10 tips to overcome jet lag with toddlers

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(Last updated on: 03/04/2020)

Jet lag with toddlers can be tricky to manage. As if the terrible twos and the tantrums and fussiness that come with it are not enough, we then decide to throw them off-kilter even more by travelling across time zones!

Yes, jet lag with toddlers can have negative impacts on your holiday, BUT it doesn’t have to! We have crossed many times zones with our kids and we have learnt many lessons from our experiences. We have learnt what works for us and what doesn’t work for us.

In this blog post I will give you our tips for mitigating or overcoming jet lag with toddlers. They work for us so they can work for you too!

How to overcome jet lag with toddlers- 10 tips

#1 Plan flight times carefully

Traditionally we would usually book the cheapest flights that maximises our travel time. As teachers, we are limited to travelling in the school holidays so we would often opt to travel overnight in order to gain an extra day.

Now that we have a toddler, however, we no longer do this!

Travelling during times that will disrupt my daughter’s routine has a lasting effect. It takes days to recover from a missed or bad nights sleep! To avoid days of tantrums and an overtired two year old, we consider flight times carefully.

Yes, we might have one less day on our holiday if we travel during the day instead of at night, but it’s absolutely worth it! A day on holiday with unhappy child is a day lost anyway, in my opinion!

#2 Start adjusting to the new time zone in advance

As a general rule of thumb, you can expect it to take a day for each hour of time difference to adjust. So a trip from the UK to Spain may only take one day, whereas a trip from the UK to China may take over a week.

One way to help overcome jet lag with toddlers is to start adapting in advance. Start putting your child to bed an hour earlier/later, for example. This can help get the process started and make the effects while on holiday a little less.

We use a Gro Clock at home to show our daughter when it is time to wake up, so we simply change the time on this to start to help her to adjust.

#3 Allow your toddler to nap when he/she can

Many parents have strict routines for sleep schedules for their toddlers.

I always said I wouldn’t be a stickler for routine, but that went out the window pretty quickly when I realised that my toddler will have tantrums if she hasn’t had her midday nap or that if she sleeps too late in the afternoon we will be reading bedtime stories for an hour or more before she starts to feel tired at night…

Whilst routines are great when you are at home, they are usually put aside when you go on holiday, at least to some extent.

Whilst travelling it is best to allow your toddler to sleep when ever he/she wants to. Toddlers that are overtired are very difficult to get to sleep. Just let go during the flight/airport/bus/train etc and if your little one wants to get some shut-eye, let them. Heck, you might even get some rest yourself too!

I appreciate that naps can be easier said than done though! My daughter struggles to sleep in unfamiliar environments. We have found that our Tula Free to Grow carrier has worked wonders for this (we can also use this with the baby, which is convenient!). She feels like she is having a cuddle and is well supported so that she can have some well-needed rest. The only problem arises when you need to pass through security and they make you wake your child up! Sigh…

Tip: Don’t forget to record your little one’s adventures in a flight log book– get the pilot to sign off the flight and record important details to capture your family’s travel memories!

#4 Eat and drink well

When you are tired your body demands more food. Your body is put through a lot of strain when travelling long distances through multiple time zones, so it is important that you give it enough fuel to keep going.

If you want to minimise jet lag with toddlers it is probably best not to give them too many sugary sweets when you want them to sleep, but carbohydrates and fruit are great.

You also need to ensure that you give your toddler lots to drink. Water is the best solution, as this will hydrate them and give them more energy, ,without the effects of sugary drinks. However, if your child is anything like mine (and won’t drink water), then watered-down fruit juice is fine.

Isla has her own Camelbak bottle that we always travel with. This works for us because she doesn’t get fussy about the colour of the straw or the picture on the carton (seriously- this is the terrible twos for you!). It is also great because we can empty it out and then refill it after we pass through security. It also easily clips on the side of our rucksack so we don’t need to worry about it taking up room in our hand-luggage.

#5 Use sleep aids on the flight

Sleeping on a flight is difficult for anyone. Fortunately, toddlers are small enough to be able to get relatively comfortable, given the right conditions. There are some great sleep aids that you can use for this.

