Sunday, August 30, 2009

Travel Tips: Dealing With Jet Lag

We all hate jet lag, but rather than write a post complaining about it (really, Sacramento to Rome in 14 hours is not worth complaining about), I will share what has (and hasn't) worked for me.

I'll get the one you'll hate me for out of the way first. The single best experience I've had on an airline was when I got bumped to first class for a flight from Toronto to Rome on a brand-new Air Canada plane and slept like a baby for the entire flight, except when I was tossing back complimentary beers. You can read about that here.

The London Eye Ferris wheel seen from a hop-on/hop-off bus
my first time in Europe, when I was trying to deal with jet lag.

Suffice to say that when I got to Rome around midmorning, I was ready to go and almost completely unaffected by jet lag.

Another time I did fairly well with jet lag was when I flew to India, leaving Sacramento at five or six in the morning and arriving in Mumbai (Bombay) about 10 or 11 p.m. (local time, which was about 13 hours' difference). I did not sleep on the flight over, but I was out when I laid down in my hotel room, and I woke up at about 8 a.m. the next day. My sleep schedule was a little messed up for the next three days, as I kept waking up before dawn, but it wasn't so bad.

The best way to deal with jet lag is to stay awake until it is time to sleep wherever you are. On my first trip to Europe, I didn't think that would be too difficult.

Flying to London from the states, the sun never set, though night passed (the fun of flying so far north in summer).

I arrived in London, stood in a long and excruciatingly slow customs line at Heathrow, then dropped my bags at my hotel. I honestly can't remember what I did that first day, other than wander around a bit and try to keep from imitating their accents.

One thing I do know was that I took one of the open-top, hop-on/hop-off bus tours (which I highly recommend, by the way). The photo at the top of this post was taken from that bus, but it was pushing 6 p.m. in London and I had been awake for about 28 hours without really having slept more than a few hours the previous night.

I remember trying to stay awake as the bus lolled along in traffic, and the next thing I knew, I was swearing at the completely unexpected pain in my forehead. Apparently, I had nodded off and let my face fall forward to smack the metal rail on the seat in front of me.

Jet lag affects everyone differently, and the rule of thumb is that for every hour you miss, it will take you one day to adjust. Therefore, on a trip from California to Europe, expect a nine-day adjustment time. I have found that I usually adjust in about four or five days, as long as I stay awake as long as possible when I arrive.

If you can sleep on the plane, do it. I'm somewhat unfortunate in that I can't ever seem to sleep on planes, except the time I flew first class.

Do not get to your hotel at one in the afternoon and settle in for "just a little nap." It ends up throwing you completely for a loop.

On my last trip to Europe, I took advantage of the fact that I was waking up at 5 a.m. in Pragua and not being able to sleep. I went out and explored the city at an hour I am almost never awake for. You can read about that here.

Regardless of how much you are or aren't affected by jet lag, the trip is always worth it. The only real ways to deal with it are to do everything possible to force yourself onto the local sleep schedule and to just give it time.

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