Category Archives: travel

Food-Based Body Clock the Key to Jet Lag

The primary cause of jet lag (or desyn­chro­nos­is as it’s cor­rectly known) is the dis­rup­tion of our cir­ca­di­an rhythms based on the daily light–dark cycles we exper­i­ence. How­ever this is only the case when food is in plen­ti­ful supply, with new research sug­gest­ing that cir­ca­di­an rhythms based on food avail­ab­il­ity are able to over­ride those of the light-dark cycle. This could offer us a simple and effect­ive way of pre­vent­ing jet lag: fast­ing for six­teen hours pri­or to your new time zone’s break­fast time.

I men­tioned this in passing two years ago (just before under­tak­ing a 25-hour Sydney to Lon­don flight), but after recently com­ing across the study again I felt com­pelled to point to it in more detail.

Research­ers at Har­vard Med­ic­al School and Beth Israel Dea­con­ess Med­ic­al Cen­ter in Boston have now pin­pointed a second [bio­lo­gic­al clock] that is set by the avail­ab­il­ity of food. […]

Clif­ford Saper, the seni­or author of the study, said this second clock prob­ably takes over when food is scarce. It may have evolved to make sure mam­mals don’t go to sleep when they should be for­aging for food to stay alive.

Dr. Saper says long-dis­tance trav­el­lers can prob­ably use this food clock to adjust rap­idly to a new time zone.

“A peri­od of fast­ing with no food at all for about 16 hours is enough to engage this new clock,” he said in a state­ment released with the study. Once you eat again, your intern­al clock will be reset as though it is the start of a new day […] and you should just flip into that new time zone in one day.

Our Common Navigational Mistakes

Read­ing how some anim­als are able to “instinct­ively solve nav­ig­a­tion­al prob­lems” that baffle us humans, I was reminded of Tom Vander­bilt, author of Traffic, writ­ing on the most com­mon nav­ig­a­tion­al mis­takes we all make.

In [a recent study] a num­ber of sub­jects were asked to estim­ate the travel time for a north­bound versus south­bound bird. The major­ity of respond­ents believed trav­el­ing north from the equat­or would take longer than the reverse.

What was going on, the authors spec­u­lated, was that sub­jects were sup­plant­ing map-based meta­phors for the actu­al exper­i­ence of travel. “A life­time of expos­ure to the meta­phor­ic link between car­din­al dir­ec­tion and ver­tic­al pos­i­tion,” they write, “may cause people to asso­ci­ate north­bound travel with uphill travel.” Or, as they quote Tree­beard in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: “I always like going south. Some­how… it feels like going down­hill.” […]

The north-south imbal­ance is just one of any num­ber of ways we rearrange object­ive time and space in our heads. There are the fam­ous examples of geo­graph­ic­al dis­tor­tion, for example, in which people routinely assume that Rome is farther south than Phil­adelphia or that San Diego is west of Reno (when in both cases the oppos­ite is true). Or take a simple trip into town: Stud­ies have found that people tend to find the inbound trip to be short­er than the out­bound trip, while a jour­ney down a street with more inter­sec­tions will seem to be longer than one with few­er (and not simply because of traffic lights).

Our state of mind on any trip can influ­ence not just our per­cep­tions of time but of geo­graphy itself. As Den­nis Prof­fit, et al., write in the won­der­fully titled study “See­ing Moun­tains in Mole Hills,” […] “hills appear steep­er when we are fatigued, encumbered by a heavy back­pack, out of shape, old and in declin­ing health“—and this is not some vague feel­ing, but an actu­al shift in our estim­ates of degrees of inclin­a­tion. Trans­it plan­ners have a rule of thumb that wait­ing for trans­it seems to take three times as long as travel itself. And then, loom­ing over everything, is Vieror­dt’s Law, which, applied to com­mut­ing, roughly states: People will men­tally lengthen short com­mutes and shorten long com­mutes.

If this top­ic interests you, Vander­bilt writes about such top­ics on his blog, How We Drive. You may also be inter­ested in a video inter­view with Vander­bilt that looks like it will be excel­lent.

On Being Foreign

Hav­ing (very) recently emig­rated from the UK (to the Neth­er­lands), this art­icle on what it means to be ‘for­eign’ was not only timely, but quite emotive, too.

