8 Tips to Beat Jet Lag When Taking Kids to Europe

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One of my biggest concerns when we recently went to Europe with a one-year-old and six-year-old wasn’t the actual plane ride, but rather dealing with jet lag once we landed. Jet lag and major time zone changes aren’t fun parts of travel, even for adults, but as adults who have experienced it multiple times, Josh and I know how to deal with it relatively well. This time I was most concerned about my just turned one-year-old since she doesn’t have the world’s best track record with sleeping in hotel cribs, even when time changes aren’t an issue. Add in a six hour time difference and I wasn’t exactly sure what would happen.

 

I’d been to Europe with my older daughter a few times, but this was my first trip overseas with such a young kiddo. I decided to proactively mentally approach battling jet lag for her in much the same way that I did for all of us. In fact, other than needing even more rest than adults, the tips for helping young kids beat jet lag in Europe aren’t that different than my advice for adults. Still, here are 8 tips for battling jet lag in Europe with a young kid based on our experiences.

Tips for Beating Jet Lag When Taking Kids to Europe

  1. Take the evening flight to Europe. If possible, take a flight to Europe that will maximize nighttime sleeping hours, assuming you think your little one has a chance to sleep on the plane. If you take the afternoon departures to Europe you may be landing as early as about midnight at your house back home. That doesn’t leave very many likely sleeping hours on the flight. However, if you take a flight that takes off close to bedtime back home, then if you are lucky your little one may fall asleep onboard within an hour or two of take-off and get a decent number of hours of rest before landing.
  2. Help them sleep as much on the flight over as possible. This goes hand in hand with tip #1, but no matter whether the flight leaves in the afternoon or later in the evening, try to get your little one to sleep as much as possible on the flight to Europe. The time on the flight counts as their “night”, so the more sleep they get the better. It will be day when you land in Europe, so if they land totally exhausted then you will have quite the long day ahead of you.
  3. Have your kiddos take a nap once you get to your hotel, but don’t let it last longer than about 3 hours. As soon as you are able to get into your hotel room in Europe, feel free to put the little one down for a nap. No doubt you will be more than ready for a nap, too; it goes without saying that your sleep is secondary to your little ones in this case. While you want them to take a nap, you don’t want them to sleep all day and then be up all night. Ideally a 3 hour nap or so will be sufficient. Depending on the little one’s age, how much sleep they got on the plane, and what time of day it is where you are in Europe, another brief late afternoon nap of an hour or so may make sense, too. Regardless, you want them to be tired when it is bedtime in Europe, so avoid the nap-all-day approach even though it may be tempting
  4. Go to bed at a reasonable local European time. Try to put your little one to bed for the night at a reasonable local time. That may be anywhere from 7PM – 10PM or so depending on your kid’s age and how the naps went during the day, but try not to go to bed way too early or stay up way too late as that will just prolong how long it takes to adjust to the new time zone.img_6698.jpg
  5. Don’t be surprised if they wake up after just a few hours at night. Our biggest battle with jet lag issues in Europe happens a few hours after we go to bed for the night that first night. Their bodies (and ours) are often quite tired and happy to fall asleep at bedtime, but the internal clocks treats that as a nap and often wakes up after just a few hours of sleep. For example, if we go to bed at 9PM in London, we may all wake up around 12AM, which is just 6PM back home. Sometimes it is hard to get them to fall back asleep until a couple of hours later when it is bedtime back home. Try to just be patient with this part even though I am sure you will be exhausted.
  6. Sleep in late the first morning, but not too late. I would not set an alarm clock or plan anything early the first full day in Europe. Let the little ones sleep in, but don’t let them sleep the day away. While it will vary, I’d say sleeping in until around 10AM is fine, but much past that and you are likely prolonging the jet lag problems.
  7. Try to keep a normal schedule according to the local clock. Once you have survived the flight and the first overnight in Europe you are hopefully beyond the worst part. The next step is to try to forget what time it is back home and keep your little one on as normal of a local schedule as possible, factoring in that they may need some extra nap time to recover from the long travel day.
  8. Never fully adjust to local Europe time. This may sound counter to tip #7, but once you get close enough to a local schedule to function I would call it good. This is especially true if your trip is only a week or so long. If you never fully adjust to local European time, then you have less adjustment to do when you go home. For example, we aim to adjust to 3-4 of the 6 hours of time difference when we go to Western Europe. This means that we stay up a little later than normal and sleep in a little later than normal local European time, which actually works great on vacation.
Rested and ready for play time in London

Rested and ready for play time in London

Even if you follow all these tips and more absolutely perfectly, it will still take a few days for your little one (and you) to not be pretty tired at various points during the day. Because of that I strongly advise against over-scheduling and try to just go with easy activities and meals, especially those first few days. In our case, our six-year-old did wake-up for a few hours in the middle of the first night before she was able to fall back asleep. Our one-year-old cried off and on for a few minutes about every hour through the first half of the first night until it finally became bedtime back home and her body clock shut down. After that first night we all did pretty well, other than being a little more tired than normal.

