Fighting Jet Lag: Tips from Our Readers

For seasoned globetrotters, jet lag is an all-too-familiar part of international travel — the fatigue, the disorientation, and especially that pesky inner alarm that wakes you up at 4 a.m. and sends you stumbling back to bed before dinnertime.

While there’s no real cure for jet lag, there are certain things you can do to minimize its effects — just ask our members! We turned to IndependentTraveler.com readers to see how they deal with jet lag and were surprised at the diversity of the responses. Some travelers pop pills, while others rely on medication of the alcoholic variety. Many of our readers strictly hold off on sleep until it’s bedtime in their new time zone, while others say the more naps, the merrier. Check out their tips and share your own!

Pill-Popping, Part I
“Having made two trips to Italy this year, I will recommend No-Jet-Lag pills. I found that if I followed the directions fairly closely they worked well.

“I cannot sleep on planes. I have always made it a practice when going to Europe to get off the plane, check into the hotel and then walk. I never did take a nap. With these pills, while I knew I had not had any sleep, I did not feel worn out and on both trips stayed up easily until 10 p.m. and had no trouble waking up at a decent time (6 a.m. or so) in the morning. I had none of the waking up at 2 a.m. and not being able to go back to sleep. Since I always wake up once or twice a night (an age thing), I was pleased that I had no trouble going back to sleep.”— Host Ciao

Tire Yourself Out
“Usually I am tired when I board a flight due to racing around making all of the arrangements to leave home for an extended length of time, as well as packing. So I often annoy the friends I travel with by falling asleep almost as soon as I fasten the seat belt. If there is ever any problem with being able to sleep, one of those little airline bottles of red wine will usually do the trick. I also keep something to read with me at all times so that if I can’t sleep immediately, I can read and that may make me sleepy again.

“When I arrive, I usually try to do something requiring me to remain active all day so that sleeping is impossible. Then I go to bed at the normal time for wherever I am. The next morning, I am on local time.

“I do have one tip that helps me to be able to be active my first day. I wear some travel socks available in most travel stores that improve circulation. I have poor circulation in my legs anyway, so swelling during long flights is a problem unless I wear these socks. If I can arrive with my lower legs and feet not feeling like clubs, it is easier to be up and active.” — Traveling Granny

Reset Your Internal Clock
“What I do is try to start shifting to the new time zone a day or two beforehand … go to bed earlier (or later, depending). And once I get to the new place, I try to force myself into the new schedule right away rather than napping or whatever.

“Oh, and obviously I do all the standard ‘take care of your body’ stuff like drinking lots of water, moving around on the plane and eating healthy.” — soliteyah

Pill-Popping, Part II
“I recently traveled to Chile (two-hour time difference during U.S. winter and their summer; no time difference during U.S. summer and Chilean winter). It was 2 1/2 hours to Miami and 8 1/2 hours to Santiago. Going I took an Ambien and slept almost not at all. Coming home I took nothing and slept at least briefly on both flights.

“You figure.

“I still haven’t figured out how to deal with jet lag and plane travel. I just wish they had a quiet section in coach where there would be just water and drinks, no dinner, no lights and no movies.” — LSKahn

Walk It Off
“When I got to Australia after nearly 24 hours in the air plus almost a day at LAX, it was 8 a.m. on a Monday morning, and I was all set to go to sleep. My innkeeper, a lovely woman, told me I wasn’t going to take a nap. I was going to have a shower and get changed, and she’d map out a fine walk for me that she knew would keep me out long enough — to try to get me on local time. Oh, how I wanted that nap, though it couldn’t match the feeling I had when the vista came up before my eyes — the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, sites I’d only ever seen in pictures.

“I have no cure for jet lag; my body just cannot take it anymore. But I’ll keep traveling and go slower the first day or two, depending upon whether or not it’s a big time change. I think drinking lots of water helps a bit; other than that, I think if one isn’t seated up in the premium cabins, where it’s actually possible to sleep, there’s no chance except to count down the hours till ya land.” — Host Bonjour

Z’s, Please!
“I can’t see how you can make up for a lack of sleep without sleeping. Staying up and that kind of thing seems to just exacerbate the problem. I travel with my daughter all over the world due to her fencing schedule. What we have finally found out through trial and error is to give ourselves a full day to acclimate before she has to fence. We leave the U.S. three days before competitions in Europe. Due to living on the West Coast it is a pretty drastic time change, usually 8 – 10 hours.

“We leave the first day (of course), then get there the next day. By the time we get to our destination it is usually mid-afternoon. We check into the hotel and take a nap. We then get up for dinner and pretend we are going to stay up late enough to sleep all night. We never do … we eat dinner and go crash again. Usually we wake up about 4 or 5 a.m. and are really hungry. I always pack snack foods for us. We chow down a bit and then go back to sleep.

