Frequent travellers, it’s time to shed an unwanted companion that drags you down and detracts from your travel highs: jet lag. Kate Gibbs tells how.
There’s something to be said for travelling as did the first global conquerors: slowly. Yes, it took a year to get anywhere, they faced shipwrecks and pirates and scurvy. But at least they didn’t arrive bleary-eyed at their destinations, ridden with the spectacularly dull modern travel companion that is jet lag.
Jet lag plays with our internal clocks and does away with the first days of a trip, turning vibrant new experiences into pillowed blurs, muffled and squint-inspiring.
Well-meaning travellers will offer advice, from sleeping it out on arrival to only flying clockwise around the globe, even (I assume) if it takes three days and a world-trip ticket to get from Sydney to Perth.
In a bid to get selfies without eye bags on arrival, to cherish those first moments in a new destination, and to avoid craving croissant and an espresso for dinner on your first night in Paris, here’s the lowdown on jet lag tricks that actually work.
1. Plan ahead
Those who best avoid joining the ranks of the wandering undead book themselves on flights that land in the evening.
This trick is likely to minimise symptoms because a good night’s rest on arrival gives you a head start on the new routine.
2. Time check
As you board the plane in your home town, reset your watch to the local time at your destination. The longer you have imagining, as well as eating, drinking and behaving, as though it’s the time it is where you’re headed, the less of a shock it will be when you get there.
If that means declining the roast beef on take-off because in (say) Norway they’ll be waking up for waffles about now, then ask for water or a snack from the get go.
Better still, prepare ahead and pack your own serving of cereal, toast and avocado and juice, and skip the red wine the host is offering until your destination’s lunch or dinner time.
Then, sleep when your (soon to be) fellow Norwegians are sleeping, to prepare your body best.
No, not when you arrive, but before you land. Skip the movies and caffeine, the relentless stream of meals if you have to, but a sure way to lessen the blow of jet lag is to sleep on the plane.
Avoid naps. Stay awake until bedtime in your new time zone. Likewise, when you arrive stay awake until it’s definitely a reasonable hour for sleep.
If your body clock wakes you up at 3am telling you it’s time for lunch, avoid turning to your phone or television to ease the pain. A book or a bath will put you in better stead to head back to sleep until morning (finally) arrives.
4. Drink, don’t drink
The most well-known and wilfully ignored travel tip is to avoid alcohol just before, during and after you land. Dehydration is not jet lag, but it does have a huge impact on the severity of your jet lag symptoms.
Need a glass of wine to nod off to sleep after take-off? Fine, but limit the drinks to one or two in 24 hours to really shun the jet lag drag.
While wine and spirits are off the menu, keep the water flowing. The more water you drink the better you will feel on arrival. Flying has a nasty way of sucking the vibrancy out of your skin and mood, and water is a sure way to replenish it.
5. Embrace the stopover
Take pity on those poor souls asleep and wedged between a wheelie bin and a Chanel duty-free store at the airport, and don’t become one of them.
Trying to find a comfortable place to sleep at the airport should be a deterrent enough – plus who needs to see your dribbling unconscious self as they pick up their Starbucks on the way to Hong Kong centre? Instead, walk and move on your stopover to keep jet lag at bay.
Movement is great for your circulation, helps prevent puffy ankles, and while all you may want to do is sleep, movement takes the doze out of your destination. Some savvy travellers swear by another stopover secret: sunglasses.
Keep the stimulating lights out of your eyes and keep your circadian rhythms in tune with your destination by donning dark glasses when you’re supposed to be sleeping. You may look odd wearing glasses indoors, but you’ll be the one laughing when you arrive feeling more fresh and awake than your travel companions.
6. Let it shine
As you accept your new time zone on arrival, get out under those rays of sunshine as much as you can. Even if you’re on a winter escape, allow your skin to hit the UV rays. If it’s bikini weather, all the better.
Even if your mind refuses to accept it’s daytime, at least you can force your body to. Our body clocks are controlled by the hormone melatonin, which is produced when it gets dark to prepare your body for sleep.
At dawn, your body stops producing the hormone to prepare you for the day. A good dose of sunshine is a natural way to give your body the wake-up call it needs in a new time zone.
7. Upgrade your journey
Sometimes all the stands between you and the defeat of jetlag is a cosy flat bed in Business Class. Redeeming miles or points for long-haul upgrades is a sure way to overcome the worst of travellers’ least favourite companion.
Just be sure not to undo all the goodness that extra sleep will give you by making the most of the drinks trolley.
If you love travelling, there are career choices you can make to have a lifestyle of perpetual travel, while working online. Learn more about becoming a digital nomad here.
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