I’d love to hear your tips for dealing with jet lag when taking young kids to Europe or beyond!

 

 

Comments

  1. Thanks for the tips! We’ve been wondering about how to do this. We have a trip coming up to NZ with our 3 little ones and planned for 2 days in Hawaii on the way out and a week on the way back to help break up the jet lag, and who would pass up on an excuse to visit HW!

    I’m more nervous about a trip after that to Ireland, which will be an 8 hour time difference from the west coast. Right now we’re scheduled to arrive into Ireland at 5 am, which will be about when the kids bedtime starts here. Would you ever suggest just sleeping the first day in Europe and then waking up earlier and earlier until you’re closer to local time? It will be a two week trip if that makes a difference.

  2. The single best tip for avoiding jet lag to Europe is to take the daytime departures from the East Coast.

    Consider the 8am BOS-LHR.
    Overnight near hotel, Get to airport by 6am
    Done with checkin, security etc by 6:45am
    Quick bite to eat airside and then boarding at 7:30
    Land in LHR at around 7pm local time
    Go to hotel and dinner
    Go to bed at normal time – easy to sleep as tired from early start
    Wake up fully adjusted at 8am the next day

    • This is what we did our last flight from California to NY and it worked very well. Woke up at 4am California time for a 6am flight, little one was tired enough to nap (early, in CA time) on the plane for a couple hours, and we landed at what is normally the end of her nap NY time. Basically no jet lag afterwards. Was shocked at how well it worked. The early wake up was the key.

    • Don’t have kids, but my husband and I just did this same thing (EWR-LHR) in late November. We stayed the night before at an airport hotel, got the early flight flying economy award instead of needing to use extra miles for Business class flat-bed on an overnight flight. Once in LHR, we grabbed a snack, took the Picadilly line (no crowds at all this time of night) to Leicester Sq / Covent Garden area (only crowds were when we exited the Tube as the shows must have just gotten out), checked into our hotel, showered, went to bed and woke up with no jet lag. Even my husband, who doesn’t travel well or sleep much even in lie-flats, was fine.

      I only wish this option was available to more cities in Europe – it is well worth the price of an airport hotel at the start of the trip, and I would do it again in a heartbeat if we go back to London.

  3. If your kids are used to naps, then i guess they may need one. When our kids hit 4, we just land, drop off stuff at the hotel, and then go start exploring. No different than an adult. Yes you may not want to go extreme on day 1, but can still get a feel for the area, go to a park, and do something fun. A lil extra ice cream or sprite will go a long way in making sure they arent crabby. Then an easy dinner, bed an an early reasonable time and we are all good for the next day!

  4. We have been putting off a trip to Maui for this same reason. I know you’ve been to Hawaii with your oldest. The time zone change for us from the East Coast will be tough. Thanks for the tips.

    • Go!! My husband and I took our girls, then five and seven – to Maui from Atlanta last summer. It was definitely worth the trouble. We stopped for an overnight in California each way – San Francisco on the way to Maui and San Diego on the way home. That helped so much with adapting to the time change, though it was still a little bit of a challenge the first day. We were awake at 4 am the first morning in Maui, so we used that time to drive to Haleakala to watch the sun rise from above the clouds. It’s a two-hour trip, so it worked out perfectly since we were awake already. From that point forward, the girls were so exhausted each night that it was business as usual.

      It was more difficult to adjust once we got home that it was in Maui.

      Don’t wait – my kids had the time of their lives on that beautiful island!

  5. No mention of Melatonin?

    We bought a large bottle of Melatonin gummy bears at Target, give 2 for adult. 1 bear for children, maybe 1/2 bear for preschoolers. We take a weeks worth of them on every trip.

  6. +1 on the melatonin gummies. Love em so much we incorporated them into the back to school and time change routines as well.

    Also good advice on not fully adjusting: this last trip we ate dinner around 10, went to bed at midnight-1, and were up around 9-10. Perfect. It seems weird being out so late with kids but in Marseille we saw 4-6 year olds playing soccer at 1AM.

  7. We use melatonin too when we travel. They make chewable and liquid versions that can be used for kids as young as 1yr. I travel with some essential oils, our ROHM sound machine, and a night light so the hotel/house smells, sounds, and looks like home. I found that changing the kids into pjs, brushing teeth, reading books etc also helped them sleep on flights. Anything to keep the normal bedtime routine. Then once we arrive we try to stay on local time while being flexible if someone needs a rest/nap or super early bedtime. I have also worn my 1 yr old in a carrier while sitting on flights. It gives me the ability to be hands free to help my other two and there is something about being snuggled on mom that relaxes him and he doesn’t throw a tantrum when he can’t get down like he does when he is sitting on a lap.

  8. Yep, we have a trip already planned in June 2017 – we are flying to Zurich via a connection at SFO but depart at 7:40pm. I’m fairly confident that my 5 year old will sleep for at least 5 hours. By the time we land and get to the hotel it will be 2 or 3 o’clock and we’re going to stay up at least until 7:00pm. We will drop off our bags, freshen up, explore the waterfront for a bit, early dinner then back to the hotel for sleep.

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