Jet lag feels like swimming in pea soup
If all goes to plan, I’ll arrive in Dubrovnik in time to have a glass of wine to celebrate my birthday this evening and then collapse into bed. I’d say I was lucky, except I do have a really long travel day that I would not have signed up for, except that it cost about half the miles I’d anticipated. While I intend to try and get myself right by going to bed and waking up in my new time zone’s morning, I’m sure that I’ll still have some residual jet lag as I head into Montenegro the next day. I figured that now’s a good a time as any to talk about how I deal with jet lag, because who likes swimming in pea soup?
A long journey to Vienna by way of the Zurich airport
I thought that I’d share my jet lag experience in Vienna as an example of how I deal jet lag. I think the story came to me, because then, as now, I found myself at the beginning of a new part of my life. Then, it was a change in role at my old company. Now I am setting out to create a new life for myself outside of the corporate setting. Jet lag, alas, I expect to remain the same.
One loooonnnng journey from Boston to Vienna
I arrived in Vienna midafternoon years ago after one loooong journey. It was a work trip, and I’d booked a somewhat arduous trip in order to justify tacking a vacation on the back of it, which included a six-hour layover in Zurich. My seat was middle-middle, between one of the two-year-old twins (adorable, but still two) in my row; a very tall, very kind Swiss man; and behind a gaggle of older women who leaned their seats all the way back. One of them scolded me when I tried to do the limbo to go use the loo. Then the flight attendants scolded them for being too loud and congregating. Super fun.
I’m a terrible plane sleeper
I don’t sleep very well on flights in the best of circumstances (light sleeper, side sleeper, and a nervous flyer to boot), but I generally manage to get a few winks. However, by the time we landed in Zurich, I a bit of a wreck. Thank goodness, the Zurich airport is calm, orderly, and, in my opinion one of the best ways to enter the Schengen Area.
A rainy day meant staying at the airport
I’d intended use the layover to head into town, as I love Zurich, but when our flight landed early Sunday morning, it was absolutely pouring rain, so I stayed in the terminal. I freshened up as per my usual practice, and changed my shirt, which helped wake me up a bit. I then had a long breakfast and caught up on the headlines. I walked up and down the terminal some, too. Checking out the bookstore, with covers in various languages, which, in my soupy state, I thought that I could read (thinking I understood a mass in an Italian Duomo the day I landed in Italy is a story for another day), convinced me that I needed to go sit down.
Jet lagged thoughts
I got myself a cup of weak coffee and sat in a little part of the terminal designed for poor souls like me. I checked my phone. Four more hours. Bleurgh. I went back to the news on my phone and read this bonkers article about the Sea Monkeys that fit my state of mind so perfectly.
When I was a kid, I’d desperately wanted Sea Monkeys; growing my own friends sounded like the coolest idea ever. My mother disagreed and refused to fork over the $4.99 check or money order for them, even when I just asked for one without saying what it was for. Maybe I’ll get some Sea Monkeys when I got home, I thought before I remembered that they are just these strange little brine shrimp instead of actual monkeys who lived in a fish tank and became your friends.
Nodding off a bit, but catching myself
I couldn’t help it; I nodded off a little bit in that sad little part of the airport. However, I caught myself, spritzed my face with the expensive water spray I carry when I travel for exactly this purpose, and resumed walking through the terminal.
We finally took off, and I landed in Vienna in the early afternoon. I took the City Airport Train into town, but instead of continuing on to the Messe-Prater stop on the metro, I noticed that I could cut through the Wiener Prater park, which would probably be far more pleasant than trying to negotiate an unfamiliar metro with jet lag.
Finding a park to walk in to shake off the jet lag
It had been raining there as well, but there was a good break in the weather, with the rain not due to return for a couple of hours. I decided to chance it. I’m so glad I did. The Wien Prater might sound familiar to you, as there’s an amusement park (known as the Prater—it gets confusing) with a gorgeous old Ferris Wheel at one end of it (we’ll get there), but the rest of it is just a lovely park.
Fresh air does its magic
Fresh air did its magic, and I felt the fog in my brain lift as I crossed a bridge over the Donaukanal and then through the park. Despite the overcast skies the park was filled with people out enjoying their Sunday afternoon. This park, unlike others in Vienna, is not some majestic thing, but simply a lovely green space with plenty of trees, full of regular Viennese people hanging out. People had picnics, children played, food and drink stands sold snacks and beer (I was tempted, but I might not have gotten up had I sat down).
Heading to the Prater amusement park
I continued walking for about twenty minutes until I got to the other side of the park and my hotel (a Marriott, which I don’t recommend for a pleasure trip. On my way back through, I stayed in another part of town). I took a shower, and, since I was right near the famous Prater amusement park, I figured that I’d go ride the Wiener Risenrad (the big Ferris wheel—if you’re an English speaker with jet lag and a junior high school sense of humor, go ahead and giggle, just do it quietly) and check out a place I knew from one of my favorite films, Before Sunrise.
