How to Cheat Jet Lag on Your Way to Asia

One travel writer discovers that the dream trip to Hawai'i ends in Seoul.

Plane windows

Daniil Yakubenko / EyeEm / Getty Images

It’s November 7, just shy of 6:00 a.m. I can’t make out much of Seoul from my high-floor room at Mondrian Seoul Itaewon — the sky is a deep, velvety blue at this early hour — but I feel surprisingly well-rested. And I’m not a morning person. 

While I’ve been to Seoul on countless occasions, waking up on my first full day in South Korea at a reasonable hour felt like a small victory. In the past, jet lag always got the best of me — jolting me up in the wee hours, luring me to bed mid-afternoon, and testing my ability to feel, well, normal. Today was different, all because of my stopover in Hawai'i.

My thinking was this: If I could buy some time to adjust to one time zone en route to my final destination, I’d be in better shape upon arrival. Also, I discovered Hawaiian Airlines offers competitive rates flying to the islands compared to other U.S. carriers, and that anyone can book multi-city flights to or from one of their international destinations (Seoul being one of them) — even in their first class cabin — at no additional cost. Most importantly, who’d argue with spending a few days in a culinary paradise for research? 

But first, to understand jet Iag better, I consulted with Eric Gentry, MD, a board-certified sleep specialist and co-founder of Jet Set Natural, who defined it as “the symptoms you experience from a change in time zone, with a disconnect between your normal 24-hour circadian rhythm and the new time zone at your destination.”

Gentry also said that ideally you should give yourself about a day per hour of the new time zone. For me, he recommended spending five days in Oahu before venturing to Korea. (The number was kismet, as it coincided with what was already on the books for my food-focused stopover.) He explained, “This gives you adequate time to adjust to the new time zone in Hawai'i. Then, it's easier to adjust when you get to Korea because you've already partially acclimated to the time difference.”

A meal on Hawaiian Airlines

Courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines

Even before I touched down at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, I got a taste of Hawaiian culture thanks to my first class seat with Hawaiian Airlines. Though there are obvious perks, including a genuinely cheerful staff and complimentary Mai Tais in all cabins, sitting up front let me indulge in island-inspired meals — imagine a hearty mushroom gravy-smothered meatloaf with a fluffy chocolate haupia crunch cake for dessert — by the airline’s executive chefs Wade Ueoka and Michelle Karr-Ueoka of of Honolulu’s MW Restaurant. “We want to showcase Hawai'i and how we grew up eating different flavor combinations on one plate,” said Karr-Ueoka. “Everything is also comfort-driven to make you feel happy while flying.” 

On land, I sank my teeth into more unforgettable meals. Turtle Bay Resort’s Paniolo Lūʻau Dinner was equal parts educational and belly-busting with tales of Hawaiian cowboy culture, hula lessons, and a bountiful spread of slow-roasted Kalua pork, smoky brisket, and crisp salads sourced from the resort’s 468-acre Kuilima Farm. Another highlight? An elegant four-course dinner — including a whimsical spin on Hainanese chicken featuring fork-tender poached chicken from Ludovico Farms — by chef Jonathan Mizukami at The Kahala Hotel & Resort’s Hoku.

To this day, I reminisce about MW Restaurant, where Ueoka and Karr-Ueoka showcased their talent this time around on the ground with silky-sweet butterfish accompanied by kimchi potato salad and positively pretty desserts like the signature MW Candy Bar layered with a peanut butter crunch, Hawaiian sea salt macadamia nut caramel, and Valrhona chocolate ganache. 

Though my Hawaii stopover was undoubtedly delicious and soul-soothing — really, how many destinations are more lush, colorful, and paradisiacal — the best part was arriving in Seoul and waking up next morning refreshed and as you’d guess, hungry for more. 

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