Does Jet Lag Impact Your Stress Level?

I’ve asked a lot of travelers this question, and consistently noted that about half of people say yes, and about half say no. Jet lag is one of those things international travelers inevitably have to manage, and something that we either learn to put up with, ignore, or (at the very least) use as a good explanation for our coworkers, family, and friends after we get back from a trip and feel like we’re stumbling through a fourth dimension for a week.

Interestingly, those who admit that jet lag causes them quite a bit of anxiety discover that it’s actually worrying about jet lag that causes them the most stress (how will it affect them physically?  Mentally?  Emotionally?) while those that say jet lag doesn’t bother them often say that while jet lag is irritating, it relaxes them in a certain way — unlike any other physiological phenomenon.   These are people who actually don’t mind having their natural body rhythms thrown off because it is a break from their daily rut of work-eat-sleep-worry-work-eat-sleep-rinse-and-repeat.   In other words, jet lag is just a feature of being on vacation, of doing something different.

Given the varying reactions and all the anecdotes and quick-fix recommendations that abound out there on how to deal with jet lag, it’s worth taking a closer look.

Jet lag results from alterations to the body’s circadian rhythms caused by trans-meridian (west–east, or east-west) air travel.  When traveling across a number of time zones, your body’s natural pattern is upset as the cycles that govern times for sleeping, eating, and body temperature regulation no longer correspond to your environment.  To the extent that your body cannot immediately realign these rhythms, you are “jet lagged.”  Symptoms can either aggravate anxiety, or be mistaken for intensified side effects of medications.  Some of the most common jet lag symptoms include:

  • Ÿ         Headache and irritability;
  • Ÿ         Balance and coordination problems;
  • Ÿ         Difficulty concentrating;
  • Ÿ         Early awakening (if flying west) or trouble falling asleep (if flying east); and
  • Ÿ         Interrupted sleep (to say the least).

Jet lag usually occurs with a change of three time zones or more, and the extent to which you’re affected depends on the number of time zones crossed.  If you’re unfamiliar with jet lag (or just want to explain it as painlessly as possible to your great-aunt), it’s worth noting that the maximum possible disruption is plus or minus twelve hours.  If the time difference between two locations is greater than twelve hours, subtract that number from 24 to understand the “adjusted” time zone difference.  New Zealand, for example, being nineteen hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time, would pose only a five-hour jet lag challenge to a traveler from California.

The recovery time for jet leg is generally one day per time zone crossed, although many people (particularly those who travel more) are able to recover faster.  Women are affected by jet lag more than men, since normal nighttime and daytime body rhythms are connected to estrogen levels.  Recovery will also depend on whether your flight(s) are overnight or scheduled during the day.  You’ll typically experience more jet lag if you begin a long flight mid-morning or early afternoon than if you take a “red eye” flight departing at eight p.m. or later (it helps, of course, if you can actually fall asleep on an airplane).

Unfortunately, there are no proven ways to avoid jet lag altogether.  You can talk to your general care practitioner about where specifically you’re going, and how to strategize flight times and sleep hours, to try to minimize the impacts.  Your doctor may suggest getting only a minimal amount of sleep the night before your flight (so that you’re naturally sleepy when you arrive at your destination) or taking a prescription-strength sleep medication for the first several nights of your trip.


How will you feel after making this trip?!

Plane Crash… Train Crash… is Your Travel Anxiety in Overdrive Yet??

Yes, there have been two major travel catastrophes in the news this summer: the Asiana Airlines plane crash at San Francisco International, and now the horrific Renfe train crash in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.  Neither incident allowed the passengers on board to see or prepare for what was coming.  Terrorists couldn’t be blamed, or bad weather, or even an act of God.  Instead, it looks like inept crew caused both tragedies… which may cause us equal parts rage, and fear, as we ask ourselves: Why should we travel?  Doesn’t traveling mean putting ourselves at the mercy of the people entrusted with our safety?  What if I was in that 0.0001% of innocent people who died because of someone else’s recklessness? 

