On my first transatlantic flight, I made a big rookie mistake: I purposely drank as little water as possible so I wouldn’t have to use the airplane bathroom too many times. When we landed in Rome, I felt like I was severely hungover, even though I didn’t drink any alcohol. The combination of spending the night in a dry airplane cabin and not taking in liquids left me dehydrated. I felt horrible. After checking into the hotel, I wandered the streets of Rome like a drunk, until I found a restaurant that was serving lunch at whatever weird hour it was. I drank an entire can of orange soda and a whole liter of water and still didn’t feel hydrated. Throughout the day I continued to drink crazy amounts of liquids, and even drank spoonfuls of olive oil, but it’s hard to catch up once you get to that point. Anyway, I learned my lesson, and whenever I fly, I drink water throughout the flight even though it means more trips to the disgusting airplane bathroom.
When I travel, I’m usually pretty excited about my destination, and I want to hit the ground running. I don’t want to waste any time sleeping off jet lag in a hotel. After all, those vacation days are precious! From years of travel and taking groups overseas, I’ve learned a few things. Here’s my advice on how to feel fresh on long flights and how to avoid jet lag.
Book an Overnight Flight if Possible
If schedules allow, flying overnight and landing in the morning will get you off to a better start.
I’m not a fan of flying in your PJs, but comfort is key on long flights. Leggings, maxi dresses, or comfortable pants with lots of stretch will make you a heck of lot happier than tight jeans, and you’ll look good too. A scarf and jacket will make you more fashionable and will come in handy on those cold flights. (Why do they roast us first while we’re on the tarmac, then freeze us in flight?) Wear compression socks for better circulation in your legs, and wear comfortable shoes. You could even bring slippers to change into later. Speaking of shoes: Michel, a former Canadian military pilot who joined us for a couple of my group trips, told me that people should never wear high heels or flip-flops on a plane. Your footwear should always be something that you can run in if there’s an emergency. I think that’s a good point. I wore heels to an airport once, and never, ever again. That was another rookie mistake.
Bring What You Need to be Comfortable in Your Seat
Packing for the plane can be tricky because you want to pack light, but you’re going to need more stuff for long-haul flights. If you can sleep on an overnight flight, you’ll have a leg up on jet lag. Even if you can’t sleep, resting is almost as good, so once the lights go out, put your earplugs and eye mask on and relax. Planes are noisy and seats can be uncomfortable, so you might think about packing the following items in your carryon:
Earplugs (I like the waxy ones) or noise-canceling headphones
Neck pillow — yes you need one. Your head bobbing will keep you awake all night.
Eye mask to block out light
Blanket if you need more than your jacket & scarf. A light micro-fiber is easy to pack. I bring a cloth yoga towel to double as my in-flight blanket and hotel room yoga mat.
Tennis ball to put under your thighs or rear-end if you start getting sore or numb.
Your favorite snack, your own herbal tea bags
Extra water — you will not get enough from the airline.
A book, audio book, guided meditation … whatever helps you relax
No Jet Lag or Jet Zone homeopathic jet lag remedy (I even take this on shorter flights because I feel that it helps with dehydration, aches and pains, and swelling.)
A natural sleep remedy like melatonin or Bach’s Rescue Relax (for me, the Rescue Relax works better than Rescue Sleep) if you need a little help. I do not recommend prescription sleeping pills, as I’ve seen those backfire on people who were traveling in my groups. Sometimes the pills wouldn’t take effect until we landed, which really messed up their sleeping cycles and caused them to miss a lot of activities in the first couple of days.
Moisturizer, chapstick, and/or moisturizing spray. Airplanes are dehydrating. I try to pack a multi-purpose product that I can use on my hands, lips, and face (Honest Beauty Magic Balm), and I bring a small travel-sized spray bottle filled with water (Evian, Avene) or a hydrating spray (Honest Beauty Elevated Hydration) that I can mist in my face to moisturize skin and nasal passages. In the ladies room, I’ll use a Q-tip to moisturize the inside of my nose.
Optional: Foldable Footrest — this takes up a little more weight in your bag, but if you’re not very tall and your legs get sore from being smashed against the airplane seat, putting your feet up a few inches can offer relief.
Guard Against Germs
You don’t want to get sick on your vacation. Click here to read my article about how to avoid getting sick on a plane.
Drink Plenty of Water, but Avoid Alcohol
It’s simple: water hydrates, alcohol dehydrates. And ditto for caffeine. If you really want a drink to help you relax, stick to one serving of something lower in alcohol, like beer or champagne.
It’s important to move and keep your blood and other body fluids circulating. Get out of your seat and move around. You can even stretch in your seat. Here’s a link to my video on doing yoga in your airplane seat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhlr8fK7arg
Once You Land, Stay Outside in the Sunlight
This is vital to getting over your jet lag quickly — I repeat, vital! Assuming you land in the daytime, check your belongings into your hotel and go right back outside. Resist the urge to take a nap. Trust me. Go to an outdoor cafe and have some breakfast or a cup of coffee. Unless you are at an extremely high altitude that you need to adjust to, start walking around and take in the sights. (If you’re at high altitude, it’s important to take it easy the first day. Sit in the sun instead of walking around.) The important thing is to be outside in the daylight so your body’s internal clock can adjust itself to the new time. If you go into a store or restaurant, you’ll notice that you immediately feel dead tired, but if you’re out in the light you’ll be OK — maybe not super-energized, but OK. Around 5:00 p.m., you can take a short nap if needed. Set your alarm for one hour, then get up, shower, and go out again. Walk around, have dinner, and try to stay up until at least 9:00 or 10:00. Then you’re going to bed at a normal time on your first night, and you can get up when everyone else is getting up the next morning. This system really works. I’ve dragged groups through Spain and Italy like this, and even though they slogged through the first day, they were bright and ready by the next morning.
Let me know how this works for you, and if you have a favorite tip for avoiding jet lag, I’d love to hear it. Happy travels!