On my recent trip from Cape Town to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I spent some time pondering how much of my life I’ve spend travelling. I estimate that I’ve flown in between 100 and 150 airplanes. I’ve done numerous road trips (though not nearly enough!). I’ve been around.
Not only does this much travelling allow you to explore the world and expand your mind (perhaps I’ll do a post about the values of travel some other time…), it also makes you a pro at some very specific things. I thought I’d share some of my rules and rituals of flying.
1. Always pack extra underwear. No matter what. As I always say, you’ll hate yourself more for not having it when you need it than having it when you don’t need it.
2. Bring your own headphones. Airplane headphones suuuuck. And they usually charge you money for them. Not okay.
3. Check in ahead of time, and pick your perfect seat. I always go for the back 10% of the plane, and always a window seat. I don’t need to get up very often when flying, and I find the aisle seat extremely uncomfortable. And nobody likes the middle seat. NOBODY. Also, if you’re doing more than one flight, alternate which side of the plane you’ll sit on. It makes it slightly more interesting, and switching which side you’re leaning on will probably save you some pain.
4. Use the bathroom after drinks, but before the meal. Now, this may seem like a tiny window of opportunity. And it is. But that’s why it’s perfect! Everyone goes to the bathroom about 10 minutes after the meal has been cleared, so you can expect massive lines then. Not fun. Going just after the drink carts have passed through, you have about 7 minutes of space where no one’s standing – the aisles are clear, the toilets are available, and it’s great. Obviously, go in the airport beforehand as well. It’s all about the staggering.
5. Stay hydrated. I usually drink one non-water beverage per flight, and then load up on the water bottles. When I say hydration, I`m also referring to hands and lips. Airplanes will shrivel you up like a raisin if you`re not careful.
7. Eat everything you’re given. Dude, you already paid for it. Do it. Stuff the rest in your pockets if you’re not going to finish your crackers or your chocolate. Which actually just reminded me that I have a candy from my last flight still in my bag somewhere. Sweet.
8. Have (decaf) coffee in the airport. This is before your flight, or if you have less than a two-hour layover somewhere. In South Africa I always go to the Mugg & Bean. In Canada it’s Tim Horton’s, or maybe Starbucks, depending on how sophisticated I feel. (And by sophisticated I mean not cheap). But caffeine de-hydrates you and makes you have to pee more frequently, so usually avoiding the caffeine is better. Plus you may want to sleep on the plane, and caffeine tends to hinder that.
9. Never carry anything in your pockets. Specifically before you’ve gone through security. NEVER. DON’T DO IT. Save yourself and the people behind you in line lots of grief, and go pocket-free.
10. Do the Sudoku. Hey, those first 20 minutes of sitting in the plane are boring. You’re not allowed to use your tray table, you can’t watch the TV, you don’t want to get bored of the book you brought or any other source of amusement before you’re even in the air. So do the crossword puzzle or the sudoku in the in-flight magazine while you wait.
11. Take off your shoes. I always take off my shoes whenever I get anywhere, but I would highly recommend this on airplanes. Do it right away, before your feet stink or the person next to you has a chance to notice. And, bring an extra pair of socks on the plane. Preferably warm and loose socks, so they don’t cut off circulation but keep your feet nice and toasty.
12. Following on the previous point, dress in layers. But not with jackets or button-up shirts, because they may hold you up at security. Do the T-shirt + sweater + hoodie combo, or something to that effect.
13. Dress comfortably. Seriously. Don’t let those silly women in heels judge you. They’re silly. Who are they trying to impress, really? But don’t dress so comfortably that you feel like you’re wearing a tent all day. Dress like you would to go for a walk, or to hang out with kids for the day.
14. Give yourself extra time to do everything. Somehow, I always move more slowly when I’m travelling. I give myself lots of time to forget things and then remember them, to do all the little tasks involved in flying, and to navigate through airports with my large amounts of stuff.
I’ve done most of this travelling on my own, so maybe my techniques will change if I have to do it with other people. Or maybe I’ll just get more and more obsessed with the details as I get older and slowly become George Clooney in Up in the Air. Who knows.