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Feel Like You’re In First Class When You’re Stuck in Coach...

12 Steps to avoid jet lag & other in-the-air problems

Many of you have contacted us for suggestions on how to reduce the discomfort of long distance flights. We asked tour leader and botanist Molly Ogorzaly (who also has a PhD in Science Education), to share her 12 time-proven tips. Use them and you won’t come off the plane looking like your passport photo or feeling like you’ve pulled an all nighter at 30,000 feet!

 1.  BYOB. Bottle of water that is.

Keeping hydrated is THE most important part of avoiding jetlag. The humidity in the aircraft hovers around 15%. Compare that with the humidity in the world’s driest place, the Atacama Desert, where it hovers around 16%.

Note: The humidity in the Antarctica drops below 1%, while in the Sahara it’s surprisingly high - 25%.

Rule of thumb: Drinking 8 oz. every hour only replaces the cup of water you’re losing from your skin surface.

While first class passengers get drinks the second they sit down, in coach you start to become dehydrated by the time the plane taxis to the runway. Leave your water bottle unopened until you pass through security. Then drink all 8 oz and refill it before boarding. An added benefit - all that water in your system will force you out of your seat and down the aisle. (More on that below!)

 2.  Reset your internal clock.

The moment the flight attendants announce the time in your new destination, set your watch. This makes it easier to force yourself to stay awake if you’re arriving in the evening or to catch a nap if you’re arriving in the morning.

 3.  Be loose.

Seating is snug, so make yourself cozy. Wear loose clothing and swap your shoes for socks as you settle into your seat.

Tip: Those with treads on the bottom are best because they provide traction and double as hotel room slippers. If you’re among those whose feet swell in-flight, wear shoes you can put back on easily.

 4.  Watch your back.

An inflatable neck pillow can help with "bobbing head syndrome," prevent neck pain and encourage serious sleep.

Air-activated, self-adhesive 12-hour heat pads from Bodi Heat ( provide continuous, low level warmth that relieves back and joint pain, a stiff neck or aching shoulders. You simply peel off the backing and stick the pad to the outside of an undergarment. Caution: The pads should not be worn directly on your skin.

If you tend to suffer from neck or shoulder pain when flying, try "Bodi Heat Neck & Shoulder Pain Relief" pads. These actually can be applied directly to the skin. They provide heat for up to 6 hours.

Tip: TravelSmart recommend these pads, not only when fying, but also on long car, train and bus trips or when you are simply chilly.

 5.  Catch some zzz’s.

Some people swear by the supplement melatonin, a hormone involved in regulating sleep cycles. It is naturally produced in our pineal glands from the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Others have found it to have the opposite effect - sleeplessness, insomnia or, for a reported 10% of the population, nightmares. For this reason, if you’re curious, test this supplement at home BEFORE traveling.

Likewise, if you’ve never used sleeping pills, a plane is not the place on which to give them a try. In fact, many physicians discourage sleeping pills altogether as the deep sleep and resulting inactivity can contribute to blood clot formation, a much more serious problem than sleep deprivation. (See the Nov 2004 issue of T/S for advice on how to avoid blood clots while traveling.)

You also need to consider the pill’s duration versus the length of your flight. You don’t want to deal with customs, car rentals and room check-in when you’re half asleep.

An eyemask and a set of ear plugs are very helpful. The latter has the added benefit of thwarting tinnitus, the ear ringing that many of us experience following hours of roaring engine sounds. Keep in mind that resting with your eyes closed is 70% to 80% as effective as real sleep. Even a short snooze will make a big difference in your recovery time.

Tip: Consider the medically-tested T/S Pressure Reducing Ear Plugs, described in our Shopper’s Mart. Click here for details.

 6.  Eat carefully.

Pressurized cabins can have odd effects on your gastro intestinal system. Avoid gas producing foods preflight, such as apples, apricots, beans, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower - even milk if you’re lactose intolerant. And pack high fiber snacks in your carry-on, such as dried fruit, nuts and whole grain granola bars. Dehydration and lack of activity can also often result in post-flight constipation, even among those who never experience it at home.

If you often have irregularity, bring your favorite remedy - it may not be available in foreign pharmacies.

If you plan ahead and follow a pre-flight diet that alternates high-protein meals with high-carb meals, you may significantly reduce jetlag. Using a program designed by the Argonne National Lab (a US Dept of Energy facility), will plan a diet for a fee ($10.95 to $16.95) that fits your itinerary.

