Jet Lag Hell 37

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“This is why I travel overland. I am an overland traveler. I am an overland traveler.”

Laying in bed, I repeat it over and over again, as if it will solve my current woe.

san diego airport sunrise

Being lulled into a false sense of happiness -- sunrise at the San Diego Airport at my departure.

There are plenty of reasons I prefer traveling overland as much as I can. In fact, I am in the midst of developing a whole page and series of posts on that topic this month where I discuss the reasons I like it so much. Off the top of my addled brain some are:

  • Seeing and fully experiencing the immense scope of the world.
  • The environmental benefits of limiting jet travel, especially short haul flights.
  • The uninterrupted time you get on long bus or train rides, usually cut off from the world and left to your own thoughts.
  • Being able to travel the way that most locals do most times.

Those are just a few of the reasons why overland my preferred mode of “getting there.”

But as I type this at 4:30 a.m. lying in bed in Amman, Jordan the only reason that makes one shred of difference to me is that I don’t get jet lag on the ground.

Right now, as I sit here and write this, I have a bitter and irrational hatred of airplanes.

Yes, I know that air travel is a modern wonder and frankly, necessary. I didn’t have the time or money to make the trip from California to Jordan without getting on plane. For the amazingly low price of $686.70, I was able to almost transport myself from San Diego, California to Amman, Jordan in 24 hours and 53 minutes.

It is as close to magic as you are going to experience in your lifetime.sunset from plane over nyc harbor


But right now, the only magic I want to experience is the magic of a full night’s sleep at a normal hour.ย 

This is the first time I have ever had jet lag to this extent. I have been here for a week and the earliest I have gotten to sleep was one night at about 2 a.m. The other nights have seen the bliss of sleep wash over me anytime from 2 till about 5.

That is not how I like to operate. This is my personal version of hell, perhaps not to the level of the Houston Passport Office, but if not that bad, not too far off.

Jet Lag — the Poetic Version

I recall reading a wonderful piece that Pico Iyer did about jet lag in a book called Sun After Dark: Flights Into the Foreign. I did a quick search to see if I could find what he wrote on jet lag somewhere and ran into this long piece he did for the New York Times Magazine calledย In the Realm of Jet Lag, based on the piece in the book.

He awes me with his skill. Take the time to read it all — he has a magnificent gift.

A day, a human day, has a certain shape and structure to it; a day, in most respects, resembles a room in which our things are ordered according to our preference. It may be empty or it may be full, but in either case it is familiar. Over here is the place where you rest (10 p.m. to 6 a.m., perhaps), over there is the place where you eat or work or feel most alive. You know your way around the place so well, you can find the bathroom in the dark. But under jet lag, of course, you lose all sense of where or who you are. You get up and walk toward the bathroom and bang into a chair. You reach toward the figure next to you and then remember that she’s 7,000 miles away, at work. You get up for lunch, and then remember that you have eaten lunch six times already. You feel almost like an exile, a fugitive of sorts, as you walk along the hotel corridor at 4 a.m., while all good souls are in their beds, and then begin to yawn as everyone around you goes to work. The day is stretched and stretched, in this foreign world of displacement, till it snaps.

The lure of modern travel, for many of us, is that we don’t go from A to B so much as from A to Z, or from A to alpha; most often, we end up somewhere between the two, not quite one, and not quite the other — in an airport, perhaps, that is and isn’t the place we left and the place we think we’re going to. Jet lag, in some ways, is the perfect metaphor for this, the neurological equivalent, I often feel, of some long, gray airport passageway that leads from one nowhere space to another. It speaks, you could say, for much in the accelerated world where we speed between continents and think we have conquered both space and time.

Isn’t infidelity part of the sales tax, part of the lure, of travel? It is, of course, and it’s nothing but the shadow side of the dissolution of self, the release from normal boundaries that flight induces. Indeed, it’s part of what moves us to take flights in the first place: to walk through that archway of lights and become a different person.