The Wiener Risenrad
Unlike a lot of amusement parks in the US, you can just walk into the Prater for free and then you pay for the rides you take. The Wiener Risenrad, justifiably famous for its red wooden cars which take you up into the sky for the best views in Vienna, dates from the late nineteenth century. I paid my fare (at this writing €13.50, unless you want to take the new Platform 9 car, which, while it looks like a total adrenaline rush, doesn’t offer the romance of the original cars).
The Riserad is popular, and you wind your way through a little museum of its history on your way to the cars. I watched the wheel turn, excited for my trip. At last, a car opened for me and several other people, including several teenagers wanting to add their names to the graffiti inside (their chaperones/parents did not allow it). The car also had an aging photo with different sites pointed out.
Up into the air we went
Up, up, up we went, and the whole of Vienna lay before us as we swayed in the air. Six hours before, I’d been sitting in the Zurich airport drinking weak coffee and the day before, I’d been at home in Somerville. What a strange world. I am in Vienna, I said to myself. This is really happening. Rain drops began to fall on the windows of the car. We came back down to Earth.
Amusement parks are funny when you’re jet lagged
Off the Risenrad, I walked around the Prater a bit more, strangely amused in my jet lagged state, by the familiar sound of amusement park rides, only in German. I’d have gone on a few more, but the rain picked up. It had gotten to be close to dinner time, so, back at the hotel, I asked the concierge if she could recommend a place where I could get an authentic dinner.
Dinner, and then bed!
The concierge sent me to the Plachuttas Gasthaus zur Oper, which was way more touristy than I’d envisioned, but delicious and in a perfect location just across from the famous opera house. I had the Wiener Schnitzel (while not in Rome) and white asparagus (it was springtime) and ate on their terrace. More fresh air. By that point, it was a little after 21:30. Perfect, by the time I got back, I could just go straight to bed.
I headed back on the metro and fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow back at the hotel. I still felt a bit squishy the next day, but, by afternoon, I was pretty much on Vienna time.
21 tips for dealing with jet lag
If you find a cure for jet lag, please tell me. Until then, we do what we can to mitigate it. A quick note before we begin. This primarily is intended for trips where ten hours or fewer is gained/lost. I have not yet experienced more than this.
The first five tips are general (though some are emphasized again). The rest have to do with whether or not you arrive well before bedtime or if you arrive at bedtime.
1. Try to adjust your schedule before you leave
It’s not a bad idea to try and orient yourself a little closer to the time zone you’re traveling to, especially if it’s not more than five hours. Going to bed a little earlier/later for a couple of nights will help. See below for something I’m trying for this trip.
2. Tell yourself the time (and date)
This sounds really stupid, but as soon as I’m through security, I tell myself what time it is in my destination, and then I try to live like I’m in that time. So, say that I’m leaving Boston at 13:00 and flying to Paris. I’ll tell myself, It’s 19:00. It’s about time for dinner. I might even get something dinnerish. It’s a small thing, but it helps.
3. Watch alcohol
Personally, I love a glass of wine while I’m awaiting my flight. It puts me in a celebratory mood. However, alcohol dehydrates you and affects your ability to rest. Jet lag is bad enough, without a headache to go with it.
Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, both on the flight (take a water bottle with you) and after you land.
5. Try to get some rest on the plane
As I’ve mentioned, I am a terrible plane sleeper. Like, really, really bad. However, even poor sleepers like me can get some rest by turning off the inflight entertainment and overhead reading light and just closing our eyes. It will help. Eye masks also help. I do not find neck pillows particularly helpful, but that doesn’t mean you won’t.
Now, when do you arrive at your destination?
6. If you arrive before bedtime: stay awake until your new location’s bedtime
Here’s what you can’t do when you arrive at your new destination, and it’s not bedtime there—fall asleep. If you go to sleep, it’s going to be bad for longer. Power through. You can go to bed early, but you have to stay up until a decent bedtime. The next few tips will help with that.
7. Freshen up
I pack a special little landing kit in my carry-on (well, kind of a bag of bags—things need to be kept separated). It includes a change of underwear and socks, a fresh shirt, toothbrush/floss, wet wipes, and a hairbrush. Take five minutes to freshen up after you land (and after Customs if the line is bad). Use eye drops and spritz your face with water. Maybe dry shampoo. Making yourself look presentable is going to help you feel awake.
8. If you have a long layover, perhaps a shower in the airport?
If you have a long layover, some airports have showers. I did this in Frankfurt after a friend of mine told me about it, and it saved my jet-lagged life (fun fact—they have them in the Zurich airport. Oh, how I wish I had known!).
