Tips for Traveling With a Toddler: Jet Lag


Today I am starting a new series titled “Tips for Traveling with a Toddler.”  I have a few topics in mind already that I will be writing for my Friday posts, and I am sure more will come to mind as I go along. If you have a specific question or situation, please leave a comment and I will see if I can write a post about it to help you get out there and travel with your toddler(s)! 

Jet Lag. The great equalizer of travelers across the globe. There is not an age limit, no financial status, no level of health that can keep one from experiencing jet lag. It is something that many people complain about and few have answers for. We complain and try to reset our clocks the best we can, but usually the flu-like symptoms of jet lag last at least a few days (if not longer). So what can we do for our toddler(s) that are traveling with us? How can we help to alleviate their suffering from this unpleasant side effect of traveling? While I don’t have a miracle cure, I do have some tips that may be helpful. I hope that they work for you as well as they have worked for us

Before You Arrive At Your Destination:

Fly When Your Child Would Be Sleeping Anyways

I have seen this tip on many other sites, but there are still people out there on the internet that think that this is not the right way to go about helping a child with jet lag. Do you know what happens when you fly for 7 hours (or more) across time zones with a toddler that is awake the whole time? You end up with a time confused toddler and a very tired parent.

If you can possibly get flights that happen while your child is supposed to be sleeping it will save everyone on that flight (and you and your child after) a lot of exhaustion and frustration. It will not only help to give your child rest, but give yourself a chance to rest and get ready for the time change as well.

Make Your Child Skip Their Naps Before The Flight 

I know, I know, this may seem really crazy. Why would you want your child to be over-tired when you have to load them on a plane? Especially as there are a bunch of cranky people giving you the evil eye for bring a toddler on the plane. And you can’t fit your carry-on bag in the overhead container. And there’s a long line of people waiting and huffing while you get your family situated.  Sounds like hell, I know. But here is the reason for pushing them through and possibly being uncomfortable for a short time:

It is very difficult when your child has tons of energy and is unable to sit still for longer than 5 minutes while you are flying long distances. It makes it stressful for them and for you (and also the other passengers, but really who cares about them, they can deal with it). If your child is a little tired (or a lot, let’s not be picky) before the flight takes off, the easier it will be to keep them entertained until they do fall asleep.  This brings me to my next tip:

Let your Child Run Wild Before the Flight

Depending on what airport we are at (safety and busyness are factors) we always take Z to an empty area of the terminal and let her run around to her heart’s content. No sitting, no resting! Just a hard-core work out that zaps all the energy from her tiny little body. I may have gotten some dirty looks for letting my daughter run wild around the chairs in an airport once or twice, but I think those same nasty people would thank me if they were sitting in front of us on the plane.

Make Sure That You Have Enough for Them to Do On The Flight

This is the tip that everyone has asked me about. What should one pack for their toddler to do on the flight? Well there are some amazing parents that are creative enough to create games and such for them, like my friend at Journeys of the Fabulist. I am not the most creative parent. And with 30 plus flights in Z’s 3 years of life, I admit I have gotten lazy. I pack things for her that will keep her happy and quiet. Things that I can also relax and maybe read a book on my phone for a bit before attempting to fall asleep myself (remember overnight flights).

I am going to write more detail in a future post about what to carry-on the plane for your toddler, but for now I will give you my not-so-secret weapon. Modern Technology!

I realize that some parents are dead set against letting their little ones look at screens. I feel you. I was one of you before Z was born, I had the thought that Z would not see a screen before she was two years old. To you parents that have made it that long, I commend you, you are a more amazing parent than I.

We started traveling when Z was 22 months old, and I caved on the 2 year time limit for screens. When we left on our adventure, Z had her own iPhone 4 that we had made into a toddler iPod touch. It was filled with educational games for her to play to pass the time on long flights. Judge me if you like, but those games taught her the alphabet, numbers, phonics, and some sight words by the time she was two and a half.

My advice, don’t be afraid to utilize the technology you have at hand, whether a smart phone or tablet, or the in flight entertainment. And make sure to read next Friday for the rest of what I carry-on for Z to keep her entertained.

Don’t Be Afraid To Help Them Relax (Age Dependent) 

Before we left the USA, we asked a friend that had worked in the Whole Foods Whole Body Department, what could help Z with jet lag as we traveled. She highly recommended Hyland’s Calm Forte (now called Hyland’s 4 Kids Calm n’Restful). Chad and I have always been determined to use natural medicines as much as possible. Not only for ourselves, but also for our daughter. So this product was right up our alley.

