I’ve just gotten back to New Zealand after another 25 hours spent on an aircraft. A few people have questioned why I’ve come back so soon, given that I was only here in February. Well, this will be my first Christmas at home in 5 years – there’s something extra-special about being here for that experience, and I’ve been unable to travel at this time of year for the past few years for a variety of reasons. Plus, my grandmother is turning 91 in January, so the chance to be here for Christmas was too important to let pass…
My grandmother on her 90th birthday in January. Photo by Jackson Andrews.
But I have to admit, the thought of 25 hours on a plane again so soon didn’t exactly have me jumping for joy. This is a trip I try to do at least once every 18 months (once a year if possible!) – and it does get a little easier each time. There are a variety of factors though that determine how well I cope with the journey, and the after-effects – including jet lag. So since a few people have asked, I thought this would be a good time to share my tips for the most pleasant long-haul experience possible. But first, let me shatter a couple of myths for you…
Myth 1: “You’ll be jetlagged for at least a week unless you do a stopover.”
Now don’t get me wrong. I’d love to break up my journey with a 2-3 day stopover in LA, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Singapore or Bangkok. But these things cost money, and I quite simply don’t have the luxury of either the time or the finances (yet) to take a break between legs. Yes, it is true that the longer you’re on the ground between flights, the less jetlagged you’re likely to get. And when I first started doing long-haul, I was often jetlagged for a good few days. But this hasn’t happened for years. Plenty of people travel smart non-stop, and even go back to the office the next (or even the same) day that they’ve completed their long-haul travel.
But if you are going to do a stopover, I recommend you do it on your way to the colder climate/season. Plenty of people (myself included) have remarked on how they’re less likely to suffer jetlag upon arrival in a warm and sunny climate, whereas travelling from the heat to a dark snowy winter often equals post-travel suffering.
Myth 2: “You’re less likely to get jetlag or other side effects of long-haul travel if you travel Premium Economy or Business Class.”
This simply is not true. I’ve had the good fortune of being upgraded a couple of times – but this had no effect whatsoever on jetlag, or even how I slept on the plane. Yes, you’ll have more space and be more comfortable – but that’s about it.
Right. So, myth-shattering accomplished, here are my tips for the most pleasant non-stop trip possible…
1.) Book night flights
Where possible, try to book flights with either an evening or late-night departure time, as it’s less likely to mess with your sleep patterns. As most people usually take a few hours to wind-down into a flight (after being fed and watching a movie) a late-afternoon departure would also be acceptable. I was fortunate enough to have both legs of my journey at night on this occasion: departing London at 8.40pm, and Hong Kong at 7.20pm.
2.) Wear comfortable clothes in-flight
Avoid jeans and tight clothing that will restrict you from getting totally relaxed in your seat.
3.) Pack your cabin bag with long-haul essentials
An unsung hero of comfortable journeys is the humble cabin bag. A lot of people just seem take what would usually be the contents of their handbag and a book, and stuff it into the overhead locker or under the seat in front of them, only to remain untouched for most of the journey. But here are a few things that I always have in my cabin bag, to ensure maximum comfort throughout the journey…
Neck pillow – thankfully, a lot of people these days are starting to embrace the traveller’s neck pillow. Yes, airlines include a pillow and blanket on your seat, but neck pillows are far better designed for in-flight travel (especially for travelling Economy). My comfort during travel changed dramatically with the purcahse of this inexpensive item.
Poncho (or loose jumper) – this one may seem a bit strange, but is an essential for me. I always get cold in-flight, even with the blanket – and a poncho is more comfortable for sleeping than sleeping in a jacket.
Socks – your feet swell in-flight, so I always take my shoes off once I’m in my seat and cover my feet in big warm socks.
Eye mask and ear plugs – the lights aren’t always dimmed, and there are other distractions that may disturb your sleep or wake you up – such as people moving about, the passenger next to you putting their reading light on, coughing and babies crying. I barely manage to get a lot of sleep on long-haul flights anyway, but do get significantly more now that I use an eye-mask particularly.
