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.