Perhaps I am currently in that mental haze that jet lag causes, but my current thoughts are far less poetic and inspiring that Iyer’s words. Then again, my words never rise remotely to the levels he dwells in with his pen. In my current irritated state I jealously cursed him for his talents as I read that piece yet again.

Though to be frank, my jealousy of his talents exists equally when I am working off a full tank of sleep.

Please. I just want to get my normal life back. My normal routine. My “room with things ordered according to my preference.”

rocky mountains from plane

the Rocky Mountains from the window

Right now, I’m just pissed off.

When I was flying over here, I was taking photos out of the window of the plane, I was looking forward to writing about the magic of plane travel.

Though I am an avowed overland travel apologist, I still do get that bounce in my step when walk into an airport and see the board displaying all the outbound flights – that bounce that comes from feeling that all is possible.

The weather was good as we flew out briefly over the Pacific Ocean, then over the mountainous deserts near Palm Springs, then over the snow capped Rockies, the vast farmlands of the Midwest, over Lake Michigan, and down towards New York City. I sat at my window seat watching America quickly pass by — an entirely different perspective on my home country from the one that I have seen on my many road trips. It was beautiful.

Even the seven hour layover, and the airport price I paid for my burger and two beers, didn’t put a damper on the excitement of the day.

It was the excitement of going from “home” to “travel” again. It is the rush that I live for at this point in my life.

Right now, that tide of excitement has fully receded and left me washed aground, bloating and writhing on the beach. Awake, aground, and annoyed.

So, as the 5:15 a.m. call to prayer signals the beginning of the day for many here in Jordan, I resolve to just fight through. Simply hoping that a full night without sleep will exhaust me enough to rock me to a gentle sleep at a normal hour later today.

And if that doesn’t work…. I think I have an alternative plan in store.

red wine with cigar in jordan

well, if I have to....

That bottle of wine is now empty from a few nights ago, but I bet I can find another Zumot wine around here somewhere…

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About Michael Hodson

Iโ€™m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.

37 thoughts on “Jet Lag Hell

  • Marina K. Villatoro

    We’ve been isolated to the America’s lately and the worst we’ve had was 2 hours, so it really didn’t do any different.

    HOnestly, with kids, I’m not into traveling to the real jet lag areas just yet. It’s hard enough towing them along and then dealing with that b:)

  • Jim @NeverStopTraveling

    Oh God, it all sounds so awful. I’ve been in that hell also and how found how to sleep on planes (even if you say you can’t). Have a heavy meal with wine before you board. Then once in your seat close your eye and do not open them for ANY reason (you’ll be surprised at first at how you’ll want to open them for every small sound you hear). You’ll later wake up after you’ve had a good rest.
    I once fell asleep on a plane in Tahiti before we left the ground and was only awakened by the thump of our landing at LAX.
    That’s the first option. For the second I’d also go for teh bottle of wine.

  • Erica

    You sound like Shaun when he deals with jet leg. I’m lucky. I just need like 2 days and I’m set. It took Shaun 2 weeks when we got back from Japan.

  • Eric @ Trans-Americas Journey

    Agreed, Overland rules. We’ve avoided jet lag on our 5 year journey by sticking to the roads

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Your guys’ story is truly inspiring to me. Glad you are out there doing the overland thing in a big way.

  • Abby

    Some of us get insomnia without traveling at all! Wine helps. I’m usually fine with jet lag, but about two years ago I got hit so hard that I was in physical pain trying to stay up during the day and manic at night. You’ll be back on track soon!

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I am back, thank goodness. That week wasn’t too, too bad, but luckily I made it.

  • dtravelsround

    Ouch. This sucks. I know exactly how you feel. I’ve never had jet lag until I flew from Thailand to Las Vegas. It lasted about a week and I was miserable. I would sleep random hours, up in the middle of the night, couldn’t eat, couldn’t think straight. It was so bad, my bosses told me I could never take a vacation like that again. (right). Wine is definitely the way to go. And some Tylenol PM.

