Monday, May 16, 2016

My Guide to Surviving Long International Flights with Minimal Jetlag

Ready to go!
I've done the Japan-Seattle flight a total of nine times. 8-10 hours in the airplane across the Pacific, with about 16 hours difference between the two areas depending on where Seattle's at with Daylight Saving Time (Japan doesn't do that).

Travel between continents is a big deal and there are a million things to decide and prepare, and "how I'll spend time on the flight" seems like a minor detail that will work itself out, but that kind of thinking is a recipe for bad, bad jetlag. The first couple of times, I didn't prepare well and both the long flight and the jetlag were horrible. Recently, I've been able to reduce the symptoms a lot with a few little tricks, but before I get into those, the very first thing I do before I even start packing is figure out if I should sleep or not on the flight. The best way to reduce jetlag is to adjust your body to the new schedule as soon as possible. No cheating! Otherwise my suffering is just prolonged. If it's evening when I arrive, I should stay awake the whole plane ride so I can sleep that night at my destination. If it will be morning when I arrive, I should sleep as much as possible on the plane so I can stay awake that whole first day. After the plane takes off, I set my watch/phone to the local time of my destination. I think, "what would I be doing at this time? Sleeping? Awake?" and I try to behave accordingly in the plane.

If I have to sleep on the plane:
-before boarding I brush my teeth, brush my hair, wash my face and apply tons of moisturizer (here's TSA's rules for liquids/cosmetics in carry-ons. If you don't follow the rules you will have to chuck your stuff!), then put on a surgical mask. Japanese people love them for travel and I do too. No one gets to see my makeup-less face, no worries about falling asleep with my mouth open, and at least psychologically I feel more protected from the person hacking and coughing in the seat next to me.
-I ignore the in-flight entertainment. No movies, no food. My job is sleeping right now. I try get down to sleeping business as soon as possible. I try to be asleep/dozing/still with my eyes shut for at least the first 4 hours of the trip. If I wake up and can't go back to sleep after that, then I watch movies or read my book. I'm not a good sleeper on any mode of transportation but I do my best.

If I have to stay awake on the plane:
-I think of the flight in two 4-hour-ish halves. The first half, I have enough excitement and patience to get through it easily. I look out the window. I check out the digital map of our route, watch the altitude climb and temperature drop. I observe people around me. I read all the magazines provided, discussing them with Yuya if we're traveling together. I eat all the snacks and food offered slowly. I read the book I brought. I listen to music. I plan blog posts. I do little muscle stretches in all my leg muscles.
-I only start watching movies by the second half. Halfway is the toughest point. Your body aches, you're just ready to be DONE. But you still have FOUR AND A HALF HOURS TO GO. The book makes me motion sick now. Yuya fell asleep. I read all the magazines twice. The music is getting repetitive. Time for movies to do their thing!
-Bringing little throat drops/hard candies is also great. Sucking on those keeps me from getting drowsy.

Things I do in both cases:
-I shower and wash my hair right before leaving for the airport.
-I bring one of those little U-shaped travel pillows. The stuffed ones are more comfortable in my opinion than the inflatable ones; they take up more space in a carry-on but I don't travel without one anymore. I put it under my knees, under my butt, in the small of my back, on my tray, wherever I need extra padding.
-I wear comfy clothes. Maxi dresses are the best for me: they look cute but feel like pajamas, with not even any waistbands to worry about! Some packing guides say to layer up and wear your bulkiest clothes on the plane to save packing space/weight, but especially if I need to be asleep, I always opt for comfort.
-I bring a pair of soft fuzzy socks in my carry-on. As soon as the plane gets to cruising altitude, off come my shoes and on go those delicious socks.
-I bring my own waterbottle. I keep it empty until we get through security and then make sure it's filled before we board. It's nice to have since the cabin air is so dry usually, and dehydration doesn't help anyone feel better.
-I bring BB cream, blush, mascara, and deodorant in my carry-on. Just before landing I head to the restroom, brush teeth, wipe my face with a dampened tissue, and put those things on to help me feel fresh and awake.

So that's my routine! Traveling through so much space in such a short time is tough on the body, I find it helps to pamper myself a bit and be well-prepared. Do you have any tips for traveling long distances more comfortably?

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