Jet lag and culture shock
You have just crossed several times zones and landed in a new
exotic country on the other side of the planet. Even though the
sun may be high in the sky and your watch may tell you itís
the middle of the afternoon, your body may be telling you that
you should be sleeping in bed. Not only will your body be
adjusting to the new sleeping, waking, and eating schedules,
you are also going to adapt to a completely new environment.
There could be huge altitude changes, climate changes, and
cultural changes to deal with.
Jet lag is your body adjusting to a new time zone. Our bodies
are designed for regular cycles of daylight and darkness, this is
referred to as our circadian rhythm. Crossing time zones
forces your body to change its expected awake and sleep
schedules. You begin to feel symptoms like daytime
drowsiness, difficulty sleeping, and general fatigue. People
have been known to experience a form of jet lag by crossing
as little as three time zones. Jet lag only happens when you fly
east or west crossing time zones. If you are flying north or
south, you wouldnít experience any jet lag.
I flew from Singapore (+30 degrees Celsius) to Calgary (-20
degrees Celsius and ten hours difference) to Madrid (+5
degrees Celsius and eight hours difference) within a month. I
was feeling the effects of jet lag and climate shock for a
couple of weeks. I didnít know when I was tired, when I was
hungry, or when I needed to use the toilet.
There are ways of dealing with and limiting the effects of jet
Before you leave:
Depending on where you land, you are going to be dealing
with culture shock. Simply put, you are going to be arriving in
a new land, with new cultures and ideas, and itís going to take
some adjustment for you to get used to this new environment.
Most backpackers experience some kind of culture shock
when they initially arrive in a foreign country.
When you first enter into a new country, everything is new
and exciting. You enjoy absorbing all the new experiences that
are offered to you. After a while, the newness wears off and
you start to discover minor irritations and annoyances. It could
be as simple as not being able to communicate or eating new
foods. This is basically you transitioning from your previous
ways of doing things to your new culture.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine before you board the plane.
Donít go out on a drinking binge and get yourself
plastered the night before. Having artificial depressants
or stimulants in your system will not help your body
adjust when you land. Needless to say, waking up with
a hangover is never a pleasant thing.
- Make sure you get a good rest.
- Wear comfortable, non-constricting clothes and shoes
while on the plane. This will help with blood
- Have a meal that is high in starches, carbohydrates,
When you are in the plane:
- Set your watch to reflect the time in your destination
country. This helps you to adjust to your new sleep
- Try to eat your in-flight meals based on the time of day
in your destination country.
- Walk around in the cabin or do some stretching.
- Stay hydrated, try to drink a glass of water each hour.
- Sleep on the plane based on the time in your
- Put something over your eyes to simulate darkness.
- Stay relaxed, try to enjoy your flight.
When you arrive:
- Do your best to stay awake during the day and not take
a nap. This will help with the insomnia when you are
trying to sleep at night.
- Eat when the locals eat. Try to adjust to their eating
schedule as soon as possible.
- Try not to snack at night.
Some of the symptoms are:
- Longing for your family back at home.
- An unwillingness to interact with the new culture.
- Anger, resentment, and changes in temperament.
- You start to stereotype the new culture.
- Feeling of insecurity or inadequacy.
The good news is that there are ways of coping with culture
- Be patient and donít try too hard.
- Maintain a little contact with your ethnic group and
your new culture.
- Learn to be constructive, be positive and celebrate the
- Introduce some form of exercise or physical activity.
- Start learning about the new culture, try picking up
part of the language.
- Find a place to relax and unwind if feeling stressed.
- Accept the new country as it is. Donít complain, just
Note: One of the best things about being a backpacker, if you
really donít like a place, you can always go someplace else
that is nearby.