Sunset aerial view through airplane window over wings. Flying at sunset and looking out of the window and enjoying the panoramic view. Travel and transportation concepts

I’m not trying to brag when I say that in a normal year, I’m an incredibly frequent traveler across the Atlantic Ocean. It’s just a statement of fact, and I only mention it because I’d like to think that any remotely smart person learns from things, as they repeat something over and over again.

From the early days of drinking and eating everything put in front of me, to all night parties before departure or after arrival, I’ve learned that the most boring solutions tend to be best when it comes to jet lag. Over the years, I developed what I’d consider to be one of the better jet lag routines, even if it’s not fun. Unlike much advice on the internet today, it’s also pretty much in line with scientific advice. Go figure?!

But after years of politely smiling and saying “don’t worry, I’m fine” when people would worriedly ask if I was suffering from jet lag after just hopping off a flight, or from all that travel, I found myself with jet lag from hell, due to UK 14 day quarantine rules for all travelers coming from a region of viral interest. Unfortunately, that’s basically the whole world.

Why did all my jet lag knowledge and routines fail me here? I have a few thoughts, and it all ties into how quarantine rules counteract many essentials for kicking jet lag.

a sunset seen through a window

Jet Lag Basics

If you’re new to jet lag, welcome, and sorry! It can get easier over time.

Jet lag is the pain in the ass caused by your body clock being shifted overnight, changing when you are hungry, when you feel tired and when you expect to see light. It plays a role in your moods, appetite, performance and more, and there’s no “cure”.

To minimize jet lag, particularly coming from the USA to UK, I always tried to optimize my schedule in the days before travel to slowly bring me closer to UK time. I’ll eat my big meal at 2PM in New York, because that’d be 7PM in the UK.

See the thinking? I’m trying to slowly convince my body I’m in London even before I get there, so it feels less shock when I do. I try to wake up earlier in the USA so I move my clock more towards UK time ahead. Simply concepts, really.

On the big day – aka travel day – I’ll move things up even more. I’ll have my last big meal at what would be dinner time in London, regardless of what time of day it is in New York, LA, or wherever I am. I will also try to get a big workout in, so that my body is physically tired before I get on the plane so I can maximize rest during what would be night time in the UK.

And spoiler alert, the worst part of effective jet lag is that fasting – even avoiding a glass of champagne on the plane – really works. By the time I’m typically on board a flight to the UK, it’s night time in the UK, so I try to immediately shut my eyes so I can wake up and feel fresh on arrival.

Enter: Jet Lag Hell And 14 Days Of Quarantine

I did all “the things”. I ate early, worked out, got sunshine during UK sunshine hours, only drank water on the plane despite a lovely business class seat and regular passes with champagne glasses, and found myself tired and exhausted at 8PM UK. I’d done the big part and crushed jet lag – again! Yes!

The final steps were to get up early the next morning so as to help push my body clock further, go for an invigorating long run, try to soak up as much sun as possible the first day and then eat a carb heavy dinner to really settle to the new time zone.

But 14 days later in hindsight, this was no ordinary jet lag.

an airplane window overlooking a city

Because of highly ineffective policies in the UK to isolate travelers for 14 days, rather than used testing based solutions, I could not leave the house for 14 days. PS, no one checked on me, and unlike New York; where I received a call and daily text messages, I did not receive a singular message, email, call, text or visit to ensure I was fulfilling my obligation.

Even as a flawed policy, I felt it was my duty to honor it, and I did to the letter.

This meant I could not go for a run, I could not walk in an empty park and I basically could not leave the walls of the house. I don’t have a huge garden, so it meant less time getting natural sunlight which helps reset the internal body clock, and less ability to get the fresh air and exercise which also help to tire the body out and encourage rest at the end of the day.

I won’t even venture into the negative impacts of being in an enclosed space for 14 days, or what that does o to someone’s mental health, because I’m lucky to have had cellmates via my wife and infant daughter. For others though, it’s not hard to imagine how difficult and daunting it is, and what a negative impact it has on the mind.

Some could say “sure, but it was your choice to travel”, but for many it’s not that simple. Government adds countries which were not on the quarantine list to new lists all the time, and some people are forced to travel for essential reasons. Travel is not one size fits all.

Before you grab the lanterns and pitchforks to start an angry mob citing first world problems, obviously there are bigger things at play in the world today, and I care about them deeply. One conversation does not counteract another, and I was more isolated during my travel than I typically am at home.

Why Are We Here?

My aim here is a few things. First, to offer a few tips on jet lag, and highly that not being able to use the tips made for my worst jet lag in years. Second, to discuss the idea that better solutions exist.

Other countries are using double testing to keep sick travelers off planes in the first place, and then testing them days after arrival to ensure nothing was picked up in the time before flight, during or immediately after. Canada is trialling this in a big way now, and Hawaii is proving its effectiveness.

Hawaii requires a covid-19 test before flight if you’d like to skip quarantine, and so far it’s found that with the pre-flight test, 1:1500 people are testing positive within 7 days after arrival. They were hoping for 1:1000, so this is significantly better. It’s not going to stop everything, but it’s a lot better than simply telling people to stay home, and doing nothing to ensure they do.

My jet lag from hell is finally coming to an end, but I’m not sure I’d go anywhere far or wide again until quarantine is shortened, quashed or changed to testing and science based solutions. Even with my cellmates, I’m not sure I could do that two weeks again any time soon.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. That’s not a good feeling. Just recently finished 14 days hotel quarantine in Singapore. Great view but no windows that opened so zero fresh air. Got to talk to the ministry of employment folks once a day at least, sometimes twice, when that phoned to check up I was where I was supposed to me. The jet lag was bad for about 5 days, but then I had sleeping tabs. I swear I think melatonin helps if taken for 5-7 days, as I was sleeping normally after 5 days.

  2. Jeez, Gilbert, I am sorry about this experience and sorry about being late to this thread. So UK’s current rules really don’t allow you to “take exercise as long as you stay 2 meters from others” or anything like that? Yeah, that would be a hard pass for me, and I consider myself a supporter of test-based quarantine. Of course, as you noted, there was no test option for you either. In any event, thanks for doing this and sharing your experience with us. I will hope that there will be some options for folks to travel- rationally- in Summer 2021.

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