Hyland’s had been a common brand in our home . And when was someone was kind enough to send their products while we were traveling, we used them during our travels as well. Hyland’s make homeopathic natural remedies for almost everything you can think of.  Hyland’s description of Calm Forte for kids is as follows “When your child is not sleeping or resting well, his or her whole cycle goes out of sync. The days can be as restless as the nights! Here’s the medicine that’s trusted by thousands of families who now enjoy long, restful sleeps. Hyland’s 4 Kids Calm ’n Restful brings on the calm and it does not cause any next-morning fogginess, so your child is back in business after a good night’s rest!” I copied this directly from their website and I have to say that this product has worked wonders to combat jet lag, not only for Z, but for us parents as well.  Be aware that this natural calming aid is for ages 2 and up. I would say that this is our saving grace almost every time we take a long flight (that and the iPad).  None of us has had jet lag when we used this homeopathic remedy. Not only that but one bottle has lasted us a year and a half! It is worth the money.

After Your Arrive At Your Destination:

Wake Your Child Up at Their Normal Waking Time in the New Time Zone 

Regardless of what time your child fell asleep on the flight, it is imperative that you wake them up at their normal time in the time zone you are traveling to. For example, our flight from Tokyo left at 10:45 p.m. and arrived in Los Angeles, California, USA at 8:30 a.m.. We woke Z up at 7:45 a.m. California time to jumpstart her internal clock to the correct time. Mind you that Chad and I are were running on very little sleep as well, so we are all a bit tired, but we just assume that the first day will be rough and we will all be a little cranky.

Do Your Best to Not Let Them Nap The First Day

The first day in a different time zone can be difficult for anyone of any age. What we have found is it is better to get the hard part out of the way on the first day. Push yourself and your toddler to stay awake the whole first day. This can be very difficult. I admit there have been times that I have let Z fall asleep when she seemed like she needed to, and I have learned this lesson the hard way. It was a much longer time before she acclimated to the new time zone and when she was up all night, so was I. A cranky toddler plus a grumpy mom equals a not very nice time. Do your best to power through the exhaustion that first day and wait to sleep until bedtime.

Put Them to Bed at Their Normal Time in the New Time Zone

This is self-explanatory I think, and goes along with the last two tips. Your child should be so tired that they fall asleep at their normal (in the new time zone) bed time and sleep through until their regular time of waking the next day. This has almost always worked for our daughter, although there were sometimes that she was up for an hour or two in the night. That was a rare occurrence though, usually she was too wiped out and didn’t even move the whole night. Neither did I for that matter.

Make Sure That They Drink Lots Of Water and Eat Healthy Food

Obviously your child will be tired and probably a bit grumpy that first day. So will you most likely. But it is important to not cave into the desires of your child when they want sugary snacks when they feel tired. The same goes for you parents, but this post is about children, and I assume that you will not have a melt-down tantrum in the middle of a 7-11. Or at least I hope not…

Make sure that you encourage your child to drink lots of water and eat a well-balanced diet (all the time, but especially right after a long time traveling… airline food IS NOT healthy usually). Jet lag is made worse by lethargy from dehydration and crappy food. So eat and drink well and make sure your toddler does, too.

Repeat As Necessary 

This is pretty self-explanatory. If the above tips for after the flight didn’t work the first day, try again on the second day. The longest it has taken us has been a couple of day before we all felt normal again. Every child is different and some may have no issues, or need a few days to readjust to the new time zone.

Good luck and happy traveling!  Let me know if you try these tips and how they worked for you!


***Just a final note: Not all of these tips may help you, maybe none of them will.  You know your child(ren) better than I do, so decide what will work best for your family and tweak them as you see fit. These are tips that we have found to work well for us and are not miracles by any means. These are meant to be helpful suggestions only and your results may differ. The links that I have provided for products or services are not sponsored and are recommendations from me alone. For more information, please see my Disclosure page.***



  40 comments for “Tips for Traveling With a Toddler: Jet Lag

  1. joylovestravel
    July 25, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    Good tips for older kids (and adults too)! The Hylands Calm and Restful stuff sounds good – might be seeking that out for myself!

    • andthreetogo
      July 25, 2014 at 11:04 pm

      It is amazing how good it works! If you have a whole foods in your area, check it out!

