Planning a long-haul flight? Wellness maven Mary Bemis shares tips on what you can do before, during, and afterward to avoid the common pitfalls of travel. To see her suggested carry-on items to make your flight more pleasant, check out our Travel Carry-Ons post.
As a longtime spa and wellness expert, I travel the globe checking out new spas and indigenous treatments, tracking new trends and lecturing on how to live a healthier lifestyle. It’s important that I’m in the best mental and physical shape 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 I’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 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 on the go wellbeing.
Forget jet lag—that’s oh so 20th 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, I’ve been a fan of the supplement melatonin (I take three milligrams at night), which helps promote relaxation and a good night’s rest. I typically take one the evening prior to a long flight, and continue to take one each night of my journey. This, however, does not work for everyone, and some complain of vivid dreams. Dr. Jim Nicolai, director of integrative wellness at Miraval Resort and author of the book, Integrative Wellness Rules, recommends taking a B-complex vitamin, to “calm down” the vivid dreaming that can occur with melatonin.
The Art of the Bath
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. She suggests keeping the distractions to a minimum when flying: “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 [only] a couple of hours.”
Seaweed baths are a staple of mine—before I fly and once I land. I use a dried seaweed bath from Phytomer that comes in handy packets. I learned this years ago from Sylvia Sepielli, a renowned spa designer and consultant, who has clocked more hours in the air than nearly anyone I 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 destination. It really helps adjust to the time zone.
Soothe Your Senses
While I like a nice glass of red wine (with plenty of water) before I prepare for sleep on a long flight, Dr. Nicolai believes that if you practices breathing exercises, you 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 me. 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 I have on hand to help alleviate jet lag and lull me to sleep is lavender oil. It’s a wonderful relaxant, especially when dabbed on your trigger points, explains Dr. Nicolai. Before a long flight, I massage lavender oil onto my entire body before dressing, it’s not only great because of the relaxing qualities, but this helps keep my body hydrated, as well.
Create a Home Ritual
Kathy Van Ness, COO and GM of The Golden Door, has a ritual that I 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 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 posi- tion 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 continues. “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 the utmost importance to optimize sleep post- flight. A deep-tissue or relaxing massage is one of the best things you can do for a body that has been 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 particu- lar position for a long time, recommends Dr. Nicolai.
Like most of my well-traveled friends, I choose to bring my own food aboard long flights—and to carefully watch what I eat the week before a long flight. Who wants to suffer the bloat and digestive issues that so often accom- pany travel? That means being aware of foods that contain salt and caffeine in particular. I like to carry on fruits like oranges and lemons, which are hydrating, and carrot and celery sticks as well (I actually pack a small baggy filled with fresh lemon slices that I 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.” Be sure to avoid salty nuts, pretzels and anything of that ilk. Drink lots of water and don’t forget to pack good, immune-boosting remedies.
Post-flight, be sure to 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 breathwalking. He uses breath and walking as a way to meditate—and he does it in and through the airport, as opposed to sitting. Breathwalking is taking your breath and syncing it with your stride. For example, four simple breaths in, four simple breaths out—matching 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 to go outside once you’ve checked into your destination. A simple walk will work wonders.
Mary Bemis is a leading spa and wellness expert. the founder of InsidersGuidetospas.com, and the co-founder of Organic Spa Magazine, she never leaves home without her eye mask and Epsom salts. To read the current issue of QUEST magazine online, click here, and be sure to stay up to date on all of QUEST’s online content by following the QUEST Facebook page.