“We get up for breakfast, and then go shopping for supplies and check out where we are. By 11 a.m. or so we are pooped out and take another nap. By the time we wake up all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed we go down to the lobby and watch all the other fencers show up for the competition. They look terrible. We kind of laugh.” — Momster

A Little Help From Our Friends…
“What I do depends which direction I am going in! If it will be earlier in my destination, I try to get some sleep on the plane so I arrive bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Nytol and a gin and tonic seem to help with that part!” — travelmel

Five Valentine destinations from steamy nights to wine and dine

Rose petal baths and his and hers massages are traditional ways to share time together over the Valentine weekend. But why not add a little adventure and make some memories.

Here is our selection of five Valentine holidays including a three-day party with your beau, a wild adventure, or a sunset picnic on a Caribbean beach.

1. Las Vegas — for risk takers

Ah, Vegas — the hub of shotgun weddings and hungover regrets. Sin City, as it’s affectionately known by its visitors, is the perfect Valentine destination for the risk-takers; for the lovers who want to stay up all night partying and stay in all day revelling in the excesses of a luxury hotel suite. If you’re a stickler for traditional romance (and you can tear yourself away from your en suite hot-tub), then head down to Lake Las Vegas where there’s a whole village modelled on Italian architecture, complete with authentic Venice-style gondola rides for two. End the visit with a candle-lit Italian meal by the water’s edge, or if you’re ready to start partying again — head right back to the strip for a night of risque entertainment to get you in a loving mood.

2. Sydney — for adventurous lovers

Just outside the buzzing metropolitan area of Sydney, stand the rugged Blue Mountain. Enjoy the scenerey with a trip on the Katoomba Scenic Railway (the steepest railway in the world) over towering sandstone cliffs. The view from the top is incredible. Then venture off the beaten track and go rock climbing, abseiling, hiking and mountain biking. This is the ideal place to get away from it all and share fun times with your sweetheart in a stunning natural environment.

3. Mumbai —for the culture vulture

Mumbai, known as the ‘city of dreams’ offers an intriguing blend of ancient culture and modern innovation. While it may be the economic and corporate capital of India, Mumbai is also home to a number of stunning temples, palaces and beaches where you can escape the bustle of the streets and explore a more traditional side of India.Visit the Mahalaxmi temple, an exquisitely ornate shrine to Mahalaxmii, the Goddess of wealth and fortune, or head to The Flora Fountain. At night the extravagant sculpture is lit up, perfect for an evening stroll on Valentine’s night. One romantic quirk is the growing demand for Parisian-style cafes which means you can step off the hot, crowded street straight into a chintzy patisserie to while away a whole afternoon drinking coffee and tasting macaroons as if they were in the city of romance itself.

4. St Lucia – have your own fairy tale

Picture this: clear shallows, pristine sand, warm sun and a never-ending stream of exotic fruit cocktails. St Lucia is the very idea of paradise. You can enjoy a truly relaxing holiday on one of the most scenic islands in the West Indies. Head to one of the island’s warm volcanic springs or a mud bath for a his and hers pamper treat, or arrange to have your supper on the beach so you can watch the magnificent Caribbean sunset while sipping on glasses of champagne. Make it your own fairytale romance.

5. Cape Town – for wine lovers

South Africa’s Cape Town isn’t just for surfers and shark lovers; it’s also one of the most romantic cities in the world. Here, you can take a horse-drawn carriage and ride Jane Austen-style right through the city centre to see the main historical sites such as the South African National Gallery, St George’s Cathedral, the Grand Parade and Church Square. And hop in a cable car for a trip up the iconic table mountain to watch the sunset with panoramic views over the city. A trip to Cape Town wouldn’t be complete without a spot of wine tasting, so head to one of the many farms and vineyards in the area to sample award-winning wines and explore historic cellars. End the day at one of Cape Town’s open air cinemas, where you can huddle up together in a blanket and watch cult classics beneath the stars.

Tips for Finding Cheap Airfare

Think you need a vacation now? Just wait until you’re scouring dozens of booking sites, aggregators and airline websites to find cheap tickets for your next trip — then you’ll really be ready for a week off!

Unfortunately for weary travelers, there’s no real shortcut to finding cheap airfare. As with any purchase, you need to shop around to get the best deal — by trying different booking sites, altering your dates and waiting until just the right time to purchase. But if you’re willing to put in a little time and effort, you could save big on your next flight.

1. Buy Early

Especially during peak travel periods, making reservations late in the game can cost you a lot of money. Airline ticket prices typically go up in the last two weeks before flying, so if you’re planning ahead, try to make the call before this deadline. And if you’re traveling internationally, you’ll want to book even earlier — from three to six months in advance — for the best deals. For more on specific booking deadlines and recommendations, see Want the Lowest Fare? Here’s When to Book.

