Jet lag is a very real condition and, sadly, there is no magic cure. For many people (myself included) jet lag is also more than ‘just feeling a bit tired’ – the biggest symptom I get is actually tummy troubles whereas my husband and kids tend to get tired, headachy feelings. Darren, especially, gets quite the fuzzy brain causing him to get lost (and lose stuff) more often than is usual. He’s our go-to map guru so his tendency to lose his way the first couple of days impacts all of us.
Thankfully, there are some strategies to help minimize the impact jet lag has on you and your family.
1) Overnight flight – for a time difference of four hours or more, when heading west to east, an overnight flight is one of the best choices for getting your family settled on a new schedule.
2) Immediately set your watches to the new time (don’t even think about what time it is back home).
3) Sunlight and fresh air! I cannot stress this enough. For the first few days of your trip, plan as much outdoor time as possible. I find this especially helpful with my tummy troubles and Darren’s fuzzy brain. Eat at outdoor patios, take walks, ride on the top of a double decker tour bus, have a picnic or enjoy the playground – if you can’t get outside, at least try to be somewhere with big open windows. If your family is suffering from jet lag you should be spending at least half your waking hours outdoors. It isn’t about ‘activity’, it’s about using the sun to reset your biological clock so feel free to relax… just do it lying on the beach instead of lying in bed with the curtains drawn.
4) Eat light meals at mealtime in your new location. Even if you aren’t particularly hungry at mealtimes, put yourself through your normal meal routine – just eat a little lighter than you might normally do on a vacation. Try light, healthy meals to set up a routine the first few days and then (if you must *grin*) you can switch to a more decadent vacation diet! Our favorite family travel snack is ‘gorp’ (trail mix). If we wake up starving at 1am due to jet lag, a handful of gorp usually solves the problem. Dried cereal also works well… We’ve found most room service at hotels are happy to provide some any time of day if you’ve run out (especially if you have a cranky two year old fussing in the background).
5) Hydrate. Flights are dehydrating. Dehydration can cause jet lag symptoms to feel much worse so drink plenty of water, natural fruit juice, milk or herbal tea. Kids, especially, notice that water ‘tastes funny’ in a new location so you’ll need to pay close attention to ensure they’re drinking enough – here, again, careful packing or room service can be a life saver. I often pack water flavour packets or herbal teas to bring along to mask the strange taste of foreign water or I request slices of fresh fruit from room service to float in the water. For locations that don’t have safe tap water to drink, we splurge on bottled water. Darren and I also (mostly *grin*) avoid caffeine and alcohol for the first few days though I admit that the occasional cup of coffee gets consumed.
6) Sleep when the kids sleep. If you’re travelling with kids, I suggest putting yourselves to bed at their bedtime the first few nights. That way, if they wake during the night or extra early in the morning you aren’t as grumpy and over tired.
7) Sleep when you’re tired but try not to. *laugh*. Talk about mixed messages, am I right? What I’m trying to say is that your goal is to adapt to the new schedule but that you shouldn’t let yourselves reach the point of exhausted collapse in getting there. If you need to, take a 45 minute to hour long nap in the afternoon the first day or two. The girls always have fun putting ‘dad down for a nap’ on vacation since he’s the one with the fuzziest brain (he doesn’t nap, normally, so they get a kick out of it) – just make sure you keep the nap short. If you do nap during the day, leave the curtains open so your body continues to get those sunlight cues.
8) Remember that you’ll have jet lag going home too. You might want to give yourselves a few days to readjust before you need to be back at work or school.
Oddly, teenagers and people in early adulthood seem more immune to jet lag than younger kids and older adults. I guess teenagers are such a mess of stray hormones and irregular sleep schedules that a bit of jet lag goes practically unnoticed. Just because you aren’t feeling it, don’t assume your travel companions aren’t. And don’t be surprised if ten years ago it didn’t bother you a bit, but you’re suffering symptoms now. That’s what happened with me… throughout my twenties I could travel through time zones, no problem. Once I hit thirty, jet lag kicked in with a vengeance and I was like, “Oh! So this is what everyone’s been complaining about.”
For myself, as the unofficial family travel agent, I ‘pencil in’ jet lag recovery time — planning family friendly, relaxed, outdoor activities the first few days of each trip and saving the ‘hard core tourist’ sights, crowds and museums for later on. Some people don’t want to waste precious vacation minutes and I understand that but for me it’s time well spent!