Jet-lag Hacks

One of the things about going around the world with little kids, that you will not see on FB and Instagram, is the jet lag after. I can barely manage to settle my own clock. I remember sleeping for 14 straight hours when we flew to Chile, but that luxury (along with a few others) is wiped away with the arrival of the diapered ones in your travel itinerary.

Dealing with jet-lag, for adults, involves a few simple tricks

  • Keep awake/asleep through the flight depending on what time of the day (at destination) you arrive, so you can switch the clock to fit the local time.
  • Wake up with sunrise and exercise to get the blood circulation, and hence oxygen to brain, going.
  • Eat more fruits and salads at more frequent intervals and make sure you drink enough water/liquids

With young children and babies, things get more complicated. While S, the older one, is a delightful traveler who enjoys company in the flight, eats most of the local food and wakes up enthusiastically even for the early morning activities, even she used to get high fever for 1 day whenever we returned. K, now almost 2 years old, is a different story altogether. He takes upto 10 days to get over jet-lag and that too after making sure we are easing him into the new timing.

For kids, or at least K, there seems to be a sleep disruption as well as a tummy disruption. Traveling East to West is easier. As the day ends later than ours began, we take a short nap on arrival and then definitely wake up for then next meal at local time. East to West is more complicated. The day ends sooner than our body clock and its difficult to sleep earlier. So, we have been there, done that and found a few hacks –

  1. Night flights – if the flying distance is longer than 4 hours, we prefer night flights. We then land when it’s getting day and can make do with a short afternoon nap and adjust to the time more easily. Also, for the younger ones, managing a night flight is easier since there is little or no physical activity possible during the day and the kid gets all wound up. It isn’t exactly convenient, because the kids are rested and you are not, upon landing; but I’d rather have happy kids and cranky mom than cranky kids and cranky mom. For older kids (above 4-5 maybe) you could well take the day flight so you and the kids are able to sleep at the same time.
  2. Work with the sun – our bodies are tuned to naturally wake up when the sunlight pours in, so keep the curtains drawn open and allow the morning sun to wake you and the kids up. Equally, switch off the lights at night to send the body sleep signals. Even if the kids wake up at night, try to do activities in low light or choose calm activities like reading or colouring etc. You will find K running around and shrieking though, even in the dark.
  3. Swap the time one hour a day – when flying West to East, the kids will stay awake at night and then sleep through till even noon, sunshine or not. We advance the wake up  time one hour per day (if you have the luxury of course). So wake up at noon and sleep at midnight on day 1, wake up at 11 and sleep at 11 the next and so on. Afternoon naps, if any, should fit this moving cycle, else the night sleep time does not adjust well.
  4. Exhaust – swimming/park time are my best friends for combating jet-lag. Being out helps the body adjust to the sun – natural wake-sleep cycle and the activity helps night time jumping around less likely.
  5. Feed frequently – I didn’t have a clue what a disruption feeding cycles can be for a toddler. K has bad bouts of colic when we travel. So we now make sure he eats something every 2 hours if awake – 1 biscuit, half an egg, 4 grapes – literally anything that prevents a build up of gas in the tummy. Also, he has milk 5-6 times a day in stead of his usual 3 times. The child might refuse to eat and may look fine and active, but do make sure she eats, even if its just 2 bites. Even cake will do, though pure sugar like candy usually is worse than being hungry.
  6. Avoid cycle interference – (if its beginning to sound like a PhD, it’s because I have gone through some bad times). Apparently, the feeding cycle and the sleep cycle may  not sync up at the same time. Kids can sleep at the right times and still wake up due to hunger or an unsettled tummy. So we make sure dinner is slightly earlier, there is a small snack just before sleeping and there is a bottle of coconut water right next to the bed for night-time hunger pangs. Giving K water or coconut water every-time he wakes up at night, helps.
  7. Be ready to dance – given the sleep time is so disrupted, its possible the child wakes up just as he is about to nod off. Prepare to spend anywhere between 2x-3x the time it usually takes to put the kid to bed.
  8. Linger – my kids frequently wake up within 10 mins to half hour of  sleeping off, so I usually linger around the room to calm them immediately and prevent a full wake up. Cuddle up for longer, keep singing/humming, even if they look asleep.

Load up on patience & coffee. We have found jet-lag to be the most troublesome part of travelling with kids so far.

Travelling with two!

I did it! Yes, its worth a celebration, what with his colic and her ‘being the older sibling’ issues. And without the new trend of distributing chocolates for the co passengers. Babies cry, parents’ lives have to go on and the co passengers, being adults themselves, have to be able to live that down with grace and without candy.

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We celebrated his first flight at 2 months with a cake in Calcutta. The city looks absolutely stunning between Christmas and New Year (the weather trumps the pujo decor).

K was wonderfully curious about the whole experience, looking around at the lights, fascinated by the windows, amused by the diaper change in the plane. Diaper changes – so choose the seat closest to the loo, when travelling with two; the trips more than double, trust me!

I used the sling with him facing in, but he might well have enjoyed facing out. S was her usual self, it helped to have UNO cards and a card to prepare.

