When people meet me, the first question they ask is how I manage to travel and stay healthy at the same time. Coping with jet lag, strange food and a new bed every few weeks; I’ve had my share of triumphs and failures - and I learned a long time ago that in order to stay well on the road, I needed to create a pre-travel routine. Yes you heard me right, just like you spend time warming up for a work out; there is a warm up routine for traveling.
I am grateful to have created a routine that keeps me functioning at full capacity no matter which time zone I find myself in. This pre-travel routine was created based on an overnight flight- departing at 11pm. But to make it work for you, all you have to do is plug in your own flight time and work backwards.
24 HOURS TO GO: BE IN BED BY 10:30PM
Make an extra effort to wind down even earlier on pre-travel days. If you are lucky enough to be able to sleep on an airplane, the quality of sleep you get while in the air is nowhere near as restful as sleeping in your own bed – sorry business class travelers, I’m talking to you too. Any restorative sleep you get onboard is typically interrupted by background noise, in-flight entertainment, and meal service. While these influences can be mitigated with noise canceling headphones, a great eye mask, and telling your flight attendant you won’t be eating, failing to get a good night’s rest can lead to increased hunger and the desire to eat more sugary foods along with refined carbohydrates. By showing up for your flight well rested you will not further drain your sleep cycle. Your body, mind, and waistline will thank you for this one.
16 hours to go: Get in a Good Sweat
Whether you enjoy jogging, a group fitness class or yoga, it is important to move your body before sitting stationary for a long period of time. Exercise reduces stress, burns calories, and keeps our muscles from succumbing to adaptive shortening (when the muscle fibers shorten and our range of motion is decreased due to inactivity). Consider movement as medicine. Exercise targets our muscles and connective tissues lubricating our joints and moving cellular waste through our lymphatic system, but it can also help to reduce jet lag symptoms faster. Exercise also smoothens the adjustment to a new time zone by helping to reset your circadian rhythm. By getting your heart pumping and working out your stressors before you fly, you’ll find yourself more sedate and ready for rest and recovery mode in-flight.
14 hours to go: Drink Your Veggies
As adults we are supposed to be consuming 9 servings of fruit and vegetables a day to keep us healthy. As the American diet moves away from meat and potatoes and toward quinoa and kale, we’re taking a step in the right direction. But if you spend more than one of your meal times in-flight, you are missing an opportunity for optimal nutrition. Today, drink your greens for breakfast ensuring that you get at least half of the daily recommended servings at once. If you don’t have time to make your own morning smoothie, it’s best to find an on-the-go option made of dark leafy greens, which calorie-for-calorie has the most concentrated source of nutrition. Full of amino acids and protein, it is important to find an option that is not just a juice, but one that has the fiber, the whole fruit or vegetable, still in the smoothie. With juice bars opening on every corner from Miami to Seattle, it has never been easier to grab a juice to go - although not all juices are created equal. To make sure you are maximizing your nutrients and fiber, you better take a look at that label. Had any sugar lately?
11 – 13 hours to go: Get Up and Move
Any way you can find to add movement throughout your day will balance out the hours of sitting in your plane seat. Movement releases endorphins, which helps to trigger the relaxation response when you most need it. So whether you decide to take the stairs at the office, walk around the block the long way to pick up your lunch, or park at the farthest spot away from the door when running any last minute errands, you’ll increase your health and improve your mood as a bonus.
10 hours to go: Lunch
While you might already be stressed out about work piling up while you are away, do yourself and your mind a favor - step out to pick up a healthy lunch and eat it away from all your electronics. Enjoy a well-prepared lunch of your favorite green salad with lean protein or quinoa tossed with seasonal veggies, choose your add-ons with care opting for crunchy legumes instead of bacon and a high-quality olive oil dressing for salads. If you can cook or prepare the lunch yourself, you get bonus points.
5 – 9 hours to go: Drink Your Weight in Water
Aircraft cabins are low in humidity, which leads to dry skin, dry eyes, and dry mucus membranes in your nose. Dehydration can often exacerbate jet lag and partaking in alcohol and coffee in-flight is a total no-no as it only further dehydrates your system. Start preparing your body by upping your H20 intake pre-flight and then drinking water en-route. Keep a reusable water bottle on your desk or with-in easy reach and continuously sip from it all day long. Getting up to refill that bottle or use the restroom serves two purposes: it gets you moving and replenishes your system.
4 hours to go: Eat a Nutrient Rich, Protein Punch Dinner
I always pass on airplane food. Aside from some meals being prepared in unsanitary conditions, the food is bland, full of sodium, and not all that nutritious. Let's be honest, they are feeding you a lot of empty calories. Instead make sure that the meals you consume pre-flight are nutrient rich, (packed with a high percentage of vitamins and minerals per calorie), protein heavy, and full of fatty acids. This kind of meal keep you full and satisfied, but also the omega-3 fatty acids will help to keep skin from drying out onboard. Grilled fish and dark green vegetables, with a side of olive oiled avocado is my typical pre-flight meal. If you eat meat, a lean protein such as a small skinless chicken breast would be a good substitute. Insider tip: Flight attendants pack their own food. This should tell you something!
3 hours to go: Pack Snacks
Packing snacks high in protein and fiber will keep you sated until you reach your destination and can get your hands on a proper balanced meal. Almond butter, which falls under the high protein and fiber category, is also high in calcium and iron. You can pack a small container to spread on celery or my favorite seven-grain bread. Cooked whole grain pasta is also a good option to bring on board. You can choose your own accoutrements such as grated cheese, olives, peas or sautéed mushrooms. Pack separately, combined when ready and enjoy your own pasta salad to the envy of your neighbors. On a return flight you don’t typically have the ability to make your snacks so instead, stock up on raw unsalted nuts or trail mix and grab some fruit such a banana or apple at the airport before takeoff.
2 hours to go: Get Ready for Bed
If you are going to be on a plane for more than 8 hours, hop in the shower before leaving home. Be sure to slather on organic body oil to seal in moisture and make your skin feel soft and supple in preparation for plane dehydration (this oil goes in my hair and on my face as well). Dress in comfortable yet chic clothes like loose linen pants and a plush sweater or a cotton t-shirt, and grab a cashmere scarf that can double as a blanket. I never wear makeup to the airport, but if you can't stand the thought of this, you should hightail it to the airplane bathroom once on board. Wash your face using your travel size face oil and your skin will be happy throughout the flight. If you are in business class, you might run into a celebrity, as this is part of most of their beauty regimens.
1 hour to go: Cup ‘o Tea Love?
My nightly bedtime routine does not involve a cup of tea unless it is a very cold winter night. Therefore before flying it helps me to settle into a different rhythm. Traveling with your own tea bags ensures that you will have the flavor and natural sedative effects that you need to wind down from a busy, stress-filled day. Chamomile or valerian are my go-to flavors and they taste yummy without milk or sugar, both of which are going to aggravate your mucous membrane and lead to further dehydration. If these flavors don’t appeal to you by themselves, there are plenty of companies that make bedtime teas with complementing spices. Most coffee shops or flight attendants will be happy to offer you a cup of hot water.
By consciously constructing this pre-travel wellness routine, I know that if nothing else, I will feel better, less stressed and less affected by jet lag when I arrive at my destination. Trust me, I’ve been doing this for years and have seen the results to prove it. - Linden Schaffer