India trip – Tips for international travel with a toddler and managing jet lag

We recently returned from a two weeks trip to India. As always, I find a lot of things have changed and yet, a lot remains unchanged. I also find that the more I live in the US,  the less and less patience I have for inefficiency, incompetency, lack of respect for personal space, body odor, and such other peeves that are beyond me.

We traveled from SFO on an Etihad Airways flight to Abu Dhabi and then onwards to Mumbai. The experience with the airline itself is a story that will be reviewed elsewhere. However, what I want to write here is TJ (Toddler J’s) experiences with jet lag.

The Etihad flight from SFO is a daytime flight which means, we departed at about 9:30 (45 minutes late) a.m., which meant that TJ spent the entire day pretty much awake. Given that we left for the airport at 5:15 a.m. and had to wake J up at 4:45 a.m., he was tired enough to sleep for about two hours upon take off but that still gave us about 12 hours to spend awake. We took a lot of activities – colors, crayons, markers, stickers, videos of his favorite shows, and such to keep him entertained. He was also distracted by the airline videos on Cars for sometime but given that he is only 22 months, his attention span wasn’t the greatest – just right for his age.

Therefore, he was awake for most of the trip. Thankfully, Aaron took the majority of the responsibility for J and I was able to relax on and off and even caught three movies in the 12 hours. However, it was definitely exhausting for all of us. Once in Mumbai, it was great to have our niece, equally jet lagged, hang out with J most of the time. She really made it so easy on us by playing with him, reading to him, distracting him, helping change his diaper and clothes, and other ways. She is a star and I am so grateful for her.

With regard to his sleeping schedule, we tried to keep him on an Indian time schedule. He woke up at odd hours for a week like around 3:00 a.m. – 3:30 a.m. but because Aaron and I were also jet lagged, it didn’t seem such an issue. We tried to let him hang out in his pack n play for a while, then got him into our bed, then finally got up, got him something to eat (and ate some ourselves – bread, butter, bananas, etc). We tried to get him to nap at his usual time give or take about 30-45 minutes. We diligently woke him up after two hours – his usual nap frame so he doesn’t over sleep and screw up his night sleep. At night, we had to be flexible, given that we were dependent on other people’s schedules and routines. Given that we were in India for a wedding, routines were hard to maintain but we did sincerely try and succeeded. Despite our best efforts, sleepytime was around 9:00 – 10:00 p.m. – later than his time here in the US. In any case, he gradually got over his jet lag in a week’s time. Hallelujah! It was really nice to have our sleep back.

Back in the US

Inside the airplane. Sleeping holding my little finger. Awww…
One terribly jet lagged 22 month old. Any surface is good enough to rest my head and fall into deep sleep.

Now that we are back in the US (we returned on Saturday morning), jet lag has been harder on all of us. For some reason, I have always found it easier to adapt on the way back with jet lag in India taking a week for recovery. This time, give that I am 7 months pregnant and helping J through his jet lag, even with Aaron’s incredible help, getting over this exhaustion is taking some time. To top it, TJ also has a cold, is incredibly cranky, sleep deprived, and not able to express what he is going through.

The flight back from Mumbai to SFO is a night time flight. Given that, TJ slept the entire flight with maybe only a total of 1 or 2 wakeful hours. Aaron and I were also able to catch up on some sleep, however disturbed it may have been.

Tips for international travel with a toddler and managing jet lag:

  1. Get your toddler her/his own seat. Yes, I know it is expensive. We spent nearly $5000 for three tickets to India but it was worth every penny to have TJ his own seat, lay him between us for his sleep, have his own TV screen when needed, own meals, and just more space. Of course, if you are traveling odd times of the year and depending your destination, you may rethink this but for us, this decision was a no-brainer.
  2. Keep your child on the schedule which she/he is used to at home. For example, if your child napped from 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. US, let him nap the same time in India (Indian time).
  3. Observe your child. Follow his lead but be mindful of time schedules. There were times when TJ was really, really tired, rubbing his eyes nonstop. When this happened, we let him take a short nap and that seemed to help. Given that we were waking up ridiculously early, the nap gave him enough energy to then stay awake till his next major sleep (nap or night time). Likewise, if he did the nonverbal sleep cues close to his sleep times, we kept him awake. It helped that we were all going through the same thing.
  4. Don’t worry about spoiling your jet lagged child on vacation. At home, he is not allowed to use a pacifier unless it is nap or sleep time. We let him have his paci during both flights. We also let him watch way more of his shows than he ever did. It gave us a much needed break and even though I do not condone technology doing the parenting for parents, if that’s what you want to do, just do it. No judgment.

These are the pointers I can think of for now. Will add to this list should I remember more.

Published by Suchitra

I am a former Communication Studies professor turned stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) to two multiracial kids. I write about my adventures in parenting and living a multicultural life with my family. Blogger at: Follow me: @thephdmama

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