That said, occasionally you can get lucky if you wait, which brings us to:

2. Buy Late

Sometimes you can buy tickets at the very last minute for a great price if the airlines have failed to fill their planes. You can find such fares at specialized sites like LastMinuteTravel.com, or sometimes on airline websites and online booking sites such as Expedia. If you can stand the suspense, and if you are flexible with your itinerary and dates, you can find fantastic money-savers to very attractive travel destinations. For more info, see Best Bets for Booking a Last-Minute Trip.

3. Shop Around

No matter how good it sounds, you should never book the first fare you see. Start your search by checking a few of the major online travel providers such as Travelocity, TripAdvisor Flights or Kayak. Airfarewatchdog is another good source of low fares. Checking these sites will give you a preliminary idea of which airlines fly your particular itinerary, what the going rate is and which restrictions might apply. Armed with this information, you can head directly to the airline website to see if the same flights are any cheaper (some airlines guarantee to offer the lowest possible fares on their own websites). While you’re there, check to see if the airline is running any sales or promotions to your destination.

If you don’t see anything in your preferred price range, don’t be afraid to bide your time and watch the fares for a bit. Most major booking sites have alert features that will email you when your fare drops to a price you’re willing to pay.

4. Know When to Buy

The hardest part of booking a flight is knowing when to stop tracking fares and make that final purchase. Kayak.com can help you reach that decision, offering fare predictions for most major cities. Just plug in your itinerary and the site will advise you either to book now or to wait, depending on whether the fare is expected to rise or drop. It also shows a fare history graph, allowing you to see whether your fare is headed in an upward or downward direction.

Keep in mind that many airlines launch fare sales on Tuesdays — so if you decide to buy on a Monday, you may be gnashing your teeth when your destination goes on sale the next day.

5. Be Flexible

If you live close to more than one airport, check out the fares from all of the airports near you. Many online fare searching engines will ask you if you are willing to depart from or arrive in more than one city. Yes! Also, experiment with different travel dates; shifting your itinerary by a month, a week or even a few days can make a significant difference in fares. You’ll usually find the lowest fares for travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Just about every destination has a peak season — and if you can fly any other time of year, you’ll often pay significantly less.

6. Don’t Forget the Discounters

As their nickname suggests, discount airlines can save you a bundle, but they’re not always easy to find. Luckily for consumers, discounters are cropping up more frequently on aggregators and booking sites (Kayak now offers fares for JetBlue and Spirit, for example) — but there are still a few holdouts, such as Southwest and Allegiant Air, whose fares can’t be found anywhere but their own websites. If you’re traveling outside the U.S., don’t forget to check the international discount airlines as well.

7. Use Your Frequent Flier Miles

Why pay a fare at all when you can use your frequent flier miles? Although redeeming miles has gotten more difficult in recent years, it’s still a good option to consider, particularly if you’re booking early; airlines designate a limited number of seats on each flight as eligible for award travel, and these seats go quickly. For more on redeeming your miles, check out Frequent Flier Miles: How to Use ‘Em, Not Lose ‘Em.

8. Get a Refund When Fares Go Down

If fares go down after you’ve purchased your ticket, ask for a refund! You may not always get one, but policies vary by airline — and many do not publicize the fact that they will refund you the difference if prices go down. It can’t hurt to ask.

Yapta.com will track flights for you after you purchase and notify you if the fares go down. Orbitz.com has a Best Price Guarantee, which entitles you to money back if you find your itinerary for less on another website.

9. Consider an Air Pass

In order to promote tourism in their countries, many national airlines offer air passes at reduced rates for tourists. If you’re planning to do extensive travel in one country or region, an air pass might be your most cost-effective option. For more information, see our guide to air passes. Planning an even bigger trip? Look into around-the-world tickets and fares.

10. Check for Deals and Discounts

Don’t forget to check our comprehensive Travel Deals for the latest fare sales — we post new ones throughout the week. You can also compare prices using our Book Travel tool.

Two-week traveller choose your Central Asia adventure

Once the realm of Silk Road merchants and Great Game spies, the Heavenly Mountains and Black Sand deserts of the ‘Stans, as the five countries of Central Asia are affectionately known, have historically been the stuff of epic overland trips taking many months and much bureaucracy.

With the region’s flight connections burgeoning and red tape shrinking, it’s finally possible for the two-week traveller to experience Central Asia.

Limited time means tough choices, though, so here’s how to know which two-week Central Asia adventure through this fascinating and unspoilt region fits you best.

