Jet lag is part of the travel experience and once you learn to think of it that way, it’s so much easier to cope with. Opera makes a good analogy: there are some people who believe opera is a three minute clip on a reality tv show, you know those clips that end up on YouTube and people post them on Facebook, breathlessly declaring “What talent! This will blow your mind!” and it’s invariably a young starlet singing a snippet of a famous aria into a microphone to pre-recorded music while the camera zooms in on the tears rolling picturesquely down her cheek. Other people think of opera as an art form that requires 2 – 5 hours of careful attention, sung without amplification by singers accompanied by live music, with sets, costumes, multiple acts and at least one intermission.
As you might guess, I identify with the second group who define opera as a complete art form, ideally viewed live. One of my favorite opera composers is Mozart, but I have a confession: I dread the third act. His operas start out with an exciting overture, and then jump right in the glorious music of the first act, establishing all his characters with their leitmotifs. Now onto the second act, with either a thrilling chorus, dancing, or both. And then….groan, the tedious third act, where every character invariably steps out alone in a garden and sings a sad, boring song about their sorrow, their undying and tragic sorrow. Oh man does that third act drag on! Finally, the fourth act comes around just in the nick of time, and everyone gets married and Mozart busts out his finest music.
Jet lag is like that third act of the Mozart opera–I’ve learned that instead of dreading it, to think of it as part of my holistic travel experience. Just as I accept that I’ll endure one boring act in order to experience the overall joy of Mozart’s art, I think of jet lag as inseparable from my travel experience. Your trip is not a three minute YouTube clip, where you can just edit out the more tedious aspects like jet lag and cramped airplane seats. Other than changing your attitude, the following tips can help you cope with jet lag:
- As soon as your airplane takes off, set your watch to the time of your destination and think of that as the current time.
- Try to sleep on the plane. If like me you can’t, take a prescription sleep aid.
- Stay hydrated on the plane. Drink lots of water and avoid alcohol.
- Once you land, absolutely do not nap. Stay awake until at least 8:00 pm, or later if you can.
- Get outside and walk around in the fresh air and sunlight as soon as possible. This helps reset your internal clock.
- Try to structure your sight-seeing so that you’re doing the most obviously touristy and least intellectually taxing activities on your jet lag day. (Face it–you’re not going to be at your most intelligent this first day and trying to communicate in a foreign language will be potentially disastrous).
- Buy food and keep it in your hotel room. I will practically collapse into bed the first night, only to wake up four hours later starving. I’ll have a snack, and then eventually go back to sleep.
Jet lag is a good problem to have. If you wake up at 3:00 am the first few nights of your trip, if you’re walking around dizzy and stupid, remind yourself “This is jet lag and I have jet lag because I’m traveling, therefore, jet lag is good.” Trust me, it gets easier every time just knowing the best act is yet to come.
That’s me on the right with jet lag, and on the left, after I recover from jet lag.