It might have been useful to carry both, the sling and the pram with two kids under 5; but since i was alone, the luggage and pram were impossible.

All in all, a good test run for Oman. Oh yes, we celebrated K’s being born 2 weeks early by making booking for New Years, since, you know 2.5 months is a good enough age to travel 🙂

Top Tips for Flying with Kids – across the ages

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Taking a flight with kids can make one question whether to take a vacation far away at all. Here are some tips on managing kids across the ages; Sara took her first flight at 6 weeks to Varanasi and longest one of around 12 hours en route LatAm.

1. For kids under one, the biggest worry is the take off and landing. The standard advice is to ensure the child is swallowing at both times. So delay feeding time to match take off/landing. This has the additional advantage of putting the younger children to sleep and giving you some peace in flight.  The alternates that work, depending on age, are the baby soother (0-3m, 6m if you’re OK with the habit), candy or water. Do stuff the ears with cotton for under 1 yo. If the years are already blocked, swallowing will help a bit. For older kids, get them to blow air out with nose and mouth (puffed up) closed. It blows the air out of the ears and helps release pressure. The technique is used often when dealing with pressure in scuba diving.

2. Choice of seats – for the under 6m olds, opt for the baby bassinet seats. One needs to tell the airline staff while checking in and then while boarding. In case there is a shortage, they give seats to the younger ones going by passport age. The downside to this is they disallow use during take off and landing which means you might need to wake up baby. For older kids, the best case scenario is to have 2 vacant seats next you you on which the child can lie down, so choose the 2 aisle seats (plus 1 middle for over 2 yo) at the back. Chances are the middle seats will be empty (make a request that they be given out last, at the check in counter). For shorter flights, window seats provide better entertainment; or pick aisle seats if you are likely to move out often. Oh! and don’t pick the last row, the armrest doesn’t go up and the vacant seats are a total waste, as we discovered once.

3. Board in the end. While they all invite families with kids to board first, children tend to get restless quickly and its difficult to settle them down for takeoff after 20 mins of ‘sit down quietly’, ‘don’t walk around now, people are boarding’ and ‘no, let the plane take off then i will give it to you’. In any case you will need to keep the bags under the seat in front of you, since they need to be pulled out every 10 mins for something or the other.

4. in-flight entertainment is most important, as much for you as for the co-passengers’ sanity :). Do keep an assortment of ‘doing things’ – sticker books, crayons (though monitoring is required to preserve the plane), story books, hot-wheels, puzzles, card games, magic slate work for us. Allow the crawlers and toddlers to roam around and explore the plane after take off. Sara is frequently sent off to count how many children/people with mustache/sleepers are there.  Do plan some calm activity that the child enjoys for meal time, you need her to sit while the cart moves around.

5. The hand-baggage holds diapers for 2 days(as per age), an extra set of clothes for the kiddo and self including a warm layer, a stole/shawl which can double up as a sheet and some biscuits and fruits in case the airline food is rejected. Wipes, lots of them, and some tissues. We usually carry an in-flight bag for S, which she puts together and has her socks, eye patch and some of the smaller toys she would like to play with.

6. Do request for the stroller to given to you at the gate and NOT with the baggage. Also, if there is likely to be rain in either city – departure or arrival, ask for the stroller to be wrapped in plastic. We landed in Paris with a stroller dripping water and completely non-usable for the day that we were there 🙁

7. For long haul/international flights, night flights work best for both, baby management and jet lag, since all of us sleep through. Return to India, though, always is worse in terms of jet lag and it takes about a week to recover especially for 12 hr differences. If you figure out a way to deal with that, do share – an awesome treat in return :). also, M will roll his eyes, but the homeopathic medicine Arnica 30 is good for a tired kid refusing to sleep. But of course, consult you doctor before giving any medicines. (yes yes, you can now tell i have worked too long for GSK)

8. Things NOT TO CARRY

* noisy toys – rattles, musical stuff, drums (don’t carry those even if they don’t make a noise!). They will turn out to be a bigger nuisance for you

* a separate drag able barbie/ben-ten suitcase the child will insist be carried as handbag since she will ‘manage’ it. Such cases are great for overnight stays or when checked in. As handbags, they are nightmares as the child will hardly drag it and you will have to carry it all along.

* tubes – of creams, edibles, tooth-paste. Bottles work better. Tubes leak more.

* bottles that leak even a teeny tiny bit. The pressure makes the leaks worse and everything in the bag is rendered useless.

9. Check for a play area at the airport if you have time to pass. The physical activity before allows for more peacetime in flight.

10. Talk junior through the whole process before-hand. They understand more than they let on. So telling them in advance about the flight, what will be allowed, what won’t, can sometime help more than you imagined.

Happy flying!

UPDATE 2015:

11. For bottle feeding, pre load the appropriate scoops of formula in the bottles to avoid having to take out the box etc etc while the baby cries loudly for milk. Also, since water in the thermos also cools off during long flights; carry 1 thermos of boiling hot water and 1 of normal water. Mix the two in the beginning, and used the warm water later (it will get to warm soon from the flight AC).

12. Carry no spill sippy cups for yourself and the kids, so you can all enjoy hot and cold beverages in peace.