Jetlag and travel fatigue are different. Separating these two concepts helps you plan how to prevent travel exhaustion and minimize the time needed to adjust to the new time zone.
Jetlag is caused by skipping across time zones without your body clocks having time to change to the new time zone. You feel like you should go to bed to sleep or eat at times that are out of sync with the local time. Waking up at 3:30 am ready to eat breakfast, for example, is the kind of behavior jetlag causes. Some say it takes a day for each time zone crossed. Really, though, the amount of time required to adjust to a new time zone varies by individual. We find it takes a few days even when the destination is 12 time zones away from home. Travelling home, however, seems to take a much longer time to adjust. See Jetlag Remedies below.
Travel fatigue is being tired from the travel experience. For example, you didn’t sleep when you flew across the Pacific Ocean, rode a train all night or partied into the night at the youth hostel. You may feel shaky and can’t think straight. Likely, you feel groggy, as if you cannot stay awake. You are vulnerable in this state as a woman traveler. Your judgment is impaired; and it is difficult to be properly aware of your situation when exhausted. Some people take advantage or prey on women travelers. Exhausted women are easy marks.
Over stimulation happens when we cram in countless sights, sounds, and experiences without any breaks to process all that information. Typically, one feels dazed, confused, and slightly cranky.
- Sleep. Sleep and rest as much as possible in transit. A sleeping mask, ear plugs, and head phones may help you. The most efficient thing is to sleep in transit if that’s possible. If you are on a plane, some women take a sleeping pill (for flights lasting over 8 hours). Or if they can afford it, fly business class or first class. In these sections, seats lay down forming a remarkably comfortable place to sleep. Likewise with train travel, a sleeping car may be worth a good night’s sleep. Otherwise, make yourself as comfortable as circumstances permit, and sleep. Before going to sleep, look around you to make sure you and your belongings are safe. Depending on the circumstances, it could be prudent to put your leg through the strap of your handbag and backpack, just as you would while sitting in, say, a park or restaurant. To better secure your luggage, you may put it under your feet, lean against it or if reasonable, use it as a pillow. If you cannot get to sleep, rest. Resting is a close second to receiving the benefits of sleep. If you can’t sleep or rest while in transit, then make time for it when you’ve arrived at your lodgings.
- Food and liquids. Sometimes when traveling, your body may not feel hungry or thirsty due to the excitement and stresses of travel. Not eating or drinking can cause exhaustion and grumpiness. Though it is tempting to eat quick unhealthy food at a depot or airport, do the best you can to eat healthy food and healthy liquids (potable water when possible, tea, or juice) on a regular schedule. Pack healthy snacks and drinks where possible.
- Top picks. Select a reasonable number of sites or activities. It is tempting to cram in as many tourist sites and activities as you can, but you can’t do them all. Instead, consciously decide your 1-3 top picks and go to those.
- Partying and alcohol. Too much of either partying and/or drinking alcohol can interfere with getting adequate sleep and rest. Drinking too much alcohol is particularly hazardous for women because we become easy marks for predators.
Travel Fatigue Treatment
The best way to counter travel fatigue is to go to sleep or rest. Just make sure you are in a safe place. There are a few things you can do to feel better: Brushing and flossing your teeth, combing or fixing your hair, and keeping yourself clean. (If you do not have access to water, use wet and wipes to clean up. Carry a bottle of potable water with you to brush your teeth). If you can eat and drink something healthy, that helps but we are also fervent believers in the fortifying virtues of chocolate and caffeine. It boosts morale and energy. We always travel with chocolate and either some instant coffee (Via is preferred) or a teabag. A nibble of chocolate and a sip of coffee has saved many a desperate traveler and changed the mood of many a tough journey.
Jet Lag Remedies
- Sunlight. When getting to your destination, go into the sunlight for as long as you can. The sunlight will tell your brain what time it is. Likely, you will need to do this for several days. You don’t need to be in direct sun. After all you don’t want to get sunburned in addition to trying to adjust your body to a new time zone.
- Bedtime. Try to go to bed in your new time zone at your normal bedtime. For example, if you are used to going to bed at home at 10 pm, try to go to bed at 10 pm in the new time zone. If you wake up during the night, try to relax and go back to sleep until morning. If you cannot sleep, just rest in bed.
- No Nap. Although you may feel like taking a nap during the day, try to resist. Instead, go into the sunlight or take a relaxing walk. If you feel like you must nap, go ahead and sleep. You can deal with jetlag again tomorrow.
- Melatonin. Melatonin is a neurohormone that helps travelers go to sleep and can be purchased without a prescription. Our experience is that after taking it, we fall asleep about 20 minutes later. Please note that some brands of melatonin may cause you to feel a little groggy for a few hours after you awaken.
Process the things you have seen and done by sitting at a café or park and writing about your experiences in emails, blog posts, or old-fashion postcards. Alternatively if you are an artist, sketch, draw, or paint your impressions. Some women prefer to sit and talk with someone about their travel experiences.
Cover photo attribution: “Tired” by Christian Krohg via Wikimedia Commons
Go have a fun trip and let us know your tips for travel tiredness by commenting below.