Best jet lag remedy? Stop fighting it

Fighting jet lag is overrated. Here are 5 ways our globetrotting family embraced it instead

From Malaysia to Mexico to Morocco, our full-time traveling family flies all over the world. It used to be that when it came to changing time zones, we’d strategize the best jet lag remedy. We’d evade it, trick it, smack it down. Changing time on our devices to local time? Tricks for hydration or nutrients or forcing ourselves to try to sleep on the local schedule? You bet.

Except… We don’t bother with any of that anymore.

“Timing our days to light, cultural rhythm, and our own personal schedules is not a dance, a battle, or an illusion. It’s just damn hard.”

You can’t beat jet lag

If you are crossing time zones, you’re going to have some form of jet lag. Heck, as many people complain about the twice-a-year clock changes in spring and fall, and how much those wreak havoc with their days, it’s no wonder that changing time zones can be so disruptive.

Timing our days to light, cultural rhythm, and our own personal schedules is not a dance, a battle, or an illusion. It’s just damn hard.

Along with our two kids, we’ve flown some long-haul stuff, including from Mexico to Thailand, Malaysia to Japan, and Florida to Portugal. Over these big flights and bigger recovery days, spread across over 500 days of full-time family travel, we’ve realized something important.

You can’t beat jet lag. You just can’t. It’s like trying to cheat death or taxes. All you can do is maybe—just maybe—put it off for a while. It’s like the old line from Terry Pratchett’s Thud, about drinking coffee when you’re tired:

“Coffee is a way of stealing time that should by rights belong to your older self.”

Jet lag is a little like what happens when your future self collects on the time debt.

When you cross time zones, your body will need to recover and catch up. No hack, trick, chemical, or convoluted strategy that will change that biological reality.

You don’t have to hit the ground running. You can’t beat jet lag. But you can roll with it.

Trying to beat jet lag is overrated

The travel advice world abounds with tips and hacks for beating, fighting, or evading jet lag, or what strategy or supplements comprise the best jet lag remedy. Those tips can have their place, such as on a short trip when time is of the essence, or when you want to give yourself a leg up on how you feel.

Honestly, though, trying to beat jet lag is overrated.

For example, a common piece of jet lag advice is to put yourself on a new schedule based on your destination’s time zone.

We’ve used that strategy before. Occasionally it still comes in handy. But it comes with a giant pitfall.

While in transit, sometimes people will force themselves to stay awake until they hit a time that corresponds with bedtime in their destination. That can work okay… unless you have transfers or—and I’m sure this won’t happen to you—delays, changes, cancellations, or other interruptions to your trip.

When anything unexpected happens, you not only have to deal with it, but you have to deal with it when you’re exhausted, because you didn’t let yourself sleep. Because you were trying to beat jet lag or employ some best jet lag remedy.

Trying so hard to put yourself in your destination’s time zone can leave you fatigued while still in your current time zone. It’s just one way the idea of trying to beat jet lag is overrated.

One simple tweak can help

Over the years, whether crossing a continent or crossing an ocean, we’ve realized that we just cannot defeat or prevent jet lag. We can minimize its effects, but we still have them. There is no best jet lag remedy. So instead of trying to fight jet lag, we made a simple tweak that has helped us immensely:

We take a rest day.

One low-key day makes a huge difference in how quickly we adapt to a new schedule, a new time zone, and a new place.

It’s that simple. And I know that this is where you’re going to start talking about how busy you are, how packed your schedule is, how you have so little time.

So here’s what I suggest.

The best jet lag remedy is pretty simple. For your first full day in your destination, clear the schedule. Settle in. Nap when you need to. Explore your accommodation and your surrounding area. Maybe take in a cafe or a street food stall nearby. But that’s it. Otherwise, take it as easy as possible. Then aim to get a good night’s sleep and start fresh the next day.

It’s a simple tweak. On most trips, it’s one you can find a way to work into your schedule. And it will make a world of difference in how you feel, how present you are with your travels, and how refreshed you can be after one small day of downtime.

We stopped trying to fight jet lag. Here’s what we used to do… and what we do now instead

When we flew from Mexico to Thailand in 2022, we initially tried to use some of our old strategies, such as getting on Bangkok time… even though we were coming from southern Mexico.

