There’s nothing worse than being excited for MONTHS about your upcoming trip of a lifetime, but when you finally arrive, you’re absolutely exhausted. Jet lag can ruin the first few days of your trip, and when you just want to do everything in your new destination, it can put a real damper on the time you had hoped to spend exploring.
The first time I traveled to Europe from the US, my flight left home in the afternoon and arrived in London at 6 a.m., and of course I didn’t get a wink of sleep on my entire flight. I was groggy, miserable, and on top of exhaustion from sleep deprivation, I was jet lagged for several days. I promised myself after that experience that I would figure out the best ways to beat jet lag so I would never have to lose any time on my future trips. By the time my next international flight rolled around, I was much better prepared, and I’m excited to share my jet lag tips with you, so hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and not miss out on a single second of your next adventure!
My number one recommendation is to adjust your schedule the best that you can before you leave. Especially if you’re traveling east. Crossing eastern time zones can be harder on your body because you’re effectively losing time. Our 24-hour cycles of sleeping, waking, and eating aren’t meant to be shrunk into a 16-hour time slot.
On our last trip to Europe, we started going to bed and waking up earlier to try to simulate our upcoming schedule. It can be a little unnatural waking up at 3 or 4 am and going to bed at 6/7, but in the end, it made our adjustment SO much easier. Along with this, try to control your light exposure. Try to adjust your lighting to mimic the daylight schedule of your next location and it will make your adjustment much smoother to the new time zone.
Try to get as much sleep as you can, both before you leave and on the plane. Some people try to pull an all nighter right before their trip so they will be so exhausted they’ll sleep on the plane. I strongly recommend against this, as even if you are able to get a good night’s sleep while traveling, you still will be tired from the day before. If you can sleep on the plane, try to do so when you typically would be sleeping in your new destination. Airlines usually have dinner and breakfast meals relatively scheduled to correlate with the arriving destination time zone, so try to use this to your advantage.
Pro Tip: When you get on the plane, go ahead and adjust your phone and watch time to the time at your destination so you can start to get acclimated.
After dinner, sit back, relax, and try to get a few hours of sleep. Blocking out light and sound will help, and travel pillows can help you to relax. If the only way you can sleep on a plane is to use an eye mask, ear plugs, blankets, and the fluffiest travel pillow, do it! Everyone’s in the same boat (or I guess plane??), no one cares what you look like because at the end of the day, you’ll be rested and everyone else will end up being jealous of your ability to sleep. If you need a sleep aid, check with your doctor or try it at home first, you don’t want any unnecessary side effects on your trip. I’ve heard of many people using melatonin, which is a natural, over-the-counter sleep aid.
Watch what you eat and drink. The air in planes is extremely dry, so be sure to keep drinking water. In addition to keeping you hydrated, it can also counteract the effects of jet lag. Also, staying away from caffeine (yes, even coffee, *GASP*) and heavy meals will help you feel better when you land.
Once you reach your destination, try not to immediately fall asleep for a long period of time. If you can, stay awake until bedtime, then get a full night’s rest and wake up ready to seize the day. If you can’t make it all day, limit yourself to just a short nap.
Another tip is to move around. When you arrive at your destination, if you have time, go for a walk and begin to explore your new city. Getting up and moving will help combat the drowsiness associated with jet lag. In May, we flew from Houston to Venice, arrived around 11, and spent the next 4 hours exploring Venice! We walked about 10 miles, and although we were exhausted by the end of the day, we were feeling a lot better than if we had taken a nap or just stayed in our hostel all afternoon.
Jet lag is the worst and sometimes it’s unavoidable, but these tips are a great way to start until you find what works best for you. Jet lag affects people differently, so it will take some trial and error, but it will all be worth it when you no longer have to waste your first couple of vacation days. Do you have any other jet lag hacks? Let us know in the comments!