Everyone who braves their way abroad has to answer these questions for themselves, and the best time to ask yourself (as painful as it is) is after a major travel tragedy.  If you don’t, your fear will stick with you deep down, until you find yourself reaching for your xanax instead of that Eurail brochure.  Think about it: how much does trust, faith, and belief in your own good fortune play into your confidence?  It depends not only on your anxiety, but your personality and your overall view of life

So you might be thinking, are there practical ways to avoid a tragedy like the high-speed Renfe train crash?  For many people the answer is simple:  ride those bumblingly slow intercity trains until they forget about what happened in in Santiago de Compostela.  So how long until people forget?  Maybe by the time the holidays roll around… or maybe not until next summer.  What makes a train crash so upsetting is that people generally feel so much safer on a train than on a plane, simply because they’re on the ground and moving at a slower speed.  There aren’t security alerts blaring over the loudspeakers as is the case at most airports.  There aren’t four officers and a metal detector between you and that cozy window seat.  A train is like an old friend:  slower, friendlier, safer.    

I was on a train in Germany once that made me very nervous.  We were hurtling between Stuttgart and Koln at well over 120 miles an hour.  I couldn’t tell if the animals we were passing were cows, or horses!  So what did I do?  I got off in little old Siegburg because I was starting to feel sick with dread.  Nothing happened to that train I was on, of course; everything was just fine.  I made myself an hour late that night, but I felt relieved to know that I could listen to my gut when I didn’t feel safe on a high-speed train.  Remember, there’s a certain advantage to trains over planes: if your sixth sense is telling you to get the heck off, or you just need to stand still and regain control of your nerves for awhile, it’s a whole lot easier to disembark.  So don’t let the Renfe tragedy get the best of your travel confidence; understand that accidents can happen, that tragedies are exceedingly rare, and that you have a lot more control than you think.  Everything in between is just the essence of adventure. 


“Travel Rebound”: is it Healthy?

Say you just got back from vacation — a really, really great one that made you feel like the star of a National Geographic feature the whole time.  If you had a phenomenal trip, you may not even recover from jet lag before you start thinking of booking the next vacation.  You may be afraid of these feelings because you fear they’re compulsive, reactive, or will lead to a fixation on travel that you can’t control.  Are you starting to suffer from “travel rebound”?

Understand that many people start dreaming of their next vacation in order to minimize the “downer” that often comes with getting back to your job, chores, etc.  Plenty of travelers liken “traveling on the rebound” to “dating on the rebound”: as in, you miss the feeling of something so much that you can’t wait to jump back in.  Fortunately, booking travel on the rebound is a lot healthier, and more successful than dating on the rebound!

If you’re suffering from “travel rebound,” don’t be overly concerned as long as you’re not extending yourself beyond your physical, financial, and practical means.  It’s when your credit card company starts calling, or (more importantly) your friends, family, and even your doctor start to think of you as an escapist rather than a travel buff that you need to step back and look more at your home life than your passport.


Yeah, you know you’re seeing a screen like this in your daydreams!

Antarctica: The Ideal Escape for Anxiety Sufferers?

Yes, it’s summer, which means people are booking Antarctica cruise tickets right now to grab those last great deals for ships departing early next year — while many others are already booking summer savings to cruise in January 2015.   Does the White Continent hold a special place in the hearts of loners, worriers, and anxious dreamers? You bet.  There’s something about all that ice, all that whiteness, and the idea of journeying right off the face of the earth that appeals to us — even when the cost and the logistics of going that far south are a definite challenge

So is it true that an uninhabited place of stunning natural wonder is perfect for you?  Consider the following.

1. If you do book a dream trip to Antarctica, it will most likely be on a cruise ship (unless you’re a millionaire who can afford a plane or a helicopter down…) or a smaller “explorer“ ship that can actually land you on ice.  That means being in relatively close quarters with hundreds, if not a couple thousand, people.  I took one of those “big” cruises, and while I had a fantastic time, I have to say that at the end of two weeks, I had a very intense need for my personal space back.  My advice?  Learn from my challenges and shell out the extra money for a room with a balcony.  If you book an indoor stateroom, the only way you’re going to get a view (or even some fresh air) is to mingle with the dozens milling the observation decks upstairs… and your social anxiety might get the best of you.

