weren’t a factor. If we could take a red-eye transatlantic flight without suffering for several days afterward, a weekend trip to London wouldn’t seem so crazy.
Add a few children to the mix, and a short trip to Europe sounds way too stressful to be a vacation. Having lived in Europe for four years while my babies were small, I have made the transatlantic flight many times with kids. Here are some tips on how to avoid jet lag we have used for ourselves and our kids.
Prepare for Jet Lag Before Traveling
Run them ragged before and during the travel day
I have an American friend living in Europe who travels back to the west coast of the U.S. once a year with her very active twin boys. The one-way trip takes an entire day or night, with at least one layover. She recommends that parents plan a physically active day for kids the day before you travel. They will expend their energy and have a restful night’s sleep.
Shift schedule slightly towards the new time zone
Depending on the number of time zones you’re crossing, you might want to adjust your schedule an hour or two towards the time zone to which you’re traveling; try eating and sleeping one or two hours later than usual. This might shorten the amount of adjustment time you need while on your vacation.
How to Avoid Jet Lag During the Trip
Find play opportunities
On the travel days before boarding and during a layover, find the airport playground, or some open space where they can jump rope to help burn some energy. That will increase the chances that your kids will be ready to sit down upon re-boarding!
Most of the major airports in Europe (those in Paris, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam) have a playground where young travelers with long layovers can burn some energy without having to leave the airport. These airports also happen to be quite large, so if your travels include a long layover, it’s best to look up the playground locations in advance of your trip.
Being dehydrated can exacerbate the effects of jet lag. While in the dry cabin air, try to keep hydrated and limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol. Continue to drink lots of water after your arrival. Bring your own snacks so that you can eat when you’re hungry, not when the flight meals are served, which don’t always coincide with the new time zone’s meal times.
Go through the Bedtime Motions
Many Eastbound trips from the U.S. tend to be “red-eye flights” that occur overnight. As most travel experts will say, simulate the bedtime routine as much as you can — have your kids change into pajamas, and brush their teeth. The key: Managing your own expectations and staying calm when they don’t actually fall asleep. Sometimes resting their eyes is the best that they can do.
Jet Lag Tips for Upon Arrival
One way to acclimate to the new time zone quickly is to try to stay up and go to bed at the normal bed time hour of the new time zone, which sometimes means staying awake an entire day. If your kids are really cranky and tired upon arrival, let them nap, but no more than two hours, so that they will still sleep when nighttime rolls around.
Tip: After taking a red eye, you might have to wait until late afternoon to check into your hotel room. If you’d prefer not to wait, you can request an early check-in (which may or may not be granted). Alternatively, you can book a room for the night before you arrive, so a nice bed will be waiting for you no matter what hour you arrive.
Lower your expectations for the first few days
Anticipate being tired upon arrival, and try not to over-schedule your itinerary for the first couple of days while you acclimate to the new time zone. Don’t become frustrated that you can’t tick three things off of your must-see list on the first day, or it could put a damper on the entire trip.
When we traveled back to the states from Europe when my daughter was 3 years-old, even though we kept her up that first day, she still woke up around 4 am ready to play, several days in a row. There was nothing we could do but take turns getting up and playing with her for a couple of hours before she would go back to sleep.
Drink water, Eat lightly and Stay active in the sun
Sunshine will also help your body adjust to the new time zone. Continue to hydrate your body and try to eat light meals during the first couple of days in the new time zone. Your body is also adjusting to new meal times, and heavy meals can lead to constipation or worse. All of these activities will help your and your kids’ bodies acclimate more quickly to the new time zone.
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Erin is a native Floridian who has resided in Atlanta since 1995. Her husband Mike and she have two funny, smart, active girls and two cats.