  2. The Vanilla Housewife
    July 25, 2014 at 11:33 pm

    Letting them run wild before a trip (or a date with the husband hahaha) has always been a tactic in the house. 😀

    • andthreetogo
      July 26, 2014 at 8:31 am

      It’s a good way of calming them down in the long run right?! 🙂

  3. expatlingo
    July 26, 2014 at 12:04 am

    On our last long flight they couldn’t get the seat back entertainment system to work for the first two hours of the flight (and I was very afraid that they wouldn’t get it to work for the whole 12 hours flight!). I had made the ridiculous mistake of bringing virtually no back up entertainment, so I was petrified with fear over how I’d keep my two kids entertained! I was already dreaming up puppets using the air sick bags and thinking through how many hours of battery life my phone had… This was also a daytime flight (the only direct flight from Hong Kong to Seattle), so I had no hope that they would sleep.

    • Bronwyn Joy @ Journeys Of The Fabulist
      July 26, 2014 at 12:41 am

      That feeling of relief when they finally get it to work…

      • andthreetogo
        July 26, 2014 at 8:33 am

        Such relief!

    • andthreetogo
      July 26, 2014 at 8:33 am

      Oh my! We had to do a daytime flight from Chicago to London this year. It was the only way to get there! So frustrating, but the iPad saved us, that and letting z walk up and down the aisle with us (when they let us–they kept the seatbelt light on about 4 of the 7 hours).

  4. Sue Slaght
    July 26, 2014 at 12:47 am

    So happy I only have to deal with my jet lag. 🙂 Great tips and I will smile the next time I see toddlers running madly around an airport.

    • andthreetogo
      July 26, 2014 at 8:34 am

      That would be so appreciated! 🙂 I sometimes miss the days of a Valium and glass of wine to get through a long flight. 🙂

      • Sue Slaght
        July 26, 2014 at 9:49 am

        Having grown children we often reassure parents whose children are crying or screaming or trying to leap out of the plane ( just kidding) that it doesn’t bother us. We say our kids were way worse. 🙂

        • andthreetogo
          July 26, 2014 at 9:50 am

          You are a wonderful person to do so.
          Often that kind of encouragement can get me through the whole flight more relaxed. 🙂

          • Sue Slaght
            July 26, 2014 at 10:03 am

            My daughter was the toddler from some other planet. 95% of the time she was angelic and then 55 of the time as if possessed by some demon. I so well remember how people had the power just with a look or a word to put me at ease or stress me so I thought I might have an aneurysm. I’m just paying forward the kindness others showed me. 🙂

  5. freebutfun
    July 26, 2014 at 12:49 am

    So still no miracles out there? 😉 Sensible tips though!

    The last time we flew Finland-NZ (27hrs of flighing+8 hrs of driving) with a 14months old and a 2,5 years old was the worst. The flights were ok, but obvioulsy I didn’t read my book and didn’t get bored on the flight, but the there is an 11 hour time difference. The forst day the kids just fell asleep at 5pm, as much as we tried to keep them up. Then they woke up at 1am to play, we had breakkie at 3am…

    So the one tip I have to add is: sleep when toddler sleeps on the plane (when you watch that one movie/read that one book, by the time you are done and about to sleep, at least one of the toddlers will wake up. Says Mr Murphy), and if toddlers fall asleep the next day, you go to sleep as well. And succumb to the fact that you can’t take care of your own jet lag until you’ve gotten your kids in some rhythm.

    • andthreetogo
      July 26, 2014 at 8:37 am

      That is a good point! I will add that!

  6. Bronwyn Joy @ Journeys Of The Fabulist
    July 26, 2014 at 12:52 am

    Thanks for this post (and the shout-out)!

    The nap-before-flight thing. Do you think it still works when your child completely lacks a quiet/tired stage and instead goes straight from calm/awake/alert to radioactive-squirrel-on-crack?

    • andthreetogo
      July 26, 2014 at 8:40 am

      I wouldn’t know honestly! Z doesn’t have that, she sometimes gets a little over-emotional when she’s tired, but that’s about it before she crashes.

      I know there are children that do though. If that is the case for you, I would leave that tip out and just do the run wild one maybe. 🙂 at least maybe they would be physically tired if not mentally?

      • Bronwyn Joy @ Journeys Of The Fabulist
        July 26, 2014 at 9:31 am

        I think the run around before hand does help flush the adrenalin out of the system under the circumstances (reduces the cortisol/increases the endorphins? it’s some neurochemical thing I’m sure of it).

        Even so, though… there have been times I’ve had to forcibly restrain an overtired toddler.

