The Incidental Tourist

Ways to make that flight a little more tolerable

On an unrelated forum I’m a member of, someone posted a question about how to make that long intercontinental flight more tolerable. He had a couple good ideas to start, but here are my suggestions for making that flight better.

  1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.  Airlines typically provide complimentary tea, coffee and soda and water in-flight.  Don’t be afraid to take advantage of this and don’t be afraid of asking for more.  Better yet, buy a bottle or two of water in the terminal, or bring along an empty bottle (Security in pretty much all airports will refuse to allow you through with a full water bottle).  I try to carry at least 1L of water with me and I usually drink that plus what I get from the flight crew, especially in a long flight.  It works wonders for dry sinuses, sore throats, hunger and even just the general dull feeling you get from long flights.
  2. Snacks.  Lets face it, airline food generally sucks, unless you’re flying a European or Asian carrier as they tend to have far better snacks and in-flight meals.  I like to carry trail mix, possibly some candy and granola bars.  Depending on when my flight is, I’ll also pick up something tasty in the airport to eat after we’ve taken off.  There’s just something good about fresh sushi at 30,000 feet, or a nice, hot cheesesteak while everyone else is eating a bag of pretzels.
  3. Medicate.  Well, I don’t condone drug use, per se, but I’ve found that Ambien works wonders on long flights.  I usually don’t take any on flights less than 8 hours.  On those, I prefer to just push through and stay up until “bedtime” in the local timezone of my destination.  I’ve found that that helps me acclimate to the new timezone faster.  But on those long flights (especially to Asia), I take an Ambien as we’re getting ready to take off, and by the time they’ve done the first beverage service, I’m usually off to sleepy land.  I still only sleep a few hours, even on 16 hour flights, but the drugs do help get some good, deep sleep.
  4. Stretch.  Get up, walk, stretch, bend.  Walk the cabin every hour or so, unless you’re sleeping.  It makes a world of difference in how you feel both during and after the flight.  If you do a good bit of moving around, by the time you land you’ll feel a lot better than if you had just sat there for XX hours.  This is also a good idea for your health, as sitting in those seats for extended periods can lead to blood clots which can move to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism, which is a VERY serious problem.
  5. Don’t over-eat.  It’s tempting to get a sugary soda every beverage service, eat every snack and wolf down the in-flight meal, if offered.  But pace yourself and don’t eat everything just because it’s there.  The meals are not the healthiest things out there, and that’s a lot of starch, calories, carbs and sugars that you’re consuming that are just sitting there in your gullet while you while away your time.
  6. Watch movies, read a book, get work done.  Whatever you do, the trip goes faster if you have something to do.  I tend to drag along a netbook and watch movies, as well as my nook to read a collection of books in between naps.  Sometimes I feel motivated to work, so I’ll work on some coding projects or paperwork offline during the flight.  Either way, having some sort of project or activity makes a huge difference in how well you feel mentally after a long flight.
  7. Get the aisle seat.  Unless your fortunate to work for a company that has no issue paying for you to have a business or first class seat on international flights, get the aisle seat.  The middle row is a horrible place to sit and the outboard seats are ok, but if you need to get up, you’ll be stumbling over your seat mate, or bothering him/her to move so you can get out.  Coupled with the suggestion to walk around, stretch and bend, getting that aisle seat makes it a LOT easier.
  8. Dress for comfort.  Sure, if you’re on an express or regional to that business meeting up north, you’re probably going to want to travel in your suit or business casual.  But if you’re going to be spending up to 48 hours in airports and on aircraft, who really cares what you look like in transit?  Wear things that are baggy and comfortable.  Slip-on shoes, good, soft socks.  I wear a nice pair of linen pants with a drawstring waist that are perfect for travel AND casual exploring once I reach my destination.  Time was, travel was a special event and people dressed to impress.  But you are going to be just as gamey after a 16 hour flight in loose, comfy clothes as you will be in that suit and tie.  May as well not stink up your suit.
  9. Get your seats as close as you can to the front.  If you have a tight connection, the faster you can get off the plane, the better.  So an aisle seat as close to the front as you can get is going to work wonders when it can sometimes take up to 20 minutes to get off the plane.
  10. Finally, buy a GOOD set of noise cancelling headphones.  I personally use and recommend the Bose QC-15 over-the-ear set.  I tried about 5 different Active Noise Reduction headsets before I finally broke down and bought my Bose set.  The difference is worlds apart.  Dollar for dollar, I don’t thing I’ve bought ANYTHING travel related that is as satisfying as my QC-15 headset.

So that is just a list of a few suggestions, things I’ve learned over the last few years of travel for work and fun.  I started off a nervous novice, flying to a foreign country (Belgium) for the first time, but I’m quite adaptable and it only took me one or two flights to really pick up the tricks.  As I’ve flown more and more, I have refined those tricks and picked up new ones and these days, I’m as comfortable in a plane as I am anywhere else (except maybe on the back of my motorcycle, a different story).

What suggestions do you have to make that trip better?

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