7 Air Travel Tips for the Infrequent Flyer
I was in my fifties when I decided to take a belated gap year – why should school leavers and university graduates have all the fun? So I gave up my job and sold my house, then spent the next six months travelling around the world, visiting friends who had only been a name on an email and doing some of the things I had promised myself I would do 'one day' – all accompanied by a small toy penguin called Scott.
Why choose air at all?
When planning my trip, one decision I made was to travel by air as little as possible. I wanted to see the countries I was visiting, and you don't get to see much from 30,000ft even if you are lucky enough to be allocated a window seat. So I tried wherever possible to limit flights to the occasions when I was crossing oceans and use public transport - trains, coaches, buses – and on one occasion a mule - for travel over land.
Airports can be pretty bland and featureless places, though a few stand out in my memories for various reasons. One was landing at Bandaranaike International Airport in Sri Lanka and seeing the female airport staff looking very elegant walking round in their uniform saris. On the other end of the scale, on a stop at Stockholm's Arlanda Airport, I was amused to see airline pilots, who a few minutes earlier would have been piloting one of the most advanced forms of transport known to man, propelling themselves along the long corridors of the terminal on push-scooters! But my prize for world's best airport would have to go to Amsterdam's Schiphol, where waiting passengers can visit a free museum, a library, a meditation centre or have a foot massage.
My top tips for flying
I realise some people are nervous about flying, and regard it as an ordeal. If you are one of these, or you are taking your first flight, tell the cabin crew when you get on. They will be sympathetic and do their best to reassure you and keep an eye on you.
Over the years I have developed my own system for coping with long-haul flights, so here are some of my tips:-
- Firstly, I try to regard the journey as part of the adventure, not just something to be endured. I make sure I have some personal entertainment, such as my own reading or listening material handy – audiobooks are particularly good if the cabin lights have been doused but you are still wide awake, as you can enjoy your book without disturbing your neighbours.
- I find it helps to keep my body clock as close as I can to its normal rhythm, then sort out the jet lag once I've arrived at my destination. Airlines seem obsessed with feeding their passengers, regardless of what time it is. I'm quite happy to eat airline meals during what feels like 'my' daytime, but I've been on flights that have taken off at 10pm or later and, once we were airborne, the cabin crew came around to offer us a meal, though by this time my stomach had long closed for business. I also don’t want to be woken at what feels like 4am to be offered breakfast. Instead I keep some food handy so I can snack if my stomach is telling me it's time to eat; I find things like cheese biscuits are good for this. You do need to think about what you take on board - some countries might not want you arriving with food such as meat or fruit.
- You aren't allowed to take water through the security checks, but there's no rule to say you can't take an empty bottle. Once through security you can probably find a water fountain in the departure lounge to fill it up. If not, hang onto your bottle and, once on the plane, when the staff come around with the drinks trolley ask them to fill it for you. This is much easier to keep with you than a cup of water that you then have to leave on your tray table/the floor and risk spilling. If you drink it all during the flight then go to the galley area and ask for a refill. Keeping hydrated will also help combat jet lag.
- Your bottle of water will have another use. On a long haul flight when the air on the plane is being shared by several hundred people, it is easy to pick up airborne infections – colds/sore throats etc; not something you want on your holiday! These germs get past your body's normal defences because the air in the cabin is very dry and this dehydrates the tissues in your nose/throat that are your body's first line of defence. So I always keep a face-flannel in my carry-on bag, then moisten it from my water bottle and place it just under my chin so I am breathing in damp air. If I go to sleep I put it over my face (where it helps to block out the light as well).
- As well as my flannel, I carry my toothbrush and a tiny tube of toothpaste (a large one might cause problems at security). Then the first thing I do at the end of the flight is head for the airport washroom and have a thorough wash; I never feel I can get properly clean in the cramped facilities on the plane.
- If air travel makes you feel nauseous then make sure you have your travel medication handy and take it before you board the plane so it has time to start working. I find travel wrist bands (available at most pharmacists) a great help, as you can keep them in your hand luggage and slip them on if the journey starts to get rough.
- My last tip is to always carry a spare set of underwear and T-shirt in your carry-on luggage. That way, if your suitcase doesn't make it to the same destination (and, yes, I have had that happen), at least you have a change of clothes for the first day. If, after that, your luggage still has not turned up, you can go and buy some replacements.
So have fun and enjoy your flight!
Pen Turner spent the first fifty years of her life living in London, where she had pursued careers as varied as a librarian and a remedial massage therapist, until she made the decision to walk away from her old life, travel around the world and achieve some of the things on her ‘wish list’. Now happily settled in Shropshire, she gives talks to try and persuade other people that they should go out and fulfill their own dreams too. Anyone interested in learning more about her adventures can check out her 'Travels with a penguin' books available from Amazon.
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