Let’s face it, nothing is worse than finally have the opportunity to go on your dream trip and when arrive you feel terrible for the next few days. Many of us, don’t have a lot of time. Maybe one or two weeks to travel and by the time your body gets used to the new time zone, chances are you have to head home and start the whole process of acclimating again.
There is nothing you can do to perfectly beat jetlag, but there are few strategies to make things much more bearable so you can get the most out of your vacation. And don’t forget, for the vast majority of human history, most people stayed within a twenty-five-mile radius of where they were born.
We weren’t designed to be hurtled across hemispheres so at worst take your suffering with the grain of salt that you’ve been given the opportunity to do something 99.9% of humanity was never able to do.
Start Preparing Early
If you are travelling across one time zone, you shouldn’t even be reading this. You don’t have jetlag. This is for those of us who the really tricky adjustment of four or more hours.
As the days lead up to your trip, start moving your schedule to more naturally match the time where you are travelling. This will depend on the direction you are going but start going to bed later, waking up earlier or some combination of the two. You may have to suffer through a little tiredness during those last few days before your trip, but you’ll be happy for it later.
The Power Move
This is not for the faint of heart, but if you have one of those massive time changes of over eight hours then nothing beats staying up the entire night before your flight. You will be exhausted, but you can sleep on the plane and this very quickly speed up the process of adjustment.
Sleep on the Plane?
As soon as you board your flight, you should set your watch and your phone (you’ll have to do this manually) to your new time zone. It’s common sense, but if it is sleeping time there, then sleep. If you have pulled the power move and stayed up all night, chances are it may be night time there. Use this as an opportunity to get that needed rest.
The harder part will actually be making yourself get up. If you are snoozing the first five hours of your flight, and see your new time zone is saying it’s 10:00 am, it’s time to get up. This is not going to be fun particularly if the entire plane is darkened and everyone around you is sleeping. Push through this! Ring the flight attendant for a cup of coffee, do a little stretch and put on a movie or something.
Sun, Sun and Sun
Like every other creature on Earth, the sun is what sets our bodies’ rhythm. The more sun you see, the quicker you can adjust yourself. If you are lucky enough to have gotten a window seat on your long haul flight, then start cracking that window. If you neighbours are sleeping, just open it a little it, but the more sun you can get as you approach the destination, the better it will be for you. Gradually open it more and more as you get closer in.
For the Love of God: DON’T NAP!
This is the trickiest part. Maybe you can’t sleep on planes and don’t get a wink. Or maybe, like many people you just like an afternoon nap after an exhausting day. For the first couple days, don’t do it. Because this is going to slow down your ability to adjust. If the sun is up, then try to stay awake.
Of course, there is only so much coffee you can drink. So if your eyelids feel like they have twenty-kilogram weights on them at 3 pm, then get out and do some exercise. A quick run, swim or workout will boost your endorphins and will wake you back up. Match that with a cold shower, and you will be able to at least make it past sunset.
A Little Suffering for A Big Reward
The entire point of these strategies is to reduce the impact of jetlag so you can make the most out of your vacation. However, like everything in life, there is always a trade-off.
Take the one day of moderate suffering where you can at least relax on the plane instead of feeling like garbage in the middle of a tour of some place you have been dreaming of going your entire life.
Don’t forget, these strategies work both ways. For many of us, it’s easy to deal with jetlag when we are on vacation and have the wonders of the world outside our doors to see. The natural love of travel and adrenaline should be able to push you through anyway. Jetlag is worse on your way home when you have to get back to reality and the routine.
As much as it might hurt you to sacrifice a day of travel, try to allow a day to have before you go back to work or school. This will help you get you bearings and probably do some much-needed laundry and other errands. Not only that, it will help with your post-travel blues if you can relax a little at home and see some friends before entering the real world and begin dreaming of your next chance to get out and explore the world all over again.