The [com­plain­ing for­eign­er] answers [the ques­tion of why he does­n’t go home] by think­ing of him­self as an exile—if not in a judi­cial sense then in a spir­itu­al sense. Some­thing with­in him­self has driv­en him away from his home­land. He becomes even a touch jeal­ous of the real exile. Life abroad is an adven­ture. How much great­er might the adven­ture be, how much more intense the sense of for­eignness, if there were no pos­sib­il­ity of return? […]

The funny thing is, with the pas­sage of time, some­thing does hap­pen to long-term for­eign­ers which makes them more like real exiles, and they do not like it at all. The home­land which they left behind changes. The cul­ture, the polit­ics and their old friends all change, die, for­get them. They come to feel that they are for­eign­ers even when vis­it­ing “home”. Jhumpa Lahiri, a Brit­ish-born writer of Indi­an des­cent liv­ing in Amer­ica, catches some­thing of this in her nov­el, The Name­sake. Ashi­ma, who is an Indi­an émigré, com­pares the exper­i­ence of for­eignness to that of “a par­en­thes­is in what had once been an ordin­ary life, only to dis­cov­er that the pre­vi­ous life has van­ished, replaced by some­thing more com­plic­ated and demand­ing”.

Beware, then: how­ever well you carry it off, how­ever much you enjoy it, there is a dan­ger­ous under­tow to being a for­eign­er, even a gen­teel for­eign­er. Some­where at the back of it all lurks home­sick­ness, which meta­stas­ises over time into its incur­able vari­ant, nos­tal­gia. And nos­tal­gia has much in com­mon with the Freu­di­an idea of melancholia—a con­tinu­ing, debil­it­at­ing sense of loss, some­where with­in which lies anger at the thing lost. It is not the pos­sib­il­ity of return­ing home which feeds nos­tal­gia, but the impossib­il­ity of it.

Choos­ing just one or two pas­sages to quote in this art­icle was very dif­fi­cult.

via Link Banana

Words and Phrases Lost in Translation

Com­ing from the author’s con­fu­sion in relat­ing to her Ger­man-speak­ing Balkan part­ner, the ques­tion is asked: can phrases and words that we give great weight to in our nat­ive tongue truly be trans­lated across cul­tur­al and lan­guage bar­ri­ers.

Could it really mean the same thing for him to say “I love you” in Eng­lish if he spoke Ger­man? He said it did, of course it did. But I sensed that when he cursed in Eng­lish it was just a sound to him, because when I curse in a for­eign lan­guage it’s just a sound to me. Why should say­ing “I love you” be any dif­fer­ent? […]

I don’t speak Ger­man but I’ve said “ich liebe dich” plenty of times and it nev­er does feel like a con­tract the way say­ing “I love you” feels like a con­tract. […]

I once tried say­ing “volim te” — “I love you” in Serbo-Croa­tian — and he did­n’t respond. I asked if I’d said it right and he said I had. Then he repeated it quietly.

That’s the one, I thought: volim te. That’s the “I love you” that works for me, the one that is hon­est.

It’s a touch­ing art­icle, and presents a thought that is now at the fore­front of my mind giv­en my impend­ing move to a non-nat­ive Eng­lish-speak­ing coun­try.

Euphem­isms, polite­ness, sug­gest­ive­ness, sar­casm, irony and pass­ive-aggress­ive ges­tures — all risk being lost in trans­la­tion.

In my writ­ing class, I teach my stu­dents about sub­text. I tell them people alter their con­ver­sa­tions depend­ing on whom they wish to address. I tell them people rarely say what they mean, that we are con­stantly revis­ing our words, that the move­ment from thought to word is often trans­form­at­ive and strange.

Sub­text does not often trans­fer between lan­guages.

Surviving Jet Lag

With my 25-hour flight from Sydney back to Lon­don fast approach­ing, my mind is wan­der­ing to the top­ic of jet lag–or desynchronosis, to use the med­ic­al term.

The most often sug­ges­ted rem­ed­ies for jet lag (where recov­ery times are gen­er­ally said to be 1 day per east­ward time zone or 1 day per 1.5 west­ward time zones) are fast­ing for 11–16 hours before the flight or wear­ing sunglasses (the lat­ter is what the Brit­ish Air­ways jet lag cal­cu­lat­or is based on).

Not par­tic­u­larly a fan of these meth­ods, I con­cur with Bry­an Caplan’s advice as he frames jet lag (and infant night feed­ings) in terms of fixed costs:

My altern­at­ive: Do not sleep on the plane.  At all.  When you arrive, do not sleep – at all – until a loc­ally nor­mal bedtime.  Pay the fixed cost without cheating.  When you wake up eight to ten hours later, you will be refreshed and in sync with your new time zone.  In exchange for less than a day of sleep depriva­tion, you will feel fine for the rest of your trip.

This tech­nique has served me well for many years.