How to Rise Above Jet Lag on Your Next Long Haul Flight

Updated on March 12, 2018
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Sally Hayes loves traveling for work and pleasure. She likes to maximize her travel budget while making the most of each day of her trip.

You've spent all year planning your next big vacation. Or maybe your boss has sent you to the other side of the world to make the sales pitch of the century. With so much at stake, the last thing you want is a crippling bout of jet lag.

As a business traveler myself, and someone who often has a hard time getting a good night's sleep at home or away, I've learned a few things about how to reduce travel fatigue. If you're like me, and you don't want to let your next vacation get spoiled by annoying jet lag symptoms, perhaps these tips and tricks I use to keep my energy levels on an even, healthy keel can help you too.

So much to see! So much to do! Don't let jet lag keep you from getting out there and exploring!
So much to see! So much to do! Don't let jet lag keep you from getting out there and exploring!

The most common side effect of traveling across time zones is feeling sluggish when you arrive at your destination. Depending on the direction of your journey, on the other hand, you may feel overly alert and restless because your internal sleeping and waking clock is out of synch with the local time zone. Fatigue from a lengthy plane trip can also affect your digestion, your mood, and your ability to concentrate.

The Hidden Cost of Jet Lag for Business Travelers

Whether you are traveling for work or pleasure, jet lag can have a negative impact on your time away. But for business travelers, the adverse symptoms of lengthy plane travel could impact your bottom line.

I often travel out of town to meet with new clients, give workshops, and deliver keynote speeches. Arriving to a business meeting at the last minute after several long flights and lengthy layovers robs me of the time I need to rest and recharge my batteries, organize my presentation materials together, and practice my speech. If people have set aside their time to listen to my presentation, they deserve to see someone who looks and sounds polished ad professional. Spending a couple hundred dollars more for a direct flight or business class seating can help offset the impact jet lag can have on my performance. And when my image and reputation are on the line, it's worth the extra investment.

If You Are Traveler with Special Health Needs

This is a special note for travelers with disabilities, chronic health conditions, or who are pregnant. If you are a traveler with extra health concerns, the effects of crossing time zones may be more disruptive for you. As someone who sometimes deals with chronic pain, I have to be extra vigilant when it comes to maintaining good sleep habits and preserving my energy levels while traveling across time zones. Before you go on a long flight, talk to your doctor or healthcare professional about ways that you can have a healthier, happier trip that doesn't wear you out.

The more layovers you have on your way to your destination, the more chances your flight could be disrupted and delayed. If you really want to stay ahead of jet lag symptoms, try to book as direct a flight as possible.
The more layovers you have on your way to your destination, the more chances your flight could be disrupted and delayed. If you really want to stay ahead of jet lag symptoms, try to book as direct a flight as possible.

Book a Sensible Flight, Even If It Costs More. You're Worth It.

Prevent jet lag by choosing a smart travel schedule and book the best flight possible. One of the easiest ways to curb jet lag is to make efficient flight reservations that get you to your destination as quickly as possible. The faster you get to where you are going, the faster you can start adjusting to your new time zone and start making the most of your trip.

Direct flights and flights with short layovers are usually more expensive than flights with multiple connections and long layovers. Sure, you may save $150 by stopping in three cities with a combined layover time of eight hours, but are the savings really worth it? If you're exhausted from a long day of traveling, it will take longer to get into the groove when you get to your destination. If you're out-of-it for a day and not enjoying the first few days of your trip because you're so tired, how much money are you really saving by choosing a cheap flight?

My partner and I often disagree on the best way to get to our destination. While he likes to save money by taking a longer, multi-stop flight path, I prefer to spend more to get where we're going as quickly as possible. Do you and your traveling companion usually agree with each other on travel plans?

Do you and your partner always agree on how to get to your destination?

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What is the point of saving money on airfare if it means you have to spend hours and hours of your precious vacation on layovers.
What is the point of saving money on airfare if it means you have to spend hours and hours of your precious vacation on layovers.

Fight Jet Lag Before You Arrive at the Airport

Get ahead of jet lag before you step out the door. Start your trip off on the right foot by reducing stress triggers before you go to the airport.

  • Avoid arriving at the airport cranky and frazzled. Getting a good amount of rest before your flight is important. If you're stressed out and feeling harried before you get to board the plane, it will take longer to settle in and relax on your flight. Pack and get organized for your trip well in advance of heading to the airport.
  • If you can, take a day off of work before your trip so that you can relax a bit and get into vacation mode before you get on the plane. Rushing out the door at work to catch a plane to an exotic destination may sound exciting and adventurous, but it doesn't give you time to mentally switch gears from work mode to vacation mode. Being irritable because you were overwhelmed with last-minute at work details will only aggravate your symptoms.
  • Don't party hard the night before your flight. Although you may want to celebrate the fact that you're going on a fantastic trip by having a bon voyage party, don't overdo it. Being hung-over on a flight is not fun. Avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine 12 - 24 hours before your flight. If you get caffeine withdrawal headaches when you don't have your morning cuppa joe, drink just enough coffee to keep a headache away. Try drinking half a cup instead of your regular one or two cups.

Although people often complain about airline food, the one thing it's got going for it is that the portion sizes are usually quite modest and well balanced. Sitting in a cramped seat when you are feeling bloated and stuffed is not comfortable.
Although people often complain about airline food, the one thing it's got going for it is that the portion sizes are usually quite modest and well balanced. Sitting in a cramped seat when you are feeling bloated and stuffed is not comfortable.

Lighten Up If You Want to Send Your Jet Lag Packing

Travel with comfort in mind. The clothes you wear and the foods you eat can impact the quality of your flying experience.

  • Avoid eating a rich and spicy meal before your flight. Big meals can make you feel stuffed and bloated. Spicy meals drenched in salt, garlic, and onion will leave a lingering taste in your mouth. Spicy foods can also contribute to embarrassing body odor a few hours after consumption. Do yourself and your fellow passengers a favor and eat a light and refreshing meal instead of a heavy, rich meal before you take-off.
  • Dress comfortably for your flight. Loose, breathable clothing that can be put on and taken off in layers is ideal for a stress-free flight. Wear comfortable shoes. I like to pack a small toiletry kit of comfort items to keep me feel fresh on the plane. I include items such as facial wipes, hand sanitizers, some touch-up make-up, a toothbrush, eye mask and any other flight-cabin approved items that help me freshen up while on the plane.
  • Ask for help. One of the best ways to reduce the impact of jet lag on your travel plans is to be your own advocate and ask for help when you need it. I have a few physical limitations that make traveling with excess baggage on a solo trip quite difficult. If you have mobility concerns or special circumstances that make traveling a challenge, plan ahead and find out what accessibility accommodations and extra assistance are available to you at the airport and at your hotel or resort.

When You Get to Your Destination, Ease Into Your Surroundings

You made it! Now that you've arrived at your destination, take time to ease into vacation mode.

Settle in. When you land, try to adapt your schedule to your new surroundings as soon as possible: Eat, sleep, and exercise based on the local time, not your usual home time programmed into your head.

For me, sometimes all it takes to perk up after a long flight is a shower, change of clothes, and a light walk around my vacation destination. Doing this helps give me a boost of energy to stay awake for the rest of the day, and then go to bed at local time.

When you arrive at your destination, try to synchronize your sleep schedule with the new timezone. If local time says it's bedtime, even if you aren't tired, prepare yourself for bed with your regular evening routine.
When you arrive at your destination, try to synchronize your sleep schedule with the new timezone. If local time says it's bedtime, even if you aren't tired, prepare yourself for bed with your regular evening routine.

© 2018 Sally Hayes

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