        • andthreetogo
          July 26, 2014 at 9:37 am

          That’s where the calm forte might be helpful 🙂 haha

          • Bronwyn Joy @ Journeys Of The Fabulist
            July 26, 2014 at 10:03 am


            Anyway, thanks for this write-up – gives me more confidence to try it out.

          • andthreetogo
            July 26, 2014 at 10:33 am

            I hope some of them will work for you 🙂

  7. Less to More
    July 26, 2014 at 4:32 am

    Wow, very thorough! We don’t have any major traveling planned in the near future, but I’ll definitely keep these in mind if we travel across a few time zones.

    • andthreetogo
      July 26, 2014 at 8:41 am

      Thanks! It’s pretty easy with only one child, I would be interested to know how it goes with 4. 🙂 you will have to let me know if you end up taking a long trip. 🙂

  8. Sara Sanger
    July 27, 2014 at 1:50 am

    Just got off a plane with tons of kids. Evening flight. I was traveling with two other friends that were grumbling about the crying at takeoff, and I turned and said, “Kids are a fact of life, if you’re going to act like that I’m changing my seat.” All the kids were nicely settled and asleep a half hour after we were in the air. I love seeing parents traveling with kids! It was way worse to travel with a smoker who couldn’t have a cig at layover. She was way worse than a toddler!

    • andthreetogo
      July 27, 2014 at 6:35 am

      You are so right!
      Adults can make a flight much more uncomfortable for everyone than a child. I think it may be the fact that adults should know better and should have the ability to change their reactions and behavior.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  9. Naomi
    July 28, 2014 at 8:28 am

    Perfect article, thank you! I’ve been travelling fairly close to home (e.g. Japan) with my toddler so I haven’t had to take on the extra challenge of jet lag yet. I’ll keep this on hand when I’m brave enough to venture a bit further 🙂

    • andthreetogo
      July 28, 2014 at 8:33 am

      Thank you! I hope that they will help you and your little one. 🙂 Japan is a fantastic country (we have only been to Tokyo, but it was awesome!). Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  10. shelahmoss
    July 29, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    Those are some great tips. I wish I had read these when we started taking our daughter traveling internationally.

    • andthreetogo
      July 29, 2014 at 9:54 pm

      Thanks! We have had a lot of time to test them out so I hope they work for you the next time you guys travel!:)

  11. Katie
    July 29, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    Fantastic trips! We travel often and I always let my kids run around the airport despite the crazy looks I get. I’ve never heard of the Hyland’s! I’ll have to look for that!!

    • andthreetogo
      July 30, 2014 at 7:21 am

      Airport running is a must. 🙂
      Hylands is so great, all of their products are. I would definitely check them out. (They have products for adults too!)

  12. thankfultravelers
    July 30, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    You know, I could have used all these comments for years and years with your dad. Teehee
    Great post! Man it would have been helpful to have amusing and helpful blogs like yours when you all were little. Great post!

    • andthreetogo
      July 30, 2014 at 10:19 pm

      Thanks mom! No naps for dad while traveling anymore! Haha

      • thankfultravelers
        July 30, 2014 at 10:22 pm

        WHAT!! Oh no! You know what happens when he doesn’t nap, everyone “knows EXACTLY what they were doing!”

        • andthreetogo
          August 5, 2014 at 12:33 pm

          I think you should just make him have his own room, like a solitary confinement, for the first day. Doesn’t that sound fun?! Hahah

  13. Pingback: Tips For Traveling With a Toddler: What To Pack To Carry On | And Three To Go
  14. thriftytravelmama
    August 3, 2014 at 12:57 am

    Great tips! This is pretty much exactly what we do. Running around like crazy wild animals before the flight is a must. And we are on the same page about following everything according to the new time zone. It drives me crazy when people say, well, it’s only like 2pm at home, I should stay up! No, no, no… We had high hopes for Hylands, but Calm Forte never worked for our kids :(. We have used lots of homeopathic stuff, but this just didn’t seem to do a thing.

    • andthreetogo
      August 3, 2014 at 6:52 am

      Oh that is such a bummer about the calm forte! I know it won’t work for everyone. If I find anything else I will let you know.
      But if everything else you are doing works than that is good! Setting to the new time right away is the best way for us for sure. It’s so hard sometimes, but a couple days of hard instead of week or two of hard is much better. 🙂

      • thriftytravelmama
        August 4, 2014 at 12:17 pm

        I couldn’t agree more. It’s difficult to convince people of that though ;).

  15. September 17, 2018 at 6:06 pm

    Such relief!That is a good point! I will add that!

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