Coping with long haul flights

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One of the more interesting non-technical sessions we had at JCrete (www.jcrete.org) this summer covered the topic of health and travel. The session attracted more than it fair share of attendees many of whom travel extensively as part of their jobs. In fact, one of the attendees was in Turkey on business during the coup attempt! He managed to get out without anything real happening but he was close enough to the action that he still has anxiety issues from the incident. While this is an extreme case, being sick on the road can be extra stressful if only because you’re in an unfamiliar place and you often have no one to offer comfort or help you navigate foreign systems, language issues, treatment choices, needing to change travel plans and schedules.

It is because of this that those of us speaking regularly at conference are sensitive too and often recognize when a fellow speaker or attendee needs medical attention even when it’s not blatantly obvious. Sometimes that even means intervening when the situation gets beyond the persons ability to manage this situation on their own. For example, at JAX a couple of speakers noted that an attendee who was diabetic was in need of emergency care at an after party. At first everyone thought he was quite drunk but then… Fortunately it all worked out.

Jetlag

One of the bigger topics was; how to deal with the dreaded Jetlag. Jetlag for a frequent traveler is no joke, not getting enough sleep or not sleeping at all for extended periods can have both immediate and long term effects on one’s heath. The burning question at the session quickly became; “How does one cope with Jetlag?” Here are some of the points that came out of that session.

  • Restful sleep is the most powerful weapon against jet lag. Prefer it over all over activities including the meal!
  • Get a good set of very comfortable noise canceling headphones. Yes they can be expensive but the good ones are well worth it. I often don’t have them plugged in or when I do, only “white noise” is playing.
  • Always fly business class for long haul flights for frequent flyers. Those who fly infrequently will view this as a luxury, it’s not. It’s a matter of the looking after longer term health effect.
  • Schedule the longest leg to be as long as possible.
  • If you’re going east, take off as close to the time you’d normally sleep as is possible and land later in the day.
  • If you’re going west land as early as possible.
  • When possible don’t bother shifting into the time zone you’re in.

This works when flying west up to 6 time zones. After that it gets more difficult but you can still limit the shift. Flying east is a different story. The idea is wake up at your normal time, go about your business, start your business day and then go back to your room and sleep when the day wraps up. This requires a bit of planning for meals and is not so easy if you have evening events or obligations!

Light and Exercise

Sunlight and exercise is clearly important.

  • Be aware of the effects of light both good and bad.
  • Try to make sure you make the room dark even in the middle of the day. I traveled from San Francisco to Stockholm on a week in mid-June. At that time of year the sun sort of sets after 1am and rises about 3:30ish. The rest of the time it’s mostly bright day light. I wasn’t able to make the room dark which was miserable. Next year I did the same trip at the same time and rented room in the basement. It worked brilliantly!
  • When feeling sluggish, a little shot of sun works wonders.
  • Walking helps a lot.

Drinks and Pharmaceuticals

Many inexperienced travellers get this wrong!

  • Drinking lots of water helps by reducing stress caused by dehydration.
  • alcohol, caffeine and sugar laden/diet drinks dehydrate.
  • Melatonin can help you to sleep but won’t keep you there.

The biggest point to come out of the session is being sick on the road is no fun. There is no shame in not feeling well, it’s happened to all of us at one point in time during our travels. Our hope is that by talking about it, we’ll all feel less shy about asking for help when we need it or offering help when we see that others suffering from some ailment. If this happens then I’d score this session to be a huge success.

Happy travels!
Kirk (CTO)

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