Travel and Jetlag with Little Ones

Travel and Jetlag with Little Ones


By Alison Cupp-Relyea

A few months ago, we went on a very ambitious vacation with our children, from New York to Hawaii. My sister and her family met us there, traveling in the opposite direction from Melbourne to Hawaii. It was a convenient halfway point for a family reunion, and a six-hour time difference left everyone struggling with jetlag. This experience, along with a trip to Spain the previous year, taught us a few things about preparing for time change with small children. Our three main messages for parents considering trips across time zones are plan ahead, go with the flow, and get outside as much as possible.

We had a sense that our children would be very tired in the late afternoon and wide awake in the wee hours of morning for the first couple days in Hawaii. We packed a bunch of quiet activities, such as coloring kits, card games and journals, hoping these would keep them occupied and prevent them from waking up their siblings or cousins. For the most part, it worked. We also planned who would wake up that first morning with the first child, and that parent went to bed early the night before. Most importantly, we did not schedule any activities for that first day that required everyone be at a certain place at a specific time. Keeping the first day unstructured was a key part of our plan, and it allowed everyone to ease into the transition.

Since our trip was unstructured for those first two days, we relaxed about the jetlag and one adult could stay back with children sleeping at odd hours while the others went out to the pool or beach. We fed the children when they were hungry and recognized that until they were on track, we had to be a bit flexible. In Spain, we took advantage of the late European dinner time to stay somewhere between East Coast time and local time. Our children went to bed later than usual and slept in by our standards, but this fit perfectly with the Spanish culture. In Hawaii, being up early in the morning worked well because it is a very active culture.

Playing outside during daylight hours helps with the transition as your child’s body adjusts to the new daytime/nighttime schedule. In Hawaii, our daughter woke up very early the first morning, and we went out in the dark of night to look for frogs and other wildlife. She had been up for two hours when we finally watched the sunrise. We played outside much of the day and ate an early dinner outside, too. By the time she fell asleep, she was very tired, but she managed to sleep until sunrise and was quickly on local time.

One of the joys of traveling with very young babies is that they still live in cycles. When our first was three months old, we took him to Australia! We thought the jetlag would be awful, and for us adults, it was challenging, but our son seemed unfazed. Having a young baby is tiring in any time zone, and I enjoyed the change of scenery. That first year can be a very convenient time to travel with your baby, if you can embrace a slower pace and expect the unexpected.


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