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How I Sleep on a Plane and Conquer my Jet Lag

My 'Sleeping On a Plane' Essentials, Tips and Resources for Conquering Jet Lag on the International Flight

I love traveling, walking through airports, seeing people arrive and depart. I’m as excited as a little kid for Christmas every time, and I plan weeks in advance. In my first years of trans-atlantic flying I never had a plan for sleeping on the plane or conquering jet lag. I sure hoped I could sleep for a while, but after waking up and looking at my watch, only 30 minutes had passed and I was wide awake for the rest of the flight.

When you travel to Germany from the United States you arrive in the morning of the next day, and you are six hours ahead of your inner clock. With no sleep on the plane I feel sluggish and have a hard time remaining awake when I see my family and friends for the first time in months, if not a year. Here are a few tips and products that keep me sane and rested when I travel to Germany.

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My 'Sleeping On a Plane' Essentials, Tips and Resources for Conquering Jet Lag on the International Flight

My 'Sleeping On a Plane' Essentials

In order to get about 3 to 4 hours of sleep on the plane, I use Melatonin to help me fall asleep and Zzzquil to keep me asleep. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by our body when it gets dark in the evenings. Taking a Melatonin pill signals your body that it is indeed bedtime. Zzzquil contains the antihistamine Diphenhydramine (also found in the allergy medication Benadryl) and helps you relax and sleep better. I take one dose of each with the airplane dinner service, which makes me sleepy 30 to 45 minutes later and I dose off. If you want to try either of these two pills, I highly recommend to try them at home before your flight. Do not take Melatonin or Diphenhydramine for the first time on a long haul flight, not knowing how your body will react to it and talk to your doctor about possible side effects.

On a side note: You can only buy Melatonin in the United States, not in Germany. Germany requires you to be over 55 years old to have a prescription filled for Melatonin (sold as Circadin in Germany).

Melatonin and Diphenhydramine will make you fall asleep and keep you asleep, as long as there are no loud sounds or movement around you. To avoid waking up during my much needed nap time, I use in-ear headphones and play one of my favorite podcasts, audiobooks or calm music on repeat. The in-ear headphones seal off the ears and the podcast or music drown out enough airplane noise for me to relax and sleep. For more money, you can also invest in noise-canceling headphones, which will cancel out monotonous sounds like airplane noise completely. For less money get some foam ear plugs.

Your Home Until Germany; How I sleep on a plane and conquer my jet lag

Two more items that help me sleep on a plane are a sleep mask and a travel pillow. Both are rather inexpensive and light, making it easy to add to your carry-on luggage. The sleep mask seals off any light from hitting my eyes and the travel pillow keeps my head from falling. Each transatlantic flight does provide you with a pillow (and a blanket), but the pillow is too small for me and does not give my head any stability while I doze off.

Making the Hours Fly By With a Great Book, click for Denise's favorites

Entertainment For Making the Hours Fly By

Make sure to also bring a magazine (or several…) or a book on board with you. Here's a bunch of books Denise and I have read and loved. If reading will not make you tired, it will at least kill some time on the long flight. For more entertainment, have your favorite electronic device handy. Download movies, podcasts or audiobooks before your flight and make sure your device is charged. Twice I’ve had a seat where the in-flight entertainment was broken. It does happen, and when you’re over the Atlantic Ocean there’s not much the flight attendants can do for you except apologize and if you’re lucky a small voucher. I was fortunate to have Denise beside me and we could share her screen, plus I brought my own things to do.

Become a Camel

In order to stay hydrated on the plane, we buy a bottle of water after the security check and stick to water only during dinner service on board. Dehydration is not recommended if you want to avoid a jet lag, and while a glass of wine might send you off to never-never land in no time, it does dehydrate and result in restless sleep. Keep your alcohol and also caffeine intake to a minimum before and during the flight. There is enough great beer and wine in Germany to enjoy during your vacation.

What Goes In...

