Tips for Flying Well
I didn't travel a lot growing up, but when I did, I packed a pretty epic carry-on. I was prepared for any situation: hunger, boredom, the need for sugar. Age five and seven brought us to Oregon and Florida respectively and I was locked and loaded with button candy, coloring books, note pads and pencils, and Juicy Fruit gum (a special treat!) for take off and landing.
My carry-on looks different now (though you'll still find me with a notebook and pen) and I have a few more airline miles under my belt. While work alone takes us to many different places, Trent and I are from opposite ends of North America, with parents living on either coast. Not only do we feel confident stepping into the "expert traveler" line at PHL security, have NEXUS passes, and know refer to airports by their codes, but we've figured out some tips and tricks along the way for ensuring a restful flight and quick jet-lag recovery.
Here is some of what I've learned.
1. Choose your mindset
I've learned to set realistic expectations for myself before I get on the plane. I've made 12-hour trips when I planned to get 12 hours of work done. What usually ends up happening is that I get 2 hours of work done (maybe), watch a few movies, and sleep for an hour or two and rather than feeling rested, I feel guilty and unproductive. Rather than figure out a magic solution to make 12 hours of work happen, I let those flight times be what I need them to be. Maybe I do need to write a few emails, or take some notes about the meetings we just had. Then the majority of my time is dedicated to resting up for either the task ahead or from the intense weeks behind. A flight is that space in between when I'm not going to pay for the WiFi anyway, so I may as well enjoy the time to unplug.
2. Prepare for the time change
For me, this is all a mental game (and sometimes I'll remember change my watch). On my way to the airport, I'll start telling myself that it's the time that it is at our destination and make sure I try to sleep on the plane when nighttime is there rather than where we're coming from. It feels disorienting, but when you're spending over 12 hours in airports and airplanes it already is. Pro tip: This works for Daylight Savings Time as well. If it's better to lose the hour the night before (and get to bed an hour early) rather than losing an hour of sleep in the morning, you can make that choice! (Note: I have never done this with children. Parents of jet-lagged kids: you're the real MVP.)
3. Don't drink caffeine or alcohol
This one comes from years of trial and error. Naturally I think, "ah, coffee will help me stay awake until I really should be sleeping" (see tip #2) or I'll think "I'll just have a small glass of wine to help me sleep." Nope. Nothing ever works. It has always backfired on me. Wine will give me a stomach ache and I can't time the effects of caffeine. Just steer clear of depressants or stimulants and let your body do what it needs to do.
4. Drink all the water
ALL OF IT. DRINK ALL THE WATER. One time I asked for water so many times that the flight attendant gave me a whole bottle. (Thank you!) I usually make sure to have a water bottle with me on the flight and then whenever I'm awake, I ask for water when it's offered. Flying dehydrates you - it's the plane's lack of humidity and changes in oxygen levels that leave you with a headache, stomach ache, and fatigue. Drinking water before, during, and after your flight helps ensure that I'll feel better after my flight. (You can read more about the need to stay hydrated on your flight here.)
5. Walk around
Keeping myself hydrated also makes sure that I'll be up moving around the cabin. #tinybladder Even still, it's a good idea to get up and moving every few hours - to keep your blood moving. I try to book an aisle seat for this reason, but if you're a window seat lover (like Trent!), you can also use these seat exercises to prevent against blood clots and keep yourself feeling better.
6. Begin your bedtime routine
This is another mental game that helps me adjust to the time zone - going through the motions of bedtime. There's a lot you can't do on a plane (unless you get one of those epic suite rooms), but every small thing can help. At the appropriate time to sleep, I'll get up and brush my teeth, wash my face, and maybe even change into a comfortable pair of pants or socks. The act of changing and preparing for bed helps my mind and body know it's time to rest.
7. White noise, eye mask, neck pillow
Ways to actually get sleep on the airplane? That's the hardest thing to say! While every one is different and some people need sleeping pills and some people even find that glass of wine to be effective, I use the three things listed here: an eye mask, a neck pillow, and white noise. You'll find our favourite neck pillow here and most long flights provide you with an eye mask. (My personal fav is a heavy black eye mask that I bought in a Korean street market. It's so comfortable!) Sometimes the white noise of the plane engine is enough, but if you need something more to cancel out the noise around you, I recommend trying this Spotify playlist.
8. Make the most of jet lag
Nothing I have listed above actually prevents jet lag. Travel takes a toll on our bodies and they need time to catch up. I remind myself that my body will spring back (they say it takes one day for every one hour of time difference you're adjusting to) and I choose gratitude to be able to travel in the first place. I make the most of those 5am wake up times by brewing coffee and taking it to the lake near by in-laws' house or I'll spend some extra time writing. I'll take a little afternoon nap on the days I need it the most. I've seen friends with kids throw middle-of-the-night pancake parties or have family cuddle time when no one in the house can sleep. Make the most of it and your body will get back to normal soon enough. Enjoy the ride!