How to Avoid Jetlag and Get the Most Out of Your Trip

When readers shared their own travel tips and several really stood out as worth highlighting.

Kerry said,

One of my travel rules is “always go into town the first night.” If you’ve been traveling all day, it is very tempting to just hang out at the hotel and go to bed early, but I made that rule after I found out the next morning that I had missed the annual summer fest at a little town on the coast of France. I have scored standing room at La Scala, the Munich Opera (Aida!) and a box seat at the Folk Opera in Madrid, by pushing on and checking out what was going on in town that first night.

I see this as a jetlag tip more than anything else.

My first international travel as a kid was to Sydney, because I had family move there was when I was five so early on it became a frequent place to visit.

The very first and best jetlag advice I ever got was to make yourself stay up and go to bed as close to when the locals to as possible.

With flights from the US to Australia, though, that means a very early morning arrival — generally a little past 6am. That means staying up a Very. Long. Time.

It may be good advice, but it’s also hard.

So over time I’ve modified it a bit. I still think it’s important to go to bed on local time, and to do so when you’re quite tired to increase the chances of sleeping through the night.

But especially as I’ve gotten a bit older I’m not always able to push through from a 6am arrival in Sydney or anywhere else in the world all the way until late night. So I allow myself a short nap.

I don’t have a problem if I let myself sleep for 2-4 hours, and then get up. The key is to leave the hotel and walk somewhere to dinner. The outside air, the activity, not only begins to get me acclimated to a city but also keeps me up. By the time I finish my meal and get back to the hotel it’ll be close to bed time locally (or close enough, no one will ever confuse me with a Spaniard for instance).

If I have the time I’ll let myself sleep in the next day, for me that means 8am if I have the time, otherwise I’ll get up at 6am per usual and will be more or less adjusted to the time right away.

I find adjusting to Europe this way is easy. Coming back from Europe is only a bit tough in that I get quite tired by 7pm or so for a few days back at home. Coming back from Asia proves no challenge for me, it’s adjusting to the time and sleeping through the night on arrival that’s hard. But this maximizes my chances of doing so smoothly.

And a side benefit, as Kerry says, is that you get to do more and you miss out on fewer experiences that way. My strategy maybe a bit less so if all I’m doing is getting out to dinner, but I’ve scouted some great local places near wherever I’ve stayed and that works for me.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. really depends on direction. Traveling eastbound is harder on the body and in terms of recovery from jetlag. From someone who lives in Asia, coming home or going west for instance from the US to Asia is very easy to adapt. while you lose a day when crossing the dateline it is better than heading east and trying to stay up to adapt to local sleep patterns.

  2. I think a person needs to learn how their own body responds. In my case, I have no trouble changing time zones, but I need to get caught up on my sleep before I can function well in Europe or Asia. So the traditional advice (“stay up”) that works well for a lot of people has never been effective for me.

    I try to avoid arriving in Europe early AM; then basically sleep (either straight through, or waking up for dinner) the day I arrive. I’m usually adjusted by the second day.

  3. +1 to travelling West is easier than East. Particularly from Europe to the USA, where I have little trouble adapting quickly, even to the West Coast (who operate two hours earlier than anyone in Europe, which cuts the time difference..).

    Going East to Europe is very difficult and, as I get older, it only takes longer to adapt. I find, if I can’t take the day flight (really ideal), I need to take as late a flight as possible, and effectively write off the day of arrival.

    Absolutely agree that going for a walk and getting fresh air is vitally important – but, for me, even after heavy north/south flights where there’s little time difference. It’s just the best way of starting to feel human again.

  4. Some posters are confusing sleep deprivation and circadian rhythm misalignment. One can recover from poor sleep in a day or so, but to adjust one’s circadian rhythm requires more. Typically, one day per time zone going east, on day for every 1.5 time zones going west. Fortunately one can prepare for the time zone change before traveling and there is scientific evidence, and advice, as to how to do so.

    Those interested can look up the work of Helen Burgess and others at Rush Medical Center and similar research by others. Journal articles are available that discuss how this happens. There is also a website and an app called Jetlag Rooster which uses this research to calculate how to prepare for and recover from changing time zones.

  5. There used to be the Argonne Anti-Jet Lag diet site that no longer exists (you could purchase a timed plan based on your flight times and destination). The crux of the plan is here:
    No caffiene for prior 5 days and only the morning of arrival at destination (ugh). No naps on arrival day. Get out and going until bed time. My overseas travel is always about one week and by the time I get home I am so tired I have not trouble adjusting back. East or west, it all ends up the same to me.

  6. I go to Europe for work about 5-8 times year year. Usually fly out Sunday and come back Friday or Saturday. I stay up the first day and use coffee on the following day especially in the mornings when I have to get up early.
    I also do try to take a walk every day before dinner if possible and try to get daylight exposure.
    By the time I fly back I usually sleep 4-6 hours on the flight back because I built up a sleep deficit during the week.
    I don’t think it gets harder and a lot is also an attitude issue. Key for me is to stay busy but I tend to really fill up to week to make the business trip worth my while.
    I find it a bit trickier on vacation because its just easier to sleep in or slack away in the afternoon.

  7. Agreed that you just need to get going. If anything allow a short nap and then up and going. Keep busy and you’ll be tired but you’ll sleep well that first night

  8. My husband and I take a nap (couple of hours on average), then get up and stay up until the “normal” bedtime of the area. Good advice!

    I have NEVER been able to push through an entire day after an overnight flight.

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