I recently took a whirlwind trip to the UK where I flew 9 hours on Thursday night, partied all weekend with friends, and then flew back to Mexico again on a Tuesday night flight that took roughly 10.5 hours.
By the time I got home I was SO exhausted that it took me the rest of the week to properly recover and feel like a human again.
I’ve taken a fair few long-haul flights in the last 10 years or so. I’ve flown from New York to New Zealand, from Australia to New York, from the UK to Korea, Thailand to the US, the UK to Mexico, and I’ve crossed between the US and the UK more times than I can count. I’ve got something of a routine down that I’ve crafted over the years to make sure I avoid jetlag as much as possible.
But it’s not just jet lag that can ruin the first few days of your trip. It’s all the other stuff that comes along with being on a plane for so long – dehydration, blotchy skin, bloating, and just general exhaustion.
After I got back from this trip where I literally followed none of my usual rules (and severely suffered the consequences), I have promised myself that doing these little things before, during, and after a flight really are the best way to get the most out of your trip even after being on a plane for 10+ hours.
How to Avoid Jet Lag, Dry Skin, and Dehydration From a Long Haul Flight
The Day Before Your Flight
Before you fly, you’ll want to do a few simple things to make sure you’re ready for such a long flight. The first thing is to drink plenty of water. I read recently that you lose something like 1.5 liters of water every three hours that you’re in an airplane. If you get onto a plane and you’re already dehydrated, you’re going to be feeling pretty rough by the time you land, so hydrate well the day or even few days leading up to your flight.
If you’re concentrating on staying hydrated, I recommend also avoiding alcohol. I pretty much always have a beer when I get to the airport if there’s time, but I try to limit it to that and I definitely try to avoid alcohol for at least two or three days leading up to the trip just to make sure that I’m properly hydrated. It may sound intense, but I’ve found that focusing on drinking a ton of water before, during, and immediately after the flight have made such a huge difference in how I feel on those first few days after a long flight.
Another thing I like to do on the day before a flight is to eat something healthy and hydrating – I stock up on juicy fruits, drink plenty of fresh orange juice, and make sure that my meals aren’t too high in sodium (which can cause bloating, especially when you reach heights of 30,000 feet).
My skin used to really suffer when I flew, so I’ve started paying a lot more attention to moisturizing, especially leading up to a long flight. The night before I fly, I usually use a hydrating face mask. I love all of the Korean and Japanese style masks that sit on your face for up to 30 minutes (this is my current go-to), but any moisturizing face mask will help. Pack one for the trip too, so you can use one in the days following the flight as well.
Last but not least, get an early night. You’ll no doubt be sleep deprived thanks to a long day of travel through different time zones, so you’ll want to have as much sleep as you can beforehand.
So to quickly recap, here’s what you should do the day or two before your flight:
- Drink plenty of water – at least 3 liters
- Avoid alcohol
- Try to eat something healthy
- Face mask or night moisturizer because the skin suffers a lot on fights
- Go to sleep early
The Day of Your Flight
The day of my long-haul flight, I have a few routines which just solidify what I did the day before. If my flight is going to be an overnight flight (which I find is usually what I end up on for long-haul flights), then I try to wake up pretty early. I want to make sure I still get at least 8 hours, but beyond that, I try to wake up earlier than I usually do so that I feel tired once I get on the airplane.
I seriously struggle to sleep on flights, but I’ve found that if I’m really tired I’ll sleep anywhere, so hence why I wake up nice and early.
The other thing I do on the day of the flight is to make sure I drink at least 3 liters of water. This is A LOT of water and I’m usually rushing to the bathroom all day thanks to it, but it has made a HUGE difference in how my skin feels when I land. It also helps my digestion, which almost always gets messed up when I fly (plane food, WHAT IS IN YOU?!)
The last thing I do before I get on a plane is to make sure I eat a full meal, preferably something healthy and not too salty. Plane food is my guilty pleasure, but I’ve found that thanks to how salty it is and whatever else is in it that makes my stomach upset, it just really isn’t the best move for me to eat it. So instead, I eat either at home or at the airport. I have even started packing some food that I’ve made at home so that when I get hungry, I have something healthier.
I’m not going to lie, I’m still sometimes tempted and end up having the salty beef and potatoes with a glass of red wine, but I know deep down this is not going to help me avoid jet lag or bloating. The best thing to do is be prepared. It also means you don’t add to the immense waste that airlines create with their meal service.
So to recap, the day of your flight you should:
- Depending on the time of your fight, wake up nice and early so that you’re tired for the flight
- Drink at least a liter of water before you fly
- Eat a healthy meal before the fight so you’re full and not tempted by any of the salty snacks that make you feel bloated and thirsty on the flight
During the Flight
Now that you’re well hydrated, have had a healthy meal, and feel tired, the flight itself should be a cinch! ha ha, I kid, it’s definitely the second hardest part.
