Chris and I regularly fly overseas into time zones 7-14 hours different from home. Almost always we walk off the plane and go immediately to work. Photography is both mentally and physically demanding – if we are not at our best, it will show up on the image. This method is a combination of tips and techniques I have picked up through the years from books, talking to fellow road warriors and personal experience. It works. I promise that if you follow these rules fatefully, you will never again sleepwalk through the first few days of your trip.
Jetlag is a combination of physical and mental conditions. This method attacks the problem on both fronts.
Two Days Before You Depart
- Test pack your suitcase using your packing checklist (you do use a checklist, right?) Use this time to make sure you have remembered everything (floss? belt? vitamins?) and that it will fit in your bag. Keep all your designated travel clothes separate - either in your suitcase or hanging together in your closet – don’t wear any of these clothes again before you leave.
- Move your personal watch one-hour ahead/back toward your destination time zone (make sure you go in the right direction!).
- Adjust your sleep habits one hour - get up an hour early or go to sleep an hour later.
- Eat your meals an hour early/later – it’s very important to get your digestive system, eh, headed in the right direction.
One Day Before You Depart
- Move your personal watch another hour toward your new time zone.
- Adjust your eating and sleeping habits another hour – you have now moved two hours (hopefully) in the right direction.
- Go over your packing list one more time, for peace of mind. Pack and close your suitcase (mentally off your list).
- Make a conscientious effort to schedule NOTHING of any importance at work or home on this day. This is not the day to begin a new project!
- Make two copies of all your important travel documents including your passport ID and relevant visa pages, airline tickets, hotel reservations, vital work documents, etc. Leave one set at home and tuck one set in your luggage. God forbid something should happen to the originals, this would save you DAYS of trouble.
- Have your calendar completely clear. (I know this won’t happen, but if you TRY, it won’t get as bad as usual).
- Check to see if your plane is on time before you leave for the airport.
- Plan on arriving at the airport at least two hours prior to depart time (no traffic related stress).
- Wear as close to PJs as your sense of fashion will allow:
Elastic waistband, long sleeves and long pants, light weight jacket, and warm fluffy socks.
- Set your watch (and your mind) immediately to your arrival time zone.
- Drink no alcohol and LOTS of water (scientific proof this helps).
- My plane survival kit includes: My own bottle of water (I can refill in the galley and store in the seat pocket), my own big and soft eye mask (airline masks are skimpy and uncomfortable), earplugs (the noise will wake you before the light will) and a mild sleep aid (I use melatonin - ask your doctor).
- You MUST sleep on the plane. Ideally, I drift off shortly after the first meal service and get at least five hours of sleep. Don’t watch the movie, it will keep you awake.
- Do get up and walk the length of the plane several times to keep your circulation churning. When no one is looking, I do a series of stretches and simple exercises that include knee to the chest, toe lifts, neck rolls and self-hugs. These help me relax before sleeping and serve to work out the kinks when I wake up.
- More than likely, it will be daytime – Get out in the sun! Avoid dark rooms such as theaters. Sit next to the window at meetings.
- Mild physical activity such as walking will help - long sit-down meetings definitely will hurt.
- Do not nap!
- Avoid alcohol on the first day.
- Don’t go to bed until at least 8pm.
- Banish thoughts like ‘oh, god, it’s 3am at home’ from your mind.
- The first night: No matter what, stay in bed with the lights out and your eyes closed (even if you’re wide awake). You may want to use a mild sleep aid the first night.
Even if you find the arrival day a little rough, by the next morning your mind and body will be fully adjusted to your new ‘home’ time zone.
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