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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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!