Crossing time zones and the confusion it brings

Is it tomorrow today or yesterday?

If there’s one thing I miss most after the Covid-19 Virus literally closed airports and cut off traveling to different places early this year, it’s that feeling of confusion you get after crossing different time zones.

One of the analog clocks at a pre-departure area at Incheon International Airport.

It’s that time your watch becomes useless unless you keep adjusting it to the local time wherever you are.  Your internal clock gets mixed up and gets you disoriented and you lost track of your sleep and mealtimes as well.

Hopping from one time zone to another also teaches you to grab naps whenever and wherever, like curling up in uncomfortable seats, buses, or even on the airport floors.

I had a 12-hour layover in Kuala Lumpur once where booking a hotel in the city and spending more hours in the traffic is not practical. I decided to just stay at the airport and booked a bunk for six hours at the Capsule Container Hotel at the basement of the airport.

Bunk beds at the Container Hotel at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

I passed the time drinking coffee, window shopping, and watching people until it was time to check in. I set my iPad alarm with enough time allowance so I can grab a shower before checking out. I had barely slept when my alarm went off. I stumbled dazed and still half asleep to the row of bathrooms, expecting it to be full, but miraculously no one was there. After a quick shower, I checked out at 9 a.m. Suddenly I realized that it was still 7 a.m. local time. I forgot my iPad was set to Saipan time. I was so mad at myself because I was still so sleepy and those two precious hours would have made so much difference but I couldn’t go back in.

Longest day ever

One trip that stands out for me was what I call my longest day ever. Some years back, I missed a flight from Chicago to Dubai one cold night in February. Lots of flights were delayed due to heavy snowstorms and I arrived at my check-in counter 30 minutes after the last call for boarding. I called my ticket agent and it took them forever to book a hotel and a whole new flight for me. I didn’t sleep the whole night was finally on board a different plane with a whole new set of layovers at 10 a.m. the next day.

Although I was sleepy, I was awake during the 12-hour flight, thanks for a whole Season 12 of The Big Bang Theory on my seat TV.

From the flight tracker, I saw the plane crossing the international dateline and I realized we just were not flying into darkness as I was hoping.

My body was screaming sleep but my system refused to shut down. It was frustrating to leave one airport in broad daylight and land in another airport halfway across the world 12 hours later and still daylight.

I tried to grab a few winks at the pre-departure area in Narita while waiting for my next flight but sleep eluded me. At past midnight, we finally landed in Jakarta. The airport was so cold and the benches uncomfortable and there was nowhere to lie down or relax. And that was when sleep started to overcome me.

This time I had to keep slapping myself to stay awake until the check-in counters opened. And again, I stayed awake during the two-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur.

An Air Asia airplane picks up passengers and cargo from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia.

Walking Dead

I was a walking dead, deprived of sleep for over two days. I had a full day planned to explore the city but when I saw my hotel bed, I flopped down on it and woke up at midnight, 12 hours later, refreshed but hungry.

Traveling is a pleasurable challenge, especially if you’re trying to hit several places within a short span of time but the satisfaction and fulfillment after every trip are priceless. Every day is an adventure. Make mistakes, learn from them and make new ones.


When traveling, try to grab as much sleep as you can whenever and wherever.

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