If you're traveling to Africa from the U.S., the journey to your final destination can take more than 30 hours - especially if you happen to live in the Midwest or on the West Coast. Depending on where you're headed, East Coast residents may be able to fly direct, but the options are limited and often exorbitantly expensive. In addition, even direct flights from New York to Johannesburg take almost 15 hours each way - an endurance test that takes a heavy toll on your body.
Many visitors suffer badly from jet lag, as traveling from the U.S. entails crossing a minimum of five time zones. Often, the disorientation caused by jet lag is exacerbated by exhaustion, triggered by sleepless nights on airplanes or long layovers in busy airports. However, with all that being said, the rewards of a trip to Africa far outweigh the drawbacks of getting there, and there are ways to minimise the negative effects of long-haul flying. In this article, we look at a few tips for making sure that you don't feel like spending the first few days of your long-awaited vacation in bed.
Stock up on Sleep
Unless you're one of the blessed few who can doze off just about anywhere, it's likely that you won't be getting much sleep on your flight to Africa. This is especially true if you're flying economy class, with limited space and (inevitably) a crying baby seated a few rows behind you. The effects of exhaustion are cumulative, so it stands to reason that one of the best ways to avoid them is to make sure you get a few early nights in the days before your departure.
Exercise on Board
Stiffness, poor circulation and swelling are all symptoms of sitting still for too long on a trans-Atlantic flight. For some travelers, flying also increases the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), or blood clotting. Exercise helps to combat these issues by increasing circulation. You can take periodic walks around the cabin, or employ any number of recommended exercises from the comfort of your seat. All airlines include a guide to these exercises in their back-of-seat safety manual.
Invest in Accessories
Those that are particularly at risk of DVT (including those that have recently had major surgery) should also consider investing in compression stockings, which help to minimise the likelihood of clotting by increasing blood flow. Parents traveling with small children should pack suckable sweets to help their little ones equalise during take-off and landing, while regular passengers benefit greatly from affordable accessories including ear plugs, sleep masks and portable travel pillows.
Avoid Alcohol & Caffeine
The temptation to drink alcohol on a long-haul flight is considerable, especially when it's free (and effective for calming nerves). However, both alcohol and caffeine dehydrate your system at a time when you're already suffering from the cabin's dry recycled air. The effects of dehydration include nausea and headaches - two symptoms guaranteed to turn a difficult journey into a nightmare. Instead, drink plenty of water and slip that bottle of South African wine into your hand luggage for later.
Even if you avoid alcohol, it's likely that you'll start to feel parched at some point on a long-haul flight. Don't be afraid to ask for water in between meal times, or alternatively, buy a bottle from one of the airport convenience stores after passing through security. Moisturiser, nasal sprays, eye drops and spritzers also help to counteract the effects of the plane's dry atmosphere. However, if you decide to pack these items, you'll need to make sure that the volume of each one is under 3.4 oz/ 100 ml.
Consider Your Wardrobe
While tight pants and high-heeled shoes undoubtedly have their place, you'll want to put fashion on the back-burner for your flight. Opt for loose, comfortable clothes that allow for minor swelling, in addition to shoes that are easy to slip off once you're seated. Wear layers, so that you can wrap up against the chill of overzealous airport air-conditioning, or strip off upon arrival at your destination. If you're traveling from one extreme temperature to the other, consider packing a change of clothes in your hand luggage.
Trick Your Mind
Jet lag has a lot to do with your mindset, and everything to do with your internal body clock. Setting your watch to your destination's local time as soon as you board your flight helps to adjust your mind to the new routine before you land. Once you arrive, adapt your behavior to the local schedule. This means eating dinner at dinner time, even if you're not hungry; and going to bed at a reasonable hour even if you're not tired. After your first night's sleep, your body should adapt quickly to Africa time.
This article was updated and re-written in part by Jessica Macdonald on January 24th 2017.