Nomad life – Kyrgyzstan

Stay a day or two in capital city Bishkek for a taste of modern Kyrgyzstan: open-air bazaars near American-style cafes, and young couples strolling together under statues of Lenin and local folk hero Manas. Then, head for the mountains to get back to Kyrgyzstan’s roots. This is the land of nomads, where yurt tents dot all but the remotest of valleys and the size of one’s herd is still a legitimate way to judge a person’s wealth. Spend your days on foot or horseback crossing jailoo (summer pasture) mountain valleys that double as grazing ground, and by night tuck into a big pot of boiled horse cooked by your hosts at a yurt homestay. These can be organised by one of many community-based tourism offices throughout the country – the most popular base is Karakol on the east edge of the Issyk-Köl lake. Independent travelers with a tent and a map can also strike out on their own to explore the variety of trekking routes around Kyrgyzstan. If you have extra time, you can grab a few days’ relaxation in one of the Soviet-era resorts on the south shore of Issyk-Köl or party with vacationing Russians and Kazakhs on the north shore.

Silk Road history – Uzbekistan

While branches of the Silk Road weaved throughout Central Asia, nowhere can compare to Uzbekistan for exploring this most famous period of the region’s history. The mausoleums of 14th-century conqueror Tamerlane’s capital Samarkand are the most popular (and well-photographed) for good reason: the imposing face of the Registan’s three medressa religious schools and the brilliantly shining mosaics of the Shah-i-Zinda tomb complex are themselves worth the trip to Uzbekistan. Don’t stop here, though. Further into the Kyzylkum desert, the smaller cities of Bukhara and Khiva are open-air museums in their own right and the ‘40 Fortresses’ lining the road beyond Khiva evoke every camel caravan fantasy you’ve ever entertained. If mounting an expedition is out of reach, you can always opt to stay in one of Bukhara’s restored caravansaray (courtyard inns) or medressa hotels for a modern boutique take on the Silk Road lifestyle – the wi-fi’s a lot better these days!

Roof of the World road trips – Tajikistan

Find a few friends, hire a car, and set off on one of the world’s greatest road trips: the Pamir Highway through Tajikistan. From the town of Khorog – capital of Tajikistan’s Gorno Badakhshan region in the Pamir Mountains – the Pamir Highway stretches 726km through a barren and barely populated but starkly beautiful landscape to the border with Kyrgyzstan and beyond to the city of Osh. On the way, remote Murghab makes an excellent base for trekking and visiting holy hot springs or lingering for a day at the Karakul alpine lake just a few hours from the border – inexplicably home to the world’s highest regatta. If you still have time to spare, you can return via the Wakhan Valley, where the Yamchun Fortress had already been guarding this important trade route for 1500 years by the time Marco Polo dropped in. Alternately, if the Afghan border is calm, you can cross into no-man’s-land at Ishkashim for an international weekend market that hosts traders from Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

Gas craters and golden guardians – Turkmenistan

The difficulty or cost of getting a visa is one of the biggest hindrances for would-be visitors to Turkmenistan, but those that make the effort will find a country full of rarely-visited attractions. The ‘Doorway to Hell’ Darvaza gas crater and the capital city of Ashgabat, with its many gold-plated monuments to former ruler Turkmenbashi, get most of the attention from the tourists that do visit the country. Push a little further, beyond the Silk Road ruins of Merv and Konye-Urgench, and hike the Kopet-Dag mountains on the border with Iran, or spot migratory birds and protected ungulates in the Kaplankyr Nature Reserve that abuts Uzbekistan.

Winter delights – Kazakhstan

If you’re looking at a winter visit to the region, Kazakhstan is easily the best choice for both infrastructure and activity options. In the mountains rising above cultural centre and former capital, Almaty, the Shymbulak ski resort’s 12km of pistes and the Medeu ice skating facility (once known as the best venue in the Soviet Union) are popular with both locals and visitors. If you just want punishingly cold, well, national capital Astana is closer to Siberia than to Almaty. If the -40°C temperatures on the street are too intimidating, head to the city-in-a-tent Khan Shatyr, a shopping mall with an artificial beach that boasts imported Maldivian sand. Where else can you experience a beach party in sub-Siberian winter? We wager, nowhere.

Central Asia travel pro-tips

Though improving, visas and border crossings in Central Asia still require a bit of preparation, especially if you don’t want to get stuck waiting around in the capital cities. Kyrgyzstan is the easiest, with 60 passports now able to travel visa-free for up to 60 days. Kazakhstan is just behind, with a recent pilot program handing out 15 days of visa-free travel for 20 nationalities. Most countries require a visa for travel to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, with an additional permit necessary to visit the Pamir region of Tajikistan (be sure to request this at the same time you apply for your visa). Turkmenistan is still the most onerous, forcing travellers to choose between a five-day transit visa (if you’re lucky) or booking a (comparatively expensive) guided trip – this is the only way to get a tourist visa.

If you’re only coming for two weeks or so, arriving by air is your best option. Turkish Airlines offers the most connections from their Istanbul hub, but budget carriers Pegasus and AtlasJet offer cheaper flights from the same city. Air Astana also now offers non-stop flights to Kazakhstan from several European cities, including London and Frankfurt.