Any seasoned traveler knows that jet lag is an all too real symptom of flying long-haul routes. Take me for example. Two days ago, I boarded D.C.'s longest nonstop flight, which also happens to be the 12th longest in the world—a Cathay Pacific flight route from Dulles to Hong Kong, which goes by way of the North Pole to the other side of the world.
48-hours and 16,000 miles later, I still find myself waking up in the middle of the night, stretching my tired and aching limbs and eating meals at odd hours of the day. However, my fear of flying more than 15 hours straight was far greater than the actual travel experience itself. If you're a traveler who wants to see the world, without the pain of jet lag, following a few simple rules will undoubtedly fight the effects of exhaustion, boredom and soreness that come with long-haul flying.
Here are a few ways I survived D.C.'s longest nonstop flight.
Pick your carrier and plane carefully
First, not all flight carriers and planes are created equal, especially when it comes to long-haul flights. On a road trip, if you had your pick between a Cadillac and Chevy, I'm willing to bet you'd go with the Cadillac every time. The same is true for planes. My flight happened to be on an Airbus A350-900, one of the newest planes that luxury airliner Cathay Pacific has to offer. While you fly at 38,00 feet, the plane's cabin is pressurized to 6,000 feet, which helps flight some of the effects of dehydration and altitude sickness that passengers typically experience on long-haul flights. Meanwhile, the plane is bigger and tricked out with features, including added leg room, adjustable headrests, mood lighting to mimic night-time flying and extra storage compartments for all your carry-on bags and devices.
Before you click book on a long-distance flight, step one should always be to do your research on the plane, especially if there's a seat or row that carries extra perks. On my flight, an upgrade to premium economy for just a few hundred dollars more came with the bonus of fully reclined seats and personalized toiletry kits, which include lotions, soaps and toothbrushes. Meanwhile, in business class, seats fully recline to a lay-flat position and there's plenty of premium luxuries, including hot towel service, a-la-carte food and drink pairings and private bathrooms.
Gear prep is everything
Before you board a long-haul flight, you need to be thinking about your packing list, and a basic strategy for fighting jet lag. Start with some supplies that support your body. A good pair of compression socks, like these Vim & Vigr socks, will keep you warm and help blood flow to your legs after hours of sitting. Meanwhile, a refillable Swell or Nalgene bottle by your side is a good reminder to stay hydrated during the flight. The Aerospace Medical Association says you should be drinking about eight ounces of water for every hour you’re in the air. For my flight, that meant drinking 120 liters of water! Cathay Pacific supplied a complimentary toiletry bag, but you'll want to be sure to pack your own filled with any essential medication and hygiene products. Finally, don't overlook the value of earplugs, an eye cover, fleece blanket and comfortable clothing. But by far the best item money could buy was this ergonomic, memory foam neck pillow, which conforms to the shape of your neck and head.
Don't overdo it on the booze (or better yet skip it)
The number one way to succumb to the ill effects of jet lag is to order one too many from the beverage cart. OK, I will be honest, I ordered a glass of champagne on my way to Hong Kong because I was on vacation, but I stopped by myself there because alcohol immediately dehydrates your body and can impact sleep and overall health at high altitudes. Instead of booze, consider getting your body ready for sleep. Cathay Pacific served a variety of teas on-board, including Chamomile and Green tea rich with antioxidants and low on caffeine, promoting long and restorative sleep.
Be strategic about sleep
Most flight routes have a natural cadence to when you should and shouldn't be sleeping. When in doubt, ask a flight attendant for the exact timing of meal services and the cabin dimming of lights, then plan your sleep schedule around that operation. On my way to Hong Kong, my flight took off at midnight, and while my body felt ready for bed, I fought to stay awake for the in-flight dinner, then watched two movies, and slept for six hours. Staying up late, then sleeping, helped me prepare for what was on the other side of the international date line--a flight that landed a day later at 5 a.m. in the morning. If you find it hard to sleep on planes, consider a natural sleep aid, like Melatonin, which can help induce sleep and make you feel slightly drowsy without the after effects of harsher over-the-counter prescriptions.
Don't crash into bed after landing
Regardless of how tired you might feel, you'll want to fight off any feelings of drowsiness or sleep that might put your body out of sync with your destination's time zone. Upon landing in Hong Kong at 5 a.m. in the morning, sure I felt tired, but I still had a five-hour layover to kill before reaching my intended destination of Indonesia. Rather than sitting or sleeping, I focused on keeping my body awake and fresh. I used Cathay Pacific's airport lounge to take a hot shower, I fueled up on proteins and more liquids for breakfast, and I walked the distance of the terminal to get my legs moving. Other tips to keep your body in sync include working out (the Hong Kong airport has a gym) or springing for a deep-tissue massage.