The Bed Box is very well rated. Whilst I haven’t personally tried this myself, it does look pretty cool. Kids can sit on it and ride along through the airport and then once onboard it can be opened up to transform the seat into a bed- amazing!

I recently bought a Plane Pal, which was brilliant on our long flight to China. It comes in a small bag which fits in your hand luggage and you inflate it once onboard. It is essentially a large inflatable cushion that fits perfectly in the gap between the seats; allowing your child to lay flat and get a good nights sleep.

My two year-old sleeping on the flight with the help of a Plane Pal

I will warn you, however, that some airlines do not allow sleep aids. Check with your airline before you fly.

#6 Be prepared for tantrums!

Jet lag with toddlers can exemplify the tantrums that you usually have.

When young children get tired, they struggle to know how to react. Small things can become big issues for them. I remember once when my daughter wanted daddy to draw her a dinosaur. So he did, several times. Every time she would cry and scream ‘no daddy, I want a BIG dinosaur!’ The problem was that the dinosaur was already the size of the paper…

It is best to mentally prepare yourself for toddler tantrums. They will happen, just accept it.

Read also: How we can afford family travel so often (and how you could too)

#7 Keep them entertained

You can avoid the aforementioned tantrums by keeping your little one entertained.

We always travel with our Kids Kindle Fire Tablet. It has some brilliant games on it for our daughter to play and lots of videos that can be watched offline. We bought ours during a Black Friday sale on Amazon, so it was excellent value for money and worth every penny!

We also bought these kids headphones for our daughter, which worked a treat. Most airlines have a pretty good selection of kids films and tv shows, so that kept her busy for a few hours during the flight.

My daughter loved her new headphones during our flight to China!

Whilst screen time is great, your child is probably going to want to do something practical during a long flight too. There are lots of brilliant things that you can get on Amazon that will provide hours of entertainment. I bought two activity books for our recent flight. I bought this dinosaur activity book, because my daughter is really into dinosaurs right now. I also bought this airport sticker book that allowed me to to teach her all about the airport and travel experience. We only covered a fraction of these two books during our flight, so there really was hours of entertainment right there!

#8 Don’t sleep in late

When you arrive at your destination, don’t be tempted to sleep in late or go to bed too early. Keep busy and try to force yourself to adapt as much as you can. It’s incredible how long toddlers can keep going if they are busy playing! Try to entertain them as much as possible to help them adjust to the new time zone

#9 Get some fresh air

Never underestimate how good fresh air can be for you and your children. If you are feeling sleepy too early or are struggling to wake yourself up then head outside and get some fresh air and this will perk you right up (especially if the weather is cold!).

Read also: 5 must-have baby travel items (and they’re not what you would expect)

#10 Don’t fully adjust

Sometimes the best way to mitigate jet lag with toddlers is not to fight it! Depending on your schedule, it might actually be best not to fully adjust your toddler to the new time zone.

Does your toddler usually get up at 6am and go to bed at 7pm? How about you all lie in until 8am and you let him/her stay up until 9pm instead? It might work better to re-evaluate your routine, rather than fight hard to adjust your toddler to stick to his/her usually pattern under the new time zone.

So there you have it, these are my top ten tips for overcoming jet lag with toddlers. Do you have some further tips to add? Please do drop them in the comments because I’d love to try them out!

4 Comments
  1. Karen Quinn

    Great tips, flying long haul with little kids can be so tough

    Reply
    • Hayley

      Absolutely!!

      Reply
  2. Nicole

    Fantastic tips! I especially loved Plane Pal when my kiddos were younger. If your airline allows it, definitely do it!! Doing a long haul flight with a toddler is totally doable, especially with your tips and hints

    Reply
    • Hayley

      It’s brilliant, isn’t it? Thanks for your feedback!

      Reply

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Hi, am Dr Hayley Stainton

I’ve been travelling, studying and teaching travel and tourism since I was 16. Through Tourism Teacher I share my knowledge on the principles and practice of travel and tourism management from both an academic and practical perspective.

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