Paula Scott

Paula Scott

Dec 23, 2023. 6 mins read


The Ultimate Cheat Sheet: Don't Let Kids Jet Lag Ground You

So, the beach is calling, but you've got little ones that need sleep – what's a mum to do? If we could teleport there, this would be much easier, but alas, in this 2023rd year of our Lord, that's unfortunately not an option. So, in the absence of that, what tips and mum hacks can we do to make that transition just a titch easier

family is going on a trip five coloured suitcases with clothes

Jet lag is a real holiday downer, especially when travelling from Australia to anywhere far (which is basically everywhere except NZ and Asia), and it's compounded with kids. Each trip is meticulously planned and budgeted; going overseas doesn't happen often enough. Then, when you do take the plunge, it’s likely your kids' sleep, moods and diets go all over the place.

Hubby and I learned the jet lag lessons the hard way after a trip to the USA, and that a bit of planning is worth the effort. After our baby and toddler did not sleep on the flight over, we landed at 9 a.m. in NYC. To no one's surprise, our kids were spent and couldn't stay awake, and they slept most of the day. When we put them down at night, things seemed ok but then at 2 a.m., They. Were. Ready. To. Party. 

It took three days to get over the jet lag, and we were only there for just over a week (another failed travel decision that you'll hear about later on), so unfortunately, it took the shine off what should have been quality family time in a rad city!

7 Top Tips to Minimise Jet-Lagged Kids 

Since that disastrous trip, we have learned a lot for us and them. We’ve now been in those long-haul travelling shoes many times and worked a few mum hacks along the way that made the trips a little more manageable. So in the spirit of Christmas, I'm here to share how to do it right!

1. Pretend You're at Your Destination

I know this might sound a little coo-coo for cocoa puffs, but trust me, it works. Slowly change the littles' bedtime and wake time by little increments over a week or two – something they will barely notice, and by the time you get to where you are going, getting them down closer to the right times won't be as hard. 

2. Consider a Layover

I get it; you just want to get there and maximise your time. But let me tell you, if you push that travel day to its absolute limit, you will lose, at the very least, your first day there. Break up your travel into two separate days for those far-away destinations to get a proper rest at the halfway point. Use it as an opportunity to see a city you may not have seen otherwise! 

Take the day to go and explore and then hit the sheets at a decent time, or hang out at the airport hotel, let the kids jump in the pool, order room service, and settle in for a proper night's shuteye. Trust me, it will make your journey much more enjoyable… for all involved.

3. Book Flights at Their Regular Sleep Time

Book a red-eye and have them hopefully sleep through the entire flight and wake up when you get to your destination. I get that this is a gamble, and only you know if this will work for YOUR child.

Disclaimer: It worked for my firstborn, but it absolutely did not work for my second. You know what they say: you can't win 'em all. I can still feel the sweat pouring down my back as I tried feverishly to stop the crying at 2 a.m. No one on the flight got any sleep, and it wrecked our first day on holiday because we were all too tired and grumpy to leave the hotel room. Like I said, it's a gamble, but if you have a great sleeper, then I reckon it's worth a go.

4. Plan a Few Extra Days

Let's be honest, we aren't 21 anymore. Gone are the days when we could jump on a 8-hour flight to spend three days at some exotic locale. It just ain't happening. I'm sorry, but that is the cold, hard truth, and I, too, am devastated by this reality. Remember that trip of mine to NYC? 

If you know that your kiddos need sleep and are bears without it, then tack on a couple of extra days if your schedule and budget allow. If you do this with ample time before travel, the chances are you can be frugal and still get a deal. You can acclimatise to your new time zone and take proper naps when needed. If you spread your vacay out over a couple more days, you can take in all your destination has to offer without dragging around cranky kids! Your fellow travellers will thank you.

5. Be on the Ready with Snacks

Along with disrupted sleep, mealtimes will also be out of whack. When we took our kids to Paris, it wasn't the lack of being tired that got them up at 4 am; it was their grumbling tummies. I had some of their favourite (but as healthy as possible) snacks ready to go... and with a quick bite in low light and low voices, they went back to sleep for a couple of hours longer. Had we (read me: Mum) not had snacks nearby, it would have been a whole other nightmare having to track down food in a new city (in a foreign language to boot!) in the middle of the night. And, no, chips from the vending machine are not a good option. I'm talking to you, dear husband.

6. Take a Walk

There is no better way to tire your littles out than a long walk in the sun. Suppose you can find a playground; even better. Their little bodies will feel out of sorts, but they can't resist a slide and monkey bars. At least mine couldn't. 

Get them moving so when it comes to their regular nap time, they will settle a whole helluva lot easier if they've burned some energy outside in the fresh air. Bring the stroller and their fave stuffed toy or blanket (pro tip: pack a UV-resistant sun cover or warm blanket) and let them nap on the fly so you can finally take in that museum in peace. 

7. Bring the Right Toys

Continuing the walking tip above, taking suitable kids toys brings comfort and familiarity during travel and makes the adjustment easier. I've used toys to help my kids cope with jet lag through distraction, routine, play, sleep, and as a transitional companion. If you don't have the right travel toy, don't worry; Sassybae, the toy-swapping app, can help. You can swap toys so you get what you need for your trip. The bonus is that you'll save money because it’s free! Alternatively, borrow toys from a toy library, and you’ll still be thrifty.

Speaking from experience, travelling with our little humans is a worthy undertaking. You will make memories that will last a lifetime. They may not remember, but you paid for it, and YOU will! When you show them the world, it may just spark a wanderlust that sticks with them their entire lives. This mum hack guide for jet lag will help you get out there and explore this big, beautiful world with your ankle-biters in tow, so enjoy the ride. Bon voyage!

Paula Scott

Paula Scott

Active mum of 2 . Wife . Research Nerd . World Traveller . Adventure Seeker

Loves writing about fashion, travel, parenting, must-have products, and music. She can be found chasing her children, playing tennis, at the beach, or at a concert. Loves to eat. Hates to cook.

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