Jet lag is no laughing matter when you save for months (or years), and finally get to take that vacation of a lifetime. We’ve all heard the horror stories of friends and family who have traveled on a long-haul international flight only to land at their dream destination and be so beaten with jet lag that they can’t function. While I’ve certainly felt exhaustion from traveling, I learned a few tricks to beat jet lag well over twenty years ago and they have never failed me.
I’m not saying that you won’t be tired or that you won’t have an uphill battle when traveling over multiple time-zones, but this is a fail-safe method that works perfectly every time I travel. With this, you will be able to get your body clock on your destination time zone in one day.
So, if you have ever fallen into that jet lag loop, read on. This blog post is for you.
First: Set Your Watch
From the moment you take your seat on the plane, set your watch to the time zone that you will arrive in.
If you have an Apple Watch (or similar) that’s a pain to do, so I always use a “complication” watch face that allows for two time zones. I can see my current time along side the destination time. Perfect.
After boarding the aircraft, consider that you are on London time, Paris time, or wherever you are going, even before the plane has left the gate. Now that could mean that it’s 2:00 in the afternoon where you are leaving, but you need to get your body clock aligned to where you are going. If that is the UK, it could be eight or nine hours in front of you, making it 10:00 at night.
What should you be doing at that time when you have a big day ahead of you? Yes, sleep!
I always travel with a sleep mask and I can’t say enough about how well they work. Being in a darkened aircraft in the middle of the day is not enough to get me to sleep, but a sleep mask does the trick.
Try not to eat the meals, if possible. Try not to watch a movie or tv. Don’ t even try to read. Go to sleep. You may like a small glass of wine OR a sleep aid (not both, that’s not healthy), but try to close your eyes and sleep. Using ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones also helps to block the noise of the surroundings.
Second: Start Your Day When You Land
Whether you were able to rest comfortably or not (and I have had many flights where I simply couldn’t sleep), you must start your day when the flight lands. If you’re travelling from the US to Europe, you’ll probably land sometime in their morning hours. That’s great! You will have the whole day to acclimate to your new time zone.
If you weren’t able to rest on the flight, you have to push through. After clearing Customs and Immigration, stop at the most convenient place you find and have breakfast. Don’t allow your body to take in too many sugary drinks as much as you may want to because you will come crashing down from that sugar burst in just a few hours. You need to stay awake!
Photo by Abbie Bernet
If time permits before or after your breakfast, check in to your accommodation. If you land very early, that isn’t always an option. However, I’ve always found that hoteliers are very welcoming to allow guests to drop their bags with the concierge until check in time.
If you know this is aligned with the timing of your flight, pack accordingly and have your first “day” outfit on the top of your items & readily available. In fact, I will typically travel with my next day outfit in a carry-on, just in case my luggage doesn’t arrive when I do!
When you stop at your hotel, you can quickly change in the restrooms and freshen up. Leave your bags at the hotel and head out for a FULL day of sightseeing.
Because you will be tired from travel, it’s important not to plan your most important points of interest or events on the first day. Fatigue may set in during the early afternoon and you want to enjoy the things you’re there to see! Often, I’ll plan a day of checking the transportation to the places I want to visit or do some shopping for souvenirs.
On my last few trips, I haven’t really packed many clothes. Instead I’ll use this time to shop for things I will be able to wear during my trip. That’s always fun!
Taking a long walk in a park (when weather allows) is another good way to get your blood flowing again after sitting on a long flight.
What matters most is that you don’t sleep, you don’t nap, and you make use of this first day.
From 3:00-8:00 – Here Is The Final Trick For The Biggest Challenge!
During the first day, you can hopefully get your bearings if you’re in a new city, you will have time to see some sights, mix with the locals, and do a little shopping. Now comes the hard part.
Photo by Yaopey Yong
When it’s 3:00pm in Europe, it could be 6:00 am on your body clock and you may feel like you have been up all night. It is probably time to check into your hotel. Great! What do hotels have? Beds! No – don’t do it. This is where a lot of travelers fail and jet lag sets in.
Check in and get settled. Yes, but whatever you do, and however inviting that fluffy pillow may seem, don’t sleep now.
Take a shower. Refresh. Unpack. Have a snack. Do not fall asleep.
Instead, get refreshed and make yourself go back out on the town. This is the perfect time to take in your first sites. Maybe head over to get some photos of touristy things – something that may excite you to see. Walk there if you are feeling up for it – everyone walks in Europe!
I make a point of walking a lot on the first day I land for two reasons
First, walking is great exercise and helps with blood flow. That’s great to keep you healthy and awake. More importantly, if you are sitting on public transport, there’s a rocking that you feel (car, train, subway), that can very easily rock you to sleep.
Try to wait until 6:00 for dinner if you can. Enjoy a light meal at whatever amazing place you have found yourself in on this trip. Allow a good hour for meal at a relaxed pace. Then finish with a long walk back to your hotel. More walking! Welcome to Europe!
For the perfect night’s rest, head off to bed around 8:00 or 9:00. That may be very early for you, but you will be very tired at this point. Honestly, you will sleep like a log.
I didn’t say the first day wouldn’t be hard, but if you do these tricks, you won’t have any jet lag at all. Guaranteed, the next morning you will wake up refreshed and on Rome, Paris, or London time ready to enjoy your holiday!
You can see by the steps that I’m taking that landing early in the morning can make your first day pretty challenging. That said, when booking your flight, pay attention to the landing time rather than the departure hour.
It may be less taxing on your body clock to land around 2:00 in the afternoon. This will leave you only a few hours of adjusting before you can settle in for a solid night’s sleep. I actually prefer to use the entire day to let my body adjust so that I’m thoroughly exhausted. Whatever works for you, plan accordingly. The object is to land and jump into the time zone but don’t sleep until the evening.
There’s lots to consider when taking an international trip, including how much time you need to see all that you intend to see. For that, check out some of my itineraries as a guide! Bon Voyage!