I will soon need to travel from Australia to both the west coast of the US (SFO) and the east coast (NYC). I expect to spend around a week in both and have the freedom to choose the order and routing of my flights, within budgetary constraints.

In terms of minimizing jetlag and general travel unpleasantness, should I fly first to NYC and then to SFO, or the other way around?

I can see two schools of thought here: "get it over with" by flying the marathon to NYC and starting with maximum jetlag (14 hours), or "smooth out the pain" by acclimatizing in SFO for a week before moving on, but paying the price on the way back. Some points to consider:

  • There are no direct flights from Australia to NYC, I will need to connect somewhere on the west coast (SFO/LAX, maybe IAH/DFW/YVR/HNL) and go through US immigration while I'm at it.
  • Flights from Australia to the US typically depart in the morning Australian time and land early the next morning US time.
  • Flights from the US to Australia all depart late at night US time, arriving in Australia in the morning.
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    My opinion, first week on west coast.
    – Willeke
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 8:48
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    Another alternative is to "pay the price" before you leave (as well as on return), and adjust your waking/sleeping schedule during the preceding week. But if there are no direct flights to NYC anyway, you could revise your schedule to having two half-weeks on the west coast. Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 10:37
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    Considering that switching between any AU time zone and any US zone and back is about equally annoying, I'd base the choice on the activities that interest you more in the U.S.: If NYC night life sounds more appealing, then come to NY while on SF time, sleep late, enjoy brunch, and hang out till East Coast dawn. Conversely, if you'd rather see some redwood forests or marine mammals at dawn, than the Times Square after midnight, then come to SF while on NY time, eat a Macdonalds breakfast, because nothing else's open early :), and go to sleep at sunset. Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 14:25
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    McDonalds!!?? @Dimitri How dare you disparage San Francisco dining like that! I assure you, San Francisco is a perfectly sophisticated town, and Does In Fact have a 24 hour Denny's :) seriously, Orphan Andy's 17th at Castro. I would have said Bagdad Cafe, but unfortunately they closed in the 00's due to a Coalition airstrike :) Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 23:31
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    @Dimitri Weirdly, for such a foodie city, there's no Waffle House. Commented Jul 1, 2023 at 0:41

2 Answers 2


That depends a bit on what flights are available at your specific dates and budget and what you personal pain points are.

A few things to consider.

  1. In my experience the best way to deal with jetlag is to immediately hard-switch to the new time zone. Don't take naps during the day, don't go to bed early, don't think about "what's the time in the other place".
  2. With respect to 1): early evening, late afternoon arrivals are the best for long hauls. Go to the hotel, take a shower, have a light dinner and a quick walkaround, collapse into bed around 10pm.
  3. Early morning arrivals are the worst: you are typically sleep deprived but still have a full day to go and often can't check into the hotel yet. A day hotel can help with that. Super late arrivals (past midnight) can also be difficult but depends a bit on what happens the next day.
  4. Early morning departures are also not great if you have to get up at 3am in the morning.
  5. Connecting flights vs. non-stop has pros and cons. Some people prefer breaking it up, other like to get it over with in one go and/or maximize the length of the longest leg. Connecting flights also tend to be cheaper (because of illogical airline pricing).
  6. Personally I find going west easier than going east. I've done east<->west coast a lot and hardly notice going west. Coming back east is more difficult especially if you taking a red eye.
  7. Stating the obvious: flying in business makes a huge difference here (both in experience and in price).

So in summary, I personally find that optimizing arrival and departure times can really help here. I found going to China (12 hour time difference) with "good" times is easier for me than the stupid red eye to Europe, despite being only 6 hours time difference.

  • Regarding (1) I set my watch to the destination time just before boarding. Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 12:23
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    I carry a pocket travel alarm clock too, @WeatherVane! Though, TBH, I usually refer to it as my cell phone... :D
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 17:02
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    What is a "red eye" in this context?
    – jkej
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 17:31
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    @jkej: very early flights. From the way your eyes look and feel after you had to get up at 3am to catch the 6:30am flight. Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 17:46
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    @jkej: A flight that flies overnight and arrives the next morning. A common option for flights from the west coast to the east coast of the North America, given the distance and the time difference. Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 17:49

Hilmar basically has it, but let me just add this…

Definitely agree on West is much easier than East.
I spent a decade travelling from the UK to Japan, sometimes for as much as 6 weeks at a time. It was a 24h journey, starting about 5am, arriving around 4pm [local times]; meaning I had to try stay awake another 6 hours or so before first groundside sleep.
Because of flight schedules for all the others I would be meeting, they would always arrive late so I had to entertain myself for that first evening, or try my best. I never made it past 10pm.

I tested many variants on this over the years, the 'staying awake first day' is definitely the best approach.

The rest comes later.

In the first few days you get better at staying up 'late' but at the same time you start to wake early. This lasts about a week…
Then they eventually overlap.
You can't get to sleep at night & can't wake up in the morning. You're tired all day & awake all night. It takes about another week to get over this. Then you're fine.

Coming home - back West. No problem at all.

Conversely, I did several equivalent trips the opposite way, London to LA. Not an issue at all. I paid when I came back home.
I also had a decade to compare notes with my colleagues. Going to Japan, the Europeans all had this issue. The Americans all suffered after they got home.

I would therefore recommend, as you're going to suffer this whatever you do, that you take your punishment early & visit New York before San Fransisco. If you suffer a bit in New York, you'll gain at least a little back in San Fransisco.*

Notes: when you're on a marathon journey, time stops… or lasts forever [one or the other, or they're both the same. It becomes hard to tell.] Your internal clock seems to ignore any sleep you got on the plane, once you arrive.
You will never feel 'normal' on your first day there & will suffer this 'revolving clock' as your going to bed & waking up times cycle past each other.

In summary -
East is hard, West is easy.

*There's another potential factor in this, which I've never had to contend with myself, having never done both cities in one jaunt. In Summer, NY will probably not get dark until 9 or 10 at night. SF will be dark by maybe 7 or 8. This is going to affect your perception. The further South you go in the Northern hemisphere, the closer to perpetual 12 hours daylight you get. For someone like me, used to Northern climes, this makes it feel like the sun just fell over the horizon like a dunked basketball, even in the middle of Summer.

  • If the time difference is 12 hours (as is the case for Sydney<->LA), it's technically both East and West at the same time :-)
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 19:13
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    @JonathanReez-onstrike: ??? SYD to LA is just 7 hours (- 1 day). East coast to China is 12 hours.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 19:19
  • I have discussed the east or west is easiest before and it does depend on the person and on what you expect. It is not a given.
    – Willeke
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 19:56

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