2. You don’t have to actually do anything on an Antarctic cruise if you don’t want to — a great pleasure if you‘re in need of some serious stress detox.  Not only are your meals and room and board taken care of like on any other cruise ship, but outdoor activities shut down as the temperatures plunge.  No outdoor pool; no dancing outside; fewer distractions; no need for you to feel like you should be drifting from fore to aft all day to make the most of your expensive ticket.  You usually just sit and enjoy the stunning scenery.  And let your imagination take over.

3. Antarctica appeals to the nature-loving, highly-sensitive introvert.  I met many such individuals in my experience earlier this year.  For every group of ten or twelve people who clearly knew each other, there was at least one person who looked like they had in fact booked the trip to the end of the earth to get away from their anxiety triggers.  These people can become your friends if you have the energy and courage to work up a conversation with them.  It would probably be a lot more difficult to connect with another anxiety sufferer outside the Louvre or the Parthenon.


Did I mention the photo opportunities?  Take your own set of stunning shots, print them when you get back home, and one look back will bring you to that mental space where you had thousands of miles of ice and sea to meditate on during your incredible journey.

Need a good place to start searching for this trip of a lifetime?  I had a good experience with Vacations to Go:

–The Brave Traveler

Traveling Off-Season: Does it Ease Anxiety?

Yes, definitely.    

No, there are the same anxiety triggers year-round.  

Maybe… depends what kind of traveler you are, and your particular anxieties…

What do you think?

Summer is synonymous with vacation.  Or is it?  As millions of travelers enjoy the stunning sites around the world this time of year, millions more longing vagabonds wait out the summer crowd in favor of a more tranquil and less rushed getaway in the fall or early winter.  Others are saving their plans for New Year’s — perhaps to mark a resolution to emerge from the cocoon of armchair traveler.

If you suffer from social anxiety, chances are you’re more likely than anyone to wait to book for January, February, or March — particularly if your destination is in Europe or other northern destinations, where the icy stillness of winter brings a solitude to the quiet thrill of exploring something new, while most everyone else is inside reading, surfing, watching TV.

So if you didn’t book your trip for this summer, don’t worry; don’t feel you’ve missed your chance for the year.  If cold temperatures make you hesitate to book in the fall and winter, remember — it’s always summer somewhere in the world.  And holiday travel season will be here before you know it!


A Plane Crash: Can it Happen to Me?

Will it happen to me?

 How can it be prevented?  Can it be prevented?

 That’s it; I’m not going to travel.  I had high hopes, but I can’t risk dying or getting seriously injured!

 These may be some of the thoughts going through your head after watching the coverage of the tragic Asiana Airlines crash at

San Francisco International (SFO) this weekend.  I’ve flown in and out of SFO almost a dozen times over the past four years, and I have to say, my gut seized when I heard the news, and I immediately thought of the trip I have scheduled for Turkey in the fall.  And yes, the first two questions above flew through my head – but not the last one.  Why?  Because there are things you can do to minimize the chance of personal tragedy aboard aircraft.  Here are several that will put your mind (more) at ease about flying before you book your next trip.    

These may be some of the thoughts going through your head after watching the coverage of the tragic Asiana Airlines crash at

San Francisco International (SFO) this weekend.  I’ve flown in and out of SFO almost a dozen times over the past four years, and I have to say, my gut seized when I heard the news, and I immediately thought of the trip I have scheduled for Turkey in the fall.  And yes, the first two questions above flew through my head – but not the last one.  Why?  Because there are things you can do to minimize the chance of personal tragedy aboard aircraft.  Here are several that will put your mind (more) at ease about flying before you book your next trip.    


