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  • Writer's pictureLeslie

9 Tips to Get Over Jet Lag When Traveling With a Baby, Toddler or Child

Baby jet lag toddler jet-lag surviving jet-lag with a child
A long-haul flight with a baby, toddler or child is challenging, but so is the jet lag once you're there

When my friends ask me, "How do you travel with kids?" often their biggest concern is how to survive the flight. Their second biggest worry? How to deal with baby, toddler or child jet lag when they finally arrive at their destination.

And I completely get this concern. It's already hard enough dealing with jet lag as an adult — but if you have to manage your own personal jet lag while also helping your baby or child adjust, it can be a lot. And I mean a lot. Plus, no one wants to be downright exhausted at the start of what would otherwise be an exciting vacation.

To be honest, I didn’t realize baby and kid jet lag was going to be a “thing” until we took our first long-haul flight with our daughter to Hawaii from Munich, Germany when she was about six months old. It was a long journey, to say the least. She woke up suuuuper early those first few mornings, and all we wanted to do was sleep in… but she was ready to be on vacation! 

Thankfully, my husband was excited to see the beautiful Hawaiian sunrise, so he was on board with taking the early bird shift (at around 4 a.m.). Then, an hour or two after, he would take a late morning nap to catch up on zzzs while I hung out with our daughter. This trade off system worked for the first few days until she was officially on Hawaiian island time.

Now, after dozens (and I literally mean dozens) of long-haul flights with our kids, we've come up with a system that helps our little ones shift to our new time zone as smoothly as possible. Even with a plan, there are bound to be some "tough" moments, so mentally prepare yourself and know that it won't be completely seamless (is it ever, though, when you travel with kids?).

Here, discover my go-to tips for helping your little ones get over jet lag as quickly as possible, so you can start enjoying your trip (rather than just surviving):

1. Get as much sunlight as humanly possible when you first arrive. This means spending as much time outside with them as you literally can. Soak up the sun and stay up later than normal to maximize the light. If your littles are having fun outside, don’t rush back in to put them to bed.

2. Head to bed when your kids do that first night. Even if you’re excited. Even if you just arrived on vacation and are feeling the adrenaline rush. Because you need every last minute of sleep in case they wake up at 4 a.m. ready to go. But, chances are, everyone is going to be tired from a choppy night of airplane sleep, so use it to your advantage and "sleep when the baby or kids sleep," so you feel at least somewhat rested for your first full day of vacation.

3. Trade off "morning shifts" like we did in Hawaii. If your baby or child wakes in the wee morning hours, consider taking shifts, where one parent will watch your little one for an hour or two, then the next parent will take the "later morning" shift. This worked for us when our daughter was ready to go at 4 a.m. in Hawaii. The key, though, is that the person who wakes up super early skips coffee initially, so they are tired enough to go back to bed for a morning nap (say, from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m.). Also, just know that this system works best if you're in an apartment rental or hotel suite or if there's an early morning sunrise and you can take your little outside (it's otherwise hard for one partner to stay asleep in a small hotel room with a baby).

4. Avoid sleeping in your first morning. As tempting as it may be to all sleep in that first morning, try and wake up at a decent morning hour (like eight or nine, rather than 11 a.m.). So play some upbeat music, surprise your littles with chocolate croissants — do whatever you need to do to help them get up and adjusted to the new time zone. To make the morning easier, don't sleep with blackout curtains (at least not initially). Otherwise, your body will just want to stay in snooze-mode all day long.

5. Get outside as soon as possible. Even if you're all dragging, try your best your first full day to "hit the ground running." It sounds cliche, but have something on your itinerary that gets you out of your hotel or apartment rental. Maybe you bought tickets to visit a sight or do a walking tour, or even just plan on heading down to your hotel's pool. Whatever it might be, get going to maximize that daylight.

Toddler and baby jet lag international flight
We took our kids to the beach on our first full vacation day (after a long-haul flight)

6. Let them nap if they need it. Chances are your littles will want a nap (or a few if they're a baby). Don't worry if they're not "exactly" on their same nap schedule as back home — you'll just want to avoid a late-evening nap if at all possible. Even if your kids aren't nappers anymore, it's totally fine if if they sneak in a short, mid-day nap. Ideally, that nap is at noon-ish rather than at 4 p.m., so they can still go to bed at a decent hour (like 8 p.m. rather than midnight).

7. Beware of "night two" sleep (we always find it to be the worst!). Of course, that first day you'll want to take advantage of the sun and spend as much time as you can in the evening outside. Then, when your kids are ready to head to bed, go to bed yourself. Chances are your littles may wake in the middle of the night (at this point, the jet lag really "kicks in") so you need all the sleep you can get! And don't get discouraged if your littles do wake up alert at 1 a.m. — you aren't doing anything wrong, it just takes a few night to adjust.

8. Keep night wake-ups as lowkey as possible. You often hear a lot of advice to "keep the lights off" when your littles wake up in the middle of the night, but this has never worked for us — our kids get too freaked out if they wake up alert and it's pitch-black (plus they're in a new location, which is already strange for them). Instead, we try to keep the lights dim and do a mellow activity together (like drawing or a quiet game). If you can, avoid screens, which might make it harder for them to eventually fall back asleep.

9. Stay optimistic. Chances are your first night was pretty good, and your second night was tough. Just remember, though, that this will only last for a few more days. You've got it! Do your best to stick to a couple of routines from back home to instill some "normalcy." Maybe that's the same bedtime routine or the same pre-nap snack; whatever helps bring some feeling of familiarity to their new location could help them adjust faster and help you feel more sane.

What are you most worried about, when it comes to baby and kid jet lag? Or what are your best jet lag survival tips for little ones? Share them in the comments below!

And check out my reel on Instagram @bigworld_littletravelers to see my post on this very topic!


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