Deodorant, wipes, toothbrush and toiletries – I rarely freshen up in-flight, but I always make a point of doing so between flights. After the first leg, my first stop is always the ladies bathroom so that I can brush my teeth and freshen up. Unless you’re fortunate enough to be a member of a business lounge, most airports do not have public shower facilities – and after one long-haul flight, you really already need one. I usually go into a cubicle, get undressed, and wipe myself down with body-fresh wipes. You can even buy specific travel ones for an “instant shower”, but I find that the regular body or facial wipes are fine. Then some deodorant, and change into some fresh clothes. This really does make all the difference in my opinion. The tap water in the bathrooms at most airports is safe for drinking (or labelled otherwise), so perfectly fine for washing your face and cleaning your teeth. Just remember the 100mL limit for liquids in cabin baggage on flights – so be sure to take travel-size or check the volumes of any cosmetics before packing them in to your cabin bag. I rarely wear any make-up on long-haul flights – the air inside the cabin will dry your skin out, so pack a good moisturiser to apply to your face several times during travel.
Change of clothes and underwear – as mentioned above, freshening up and changing into some fresh clothes between flights makes a world of difference. If space/weight allows, I sometimes take a third set as well for changing into before arriving at my final destination.
It is really important to stay hydrated in-flight – so do drink plenty of water. To save getting up all the time or having it brought to you by the cabin crew, it might be a good idea to take an empty drink bottle onto the plane for them to fill up for you.
I’ve been told to avoid alcohol if I want to avoid jetlag, but personally I’ve found that having a couple of drinks in-flight is the only thing that will settle me and get me to sleep. Just don’t go crazy – a jetlag hangover is far worse than a standard one.
Eating light long-haul is key, though you don’t want to starve. Make an effort to eat the in-flight meals and ask for snacks if neccessary, but avoid eating a large meal at the airport between flights – your body has enough to cope with long-haul already.
6.) Get active
Your blood circulation slows down and sometimes struggles in-flight, so it’s important not to stay seated for hours on end. Every 1-2 hours try some exercises such as rolling your shoulders, ankle circles, arm curls etc – and get up and walk around the cabin when possible. I usually go near an emergency exit to do some stretches. For long-haul, I always book an aisle seat regardless of where I’m going, so that I can get up regularly without having to worry about climbing over sleeping passengers and their tray tables.
7. Be mindful of getting some rest
As tempting as the in-flight film selection may be, it is important to at least try to get some rest. I limit myself to two films before putting my eye mask on and just relaxing, even if I can’t sleep. Then I’ll watch something else in the last 2-3 hours of the flight. Try to rest during the designated time that the cabin lights are dimmed – once they’re up again, the crew will be making a heap of noise with the breakfast service and other things.
8.) Take some anti-jetlag pills
“No-Jet-Lag” is the only product I’m familiar with – and unfortunately, I’ve only ever seen it in New Zealand. But it can probably be purchased online. It’s an inexpensive homeopathic product designed specifically for long-haul travel.
9.) Between flights
Time on the ground or in transit can be boring and drag you down emotionally. If you’re in a transit lounge or stuck at the gate for a couple of hours, do some stretches or yoga, and try to move about a bit. If you have free reign of the departures terminal, wander about, even if you don’t plan on shopping. Your body will thank you for it. Resist the temptation to simply sit in a bar or restaurant and “load up”. Make sure you’ve packed a book even if you have no intention of reading it in-flight – it can save your sanity in between flights.
10.) And finally – after the flight… stay awake!
The final and in my view most important tip is to resist the temptation to simply crash out after your flight. As hard as it may be, resist the temptation to take a nap – as it will only muck your body clock up even more. Do your best to stay awake until the evening, and then get an early night. Under no circumstances go to be before 5pm! Staying up until 9pm is ideal. This will allow your body to adapt more easily and quickly to the new time zone.
I hope these tips make long-haul travel a much easier experience for you. Bon voyage!