  • James

    Hey Michael,

    I love this post man! Worst jet-lag I ever had was when I flew NY to Rome. Lot’s of naps with some REALLY intense vivid dreams, the kind you’re not really sure whether they happened in real life or not. Luckily the wine there is pretty good ๐Ÿ™‚

    I also like how you allude to the other benefits of overland travel; really seeing a place, getting a feel for it, experiencing its means of travel. That’s why we travel right.



  • Amanda

    Jet lag is the worst. I always end up suffering when I go to New Zealand — the first few days, I’m lucky if I can stay up past 8 p.m. But, in the end, I suppose it’s worth it as far as I’m concerned!

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Going to bed early is actually OK in my book, since I like waking up super early. It is the other way around that killed me!

  • Sarahsomewhere

    This used to be my life, I can’t believe I survived it as a long haul flight attendant for seven years. Yup, it sucks, and I don’t miss feeling like I had scrambled eggs for brains constantly. Bring on overland travel, Yeeha!

  • Candice

    “Right now, that tide of excitement has fully receded and left me washed aground, bloating and writhing on the beach.”

    I’m sorry Michael, but I kinda love you being all bitter and angry. That was hysterical.

    I feel your pain though, I’m the same way when it comes to air travel. Entirely fucks up my trip.

  • Margo

    One word: melatonin … my spouse is kind of like the guy in that movie “Up in the Air,” (except for the affair part;) and swears by it.. It’s hit or miss for me, but when it works, it totally resets your internal clock and allows you to sleep during plane travel.

  • John

    Yeah Jet lag can be a bitch, but try working stupid shifts like I did in the mines or Abi King did when she was a Junior Doctor!
    I am also a fan of overland travel but you can get a similar experience to jet lag from not being able to sleep on an overnight bus journey.

  • Nomadic Samuel

    I can really relate here. My parents live in the province of New Brunswick (sharing a border with Maine) and whenever I go overseas to teach in Korea I’m literally 12 hours ahead when I arrive. It’s pure hell trying to get on track and I often get thrown to the wolves straight away with classes 24-48 hours after arrival.

  • talkingtocactus

    i’m quite lucky that my sleep hours are monumentally weird already (i live in london but generally run on pacific time) so jet lag almost never affects me. the weirdest part is that the further west i go, the more normal my hours get (my odd hours are not because of a job or something, i have been this way ever since i can remember) – in NYC i sleep at about 3am, in the midwest about 1am and in LA about 11pm. it’s very odd.

    but the times i have had jetlag have all included train travel. not the railways per se but the combination of various speeds. the worst i’ve ever had was when i went by train from london to vladivostok. i did it over a month with stops in krakow, st petersburg, moscow, nizhny novgorod, ekaterinburg, irkutsk & lake baikal – but even with those well spaced stops, by the time you get beyond about ekaterinburg, you cross almost a time zone per day. i remember going to sleep on the train and waking up 3-4 hours later and the moon being in a different phase. it was bizarre. after i got to vladivostok i spent a few days there and then flew all the way back to london (14.5 hour flight) – the jetlag from that was immense, and i’m convinced it was because of the confusion of going over several zones at a relatively sedate pace, then going, essentially, backwards over them all again at a fast pace. it played havoc!

    i got jetlag a bit when i crossed the US as well – i flew to chicago, then took the california zephyr to san francisco, then drove to LA and flew home from there. that tinkered with my timings a bit too.

    but overall i don’t get it much, and i’m one of those weird people that really loves flying. and even loves airports. but i often say if i could travel everywhere by rail, i would, it’s such a lovely way to see landscapes and people and difference, you can see lifestyles changing as you go through. unfortunately british trains are appallingly bad so if i am to travel by train, it’ll have to be elsewhere, please.

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