I keep swatting at my legs because I’m getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, sitting in a park bench in arguably Beijing’s kitschiest landmarks. We’ve already had a delicious variety of (fantastically-cheap) meals, explored the Temple of Heaven, and wandered through central Beijing’s via metro. And before we leave the city, our days are reserved for the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the like.
But the name of the game in these early days of travel is getting over jet lag. And as a by-product, not killing each other in the process. Since we woke up still a family of five, I’d say we’re on our way.
We’re in this trip for the long haul, and in most places, we’d rather go deep than wide. This sort of undertaking is quite a shock to everyday expectations, even for our seasoned-traveler kids, and we want to be gentle on their little hearts and bodies. So if going to a ridiculous theme park for an afternoon helps them adjust, so be it.
Jetlag: the struggle is real. You’ve gotta power through or else it’ll drag on needlessly, like pulling off a millimeter of Bandaid per day.
But I’ve found it crucial to remember that as hard as jet lag is for adults, it’s even harder on kids. I’ve heard it said kids need one day for every hour difference in the time change (so, 15 days for a 15-hour difference). Not quite sure that’s true, but it’s definitely not an overnight cakewalk.
Here are the most helpful things we do to power through jet lag.
1. Get outside.
There’s nothing as powerful as fresh air and sunshine to help our bodies acclimate to the current time zone. Unless it’s already dark when we check in, we toss our luggage on our beds, shower the airplane off our skin, and get right back outside.
When we do get outside, we stay moving as much as possible. Just a gentle stroll is sufficient—window shopping, finding a nearby park, whatever. When we stop for a meal or a coffee, we feel the tiredness barreling down, threatening to commandeer the rest of our day. So yep, we pay that tab and keep on walking.
3. Drink water.
It’s strangely easy to get dehydrated in a new place, so we score drinkable water asap, then carry a bottle as we walk—it’s magically restorative. Not quite sure of the science behind it, but water seriously helps speed up jetlag recovery.
4. Eat your first few meals according to the clock, not your body.
If we listened to our jetlagged bodies, we’d wake up ravenous in the middle of the night. In normal life, I’m a fan of only eating when we’re truly hungry, but for the first days in a new place, we ignore it and eat either when the culture dictates or when it’s most reasonably logical for the family. It speeds things up. (But we still get hungry at weird times… it takes a while.)
5. Grace, grace, and more grace.
We do our best to give it to ourselves individually, to pour it over the family collectively. We say things we don’t mean when we’re jetlagged. The whining is unreal. The four-year-old is up at five a.m., ready to rock and roll. It’s just a stage. We avoid any major mentally challenging activities, if we can at all help it (work, heavy reading for school, etc.), and we go light. We watch silly movies. We find ways to laugh.
The kids are honestly doing great; I’m so proud of their endurance right now. Every day we’re able to stay up later and later, and we’re sleeping in just a bit more each night. We’re on our way to settling into eastern hemisphere time. This is good, because we’ll be on it for the next four months.