Jet lag

I’ve polished my zoris so I can look like a glamorous jet-setter instead of just a schlub in a beach chair. And what comes with jet-setting? Jet lag.

I’ll offer a casual definition of jet lag. It’s the discombobulated sleep rhythm and consequent fatigue that results from large and rapid changes in our longitudes.

We could say “time zones” instead of longitudes here, but time zones are mere vestiges of human convention. In some places they zig and zag a lot. Fortunately, it’s not the line on the map that messes with our biology. Nature’s cycles are not so easily fooled.

Anyway, wisdom in international pilot circles is that jet lag hits harder when you travel east than it does when you travel west. This wisdom jibes with my experience. I’m not very sensitive to jet lag, but the few times I was aware of it were rooted in trans-oceanic eastbound flights.

Jet lag is such a popular term that it’s a conceptual bucket that catches a lot of other problems associated with travel.

After all, travel itself can be fatiguing. Travelers are often uncomfortable, dehydrated, stressed-out, faced with unhealthy meals and snacks, and confronted with unfamiliar surroundings. This stuff can all conspire to leave someone feeling groggy and worn out.

I suspect that jet lag itself is often oversold as a problem when it comes to a one-shot trip, but that it can take a toll if a traveler is on the road for extended periods and starts to accumulate a deficit of rest.

Everybody has their own techniques for making travel more pleasant and less tiring. I’ll mention a few of mine, and I’m a guy who has done a lot of traveling.

First of all, I’ve found that good hotels are important. A good hotel can make the difference between being well-rested, comfortable, and efficient or being tired, uncomfortable, and inefficient. Logically enough, on a business note, hotel managers often have peers in the local area’s other management ranks, so they can have a deep bench of local expertise that can help you out if you need it.

Another technique isn’t tangible like a hotel is, but, for me, at least, it’s no less important. This involves the outlook that heeds the distinction between work and rest. Even if we don’t particularly enjoy sitting with our knees tucked under our chins as airline passengers, we can still use the time to give ourselves a mental recess. Airline cabins are, in general, lousy places to work. Outside of a little bit of light reading, then, I regard this time as an enforced break.

Many people, though, just can’t shut down. Their heads are buzzing with static and with the impulse to do something. These days, the various accouterments of computing and communications are serving as expensive fidget spinners.

But there is a profound difference between doing actual work on one hand and doing pseudo-work as a time filler on the other hand. In my playbook, resting the noggin is a far more productive than fidgeting with pseudo-work; this way, when the real work comes along, I’m a clean slate ready to field the action.

Another travel technique is to cut myself some budgetary slack, in fact, a lot of slack, when it comes to time in airport terminals. If it takes a $35 meal instead of a $10 meal in order to steer clear of greasy and salty traveler’s glop, then I’ll take the high road as well as a couple of bottles of water to go with it. Yes, I still consider the bacon cheeseburger to be the zenith of culinary development, and the malted milkshake is surely a bedrock of civilization, but the sedentary realities of modern travel seem to mesh with lighter fare.

One factor that rarely gets mention in the traveling context is the importance of the domestic front. I don’t think you can ever outrun your baseline situation in life. If you travel a lot for work, then the toll of travel will be a lot greater if you’ve got worries brewing at home. By contrast, road time is a lot more pleasant if you know that home and hearth (or, on Saipan, home and air conditioning) are in good shape.

Nothing that I’ve mentioned is a magic bullet that’s targeted specifically at jet lag. That’s because having broadly sound travel habits can improve traveling on all fronts. If jet lag is going to hit you, then it’s going to hit you. Your ability to absorb it will largely depend on how all the other travel elements are going. I’ve seen quite a few people unravel on the road, but, outside of extreme cases, the unraveling was usually rooted in a number of contributing factors, not just one cause.

With this in mind, and with the holidays arriving, I’m ready to put on my traveling zoris. I might even forget about cheeseburgers for awhile.

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Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at EdStephensJr.com. His column runs every Friday.

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