Update: Some airports have hotels within the terminal that you can book for a few hours (no, not for that) to freshen up. I booked the Yotel at Gatwick for four hours. The shower, a little TV time, and just being away from people helped immensely with my jet lag. The temptation to conk out was real, though.
9. Take a shower when you get to your destination—and get dressed again
Once you arrive at your destination, take a shower. Try to make it a quick one. Then, once you get dried off, get dressed again and make yourself presentable, or at least presentable-ish. Then get yourself as far away from your bed and the sofa as possible.
If you drink caffeine, now’s the time. Go find a cute little café nearby. Or, even make the crappy hotel coffee. Just get yourself some caffeine.
11. Eat something
This one can get tricky, if you’re like me and need a bit of a snooze after lunch. Still, it’s important to get something to eat. Maybe something small and on the healthier side.
12. Take a walk—a long one
So long as it isn’t blazing hot or frigid cold (or, you know, pouring rain), getting outside and taking a walk will help. Fresh air and exercise, plus a definite change of scene, will invigorate you.
13. Do the fun touristy stuff
“Live like a local” when you feel like a human being again. Now is the time to do some touristy stuff. You’ll be around lots of people, and chances are, it will be overstimulating. Good. Regular stimulating isn’t going to cut it. Just go with the bustle and have fun.
Do something like going to Vienna’s Prater. Get on that funicular and get yourself way up high. Lots of cities have some kind of way to view them from above. Not only will this help orient you to your new location (the bird’s eye view is really handy when it comes to figuring out how parts of a new location fit together), but it’s fun and distracting from how much you’d like to be asleep.
14. Have dinner at dinner time
Come dinner time (dinner time at your destination, not 17:00), go have dinner out. This isn’t the night to have a reservation at the Michelin place, but it is a fun night to check out the local cuisine. Find a fun place, sit down, and eat. You can relax a bit. You’ve nearly made it. Have dessert.
15. Explore a little
Have a quick spin around where you’ve had dinner to see if there’s anything you’d like to check out on your trip. Walking around a bit will aid in digestion and get you a little closer to the prize.
16. Hurrah! Bedtime! Set an alarm
You’ve earned an early night, but not too early. Do what you can to get on a regular bedtime schedule, but so long as you’ve made it to 21:00, count it a win. Now do yourself a favor. Set an alarm for a reasonable hour in the morning. Sleeping until noon the next day isn’t going to help you.
You’ll likely still feel a bit out of it the next morning, but get up and get moving, and you’ll likely be most of the way there by the end of the day.
17. If you arrive at your location’s bedtime: go to bed and stay there
This can prove even more challenging if you didn’t have a particularly long journey. However, traveling is tiring in and of itself, and at least you actually get to crawl into bed. The tips below might help you get some sleep while you’re there.
18. Watch caffeine/alcohol while you’re traveling
Avoid caffeine after your destination’s morning time. Also, watch the alcohol. It’s going to mess with your sleep, which is already messed up, especially if you’re not as young as you used to be. Have that glass of wine to celebrate your arrival, if you really want to, but take care with it.
19. Take a relaxing shower
You’re going to feel a lot better in the morning if you’re clean. Take a shower, and get the travel off you. Put on your PJs.
20. Go to bed and stay there—set an alarm
Get in bed. Stay there, even if you don’t want to, until at least 6:00, but set an alarm to make sure that you don’t sleep until afternoon. Try not to play with your phone (easier said than done).
21. Try not to nap the next day
If you can possibly avoid it, try not to take a nap the next day, following the advice above. The more you can do to start living in your new time zone, the faster the agony will be over.
Jet lag is awful, take care of you
Jet lag is absolutely real, and it can be awful. It will take a little time to feel like a person again, so take care of you. These tips are intended to try and get you on your destination’s time as quickly as possible, but you know what’s best for you. Do that.
Something I’m trying for this trip to help with jet lag
Have you ever heard about Timeshifting? I read about the Timeshifter app, and I’m giving it a try for this trip. As of this writing, I am up really early for the second morning in a row and drinking coffee after a night of trying to make it artificially dark and going to bed early. Note that I’m not going to try melatonin, as I have a bit of a sensitive system and allergies and figured that I’d play it safe.
I’ll let you know if I’ve found something amazing (right now I’ve found something that makes me crabby) and would love to hear if you have tried it. Do note that your first plan (like mine) is free, but thereafter there is a fee associated with this service. The app does not seem to issue notifications (which would be helpful), but I have received emails.
Update: Timeshifting definitely helped, but it comes at a cost. I slept a bit on the plane, and it did feel like morning when I arrived in the UK to change planes (and airports. The flight cost me $26.60 with miles). However, I think that Timeshifiting works by spreading the misery over a few days. I think it may be a bit of a tossup.
What’s your best tip to mitigate jet lag?
How do you mitigate against jet lag? What’s your best tip? Let us know in the comments below!