Mary Heebner
Index Editorial Writing
Books About Links


"Time Zoned"
Travel + Life v. 13.0 2003

by Mary Heebner
Photos by Macduff Everton

see Mary's work from Angkor

A friend of mine, a seasoned traveler in her 70s, likes to reminisce that travel – in her case, aboard an ocean liner – was once like a waltz: cadenced, slow, and civilized, the sighting of land a gentle awakening before arriving at the farther shore. Most all of my travel, naturally, has been by jet, wherein time zones are a blur across the atmosphere, something barely noticed between jostling with the meal tray and the second movie, the arrival at the “farther shore,” and the inevitable onslaught of jet lag.

Disembarking with swollen ankles, narcolepsy, and a head that feels like it’s stuffed with Kleenex is the logical objection our body offers up, whether as faint protest or full-blown strike, that air travel is for the birds. The formula, “add a day of recuperation in your arrival city for every hour traveled,” which some people swear by, strikes me as an apt way for the frequent flyer to stay in a permanent state of jet lag. Still, ever hopeful to find a dependable jet-lag cure, I gave this approach a whirl on a recent business trip to New York with my husband, a trip that promised trouble from the start: our only option was the red eye….

I know for a fact that taking the red eye from California to New York, arriving disheveled at 6:30 AM on a Monday for a meeting at 9, belongs right down there on Dante’s seventh rung of hell, so we purposefully arrived on a Sunday morning, secured an early hotel check-in, napped until noon, then spent the afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, time-traveling in our heads to ancient Greece.

I slumped into his arms and blocked out the thought that our final destination – Cambodia and the temples at Angkor – meant my airborne journey would soon resume. I had less than 24 hours to recuperate.

We browsed bookstores, dined on New York rather than California time, and got a full night’s sleep. By Monday we were right in step with the city. Okay, this worked. But given that time is the ultimate luxury of the twenty-first century, one doesn’t always have the freedom for such jet-lag-annihilating indulgence. And sometimes, the lure of your destination supersedes it.

Take, for instance, my trip to Madrid. Buoyed by the prospect of sightseeing and eager to stretch my legs upon arrival, I seized upon the idea of fresh air and exercise as the sensible way to prevent jet lag. I sauntered straight from my hotel to the painted balconies of Plaza Mayor. I inhaled the aromas of saffron-laced seafood. I listened to the melancholy strum of a street musician’s guitar. I bought a bag of walnuts, if only to be part of the banter and cackle in the market. And I savored the tang of chilled sherry accompanied by tapas of wafer-thin ham and roasted red peppers. And then it hit me: Exploring the Prado, I got no further than Velázquez and El Greco before I realized I’d been standing stone still in one spot for 20 minutes – and not because I was transfixed by the art. Jet lag had slammed my brain shut.


With an hour to wait, I showered and took a steam bath in the gym. Then came 90 minutes of total sensory nirvana, including a cocoon of detoxifying mud goop, wafts of fresh plumeria, the lilting sounds of a flute, and the hands of the goddess Durga herself rubbing life into my limp and lusterless body. Lying on the massage table, I dreamed of apsaras and temple stairways, myth mingling with anticipation and imagination. At last I had found it: the jet-lagged traveler’s Holy Grail. By the time my husband returned from the market I was transformed, alert, ready to keep pace with him and seize the day.


Jet-Lag Tips

Carrying a small arsenal of remedies on board can by and large replace the sleep one willingly exchanges for a new adventure. A few favorite tips: Drink gallons of water, get out of your seat to stretch and walk occasionally, set your watch to your destination’s time, think in that time, and never ever, ever calculate the amount of sleep or time you’ve “lost” – that’s the real waste of time, a psychological sand trap. Bring the following:

- A pair of socks. Feet swell at altitude, so remove your shoes after takeoff and don comfy socks.

-Creamy moisturizer and a small spray bottle of moisturizing toner. Use frequently.

-Moisturizing eye drops and, if your ears tend to pop a lot, nasal saline spray.

-Vitamins and a packet of Emergen-C (a glorious mix of B and C vitamins and fizz to get you going).

-Cotton towelettes presoaked with witch hazel and sealed in a zip-lock bag; place them over your eyes before going to sleep and again before landing to prevent bags and dark circles.

-Foreign currency (get it before you leave) – enough for a taxi, a tip, and a snack.

-The address, phone number, and directions to your hotel.
And one more tip for the female frequent flyer: Sacklike fashion. With the right belt, jacket, and necklace, a baggy shift passes for stylish. Better yet, it also doubles as a sleeping gown.


Copyright © Mary Heebner 2002-3