Having recently experienced jet lag from flying from the west coast of the US to London, I wanted to share my lessons learned from that trip, as well as from previous trips. It’s important to realize that no matter how much you prepare, for the day you jump ahead 7 or 8 hours, it’s going to take a toll on you. So above all else, do what you can to be extra good to yourself and your travel companions.
The first order of business is to set yourself up for success, I’ve found the best possible scenario is to arrive in your next time zone after lunch but before dinner local. This will allow you to get a meal and then head to bed on the local time. Obviously, a lot of factors play into what flight schedule you end up with, but if you have the choice, try not to arrive after when you would normally be sleeping.
Another key element of booking your flight is which seat to select. There are two main schools of thought on seats. One, take a window seat that allows you to lean on the wall of the plane, a big aid when it comes to getting some sleep. It really helps me! The other choice is to grab an aisle seat. This makes it super easy to stand up and stretch your legs, and it lets you use the bathroom as much as you like without having to disturb your partner, or worse yet a stranger. Weigh the options, but choose wisely as this simple element can make or break your flight. Of course, if you’re super into seat selection check out SeatGuru.com.
Second, on the day of your flight, do everything you can to arrive at the airport with loads of time. The last thing anyone needs is the extra stress of running late for an international flight. So have your transportation to the airport sorted out, download your boarding pass, and be packed the day before you leave.
Third, carefully plan out your carry-on bag, to provide yourself with the essentials you need on the flight and in the airports. Start with the basic necessities like Rx meds, Kleenex, lotion, chapstick, comb/brush, hand wipes, water, snacks, entertainment (don’t forget your headphones) and clothing layers (socks, sweater/jacket). Then if you have room, consider some luxuries items like a small pillow, eye cover, earplugs, facial moisturizer, nasal moisturizer (Flonase, saline, etc.), and cough drops. Chances are you’re going to be on a plane or multiple planes for 9-14 hours and the air is going to dry you out, so you’re likely to walk off the plane with a sore throat.
Oh, and don’t forget to make sure any electronics you want to use on the flight are charged, just in case the seats don’t have power outlets or in-seat entertainment. Portable battery chargers are great options as well to keep your music, movies, and games playing.
Fourth, the food is going to suck if you get any at all, so take that into account ahead of time and bring your favorite snacks — treat yourself! And drink plenty of water on the flight; I’ve read 8 ounces for every hour of flying. Yes, it’s a pain to use the bathroom on a plane but being dehydrated is worse.
Fifth, you need to get some sleep on the plane, so whatever bedtime rituals you can re-create, to help with that, do it. Finish your meal, watch some tv, then take your sleep meds, melatonin, essential oils, or whatever, then finally make one last trip to the bathroom, and settle in. Some people treat themselves to an alcoholic beverage before bed, but I wouldn’t do this for several reasons. 1) It’s going to wake you up because you’ll have to pee, 2) it’s going to dehydrate you even more, and 3) you’re going to pay 5x the normal price. I have a really hard time sleeping sitting up, so I bring along my inflatable camp pillow, eye covers, and I pop in my headphone to listen to sleep stories on the Calm app. This usually works but not always, as was the case with my latest flight to London.
As a side note; before you land, you’ll likely get served another meal or snack. This is your cue, to get yourself sorted out for exiting the plane. Repack any sleeping gear, get your clothing layers sorted out for the weather at your destination, clean up a bit, and get your travel docs back in order (passport, visa, immigration paperwork, etc.).
Finally, when you arrive at your destination be kind to yourself and your travel companions. It’s easy to be overly excited, wanting to see everything the minute you walk off the plane but remember your body is still 7+ hours behind and likely dehydrated. So take your time seeing everything, eat healthy foods, limit your alcohol intake, nap but set an alarm, and expect it to take 1 or 2 days to get on the right schedule. If you feel a little under the weather, take extra care to identify what you need to feel more normal. Extra water, more snacks cough drops, allergy meds, chicken soup… whatever that is for you, just take care of yourself. It will pass!
I recently found myself up at 2 am in the hotel lobby reading a book and drinking coffee. It was actually nice to finish my book and just honor that that’s what I needed at the time. You might find that you’re hangry or oddly irritable when you wouldn’t normally be. Just recognize that’s what’s happening, take a moment to laugh at the situation, then stop and take care of yourself. Slow down, cut your day a little short, get a snack, take a nap, plop down in a cáfe or coffee shop and re-energize. Whatever you or your travel companions need, just give yourself permission to do that and have a great trip!
I am sure you have other tips and tricks that work well for you. Please leave a comment and share them with us, as we would love to continue to improve our travel skills and pass those ideas onto others. Thanks!!