By Laura Ann Klein
When you’re not flying first class on a long-haul flight, the number one rule is: Don’t drink the free inflight alcohol. Many carriers offer this to their transatlantic customers and while it seems extremely generous, it’s also a slippery slope towards a crappy end to a long flight. It’s so tempting to have a couple of drinks, maybe a celebratory glass of champagne as you set out on a big trip you’ve been dreaming about taking. But that relaxing effect is also a dehydrating effect and I can’t think of anything worse than waking up somewhere over Greenland with the first tinges of a hangover.
Do drink water frequently while in flight. Yes, it’s a pain to drink all that water, especially if you’re sitting second or third seat, or it’s bumpy and you can’t get up to visit the ‘loo. But the water will help keep you hydrated and comfortable. If you do sleep, when you awaken, the first thing you should do is drink at least 8 ounces of water to catch up. The attendants on Asiana wake up passengers (at least on our flights they did) and make them drink water. The attendants on Lufthansa and US Air don’t disturb sleeping passengers but when they notice someone stirring, they swoop in with a cup and a big bottle of water. We also buy a bottle of water on the other side of security for any trip we’re taking. Having my own reminds me to drink because I’m not very good at taking my own advice.
Get up and move your arms, legs, shoulders and neck. I don’t care if you’re in the middle seat or the middle of the middle aisle on a 747: disturb your seatmates to get up and stretch your feet, legs, back, arms, and neck. Your blood vessels will be happy, your muscles will sigh with relief, and your spine will say thanks. When I’m not traveling I’m a nurse and I could go into the mechanisms of why blood clots develop in the extremities as a result of remaining seated or lying down for long periods of time. But trust me, it’s a real danger and as we age, we are predisposed to blood clots. Sitting folded up in 46b just amps up that risk. Sleeping in a convertible bed in aisle 3 for nine hours without moving can also add to your risk. Karen, my partner, does yoga stretches in the aisle, nothing fancy just light stretching. I walk the length of both aisles in the vast coach section at least once. It clears my head and helps my blood circulate. Talk to your care provider to see if they recommend wearing compression stockings while you travel. It’s just a good idea to see your care provider before you embark on a long trip to distant lands.
Do what you can to sleep at least half the flight. Preferably at the times you would normally sleep without trying to do the fancy math and figuring out what time it is at your destination. For instance, we left Denver at 1730 and I stayed awake until around 2100 when I tucked myself in and managed to sleep most of the flight. Trust me, I was amazed I slept over four hours in a tiny chair. But I had a little secret weapon my partner discovered: “No Jet Lag”. I had seen advertisements and read stories of people using homeopathic supplements to help. I was a little skeptical but I was willing to give it a go. I’m so happy I did, too. It was amazing how well these tiny pills worked and I was able to sleep for a few hours on all four of our long flights. I was tired when we finally arrived in New Delhi and then back home in Denver but I didn’t have that indescribable stupid feeling that makes me want to curl up on the floor of baggage claim or just die somewhere near gate 51. Many people take sleeping pills like Lunesta and Ambien but I don’t tolerate them very well. I tried Ambien the first time I made a long haul and can’t remember anything about the Frankfurt airport or how exactly I boarded my flight to Italy. I was such a mess when I met up with the rest of my family in Rome; my father thought I was drunk.
We also have a small arsenal of tools in our hand luggage that makes us more comfortable:
Neck pillow—Karen uses one, I don’t but I’m going to start. I think they are cumbersome to travel with but given how my neck feels a week after our last long haul, I’m going find something I can use as a pillow.
Eye shield—After years of night shift work I can sleep with lights fully on or sun beaming at my face. Karen can’t and the eye shield is her favorite accessory.
Earplugs or ear buds—the plugs cancel the noise and the ear buds connected to an iPod help distract from the noise. I have a white noise app and a relaxation app I use in conjunction with a specific play list I made just for travel and sleep. Other people swear by noise canceling headphones but again, I’m a pretty good sleeper and can tune out just about everything.
Something to do—you can’t count on the movie or television working so it’s helpful to have a book, tablet, reader, or just something to occupy your mind. I rely on my Kindle and iPhone to keep me entertained with books, music, or pod casts. Karen likes to play word games and solitaire on her reader in addition to her vast library of books.
Snacks—The key is being mindful of the salt in your snacks. We have started carrying raw unsalted almonds, cheddar cheese sticks, snack/energy bars, and red licorice sticks. (The licorice is just for fun) Our snacks are also part of our survival kit.
Toothbrush and toothpaste--(Asiana provides these on their long flights, and I felt like a princess because I managed to pack mine in the checked luggage and didn’t have to forego freshening my mouth.
Washcloth, soap, and deodorant—I use these for a quick sponge bath at the end of the flight to help me feel a little refreshed. I also usually do a quick powder, cheeks and mascara reapplication. The washcloths I pack are my oldest and ready for retirement so I just throw them away. Yes, I’m that woman in the bathroom. Trust me, it takes me five minutes to do all this so you won’t be terribly inconvenienced. Washcloths are small, easy to roll and squish in nooks and crannies of your handbag or carry-on.
A change of clothing—I’m never without a change of clothing in my carry-on. It’s insurance I have fresh clothing if I’m separated from my checked bag and changing clothes before the final leg makes me feel a little less raggedy once we are at our destination. I must confess, the first time I wear my extra clothing and my checked luggage doesn’t meet me, I’m going to be butt hurt I ‘ve “used” my carry-on outfit and will need to immediately head to the nearest Fabindia , shopping mall, or bazaar. At least, that will be my excuse. As if I need one for shopping.
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