Don’t be fooled into thinking you can make a 8-9 hour flight without using the airplane’s bathroom facilities. You might be tempted to avoid drinking water as much as possible in order to avoid going. Don’t do it. While on short, 2-3 hour flights across country perhaps only one or two elderly citizens will get up mid-flight to use the bathroom, on an international flight EVERYONE at one point will get up to use the bathroom several times. It’s not a big deal at all. Plus, there’s three times the amount of bathrooms than the typical one or two that’s on flights for a few hours. Drink up, and don’t worry. Everyone has to go sometime...

Keep Comfortable

And my final thought for sleeping on a plane: wear layers of clothes. By wearing layers, you can avoid being too cold or hot. I wear a t-shirt and a zippered sweatshirt over it, a comfortable jeans and my favorite shoes, that I can slip off easily during the flight and put back on quickly if I have to use the restroom. Denise always brings a scarf, which comes in handy as a blanket, pillow or to keep her neck warm. She also packs thick winter socks that she layers over her regular socks.

Your First Day in Germany

Now that you finally landed in Germany, a quick nap looks very enticing. I have taken one-hour naps after a transatlantic flight, but they do not do me any good. Try to live on local time right away, have a quick shower and get some fresh air walking around the town for a bit. Being out in the sunshine helps your body convert to the new time. Both give me a little bit more energy and make me forget how little sleep I got on the airplane last night. Set your watch to the local time, too and do not think about what time it is “back home”. Start living on German time and end your day with a light dinner. No one sleeps well with an aching stomach.

My final tip for adjusting to local time: I do go to bed an hour or two before my usual bedtime on the first day only. After a good night's sleep I awake very rested and go to bed at my usual bedtime the following nights without a problem. A dark room is key here and if your room does not have black-out shades, use your sleep mask from the plane.

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Before you go to Germany, let's talk toilets

German and U.S. Toilet Differences • Germany Travel

During a family dinner, just before my mother-in-law would travel to Germany for the first time, the issue of German toilets came up. Denise was telling her Mom the story of her first flight to Germany, which led to her first visit to a German restroom at the Frankfurt Airport.

I remember that it took Denise quite a while to come back and when I finally spotted her she had a perplexed look on her face. She said she had looked in the first bathroom stall and saw the toilet bowl had no water in it. Must be clogged, Denise thought, and tried the next stall. When she looked in the fourth stall, she decided to go for it, even though she was convinced that a toilet without standing water must be broken. She was pretty surprised when it did flush after all.

How to explain the toilet setup difference to your American mother-in-law? Well, there’s a YouTube video for everything, and this is the first one I found while trying to explain the difference. Not only do you get to see the toilet, but also a German sausage that gets flushed to illustrate the process.

This shelf toilet, known in Germany as Flachspüler (flat flusher) has a ledge where the American design, Tiefspüler (deep flusher) has standing water. The shelf toilet will prominently present your #1 or #2 before you flush them, which will take some getting used to when you first encounter this toilet style.

Over the years I had the pleasure of using both systems and can give you the advantages and disadvantages of the shelf toilet for your trip to Germany.

Advantages:

• Energy costs in Germany are much higher than in the United States, which includes the cost of water. Therefore, the shelf toilets were designed to use much less water than their American counterparts - hence the shelf.

• Your butt will not get wet, since there is little to no water sitting on the shelf

• If you are sick, you can look at your prized matter before flushing it or even take a stool sample for your doctor. Not that you will need this often, but it is an advantage, even though a strange one.

Disadvantages:

• Your business will definitely stink up the room, which is why a lot of German bathrooms have a bottle of air freshener near the toilet or at least a window nearby that you can open.

• With a #2 being flushed off the ledge, it might leave skid marks and you might have to flush a second time (so much for the aspect of saving water). If the skid marks are still around after the second flush, look for a toilet brush nearby and go to work.

If you are still reading, you might be pleased to hear, that German households are merging more and more to the American toilet design, which has become more efficient over the past decades and uses less water with every flush.

Nevertheless, there are still two more oddities you might encounter in a modern German restroom, which are two buttons on a wall and no visible toilet tank.

