We are starting to plan for our next big trip, almost halfway around the world. As anyone with children can tell you, the first time you meet the extended family can be a bit of a strain; and going to the country of their citizenship for the first time will be interesting.
with a trip this long (first flight is four hours; then 2.5 hours stopover; then a 10-hour flight) you need to minimize the painpoints.
A big part of traveling that far is planning for the trip. I have written before about flying with toddlers and about flying with infants. The two are very different. Best case, your infant is cute and smiling to your seat neighbors as you taxi out to the runway, and then falls asleep for the duration of the journey.
The Jetlag Painpoint
Aside from the flight itself, one of the major painpoints is the jetlag. It is not just your kids waking up in the middle of the night and wanting to go out and play. They occasionally do that at home too. It is more about them not being able to fall asleep; not getting enough sleep; sleeping at odd hours and being grumpy and crying because they want to sleep but don't know how.
Timing The Excercise
There is a simple way to make sure your children get into the right rhythm as soon as possible, and that is perhaps counterintuitive: Tire them out.
This may sound like a no-brainer. Of course they need to be tired to sleep. But if your brain is tired but your body is going full steam, then you get monumental tantrums. You need to make the body more tired than the brain, and you need your children to get tited at the right time. If their bedtime at home is 7 PM, you need them to go to sleep at 7 PM locally and not wake up until the time their usual wake-up time.
That is quite a trick, as all parents know. It is even harder when they want to fall asleep at 3 PM the local time. Which means they will wake up at 3 AM, wake you up, not go back to sleep, and be grumpy and full of tantrums the entire day.
Research The Playgrounds First
So how do you make sure your kids get tired enough to fall asleep properly? Well, it is about two things: Research, and timing.
Timing first. This is not just about when to send your kids to bed. It is also about when to have dinner with your children, when your family should arrive at your destination, how long time you should take to getting to your place of stay, etc.
The time of arrival at your destination - the airport, that is - should not be too close to bedtime. Regardless of whether your kids slept on the plane or not, arriving just after lunchtime gives you the optimum amount of time to acclimatize. They will be tired but not so tired they can not stay awake. After getting your luggage and a light lunch at the airport (think sandwich), you take the train, bus, shuttle or rental car to where you will stay.
It does not matter if they sleep through the ride to where you will stay, wake them up when you get there or when you have to change trains. It may seem brutal but they are not ready to sleep yet. Give them some water and a snack, and go for a long walk in the neigborhood. A really long walk, at least an hour. You need to research this in advance so you do not get lost. And know how long it takes. There is always something interesting to see, independently of where you are going. But check in first, so you are rid of the luggage.
Now it is time to leverage the second preparation item, Research. You can find our a lot about the neigborhood on Google Maps and Google Streetview, but you need to check out what you find, both physically and online. Especially reviews can be helpful.
After the long walk, you locate the playground. It does not have to be big, but it should have some equipment so they can get some variation in their excercise. Slides and swings are enough, and never mind that your kids get their hands dirty digging in the sand.
Now comes the hard part. They have to run and play for at least an hour. They are already a bit tired from the long walk and they may complain about playing and want to go home. They will need some encouragement. Dinner when the big hand of the clock stands straight up is one way of encouragement, your playing along with them is another.
Advance Restaurant Booking
The next step is dinner. Instead of making your kids sleepy, it will probably perk them up as they get more energy in their bodies.
You need a restaurant close to your accomodation but you also need it to be family-friendly. This should influence your choice of the place to stay, too. If it is like most Japanese family restaurants, you may be stuck with a childrens menu that consists mainly of breaded and fried shrimp and orange juice.
After dinner you need to go "home", and familiarize youself with the place where you are going to stay. It should now be about 8 PM. Your kids may want to play some more so you can either give them a bath or dress them in pyamas straight away, and no later than 8 PM you should start the bedtime routine and let the kids go to bed.
It may require that you go to bed with them too. If you should happen to fall asleep too, there is no helping it: The total physical exhaustion has done its work.
It works for us. If it does not work for you, I contributed to a collection of tips where you are sure to find one that cures the jetlag of your kids.
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Tokyo to Sendai, previously of Bangkong and Honolulu. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning seven - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on email@example.com, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.