My number one tip and the thing that I have beaten over your head this entire post is water. Why do airplanes never have enough water? Why when I ask for water do I get a thimble full of water? I always bring at least a 1.5-liter water bottle on the plane with me. I can easily get through one of those in a few hours, but then I try to sleep, so it ends up being the perfect amount.
The other thing that I did recently that I think has made a big difference with my bloating is that I have started wearing compression socks on long-haul flights. I usually get really swollen ankles and calves on flights. I don’t get up as much as they say you should, but also I just tend to really retain water when I’m up in the air. These simple compressions socks from Amazon were super reasonable. For $13.99 I got a two pack, so one for me and one for Luke, and we’re both converts.
They are also recommended to help stop any sort of blood flow that can sometimes occur in some people when they fly. It keeps the circulation going a lot better than when you’re not wearing them. Overall though, my legs just felt better after the flight than they ever have before.
Now it’s time to sleep. Sleeping on a long haul flight is one of the best ways that you can avoid jet lag when you land, especially if you’re going to be landing in the morning. There’s nothing I love more than landing at 5 or 6 pm after a long haul flight because you only have to be awake for a few hours, but this is rarely the case.
I do a few things to make falling asleep easier (I mean as easy as you can make trying to sleep when you’re sitting upright). I have a nice soft eyemask (the ones on planes are always itchy), ear plugs, and a blanket or sarong. I used to use a sweatshirt or some other shirt that I’d packed, but this is a surefire way to wake yourself up when it falls or when it doesn’t cover your whole body. Bring a sarong or use the provided blanket.
I also started practicing a little bit of meditation before falling asleep to help myself relax. Now, for all you non-meditators, hear me out. I use the Calm App for some relaxing sounds and to practice some deep breathing and it helps me relax SO MUCH when I’m on a plane. It’s also a good way to just try and shut out the sounds of an airplane that can make sleeping difficult. Give it a try.
Okay, so to recap, here’s what to do during the flight to avoid jet lag:
- Bring your own water bottle
- Wear compression socks to help circulation while you’re on your flight
- Sleep. Try an eye mask, earplugs, a blanket or sarong, NOT A SWEATSHIRT, and do some deep breathing exercises.
Once You Land
Congrats, you’ve made it through the flight. You have now entered the most difficult part of avoiding jet lag. You’re no doubt in a completely different time zone, your body doesn’t know whether it’s night or day and your stomach is hungry even though you literally just had the in-flight breakfast (or the healthy one you packed!).
Now that you’re on the ground, you’ll probably want to hit the ground running. There’s no time for jet lag! My first tip is, you guessed it, DRINK WATER! You’ve lost tons of water on your long-haul flight, so it’s time to rehydrate. On that first day, depending on how many waking hours you have left, you should try to drink at least 1.5 liters of water, more if you can.
You can also hydrate by having nice hydrating fruits. Maybe you’ve landed in a tropical place, perfect! Stock up on mangos, grab a fresh sugar cane juice from a street vendor, or go for some pineapple slices. Whatever you do, try to continue eating some healthy options before you get on those buckets of coronas and fried fish tacos.
It’s okay to nap. I learned this after many years of trying not to nap. Last year when I went to the UK, I landed at 7 am. I had only slept for a few hours on the flight and I had a raging headache. I knew there was no way I was going to be able to make it through the day, so I set an alarm and I slept for an hour and a half.
It was a game changer. I slept in a bed with covers and a pillow and I was horizontal and it was the best thing I could have done. Don’t be afraid to nap, just make sure you don’t sleep for too long (no more than 2 hours) and then get up and get out to explore.
Try to stay awake until at least 9 pm. The longer you can hold out, the quicker you’ll get used to the time difference. If you head to bed at 7 pm because you’re just so exhausted, you’ll probably end up waking up in the middle of the night and you’ll feel wide awake.
Distract yourself. Go out for dinner, go for a walk, talk to friends, call someone if you’re traveling solo so that they can keep you entertained. Whatever you do, do not sit down on a cozy couch with a boring TV show on!
Okay, so to recap, here’s what to do one you finally land:
- Keep hydrated, eat hydrating foods if you can like fruit.
- Take a nap. Set an alarm sleep for 90 minutes. That’s it. Then I get up, have a coffee and eat something.
- Stay awake until at least 9 pm. If you stand any chance of actually sleeping through the night, you need to wait until it’s dark outside to go to sleep.
There you have it. These are the tips I try to follow every time I hop onto an overnight flight. It’s not easy and following absolutely everything can seem a bit extreme, so if there’s only one thing you do, drink plenty of water.
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