Traveling across time zones can be an adventure for the whole family, but when it comes to toddlers, it often means disrupting their routine. Helping toddlers adjust to new time zones is crucial for an enjoyable vacation.
Time zone changes in particular can be difficult for toddlers, and the combination of jet lag and disrupted sleep patterns is a potent one, for adults and kids alike. For toddlers, the process of adjusting to new time zones can make the first few days of a vacation seem like hard work, whether you are flying to Mexico or sailing to Alaska.
But it doesn’t have to be something that ruins the trip! With a few key strategies and some careful planning, you can help your little ones adjust smoothly to new time zones and ensure that your vacation gets off to a great start. Here are a few tips on how to transition your toddler and avoid the adverse effects of jet lag.
Key Takeaways: Helping Toddlers Adjust to New Time Zones on Vacation
- Gradual schedule adjustments. Before departing, gradually adjust your toddler’s sleep schedule to match the new time zone, if possible.
- Exposure to natural light. Encourage adaptation to the new time zone by exposing your toddler to natural light during the day, which can help reset their internal clock.
- Maintain routines. Keep familiar bedtime routines to provide comfort and cue sleepiness, even in a new environment.
- Encourage naps. Allow for naps during the transition but avoid letting your toddler sleep too long during the day to ensure they are tired at bedtime.
- Stay hydrated and nourished. Ensure your toddler stays well-hydrated and eats regular meals, which can help their body clock adjust.
- Be patient and flexible. Understand that it might take a few days for your toddler to fully adjust to the new time zone, so plan for some flexibility in your vacation schedule.
- Create a sleep-conducive environment. Bring along any favorite bedtime items and use portable blackout shades to mimic their usual sleep setting.
Gradual Time Adjustment
If you have the time, slowly adjusting your kids’ schedules over a period of time is a great way to get them ready for a time zone shift. Gradually changing bedtimes, mealtimes, and morning routines will minimize the shock of a sudden time change and make it far easier to adjust to a change, whether you are going east or west.
Plan Arrival Times
If you can choose your flight times then opting for a flight that fits with your toddler’s sleep schedule can be a big help. Flying during your toddler’s usual nap time means that they might get a bit of rest while traveling, which will help them acclimatize. Otherwise ensuring that arrival times line up with sleep schedules is a good way to minimize disruption.
Keep Naps in Check
Many parents are tempted to let their toddlers nap as much as they like when traveling, figuring this will help them adjust to a new time zone. However, too much napping just disrupts their sleep schedule even further, and causes bigger problems down the line. Consistency is key, so try and keep your kids’ nap times the same as at home, and keep snoozing to a minimum during the day.
Sunlight is the most important factor in how our body’s internal clock regulates itself, so the more light your toddler gets, the faster they will adjust. Encourage your kids to be outdoors as much as possible during the day, and indoors at night, and they should acclimatize far quicker.
Keep Them Hydrated
Jet lag is caused by a number of factors, and dehydration can make the symptoms far worse. Making sure that your kids are drinking plenty of water and keeping them off sugary and caffeinated drinks is a great idea, and will help avoid some of the worse symptoms of jet lag.
Avoid Screens Before Bed
Phones, tablets, and laptops all emit blue light, which can be extremely disruptive to sleep patterns. This can be difficult at the best of times, but combined with a change in time zone it can make sleeping almost impossible. Don’t let your toddler have too much screen time before bedtime, and try to cut down on their use of devices throughout the day as much as possible.
Travel Tips for Travelling with Toddlers
- Pack essentials and familiar items. Bring along your toddler’s favorite snacks, toys, and comfort items to ease the stress of travel and provide familiarity.
- Plan around your toddler’s schedule. Whenever possible, align travel times with naps or bedtime to help maintain their routine.
- Prepare for entertainment. Have a variety of activities and games ready to keep your toddler occupied during long journeys.
- Frequent breaks are necessary. Allow for regular stops to let your toddler move around and expend energy if you’re traveling by car.
- Practice safety. Ensure you have the appropriate car seat for travel and a child locator or identification bracelet for your toddler.
- Accommodate for quiet time. Be ready to create or find quiet spaces for downtime, as overstimulation can be overwhelming for toddlers.
- Stay organized. Keep essential items like diapers, wipes, and a change of clothes within easy reach.
- Health precautions. Bring a basic first aid kit and any medications your toddler may need, and know where to find medical facilities at your destination.
- Adjust expectations. Understand that traveling with a toddler means you may need to slow down and be flexible with your plans.
Traveling with young kids is a big undertaking, but it can be an enormously enjoyable and rewarding experience. Avoiding the worst impacts of jet lag makes a big difference to everyone’s enjoyment of a vacation, and is easy to do with planning and patience.
Be flexible and prioritize your child’s comfort and needs and you’ll find there are plenty of ways to overcome the challenge. Happy traveling!