I never had any experience with jet lag until I was an adult. The way people talk about it, you’d think it was some kind of illness, zapping all your energy and sometimes lasting for days.
My first long flight from Seattle to London, was a 22 hour trip. I arrived at 2 pm their time and was feeling fantastic! Chatty Kathy over here had made it across the pond! I told my ride how great I felt despite the long flight. “I won’t need a nap!”. He smiled, squinted his eyes, and said, “just give it an hour.”
Sure enough, after I put down my bags and was introduced to my friend’s family, my eyes were suddenly so droopy I felt like a forgotten ice cream cone on a hot day. For the next week, I was on a regimented schedule of vitamin D and Melatonin and frequent sits under the special UV lamp. Maybe it really is a sickness you contract on airplanes.
During my second venture outside the US, I naturally discovered the way to prevent jet-lag. It’s worked on all my trips since. In fact, knowing what I know now, I’ve decided to classify jet lag as “not real,” or an excuse invented by business travelers to justify taking naps in their boring meetings.
Let me share my flight philosophies and hopefully you, too, can learn to make the best of your hours at 10,000 feet.
The way I see it, there are two types of fliers: The Sleepers and the Non-Sleepers.
If you’re a sleeper:
Stay up all day before the flight, or take the red eye flight.
Get a window seat so people don’t have to awkwardly climb over you on their way to the bathroom.
Once you’ve hit 10,000 feet, pop a few melatonin or valerian root pills to help get your rest. (Even though it’s all natural, Valerian root will knock you out.) You could also take St. John’s Wart to calm anxiety.
Bring the little things that make you comfortable: headphones or earplugs, a neck pillow, a cozy sweater or scarf, and an eye cover.
The bright side of being a sleeper is that if you time it properly, that airplane sleep could count as your night’s sleep and you have one less hotel, hostel, or Couchsurfing night to pay/plan for.
If you’re a non-sleeper:
I’m not a sleeper. For one, the white noise on a plane is actually super loud, especially if you’re sitting near the wings, and I can never get comfy. As an official cheap skate, it’s my personal belief that when I pay for something, I should squeeze out as much as I can. I watch as many movies and drink as many drinks as possible. Here’s what you need to keep in mind if you don’t sleep well on planes:
Think of a long flight as some much needed, “me”time.
If you’re an overachiever, stay up all day before the flight, or take the red eye.
Spend the flight watching movies.
Drink coffee. There’s an unlimited supply, after all. I love coffee. (Since the stewards/stewardesses are coming back repeatedly, be ultra polite and maybe bring some chocolates or a gift card for them.)
Bring a sudoku book, magazine and a notepad for to-do lists and random wisdom that floats into your head.
Drink lots of water (to stay hydrated throughout all your coffee drinking).
Naturally, you’ll get up to go to the bathroom, probably once an hour with all those liquids. When you do, take a lap around the cabin and stretch, either standing or in your seat.
Meditate, if you’re into that. The dimmed lights, white noise, and the fact that most everyone else is (asleep) in their seats, makes this an ideal time for some mindfulness.
To avoid jet lag:
Personally, I roll my cheapskate and jet lat strategies all into one. I try my best to get a full nights sleep the night before my flight but in most cases, I’m too excited and can’t fall asleep. I stay up for the flight and then the whole first day in a new place. It gets real difficult around dinner time but I stay awake until at least 8pm local time. Then I set an alarm for 8am the next morning. To set yourself up for success, avoid the sleeping area and try to go out.
That’s been the best strategy for me so far.
-I get me-time on the plane. (Sure I’m a little cranky for one day but I’m so excited to be in the new place that it’s not even that bad.)
-I get the most rewarding night of sleep of my life (the night after staying up for nearly 2 days each time I change time zones).
-I conquer jet lag all in one haul.
If you’re going to be a frequent flier and/or a nomad, learning how to deal with jet lag will come naturally. If you try my technique, you don’t have to spend the first few days in a fog. You worked hard to travel. Being here is a blessing and I’m sure you don’t want to waste any time. If you nip it in the bud, jet lag is just a day or so of being tired, instead of three days of drawn out grogginess.
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