How to Flush German Toilets- deciiphering the flush wall panel • Germany Travel Tips

How To Flush a German Toilet

Modern bathrooms in Germany have concealed flush, or wall-hung toilets, where you have the tank and water pipes in a wall enclosure hidden from plain view. This works especially well for small bathrooms, saving space by having a smaller toilet that does not protrude into the room as much as a floor-mounted traditional toilet. Furthermore, cleaning under the toilet is much easier and the hidden tank gives the bathroom a clean, organized look.

Right above the concealed flush toilets you will find two buttons, usually a small one and a large one. The “dual-flush capability” goes back to the idea of saving water, where you push the small button for your #1 business with only half of the water in the tank being used and the larger button for your #2 business with all of the water in the tank being used.

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Do yourself a favor and get on a boat in Hamburg

Exploring Hamburg's Riverfront | You can't fully appreciate the scale of the ships until you're floating in the water beside them.

You don't read the ending of a book first.

You don't fast forward through a movie to the end.

If you did, the joy of discovery is replaced with discovered.

For that same reason, I avoid narrated city bus tours. They give away a city before you've had the joy to discover it. An hour or two later and you've zipped by all the top attractions, and get off with an empty feeling of what else is there?

To discover a new city, I like to walk, one step at a time, and slowly watch the city's character unfold.

However, narrated boat tours? That's a whole other beast! Unless you're an experienced sailor, taking a boat tour is the only way you're getting on a boat to see the city in a whole new watery light. Most major cities developed around bodies of water, especially rivers and seas. Hamburg is no different, and its connection to the North Sea through the Elbe River has been one of the most influential forces upon the history of Hamburg. Its the second busiest port in Europe, beaten only by the Port of Rotterdam.

Our Experience Cruising the Hamburg Riverfront

Here are my favorite scenes from our trip on the Louisiana Star. I especially liked that this boat had a comfy dining room with plenty of windows. It was November when we sailed. It was frigid outside, and I had no interest in being on deck! They offered a drink service, so we could enjoy a nice warm cup of coffee as the riverfront sailed by.

There's nothing better after a long day of exploring a city on foot, then climbing onto a boat to review the city by water. In Hamburg especially, you can't fully appreciate the scale of the ships until you're floating in the water beside them. The boat tour guide was exceedingly knowledgeable and filled us in on the gossip of the boats we were cruising past.

Exploring Hamburg's Riverfront | You can't fully appreciate the scale of the ships until you're floating in the water beside them.

Exploring Hamburg's Riverfront | You can't fully appreciate the scale of the ships until you're floating in the water beside them.

Exploring Hamburg's Riverfront | You can't fully appreciate the scale of the ships until you're floating in the water beside them.

Exploring Hamburg's Riverfront | You can't fully appreciate the scale of the ships until you're floating in the water beside them.

Exploring Hamburg's Riverfront | You can't fully appreciate the scale of the ships until you're floating in the water beside them.

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Hamburg's Emigration Heritage Lives at BallinStadt

Exterior of the recreated emigration dormitory at Ballinstadt Emigration Museum Hamburg

The "City" Within the City of Hamburg

Hamburg had reached a historical breaking point in 1892 when a cholera epidemic caused the port to close. Bad business for the HAPAG, Hamburg-America Shipping Line, and a bad situation for the emigrants living in limbo waiting to board the ships for North America. Albert Ballin was the perfect man to implement a solution. Ballin’s family business, before his career at Hapag-Lloyd, had managed an emigration agency that helped emigrants buy tickets and transportation. He took what he knew and expanded the concept to include living for 14 days in what would ultimately be called BallinCity, BallinStadt.

Interior, multi-faceted and dynamic exhibits at the Ballinstadt Emigration Museum Hamburg

When the emigrants arrived by train in Hamburg they immediately went to Ballin’s emigration dormitories where housing, food, healthcare, even various churches, were available and packaged in with the ticket to North America. This way any cholera or other disease outbreaks were isolated and only healthy passengers boarded the ship. It was incredibly successful, and there were 30 buildings in BallinStadt in it's height. In 1913, a record 192,733 emigrants passed through BallinStadt. WWII put an end to organized emigration, and the dormitory buildings were torn down. With three reconstructed and restored emigration dormitories on the historic site of the originals, each dedicated to telling parts of the emigrant story, the BallinStadt Museum opened in 2007. The museum was closed for a short time to expand the exhibition, and just reopened.

