Planning a long-haul flight? Here’s what you can do before, during and afterward to avoid the common pitfalls of travel.
As longtime spa and wellness experts, we’ve traveled the globe checking out new spas and indigenous treatments and tracking new trends. It’s important that we’re in the best mental and physical shape as possible. Given changing time zones, frequent delays, and unexpected overnights in strange hotels due to grounded flights, this isn’t always so easy. Practicing what we’ve long preached is sometimes a challenge.
There’s no doubt that travel is one of life’s greatest pleasures—but it can often turn into a nightmare. The moment you step outside of your home en route to your grand adventure—anything goes—whether you’ve planned for it or not. To ensure that you remain in top form to deal with the inconsistencies that may occur, you’ll need to take extra-good care of yourself before, during, and after your trip. Here are some tried-and-true tips for travel wellbeing.
Forget jet lag—that’s oh so Twentieth Century. It assumes an empty plane and an on-time arrival. Ensuring a restful sleep on a long flight is key and sets the tone for your trip. For years, we’ve been fans of the supplement melatonin (we take 3 mg at night), which helps promote relaxation and a good night’s rest. We typically take one the evening prior to a long flight, and continue to take one each night of the journey. This, however, does not work for everyone, and some complain of vivid dreams. Dr. Jim Nicolai, author of the book, Integrative Wellness Rules, recommends taking a B Complex vitamin, to “calm down” the vivid dreaming that can occur with melatonin.
There are a number of ways to combat jet lag. Hot evening baths pre- and post-flight, deep breathing, and good old-fashioned exercise are among them. The night before flying, a good soak in Epsom salts (one-half cup) can help prepare the body for what lies ahead. Susan Harmsworth, founder of the luxury skincare line, ESPA, says that she finds a good soak with oils and magnesium salts helps her to psychologically rebalance and sleep. “I also like to read [on the plane] rather than immerse myself in technology, as it calms my mind. I will practice my breathing if I have trouble sleeping, and I will sleep when I can when changing time zones even if it is for a couple of hours.”
Seaweed baths are another great staple of ours—before we fly and once we land. We use a dried seaweed bath from Phytomer that comes in handy packets. We learned this tip years ago from Sylvia Sepielli, a renowned spa designer and consultant who has clocked more hours in the air than nearly anyone we know. If she’s traveling more than two time zones, she’ll start with her seaweed baths three days before the flight, then she’ll continue for three days at her location. It really helps adjust to the time zone. “Then I make sure to get outside and get sun!” Sepielli exclaims. “The sun is our friend, and I get some exercise right away, too, even if I have to force myself.”
While we like a nice glass of red wine (with plenty of water) before we prepare for sleep on a long flight, Dr. Nicolai believes that if one practices breathing exercises one won’t want or need that glass of wine. He also believes in the power of playing soothing music (with a great pair of headphones that fit your ears well) to drown out the engine sounds and other sounds around you. If you’re susceptible to light, don’t forget to pack a well-fitting eye mask. It’s essential for two things, as Ada Polla, CEO of the skincare line Alchimie Forever, reminds us. First, it blocks the light for better sleep, and second, it’s a clear indication to the flight attendant and to others that you’re asleep and not to be awoken.
Another item to have on hand to help alleviate jet lag and lull one to sleep is lavender oil. It’s a wonderful relaxant, especially when dabbed on your trigger points, explains Dr. Nicolai. Before a long flight, we like to massage a good body oil that contains lavender essential oil onto our entire body before dressing. It’s not only great because of the relaxing qualities, but it helps keep your body hydrated, as well.
Kathy Van Ness, COO and GM of The Golden Door, has a ritual that we love: she treats the plane as if it’s her home. How so? She brings a pillowcase that she lays over her face (the smells of home comfort her) and some kind of a throw for a blanket. “I mentally act as if I’m going to bed and get into a bed zone.” This means drinking the Sleepytime tea she brings with her (she stays away from caffeine eight hours pre-flight), brushing her teeth, washing her face, donning her comfy socks, and getting into a position where she’s ready to go to sleep. When she wakes, she takes vitamins (see more on that under “nutrition). “I never have jet lag,” she states. “It’s a matter of the ritual and just pacing yourself. As I’m walking through the plane door, I’m going down, going into my sleep ritual.”
It’s of utmost importance to optimize sleep, post-flight. A deep-tissue or relaxing massage is one of the best things you can for your body that has been prone in a plane seat for a long period of time. Choose a massage that’s not overly painful but that deals with some of the knots and muscular strains associated with being in a particular position for a long time, recommends Dr. Nicolai.
Most of our well-traveled friends choose to bring their own food aboard long flights—and to carefully watch what they eat the week before a long flight. Who wants to suffer the bloat and digestive issues that so often accompany travel? That means being aware of foods that contain salt and caffeine in particular. We like to carry on fruits like oranges and lemons that are hydrating, and carrot and celery sticks, as well. (We actually carry on a small baggy filled with fresh lemon slices to add to hot water on board.)
“I’m trying to constantly use foods as a way to keep the system clean and moving forward,” says Dr. Nicolai. “I will bring a couple of pieces of low-sugar fruit like apples or citrus, some array of nuts and seeds like almonds and walnuts, and a small piece of dark chocolate. If I have that with some water or soda water throughout an eight-hour trip, I’ll be fine. My blood sugar won’t spike all over the place.” By all means, avoid salty nuts, pretzels, and anything of that ilk. Drink lots of water and don’t forget to pack good immune-boosting remedies.
We travel with Emergen-C, others prefer Airbourne, while Dr. Nicolai travels with a good multi-vitamin with B complex and is a big fan of something called Stamen Seven, a liquid mushroom extract that is made by Fungi Perfection. Post-plane, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to detoxify your system. You can do this by hitting the sauna as soon as you can once you’re at your destination, but Dr. Nicolai shares a great way to detoxify through the goodness of food. Opt for broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts—any of the cruciferous foods that are naturally detoxifying and have anti-cancer properties. If you don’t have access to these vegetables, cooked spinach is another good detoxifying option.
Post-flight, enjoy the indigenous cuisine! “When I get to a country, I like to eat the food of the region,” espouses Sepielli. That’s really important—unless you have some real intestinal problems—it’s the healthiest way to eat.”
Sitting for a long time is simply not healthy. Yes, you can stretch your legs by walking up and down the aisles, and practice bending your knees and flexing your feet while you sit, but because you’re going to retain water, you need to be aware and keep moving pre- and post-flight. Dr. Nicolai recommends what he calls “Breath Walking.” He uses breath and walking as a way to meditate—and he does it in and through the airport, as opposed to sitting. Breath Waking is taking your breath and syncing it with your stride. For example, four simple breaths in, four simple breaths out, and match them with each stride.
“You could even half that: left right in, right left out, trying to get your breath fuller and deeper,” advises Dr. Nicolai. “Get into a rhythm, allowing your breath to be more in than out. If you can get your breath lower and deeper with your belly, your diaphragm acts as a vacuum and helps with your walk to circulate more fluid and relax you at the same time.”
And don’t forget, as afore mentioned, to go outside once you’ve checked into your destination. A simple walk will work wonders.