Air Travel, Jet Lag, Sleep, And Self-Care (And Better Timing Of Stopovers): How Many More Times Do I Need To Learn THIS Lesson?

If you travel frequently or even just every now and then, especially across lots of time zones, here’s a tip that’ll save you some grief:

I learned it the hard way (very hard) years ago when flying back and forth to Germany and discovering stopovers in Iceland (courtesy of Iceland Air):

It seemed like a good idea at the time to stop in Iceland on the way to Germany, but I’ll never do that again. Why? Compounded jet lag and sleep deprivation:

I left in the evening from Baltimore (meaning I left MUCH earlier in Richmond, got to Iceland at something like 5 a.m., and then had a whole day of “fun” in Iceland ahead of me. Problem: I can’t sleep on airplanes and I don’t function on no sleep.

So really, I was sleepwalking through Reykjavik for hours, waiting for my hotel to allow me to check in. I did take a nap when it let me in at long last (so this is what I spent my stopover doing, mostly), then went back out etc. What with the time difference and me being a night person anyway, I went to sleep very late, only to have to get up again at 4 a.m.!

Needless to say, I felt horrible for several days once I arrived in Germany, much worse than usual (and I don’t do too well going that way to start with).

The conclusion I drew from that experience: if I ever stop over again in Reykjavik, I’ll do so on the way BACK! I’ll get there in the afternoon, and leave in the afternoon the next day. Full value from the hotel and a good night’s sleep, and I’ll arrive well-rested back home.

Fast forward a few years and to flying in the other direction — to New Zealand. It seemed like a good idea at the time to stop in San Francisco for a couple of days each time I came through. I could buy two sets of tickets, didn’t have to shell out the whole amount all at once, and I got to spend time with my friends in San Francisco, which also happens to be one of my favorite cities.

Well… I didn’t feel too good when I got back home last year after doing that particular routine. But I was too busy to really think about it (started teaching the VERY next morning), so I did it AGAIN.

This time, as I mentioned in my last entry, I was still recovering from the flu. Well… Here’s compounded jet lag and how it works going from NZ to Richmond:

Leaving in the afternoon in Wellington.  Leaving in the evening in Auckland.  No sleep on plane (12 hours or so) (though I did doze off a little a couple of times), arriving in San Francisco around lunchtime.

I totally crashed the first night, but the second one I was kept awake by non-stop hacking cough. And THEN, I had to get up early to catch the plane to Richmond (short night), and got stranded in Chicago (little sleep due to no luggage and no ear plugs AND due to having to get up at 6 to catch next plane). I got really sick all over again once I made it home.

I’m only now starting to feel better. And I have definitely learned another lesson:

When doing stop-overs on the way to New Zealand, do them going West the next time, and NOT going East. Same lesson as from the Iceland Air experience: Going East, go direct, going West, stops work great.

Maybe I’m a bit fussy when it comes to quality of sleep, but so what? Sleep is important, and I don’t think even I take it seriously enough, or this sort of thing wouldn’t have happened. I know I feel better, stay healthier, and function a heck of a lot better when I get enough of it and at the right time too.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments section 😉


2 thoughts on “Air Travel, Jet Lag, Sleep, And Self-Care (And Better Timing Of Stopovers): How Many More Times Do I Need To Learn THIS Lesson?

  1. Bill Kraham


    Just saw your advice on international jet travel and stopovers. Is there any plane today on which I can sleep… comfort? from BWI to Australia or NZ?


    Bill Kraham

  2. Elisabeth Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Bill. About actually sleeping, and in comfort? I have trouble sleeping unless I get to lie completely flat, and generally I fly cattle class internationally, at least for now, where that’s definitely not possible. A few planes provide that now in first class (or maybe even business class), and I just saw an ad for one, but I don’t remember which one it was (might have been NZ Airways). If I find out more, I’ll post it 😉

    Now that I remember, I did fly First Class to Germany once, and the “bed” they provided was flat and quite decent, in a youth hostel or summer camp sort of way.


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