Ballinstadt Emigration Museum Hamburg where history comes alive in an innovative museum experience

Quite simply, history comes alive at BallinStadt in Hamburg. This unique, innovative museum recreates, plays, sings, shows the story of emigration. The exhibits follow various individual stories as they go through the process of deciding to leave their homes, packing what they want and need, traveling to the port, living in BallinStadt, the ship voyage, and making it through immigration. With such props, staging, photos, you can’t help but feel what it must have been like to be an emigrant.

Emigrants may have made it across the Atlantic, but they still had to pass immigration • Innovative exhibit at the Ballinstadt Emigration Museum Hamburg

Genealogy Research

Although my ancestors left Germany before BallinStadt opened in 1900, it's likely they left through Hamburg or neighboring Bremen. Like many others, I went to BallinStadt in hopes of finding names on their lists. Make sure you bring your names, dates, and ancestry research you’ve done so you’re ready to go further. I wanted to find out who it was that left Germany for the United States and when they left, but unfortunately at the time of my visit the emigration records were still being digitized. Now they’re completely online, so if your family left from Hamburg, you should be golden. They have a computer lab devoted to researching, and staff are available to help you look.

Invaluable Experience and Opportunity

I wasn’t keen on signing up for an online genealogy membership, and with BallinStadt’s partnership with Ancestry.com you’re able to access the records available to paid subscription memberships with just your admission. I’ve seen some complaints online about the cost of the admission to BallinStadt, but would argue that this is not a publicly owned museum. If you’re visiting in hopes of researching your ancestry, compared to many monthly memberships, the ticket price is incredibly fair. The experience of the exhibition itself exceedingly justifies the cost of admission, but adding on-site access to the online records of ancestry.com without a subscription membership is fantastic.

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P.S. Read more about the man with the plan, Albert Ballin.

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Ever been in a soviet submarine? Try U-434 in Hamburg!

Climb into the U-434 in Hamburg and explore a 1976 Soviet submarine • Germany Travel Blog Tourist is a Dirty Word

I always like museums that are interactive, where you can touch samples in the exhibit. But when the museum is a u-boat floating in the Hamburg harbor, which you can climb into AND you can touch things, not much holds me back. Although, someone should have warned me how tight it is in there. If you are frightened by cramped or small spaces, this is not the place for you. Walk over to Brücke 10, a local snack bar, to enjoy the view of the Elbe river and have a Fischbrötchen (bread roll with fresh fish).

The U-434 was originally a Soviet submarine with the pennant number B-515, built in 1976. It is almost 300 feet long and was in active service until 2001 before the submarine was sold to a private party and converted to a floating museum right by the Fischmarkt and Landungsbrücken in Hamburg.

U-434 Photo by user woozie 2010 via Flickr • Experience visiting the U-434 Submarine in Hamburg Germany

A metal overpass leads you from the shore over to the top of the submarine onto a spiral staircase which leads into the torpedo room. It is right here where you begin to feel how cramped this space must have been, especially considering being locked in this room for up to 3 months. Right above the torpedoes are tight looking sleeping bunks and some small work spaces. In between are hundreds of pipes, cables and valves, several torpedo hulls are hanging all over the room. Our guide tells us that six of the torpedoes were always loaded and ready to go, another 24 were extra.

Inside the U-434, photo by user Flightlog via Flickr • Experience visiting the U-434 Submarine in Hamburg Germany

The only way into the next room is a round metal hole with about a three-feet diameter. You have to hold on to a metal hook on top of the hole in order to maneuver your body through it.

Inside U434 Photo by Flickr user tomislav medak • Experience visiting the U-434 Submarine in Hamburg Germany

We are now in the officers' living quarters with a room that features a long dining table for 8-10 people. Since everything is so tight, the table doubles as an emergency operating table for wounded soldiers. The seats on the benches fold up onto the wall making space for the two onboard doctors to move around.