  1. Find out where your flight originates from.  If it doesn’t originate from the city you’re departing from, it’s likely the plane pilot has already been flying for at least a couple hours before he starts your nine- or ten-hour flight.  The Asiana Airlines flight originated in Shanghai, China before landing in Seoul, South Korea, and then taking off for San Francisco, California. The cause of the crash is still being investigated, but think about how fresh you would feel after driving for at least twelve hours, and you get an idea of how taxing it is for a pilot to safely land when he or she is exhausted.  Bottom line is, you’re likely to be safer on a flight that originates where you do.   


  1. Pay the extra money to fly with an airline that has an excellent, long-standing reputation and track-record.  I don’t want to knock Asiana Airlines, but their reps are already admitting that the pilot that may have been responsible for the crash was in training.  Before the crash, I’d never even heard of Asiana Airlines. Your safety does NOT come with a budget – so think of the premium you pay on a ticket as money well-spent on highly experienced pilots flying rigorously maintained aircraft.   


  1. Learn about emergency landing protocols BEFORE you board the plane.  I had a stewardess once tell me that only 25% of passengers are really listening to the pre-flight safety demonstration that’s mandatory before every take-off.  Furthermore, it’s doubtful that those passengers retain all the information shown regarding use of oxygen masks, flotation devices beneath your seat, etc.  Go to the airline website a couple days before you leave and review the safety information then, when you’re relatively relaxed and have time to think about it.  When the stewardess is providing the information before you actually take off, look around at the people NOT paying attention, and those with baggage stuffed at their feet, a baby in their lap, people possibly hung over or apparently not feeling well, etc. because these are the people who will present a challenge to your safe and speedy evacuation should the worst occur.  Knowing the condition and state of your surrounding passengers is going to be just as important to your safety during an emergency as understanding how to use your oxygen mask or where the nearest emergency exit is. 


Happy, and safe, travels to you all.


Broken baggage that leads to emotional baggage: is it inevitable? No way!

Fellow Brave Travelers,
While in Lithuania last week, my beloved Forecast wheeled suitcase of ten years succumbed to the stress of those attractive but treacherous cobblestone streets of the Old Town.  The right wheel cracked and wore down to the size of a marble, and the bottom seams ripped open about an hour later.  I dragged my bag, I yanked it up Soviet-style perehod walkways that were devoid of escalators, and I might have cursed a bit as I tried to pull it up yet another hill — wiling it along because the idea of having to abandon the bag, and buy a new one on the fly, really upset me.   Ultimately,  I ended up leaving the bag at the dumpster at the bus station in Riga, Latvia.  There was just no way I could take it through the next three countries with me.

Was this hard to do?  You bet.  Journey thousands of miles away from home with only yourself, your loved ones (if you’re lucky) and the two-three pieces of luggage at your feet, and you won’t want to part with anything, even if everyone is staring at you as the wheels screech and the rubber starts to burn right off.  So how do you move on when your big beautiful bag is a symbol of how you overcame so many emotional and psychological obstacles to go abroad?   Here are some suggestions.

1. Face facts that your luggage is no longer useable — the earlier, the better.  If you keep using broken luggage that is difficult to pull or lift, you risk injuring yourself (strained back, wrist, etc.) and dealing with a very stressful scenario of having to seek medical help in an unfamiliar area.  You also risk creating a serious hazard if the bag collapses and items fall out in the middle of a pedestrian walkway or as you board a train or bus.  Letting go of your baggage will save you trouble — literally and figuratively.

2. Take a piece of your old bag with you to make it easier to move on.  In my case, I snipped off the front compartment of my bag and used it to provide some valuable cushioning for the souvenir books I brought home.

3. Make buying your new bag as enjoyable and interesting as possible.  It’s an unexpected chance to shop for something practical at the nearest foreign mall or department store.  Tell the shop manager where you’re from and what happened to you.  They might not give you a discount, but they will certainly be sympathetic and wish you happy travels — and help you find a great new piece that will journey with you on many great adventures to come.