Living in today’s Instagram culture has made travel appear so effortless. Some bloggers and Instagrammers seem to easily flit from the Maldives, to Australia, to Santorini all in the space of a week and the picture on grid looks immaculate. But what’s the reality behind these perfectly curated feeds? It really can’t be that effortless, nearly everyone faces some sort of challenge whist travelling whether that’s fear of flying, budget restrictions or lack of someone else to go with. For me one of my greatest challenges or obstacles to travel has been jet lag … yes it’s a first world problem and I’ve heard the phrase ‘you can sleep when you’re dead’ but when you’re facing a serious case of jet lag nothing can feel worse than a lack of sleep.
I actually never experienced serious jet lag until we went to Australia despite going on several long haul flights before then. We started off with a pit stop in Hong Kong before travelling on to Melbourne… a city nine hours ahead of my own. I remember falling asleep on a tour bus, my head frequently bobbing down despite trying to enjoy the sights and sounds of a new city. Though when I finally crawled into bed at night, I just couldn’t get to sleep.
When you lay in bed at night not able to sleep, the hours seems like eternities… and my body, eyes and mind all felt so tired yet I couldn’t sleep. When I rose in the morning after approximately half hour’s sleep I had the will to explore but my body was unwilling. But still I’d stumble through the day eagerly anticipating my bed… but every night unable to sleep.
With this going on for about a week, Mr S and I headed to a pharmacy where I go an over the counter remedy that were intended to aid a restful sleep. It was a combination of those pills and my body adjusting to a different time zone that enabled me to finally get the longed for rest.
The next time jet lag hit was our trip to Japan. We made two major mistakes – firstly regular readers may remember that it was on our flight to Japan that I nearly my lost my wedding ring. Feeling mentally exhausted from the episode and physically exhausted from a thirteen hour flight, we hit the hay as soon as we arrived at our hotel, making the mistake of taking a four hour nap. Of course that night I couldn’t sleep at all and we had arranged a tour for the morning to orientate us around the city.
I went through the day feeling like a totally zombie, gaining occasional energy from a cup of coffee or a bite to eat. There’s a big difference between feeling tired and totally exhausted. When you’re exhausted, you feel physically sick, a head ache burns your temples, you feel dizzy, weak and of course irritable and moody. Did you ever watch that program on Channel 4 called Shattered? It was a bit like Big Brother but the angle was a competition where ten contestants were challenged to go for seven days without sleep. They had to compete in a series of challenges with the goal of winning £100,000, whilst every time someone shut their eyes £1000 would be deducted from the prize fund. It was like watching humans being tortured as they struggled to stay awake, fighting exhaustion, hallucinations and depression. Channel Four got a barrage of complaints and the programme was never run again but it really showed how horrendous sleep deprivation can be.
I finally got through the jet lag with a combination of those anti-histamine tablets and my body to adjusting to a totally different time zone.
Fast forward to now and my recent trip to South America. With Argentina being four hours behind the UK, I hadn’t factored in jet lag. I’d been in that time zone a few times for trips to the Caribbean and my trip to Mexico. But I was wrong and the evil jet lag hit once again … though not as bad as Japan and Australia that beastly jet lag still stuck it’s claws into me giving me migraines and dizziness.
I was still having a fantastic time on our trip until one really bad day. We arrived at Santiago to get our flight to Punta Arenas, the gateway to Patagonia, only to discover that airline strikes meant we couldn’t get our original 9.30 flight. Having got up at 6.30 for the flight and still battling jet lag, I’d probably had about four hours sleep so this news stressed me out my more than it normally would. The next flight was at 12pm, a few hours later, but this was apparently fully booked so we were put on stand by and told to return 50 minutes before the flight to see if we could get on it.
Meanwhile we talked to two other airlines about getting flights with them, one didn’t have another flight for two days, the other was fully booked. So all we could was wait to see if we’d get on this 12pm flight to get to a hotel that we’d prepaid a small fortune for. This situation would normally make me stressed but the lack on sleep was only furthering any anxiety I felt and we sat and waited for two hours with copious coffees and a chocolate muffin to raise our blood sugar.
Returning to the desk at 11.10 to see if we’d made it on the flight, the man on the counter looked at his computer… ‘it’s fully booked’ my heart sank… ‘oh hang on a second’ he said and printed out two boarding passes telling us to hurry to the gate…
I couldn’t quite believe it but we dashed through security and took our place on the plane. Of course, after all of that Mr S and I weren’t sitting next to each but that was ok we were going to get there! It was then I discovered whilst frantically trying to rearrange our ground transfer over email that this flight had a stop over… add that to further delays we experienced and the flight ended up being six hours rather than the original three…
When we finally hit the tar mac at Punta Arenas, my heart was pounding, my head throbbing and my legs shaking from exhaustion. I also hadn’t eaten a thing on the flight… my relief at getting off that plane was palpable and I took a moment to sit in the arrivals lounge will I scoffed a much needed cheese sandwich. After the nightmare at the airport and six hour flight we had another five hour drive to our hotel but honestly the drive was bliss compared to that horrible flight and you can imagine my elation when I finally saw a bed!
So after many years of travelling and having still not surmounted my greatest travel challenge I’m not exactly in a position to give advice about how to get over jet lag. However, I just wanted to tell you a few lessons that I’ve learnt and tricks that I’ve picked up along the way.
1. Try to synch into the time zone as soon as you land. Don’t allow yourself a nap when you get there but try and keep busy in order to stay awake until a reasonable bedtime. If you really must nap and simply can’t go on without one, don’t take more than an hour.
2. Take it easy on the first night. Book dinner at your hotel or nearby as leaving the hotel in a sleep-deprived state will just be stressful and unenjoyable.
3. Don’t schedule anything for the day after you arrive. In fact if possible try not to schedule anything for a few days. This way you can sleep as much as you physically can and then enjoy a restful day rather than dashing around. This especially applies to flights, personally if I have an early flight the next day, I get anxious about oversleeping and missing my flight and coupled with the drag of jet lag this results in a very unrestful night’s sleep.
4. Keep flights as comfortable as possible. Of course it’s not always possible to fly Business or First class but I always make sure I have an eye mask in my hand luggage so I can shut out the light to get some shut-eye. I’m sure you all have your own little tricks to make flights more comfortable so I’d love to know them.
5. Eat nutriously and often to help keep up your energy. Use caffeine sparingly, personally I can’t go with out a morning coffee (or two) but too many cups exacerbate symptoms of exhaustion and can impair your sleep later.
6. There’s an expression that west is best, east is a beast ie the direction that you’re flying has a more significant impact on your body clock than the duration of the flight. Try and prepare for entering your new time zone by going to bed earlier or later accordingly before you go.
Honestly, despite following these tips I don’t know how people flit from one time zone to another with relative ease. Perhaps I’m just getting old! I’d love to know if you have any tips for combatting jet lag, my greatest travel challenge.