U434 Sub Dining room table, doubles as an operating table, image by flickr user Thomas Quine • Experience visiting the U-434 Submarine in Hamburg Germany

The room next door gives you a glimpse into the living quarters of the two doctors. A small sink, built in wardrobe and one bed. One bed for two people? The submarine was designed to have one bed for every two crew members. While one person was awake and working, the other one person could sleep, then they would switch. Or, to put it into the words of our guide, “The beds never got cold”.

The crew members could be maximum 5’4” tall and weigh 110 pounds or less. This guaranteed that the crew could move fast through the tight connectors and staircases in case of an attack. The total crew size for this Soviet submarine was 84, mainly used for espionage and hunting purposes.

The crew had to share only 2 bathrooms with a toilet and a shower in each, which means you better plan ahead to get ready before your shift starts. Each crew member was permitted to shower once a week in order to save resources, since the water used for the shower and toilets was put through an onboard desalting plant first. There is a separate tank on the submarine with potable drinking water, which was only used for drinking and cooking.

Photo of U434 Bathroom, 1 of 2, by Flickr user Thomas Quine • Experience visiting the U-434 Submarine in Hamburg Germany

More round metal hole passages and a ladder lead you into the command center on the upper floor with countless gauges, cables and more valves.

U-434 Gauges photo by Flickr user tomislav medak • Experience visiting the U-434 Submarine in Hamburg Germany

Many of the metal cabinets around us are empty, they all contained classified electronic instruments in them, which were removed before selling the submarine. You can also sit in the original pilot chair while listening to sonar pings on hidden speakers, which makes the whole visit feel even more real.

We climb back down the ladder and pass the food storage room with enough food to last for up to 3 months and a document storage room. This room housed all the important and secret paperwork, guarded by 2 officers. One would sleep inside the document storage room on a bunk, the other one would guard the door from the outside.

A metal staircase leads up to several more crew quarters, passing the kitchen (or galley). Three cooks worked 12 hours shifts in a room not bigger than the inside of a modern day food truck.

Photo of U-434 Kitchen by Flickr user Flightlog • Experience visiting the U-434 Submarine in Hamburg Germany

One level lower is a long engine room, packed with three diesel engines and three electric motors. The diesel engines charged the electric motors, which in turn made for the almost silent movement of the submarine. In between are more beds for the crew to sleep close to their work-space.

I also spot a red telephone. Actually the third red telephone already, so I ask the guide if they are all connected. The explanation is simple: all black telephones are for internal communication on the submarine, all the red telephones are a direct hotline to the Kremlin in Moscow via satellite connection. I would love to know who answered a call like that, but I will never find out.

Red Telephone to the Kremelin Photo by Flickr User Tony Webster • Experience visiting the U-434 Submarine in Hamburg Germany

One last interesting fact as we walked towards the spiral staircase by the exit: The bottom third of the submarine was originally used as storage, but has been intentionally flooded with water since the conversion to a museum. There was nothing important to see down below and the extra water weight keeps the submarine stable, even on windy days.

U-434 Inside Photo by Flickr User Tony Webster • Experience visiting the U-434 Submarine in Hamburg Germany

But even if it is not very windy when you go to visit the U-434, please watch your head and your step. There is only minimal lighting and some very tight spaces you have to go through, but it is absolutely worth it. Be sure to get a guided tour, otherwise you will not be able to see the command center. The guided tour took us about 45 minutes and answered all our questions.

Photo Credits

I lost my personal photos from the tour to the digital black abyss. Back up your files! Always! I hope you enjoyed what I found and included from various excellent flickr photographers. All images are linked to their original post on flickr. They're being shared under creative commons license 2.0 generic. Thank you to these Flickr users/photographers: @avanotterloo | @woozie2010 | @flightlog | @tomislav medak | @quinet | @diversey

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Show more posts about traveling in Germany

Thank you For Reading! Denise & Sebastian | Photo by Irene Fiedler