The first time I traveled overseas was to Paris on one of the most convoluted paths possible between North America and Europe. After many years I now have the foresight to book as direct as possible and keep transfers short, but not too short. But I couldn’t gain that knowledge until I made at least one long journey. Since our closest international airport was Vancouver, we naturally flew from Seattle to Houston to Paris, essentially doubling the required flight time of 9.5 hours and spending an entire day traveling or waiting to travel.
When we did finally arrive in Paris then navigate the metro to our hostel, get through check in processing, and stomp up many narrow winding stairs to our room, I was pretty sure I was going to die in Paris. I would be in good company but there was no comfort in the realization.
I don’t know if it was jet lag or air/motion sickness or even altitude sickness, but it was really bad. I barely had the energy to drag myself from bed to toilet to bed, but I did manage to do it repeatedly for the next 20 hours or so. I had an assortment of liquids ejecting themselves from every bodily orifice. Then, suddenly, I was famished but otherwise fine.
The next long-haul flight I made was direct, Calgary to Frankfurt. I prepared by not planning any activities for 24 hours after I landed. Of course it didn’t work out that way and I ended up traveling to Cologne by train the first morning. But this turned out to be experience I needed. We got to the hostel and I was hit with nausea and fatigue. I went to hide in my bed and try to forget that I was somewhere awesome so I could recover. But the young man who had checked me in came up to my room with a steaming mug, orange and chipped on the rim. It was chamomile tea, which he claimed to be a cure for jet-lag. I figured he should know better than me and drank it. Slowly. Sip by sip. I didn’t want to provoke my stomach into action.
The amazing thing is, it worked, and almost instantly. I felt a bit light-headed when the cup was empty, but not bad enough to stay in bed when the cathedral was calling me, glowing from within through rich stained glass, its floodlights intensifying the splendor of spindly pinnacles. The entire cathedral radiated light that drew me like a sickly moth, and so I went.
For the next few years I always traveled long haul with a few bags of chamomile tea in my carry on. I learned that I could avoid the sickness altogether by drinking tea on the plane and only eating as little as necessary during the flight. I wish I knew the name of the man at the hostel, or even could remember the name of the hostel, to say thank you. Such a small action changed my travel experience forever, and I will never forget him, nor that ugly mug.