Why I love jet lag

by Сашка

Throwing off your body clock isn’t all bad

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I remember the earliest hours of my second day in Barcelona with photographic clarity. Jarred awake by jet lag around 4 a.m., I wandered out into the streets before dawn. The pedestrian boulevard La Rambla, usually thronged with tourists, stretched vast and grand without them. It was too early for an espresso, or for churros y chocolate. So I wandered the mazelike streets of the Gothic Quarter, surreal at morning’s first light, as the city began to wake around me.

By 7 a.m., I’d worked up enough of an appetite for a life-changing breakfast. I found an empty stool at the Boqueria’s Bar Pinotxo, where sunny proprietor Juanito poured me a modest cava before sliding plate after plate across the bar: whole langoustines with roe still attached, razor clams, chickpeas with blood sausage. When I fell deliriously into my hotel bed afterward, I felt as if I’d had an entire day. And it was barely 9 a.m.

When you find yourself wide, wide awake at improbable hours, with no chance of drifting off again, my advice is simple: Go with it.

Sure, jet lag can leave us with crushing headaches and heavy-limbed exhaustion. But decoupling your body clock from your surroundings isn’t all bad.

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If I hadn’t been racked with insomnia in northern Finland, I wouldn’t have witnessed the eerie pre-dawn twilight of a summer sun that never fully sets (or a Finnish reality show of competitive nude male lumberjacks). I would have missed the sun rising over Rabat, Morocco, sipping a mint tea and watching the walls of the medina stain with a pink glow. Even when snug in a hotel room, the quiet in those earliest hours, when the world hasn’t turned on yet, feels profound. I’ve gotten some of my very best writing, and thinking, done in those times.

I love the liminal space of international airports, which seem to exist outside the strictures of time altogether: Any hour is an appropriate one for a glass of Champagne or, conversely, a cappuccino. And when in a new city, my body’s inability to figure out the time zone can be an asset for the kind of after-dark adventures that I rarely have at home.

It’s a good maxim for travel generally: Embrace it. Ride the wave, don’t fight it.

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Conventional wisdom says to avoid naps after red-eyes, but I adore them. There are jet-lag snoozes I remember with as much nostalgia as a trip itself. Like a huge sandwich after a long hike, or a cold beer on a hot day, the feeling of a nap you’ve earned, and need, is an indescribable, almost sensual pleasure.

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And nothing can replicate the dreamlike sense of landing in an unfamiliar part of the world after a red-eye and driving away from the airport, watching the morning streets through the haze of a time-zone-altered state. These, too, are moments burned into my brain: the first street vendors outside the airport of Penang; soft rain against brilliant green fields just beyond Dublin’s airport; the chaos of motorbikes on Hanoi highways.

After a recent 10-hour red-eye to Fiji, my toddler’s eyes were bleary but wide with wonder during our first taxi ride. He whispered, “Wow,” one of his few words, over and over: at plumeria blossoms, at banana trees, at the jagged, lush landscape. I knew he was jet-lagged, which we’d both pay for later, but in the moment, awake despite the odds, he was simply awed. Like travel itself, stepping out of your time zone can be surreal, dislocating and wondrous — sometimes all in the same moment.

Carey Jones is a food, drink and travel writer, and the co-author of the upcoming book “Every Cocktail Has A Twist.” She lives in Sonoma County, Calif. You can follow her on X: @careyjones.

More travel tips

Vacation planning: Start with a strategy to maximize days off by taking PTO around holidays. Experts recommend taking multiple short trips for peak happiness. Want to take an ambitious trip? Here are 12 destinations to try this year — without crowds.

Cheap flights: Follow our best advice for scoring low airfare, including setting flight price alerts and subscribing to deal newsletters. If you’re set on an expensive getaway, here’s a plan to save up without straining your credit limit.

Airport chaos: We’ve got advice for every scenario, from canceled flights to lost luggage. Stuck at the rental car counter? These tips can speed up the process. And following these 52 rules of flying should make the experience better for everyone.

Expert advice: Our By The Way Concierge solves readers’ dilemmas, including whether it’s okay to ditch a partner at security, or what happens if you get caught flying with weed. Submit your question here. Or you could look to the gurus: Lonely Planet and Rick Steves.

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