 7.  Fight the culture.

There’s a reason planes are called "culture clubs." The recirculated air and exposure to unfamiliar germs, coupled with the stress of travel, is a recipe for disaster for those with weakened immune systems. If you ALWAYS (or almost always) get sick after air travel or if you’re going into a trip on the verge of catching something, consider the specialized products on the market:

• No-Jet-Lag, a unique homeopathic remedy developed in New Zealand, has been available since 1990. Studies show that 87% of those who have tried it find it extremely helpful. It has no side effects and can be used by all travelers. Each packet has 32 tablets -- enough for 50 hours of flying. Check the Web site ( for a list of places around the world where you can buy this popular product.

The company has two other protective products.

• Flight Spray (, the first nasal hydration spray created especially for airline travlers, moistens the nasal passages, alleviates nasal dryness and helps prevent colds, flu and sore throats due to recycled airplane air. Flight Spray which is made in Maui, helps to enhance the body's ability to fight against infection and clears the sinuses during long flights.

• Trip Ease (, a remedy for motion sickness, comes in a tablet. Because it's a homeopathic preparation using low dosages of six active ingredients, it does not cause drowsiness and has no side effects. You can take it along with your other meds.

• Knight-McDowell Labs (, based in Carmel (CA), distributes Airborne, a product developed by a second grade teacher sick of catching all the bugs her students brought into her classroom. These tablets, which contain Vitamin C and other immune boosting minerals, are dissolved in water and are another way to stay hydrated.

• Since 1978, Alacer (, based in Foothill Ranch (CA), has been manufacturing Emergen-C. This tasty, effervescent drink is both a dietary supplement and an immune system booster. The travel-friendly packets, when mixed with 4 to 6 ounces of water, turn into a fizzy drink providing 1,000 mg of Vitamin C, various minerals and B vitamins. It comes in 15 flavors including cranberry, coffee, lemon-lime, orange, tangerine and tropical.

Because dry membranes are more susceptible to infection, chewing sugar-free gum (which stimulates saliva production) is also a way to thwart illness. Or, in the privacy of the airport or airline bathroom, apply a saline solution into your nostrils.

 8.  Care for your skin.

Sadly, many airlines are phasing out their lovely warm towels. Still, it’s possible to emerge from the plane looking fresh.

Take along gel eye masks. They are inexpensive and available at your local drugstore, Target and Walmart. Ask the flight attendant to keep them in the fridge until a half hour before landing. Like a cold shower for your eyes, this treatment helps alleviate the "raccoon look" that comes with long flights.

And, pack dry facial cloths, such as those from Oil of Olay. Dampen them with hot water to give yourself a quick mini-facial. Your carry-on should also include some or all of the following: Chapstick (or another type of lipbalm), a travel-sized moisturizer, handi-wipes, baby-wipes, Shout packets for spills and, if you suffer from dry eyes, eyedrops.

 9.  Keep moving.

Blood clots (in doctor speak "DVT" or Deep Vein Thrombosis) are a serious health threat on long flights. Force yourself to get up and move around the cabin on a regular basis. Flex your legs and rotate your ankles while you’re seated. Do knee bends while waiting in line for the lavatory. Spend layovers walking through the airport.

 10.  Expose yourself.

Light is essential for resetting your internal clock. If you arrive at your destination during the day, get outside to take in the natural daylight. Let the adrenalin rush of being in a foreign place keep you awake until after supper time. If you feel your energy lagging and you must take a nap, keep it short (less than 2 hours) and don’t sleep through sunset.

If you arrive at night and if you managed to stay awake on the plane, you shouldn’t have trouble falling asleep. You may, however, find yourself awake after only a few hours. Help yourself back to sleep with a warm bath, an over-the-counter sleeping aid (such as Tylenol PM) or even a warm glass of milk (a natural source of melatonin and the amino acid precursor to serotonin, 2 sleepinducing hormones).

Many people swear by Badger Sleep Balm ( which comes in a travel tin and is rubbed into your temples. There’s no scientific proof that it works but it can’t hurt.

 11.  Warm up.

Some of the newest research on neurophysiology indicates that elevating your temperature can help reset your circadian rhythms (day/night cycles). Exercising, grabbing a sauna or relaxing in a warm bath helps that process.

 12.  Be realistic.

If you do feel "off" recognize it for what it is. Don’t confuse your physical symptoms with the emotions of being in a foreign environment. Bring along over-the-counter medications to counteract any temporary symptoms, such as:

  • Headaches: Aspirin, Tylenol, ibuprofen
  • Diarrhea: Imodium or Kaopectate
  • Constipation: Laxatives such as Ex-Lax or Metamucil
  • Upset stomach: Rolaids, Tums or Pepto-Bismol
Bottom Line

Although jet lag affects most of us some of the time, these 12 steps will help reduce any suffering that might come your way.