It was a fiasco. We were exhausted. Aster was so tired that when we went into our hotel lobby, she threw up all over the floor. That was the last time we tried to fight jet lag. Now, here’s what we do instead.

1. We used to… Try to sleep during transit only during our destination’s bedtime

Now we… Sleep when we’re sleepy, no matter the time

If it’s noon at our destination but we’re sleepy right now on the flight, we close our eyes. It doesn’t matter when. In our experience, it’s challenging enough to get any sort of decent rest while in transit. So if we’re tired enough to doze in the slightest, we go for it.

2. We used to… Snack and dine based on local time

Now we… Eat and hydrate regularly, as much as possible

Staying sated and hydrated can be challenging enough on any sort of transportation, especially a flight. We used to try to sync our main eating times to corresponding mealtimes in our destination time zone. We don’t bother with that anymore.

If we’re hungry, we eat.

If we’re thirsty, we drink.

We check with each other on listening to our respective hunger and thirst cues too, especially to make sure the kids take a moment and see what their bodies really need.

Eating and drinking throughout our travels, no matter the time, goes a long way to energizing our bodies and helping us feel, if not rested, then at least less worn out when we get where we’re going.

3. We used to… Meter screen time for us and our kids

Now we… Use the media we feel like during transit, for as long as we feel like it

Travel days and transit days are not like other days. They are in-between times. A typical travel day can be full of long lines, endless waiting, cramped seats, and lengthy stretches of doing pretty much nothing else but getting from one place in the world to another. To be fair, a lot of what I just described can be part of everyday life too, just not usually to the same degree.

During our regular days, we regulate how much recreational time we and the kids spend on screens. During travel and transit days though, we pretty much don’t worry about it. Even my own device is full of content downloaded from Disney+.

Music, podcasts, ebooks, audiobooks, games, movies, shows, you name it. During a travel day, it’s okay to have at the entertainment with abandon. Around our travel days we usually have less or no screen time. But we also don’t stress about it. Just like eating an overall balanced diet means we don’t stress about junk food, an overall balance of recreational screen time buffers us for days when more makes travel easier for everyone.

4. We used to… Obsess over arriving as fresh as possible

Now we… Try to feel good and somewhat energized when we arrive, but we accept being very, very tired

On the one hand, we try to arrive being at least a little rested, well fed, and generously hydrated.

We still arrive tired.

Since we don’t put pressure on ourselves to hit the ground running, we know we’re going to arrive tired, and we embrace it. Sometimes tempers get short or voices get whiny, but we also try to be extra forgiving. Travel days are not easy. They are exhausting, especially when crossing oceans, continents, or even just one time zone.

So we’ve accepted that we will be tired. Once we arrive at our accommodation and settle in, we can rest.

5. We used to… Rise and rest with local time as soon as possible

Now we… Let our bodies adapt, over a few days as needed

It can be helpful to try to crash out at local bedtime and rise at local rise time. But not if you don’t have to.

We once had to fly from Tokyo to Washington D.C., in order to get back to the US West Coast (long story for another time). We pretty much all crashed out by 9 p.m. During that same intense couple of days of travel, in Seattle Aster conked out, hard and cold, in her hotel room bed around 4 p.m.. For about 5 hours, she did not budge. After a couple of days though, she was fine.

Weird nights and sleepy days can be part of long-haul travel. Instead of pushing ourselves arbitrarily onto a local schedule, we let our bodies adjust on their own. After a couple of days, we’re set on our new time and can rest or rise the way we want.

Time and patience defeat jet lag better than anything else

Jet lag is an undefeatable adversary, vulnerable only to patience and time. When we feel constant pressure to go, go, go, and rush, rush, rush, tips and hacks might promise to defeat jet lag. But you won’t. There is ultimately no one true best jet lag remedy or strategy.

We don’t get on new time zones in advance. We don’t fight jet lag, and have come to learn the concept is overrated. Instead, we give ourselves more grace, screen time, snacks, liquids, and forgiveness on travel days. With lots of rest, time, and patience, we adapt to where we’re going just fine.

Given a little time, jet lag retreats all on its own and is gone. Jet lag is a fact of travel. Ultimately, we don’t need to fight jet lag, and neither do you.

More about long-haul travel with kids

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

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