Long-haul flights have become a recurring feature of my life. Living 8 time zones away from my family means there will be at least a few round-trip journeys a year consisting of 12+ hour flights. I’ve recently returned from one such journey, and one of the questions people kept asking me, on both ends, was how horrible did I feel from the jet lag? The assumption being that inevitably my answer would fall somewhere on the scale of horrible-feeling. (This scale, I imagine, runs roughly from “lemon juice in a paper cut,” all the way up to “Donald Trump is really the president of the United States and that’s actually a thing now.”)
But I didn’t feel horrible at all, and I almost never do, and I don’t think you have to, either. Here are some things that will help.
1) Stay hydrated. This is probably the biggest single contributing factor to non-horribleness. Apply this maxim with as much zeal as you #staywoke. I look around the plane sometimes and wonder where other people are stashing their giant water bottles, and then am forced to sadly conclude that they for some bizarre reason didn’t bring their giant water bottles. That’s a mistake. Bring a big reusable bottle (I like HydroFlasks) and fill it up when you get through security. If you’re nice to the flight attendants they might even fill it up for you mid-flight if you ask at a non-annoying time in a non-annoying way.
*Aside: I’ve had occasion to spend some time in Heathrow Terminal 5 recently, and I struggled to find a water fountain. They assured me (only a little snootily) on Twitter that there are millions of water fountains and I’m a big dumb jerk for not finding one. I dunno. I looked and failed to find. On more than one occasion. This last time, I found a water jug sitting out at a coffee stand. Desperate times, etc, etc. Just don’t get on the plane without your own water supply, is all.
2) Change your phone’s time zone. Or, do you wear a watch like some classy person in the before-times? Change that too. It can be somewhat disquieting, especially when you’re travelling east and therefore losing hours. My journey back to Dublin from my most recent trip began with a 9 hour flight from Seattle to London. I got on the plane around 6pm Pacific Time, and immediately set my phone to London time, and boom, suddenly it’s 2am the next morning. But it reminded me to try to get into nighttime mode a little bit. I don’t go crazy trying to force myself to sleep, but I swear this trick does help. Especially when you land and have to orient yourself to the new time zone. If it’s morning there, just embrace the morning-ness of it all.
3) Upon arrival, sleep and wake at normal times. Right away. This is probably the next most important thing, after you remember to #stayhydrated (and, of course, to #staywoke). You can get into a surefire cycle of horrible-feeling if you start napping at weird times for days on end. The best thing, I find, is just stay up kind of late your first night, if you can. I stayed up late catching up with my family upon arrival in Portland this time, and on my first arrival in Dublin I stayed up until dawn (perhaps not strictly recommended, but was I jetlagged after those shenanigans? No, no I was not).
4) Stretch, walk, yoga: just do something active before and after. The day before and the day after your long-haul flights, move your body somehow. Bonus points if this movement occurs outdoors. It will feel so good after all that sitting.
5) Don’t overdo it on the alcohol or caffeine. Generally this is a good idea, but never more so than when mixed with extended air travel. I may have still grabbed a large coffee as soon as I landed in Dublin, but I am a seasoned coffee pro. Showing moderation with the in-flight drinks is probably the most important, but if caffeine affects you strongly (or if you haven’t spent years building up immunity, iocane-powder-style), exercise restraint.
6) Remember that it’s awesome that you get to do this at all, chill out, and enjoy the expanse of hours. Yeah, yeah, long flights suck, but remember how we’re incredibly privileged to get to travel this way in the first place, to far-flung locales with varying degrees of glamour? Your dreaded ordeal is someone else’s dream trip. Recapture some of that magic, people. Plus, you’ve been given the gift of time. Get some work done, catch up on your reading, or on some movies. We have so many options for entertainment and productivity at our fingertips, and most likely a rare stretch of no wifi. Enjoy it.
Be grateful, travel light, peace, namaste, and all that good stuff. Go and be jet-lagged no more, friends.