Since I started doing serious flying, I wonder  about the right direction to travel around the world, would it be better flying westward, or maybe eastward or … wait, first west and then east?

Well, I’ve tried all three now, and though I may not have “the” answer, I do have “my” answer. Let’s go one by one:

2010 Westward: Belgium – USA – Mexico – China – Malaysia – South Africa – Belgium: 49.500 km, 24 time zones, 30 days

I did my first world trip westwards. It seemed the most straight-forward option. “Everybody” appears to have less problems flying west than east, so let’s do west-west-west. Moreover, the days are longer, and I can fly in the weekends so that I don’t miss a working day and … as due to the jet lag I wake up very, very early. I can even then stand up and do my mails before the working day!!!

The "problem"

Well, it didn’t work out like that. You can cheat on many things  but, trust me, you can’t cheat on your sleep, because it strikes back … with a vengeance.

Up to Mexico everything went ok, waking up every day somewhere between 3 AM & 4 AM trying to go to bed early (impossible in Mexico, life is too good there), but then … I took a day flight MEX-SFO-PVG (Shanghai). Well, I’m a good, I would say a FANTASTIC “plane sleeper”, so as I was tired, I slept 9 HOURS on a 11 hours flight. Basically fell asleep in San Francisco & woke up in Japan, but by then my fate was sealed.

Too little sleep in 2 weeks, then a whole “day” of sleeping and the next day a meeting with the Chinese colleagues. The meeting started at  9 AM, by lunch I was dying, at 2 PM I was dead. I felt terribly sorry but I had two options, either go to the hotel and rest or fall asleep during the meeting, and considering that I was the one doing the talking…I went for option A).

From Shanghai, I crawled to Malaysia and from there to South Africa. I think that was the only place with 1,5 free days, I believe on a Saturday. I was a bit tired, so took a nap at 3 PM … just to wake up at 6 AM: 15 hours later!  Good thing is that the South African meeting was very smooth and I felt full of energy!!

So 30 days after leaving home, 14 planes, 4 trains and a bus later… I got home

2013 Eastward: Belgium – Malaysia – Korea – USA- Brazil – Belgium: 44.329 km, 24 time zones, 25 days

The real DMZ

By now it was clear that going west doesn’t work out for me, so it was time to try something else: “lessons learnt” as more than one colleague would say, so what did we learn last time? :

  • You do NOT fly on weekends, you fly on Friday evening and you REST on the weekend
  • If you wake up at 3 AM you do NOT stand up till at least 5 AM. In this way:
  1. there is a chance that you fall asleep again
  2. if you don’t, at least your eyes realize “when” it is night time, and hopefully the jet lag ends earlier

The Asian part went almost ok. The first nights in Malaysia were pretty bad (short due to jet lag, short due to the terrible noise out on the streets and from the aircon) but got some kind of a sleep.

From there to Korea no big deal, just 30°C less, and then another endless trip across the Pacific Ocean down to Charlotte, yes, Busan-Seoul-Chicago-Charlotte in a row, trust me, that’s looooong .(On my first world trip I crossed the International Date Line, so I became either one day younger or one day older than the rest of the humanity … well on this one the “balance” was recovered, as I crossed the IDL in the opposite sense).

I believe I got through that PUS-ICG-ORD-CLT trip another 10 extra time zones, so I was messed up once again. But still,  I had yet another weekend to rest, and didn’t stand up when awake in the middle of the night, so things were kind of under control. From there to Brazil, where my batteries ended draining up. Did my DS7 (?) stuff, and via Lisbon, 24 days and 12 planes later I was … HOME

2014 West – East – West: Belgium – USA – Mexico – Belgium – Malaysia – China – Belgium: 44.119 km, 28 time zones, 23 days

By now it was clear that me and the Pacific Ocean … we are done. Unless we start selling Tires in Hawaii or in New Zealand, I’m not going to cross that ocean for the next few million years, when half of the Pacific will have disappeared under the american tectonic plates.

Moreover it’s a fact (at least for me) that the best place to recover from the jetlag is home. Doesn’t matter where you come from, somehow your brain knows that the local time at home is “the right one”, so I had a great (or so I thought) idea. First America, then home, then Asia, and back home: No Pacific Ocean + the extra recovery of being home in between. It proved to be yet another bad idea, probably my worst idea so far.

Actually as you can see from the headlines, I’ve just done more time zones than ever in less time than ever, so ….

Now, first leg was USA / Mexico. The USA part went quite good sleepwise,  and the mexican was really good (after so many tequilas trust me, you SLEEP). Then back home, where I looked like a zombie for a couple of days, and exactly 4 days after landing in Belgium I left to Malaysia, what happens to be 14, yes 14 hours ahead of Mexico. And that was my end:

  • When the first night (to call it something) you wake up at 1 AM it’s “unfortunate”
  • When the second night you wake up at 12 AM that … s*cks

The typical oneBy the third day I was ready to go home, but the show must go on. You don’t travel half around the world to be a sleep-walker at nights and a zombie during the days, right?

So I applied my final trick: you do the important things in the morning, when you are more or less fresh. In the afternoon you just turn the auto-pilot on. I’ve been doing many, many audits for over 8 years now, so I’m quite capable to turn the “internal radio” on , put the brains on sleep-mode. Actually, I believe it worked out quite ok.

After a couple more days my brain got in sync with the time zone and just before I was supposed to head to China, I was a human again. Some sightseeing in the weekend on the cool Shanghai weather helped to recover enough energy for a decent last audit before flying home, to where I arrived just a couple of hours ago.

So, back to “the” or rather “my” answer: Well I haven’t found that right way to travel around the world visiting our locations and honestly I don’t plan to travel around the world again, next time I’ll take one continent at a time, and if for some reason I have to do this thing again, well then like Phileas Fogg at LEAST in 80 + 1 days.

Rafael Sales

Rafael Sales

Work in Conti since 1997. Started in the Tire Sales Organisation of Belgium, first as IT Assistant, then as IT Manager. From 2003 I got more and more involved on Central IT projects, till I became "central". Right now I'm Distributed Systems Manager on the Tire Division, basically covering all the "PC World", including Messaging, Mobility ...

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