KEYWORDS: jet lag jetlag international travel sleep sleepless sleeping awake insomnia london big ben traveler hotel room krtfeatures features krtnational national krtworld world krthealth health krtsleep krttravel travel krt kc contributor musser coddington viajes dormir durmiente insomne retraso illustration ilustracion grabado 2005 krt2005
There is no end to the complaints about air travel. Delayed and canceled flights, cramped planes, extra fees, long security lines. There’s plenty to be grumpy about.
But nothing makes me more out of sorts than landing in a foreign country at dawn after an overnight flight in which sleeping sitting up was the only option for shut-eye. My internal clock says bedtime, please, but it’s time for the workday to start in Rome, Paris, London and Athens. If you’re flying even farther, say Asia or the South Pacific, you’ll really be out of whack.
So over the years, I’ve figured out the best way to handle jet lag — the medical term is desynchronosis — is to keep moving. Oh, and to get over being grumpy since travel is one of the coolest activities on the planet.
Get advice from a local
Before I land, I already have a plan to get to my hotel, be it by taxi, bus or train. If I don’t have local currency, I stop at an airport exchange kiosk to get a few euros, or whatever, to pay for the transportation. (More and more taxis take credit cards, but I don’t like to chance that.) Lately, I’ve been keeping some foreign currency so that I have a little stash for next time.
Since it’s too early to get into my room, which is just as well because the bed will be mighty tempting, I check in and leave my suitcase with the front desk. Most hotels will tag the bags and store them in a locked room. I’ve never had any problems.
Next, I have a conversation with the concierge or someone at guest services. I am looking for a map and some ideas about local museums and transportation. I have guidebooks and have studied maps, but it’s helpful to get advice from a local. For instance, in Amsterdam last fall, the concierge helped me figure out the tram system and suggested that if the line to get into the newly reopened and very popular Rijksmuseum was short that we should get in it.
“If the line is long, go to the Van Gogh Museum first,” he said.
No line at the Rijksmuseum, so we took in our fill of Vermeer paintings and more for a couple of hours, then went to the Van Gogh. I made the crucial mistake of sitting down to watch a short film of the artist’s life. It was dark and warm, and before long I got an elbow in the ribs from my husband. “You’re snoring,” he said. Time to get moving.
My formula on the first day: fresh air, coffee, a museum or two and a meal somewhere along the way. The goal is to stay awake until at least dark, hopefully later, then crash and be refreshed for the next day. I don’t want to waste any time.
Look for places you want to return
When I am traveling by myself, I’ll take a half-day city bus tour the first day to get the lay of the land. These tours give me an idea of places I want to return to. For instance, in London I was good with my brief glimpse of Royal Albert Hall but knew I should spend more time at Westminster Abbey.
In Paris, a walk through the Tuileries Garden is a lovely way to get acclimated to the main tourist attractions of the city. The famed Louvre museum is at one end, the Champs-Elysées at the other, and the arty Left Bank is on one side, the chic Right Bank on the other.
Florence, Italy, is a wonderful walking city, and if the eye-popping and whimsical architecture of Antoni Gaudí doesn’t wake you up in Barcelona, not much will.
When I hit the bed that first night, I really am a zombie, but I am happy knowing I’ve not wasted one moment.