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Ask T+L: Melanin, Airport Lines, BVI Inns, Tibet Tour

April 2007

I’ve read a lot about taking melatonin to help stave off jet lag. Does it work?
—Aaron Greenberg, Queens, N.Y.

Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain that regulates your internal clock. There are varying opinions about the effectiveness of supplements, but Dr. Helen J. Burgess, of the Biological Rhythms Research Laboratory in Chicago, suggests 0.5 milligrams five hours before going to bed for a few days before flying east. When traveling west, she recommends it right after you wake up. Dr. Abinash Virk, of the Travel and Tropical Medicine Clinic at the Mayo Clinic, says to skip the supplements, sleep some on the plane, then maximize sunlight exposure once you arrive (naturally adjusting your body’s melatonin levels). Dr. Virk also suggests taking a short-acting sleeping pill at night for the first few days of your trip.

We’re traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Can you recommend a small, stylish inn? —Robbie Thompson, Salem, Oreg.

A seasoned innkeeper from Maine runs the tiny five-suite Villa Greenleaf (Christiansted; 888/282-1001; www.villagreenleaf.com; doubles from $325), which overlooks the main harbors of St. Croix. Each room is designed differently; some have dark mahogany furnishings. The owner will pick you up at the airport and have a rental car waiting, to give you quick access to the island’s beaches, diving, and golf. On St. Thomas, the Mafolie Hotel (7091 Estate Mafolie, St. Thomas; 800/225-7035; www.mafolie.com; doubles from $119) has dramatic views of the neighboring islands from its terraced restaurant, pool, and most of the 22 newly renovated rooms.

Any tips for avoiding lines at the airport? —Pam Whiteley, San Francisco, Calif.

Wait times at airports are affected by a number of variables: inclement weather, passenger preparation, and the number of flights scheduled during a particular time of day. As a rule, smaller airports have shorter lines. According to Ann Davis, spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration, peak travel times are roughly between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.; if your schedule is flexible, try to book flights for off-peak hours. The TSA Web site has a useful function (waittime.tsa.dhs.gov) that helps you estimate how long you’ll spend at security checkpoints at every U.S. airport. However, the estimates are based on averaged historical data and won’t reflect the situation on any particular day.

I’ve always wanted to go to Tibet. Which tour operators offer the best itineraries? —Deborah Phelan, St. Louis, Mo.

Kathmandu and Pokhara-based Wayfarers Himalaya Adventures (977-1/426-6010; www.wayfarers.com.np; tours from $378 per person, double, not including airfare) has a five-day expedition that focuses on sites in and around Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, home to the 15th-century Gelgpa monasteries. The company also leads an eight- day trip that includes an overland tour of the Himalayan plateau. Geographic Expeditions (800/777-8183; www.geoex.com; tours from $2,050) runs several tours in the region, including the 18-day Inner Tibet trip, which takes visitors from the ancient ruins of the Samye Monastery, in Tsedang, to a religious pilgrims’ festival in either Gyantse, Ganden, or Shoton. Keep in mind that to enter Tibet, you’ll need both a Chinese tourist visa and a travel permit, the latter available only to tour groups (all visitors to Tibet must be accompanied by a tour operator or guide). Go to the U.S. State Department’s Web site (www.travel.state.gov) for more information.

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