In preparation for an upcoming trip to Italy, I am gathering all the information I can about how to reduce the effects of jet lag on my kids. This will be the first time taking both boys to Europe, so I want to be as prepared as I can. As a parenting educator -and a mom! - I know that tantrums can escalate when kids are tired, so I’m hoping our first few days there are going to be okay!
According to my research and chats with seasoned parent travellers, here are 12 tips to reducing the effects of jet lag in kids:
Flying from West to East over many time zones takes more time to adjust to: bodies find it harder to manage a shorter day than a longer one. We are flying east from North America to Italy so I’m hoping that after about three days we’ll be on local time.
When we fly back to North America, we’ll likely be getting up very, very early (4am) so I won’t be scheduling anything for us to do the week we get back.
See if it is possible to have two different sleeping areas, particularly if you have a baby. We travelled with a one year-old to France several years ago and found it very hard to all be in the same room. It isn’t much fun having the lights out in a single hotel room at 6pm in Paris!
Direct and overnight flights are good so you can arrive into daylight and don’t have to deal with keeping your young child entertained during the long flight.
Children are pretty adept at sleeping anywhere so sleeping on a plane is often okay. We bring a stuffed toy that doubles as a pillow and my big scarf, which is a great blanket. I’ll probably be bringing earplugs for this flight! Thankfully Air Transat flies directly from Toronto to Rome so we chose their flight at 9pm that gets in at noon the follow day. Fingers crossed we’ll get off that flight feeling reasonably well.
It’s best not to hit the ground running when you land after a long trip. Let the first few days include some down time and rest. Save visits to the major sites and ones that require lots of walking for a few days into your trip.
After we land into Rome, we need to get ourselves to the train station and onto a train to Grosseto in Tuscany. As we’ll be freshly off an overnight flight, I’m hoping we’ll have the energy we need to get onto that train, where we’ll have just over an hour to chill out before getting to our final destination.
We are spending a week at a Mom and child(ren) camp in Tuscany called Me And Mom In Tuscany so I decided it would be best to head straight there and save the sightseeing days to Florence and Rome for afterward. My hope is that we’ll acclimatize at the single location for a week, and then be ready to hit the streets of Rome. Here is a picture from the kid's camp at Me & Mom:
The mind is a powerful thing, and telling yourself you are already there helps your body start adjusting sooner. It might seem like semantics, but people swear it words wonders!
Daylight will help your body get onto your destination’s clock faster. Even if you are very tired, take the kids out for a walk. The interesting sights will keep you all awake.
It takes less time to adjust to a new time zone when naps are reduced. If your child doesn’t usually have naps, try to keep him or her awake throughout the day. If you child is not handling the tiredness well, keep the nap nice and short.
Jet lag isn’t just about being tired; it’s also about getting your stomach on the right time zone. One of the things that can wake you and your children too early when you change zones is hunger. If your body is expecting a meal in the middle of the night, it might wake you up. Try eating something before you go to bed to prevent this from happening. Make sure there is food handy if someone wakes up hungry in the middle of the night.
Eat well! Find healthy food to ensure everyone is fuelled properly. I am planning to take Ziploc bags in my day bag to hold snacks from vendors or meal leftovers.
Try to recreate your bedtime or getting out the door routine as much as is possible. Bring along your child’s sleeping buddies to snuggle with and give your kids a bath or shower if they are used to that. It even helps just to use the same kind of language like, “It’s out-the-door time in ten minutes, what jobs do we need to get done?”
If part of your adjustment to a new time zone means that you will feel awake during the night or very early in the morning, get a portable blackout blind to keep the room as dark as possible. We use the Gro-anywhere blind because it is easy to use on a temporary basis.
If your child does wake up very early and can’t fall back asleep, try getting him or her to lay down for a little bit longer. Sometimes drawing long lines from the crown of the head down over the forehead and nose will help a child relax.
If your child isn’t able to stay in bed and wants to get up at 3am, try having a big breakfast, maybe a bit of playtime, and going back to bed.
Keep yourself as hydrated as fed as possible. You will certainly be better able to take care of your children if you are feeling okay.
I had the opportunity to chat with travel expert, Evelyn Hannon of Journeywoman, who assured me that children are quite resilient and will probably adjust faster to the new time zones than the adults. I’m going to believe her and put my energy into point number twelve: I know that if I’m doing okay, my kids will, too. Do you have some long-haul flights tips to add? Please put those in the comments below or over on my Facebook page.
Sponsored by Me and Mom in Tuscany: for more information, please visit their website at www.meandmomintuscany.com.
Taking a vacation this summer? See our Travel Tips for Flying with Kids