Monday, August 25, 2014

Surviving super long-haul

This post is part of the 100 Days Project
Day 44
One of the ways I enjoy engaging with the world most is through travel.  I've been reading a few kind of lame travel-related blogs recently, simply because they tickle my brain with memories of times well-spent and the hope of more to come.  I'm sadly fascinated by advice on how to travel light as baggage complexity and weight is a real make or break in terms of travel enjoyment, but I also like lists.  Lists of what to pack, lists of where to go and what to do, lists of attractions to visit etc etc. So here, for the reading enjoyment of I'm-not-sure who, is my set of tips on surviving the long-haul from New Zealand to Europe, which is about as far as it's possible to travel before you start inadvertently coming back the other way.
1) Choose an airline with individual inflight entertainment available. This is the one thing I ask of my airline.  It's usually universally available on super-long-haul but double-check if you're going ultra-cheap.
2) Wear comfortable clothing which won't lose its shape after 36 hours of sitting and will allow for layering so you can adjust to different temperatures.  I once wore a viscose maxidress which was comfortable enough but had a giant ass-bulge in it by the time I reached my destination.  Not the best look when you're meeting people for the first time.  Cotton underwear, a non-underwire bra, properly fitting stretch jeans with at least a mid-rise, a t-shirt and a cardigan are my usual go-tos.
3) Wear a large rectangle scarf - it's great for extra warmth, you can cover your face with it if the lights are on and it's just a bit nicer than the usual blankets on offer.
4) Wear shoes you can walk comfortably in and also easily put on and take off, and which will allow for your feet to swell.  I like moccasins or boat shoes - they have more substance than ballet flats but aren't as sweaty as sneakers (see comments on sweating below) and don't require socks.  During both 12 hour flights you'll maybe want to put your feet up on an adjacent seat if there's room to do this, but you're not going to want to go into the toilet without shoes on, especially after the 6th hour when every man in the adjacent seats will have dripped just a little wee onto the floor.  You'll also have to slip the shoes off during multiple security clearances.  Bear in mind that while in transit  you'll have to walk for miles inside those giant Asian or American airports so in addition the shoes have to be somewhat supportive and non-blister inducing.  Road test before you go! 
5) When packing, take careful consideration of what you'll want with you during the flight and make sure this is in an easy to grab place.  Once on board put it all into one of those fold-away shopping bags, throw it under the seat in front and stow the rest of your luggage above you, out of the way.  My list of essentials includes: noise-cancelling headphones, inflatable neck pillow, iPad with e-books, my passport and a pen for filling in arrival cards, lip-balm, hand-cream, sleeping mask, lozengers, BLIS travel guard, 1Above flight drink, homeopathic anti-jetlag pills, herbal sleeping tablets,  BB cream, folding toothbrush and mini toothpaste, floss, travel kleenex, small bottle of perfume, travel sewing kit and hand-wipes.  It sounds like a lot but apart from the passport, electronics, neck pillow and 1Above it all fits into a sandwich-sized ziploc bag.
Why is all this essential?  It's personal of course but BLIS travel guard is effective for preventing colds and flu from other passengers (I also take probiotics during the trip).  Jetlag is something I certainly notice, so I take both 1Above and homeopathic remedies - they don't really work but the physical effect is much better than if I don't take them.  The toothbrush/paste, perfume, BB cream, floss and wipes are there for getting a bit refreshed before exiting the plane, the sewing kit is in case of button-loss or tears, and the lip-balm and handcream prevent my hands and lips from chapping which they would otherwise do in the very dry air-conditioning and with frequent hand-wishing (see below).  The lozengers aren't too essential unless I have a cold.  There's nothing worse than listening to someone cough on a plane.  I also list noise-cancelling headphones as essential if you can get them, because they really save your ears from the volume that would otherwise be required to hear movies above the sound of the plane.
6) Stay hydrated by asking the flight attendant to fill a 1 litre bottle during the first drinks service and drinking up during the flight.  This will help you to wee often - which gets you up and moving, and helps prevent blood-clots and sore muscles from sitting too long.
7) Pack as lightly as possible and make sure you keep it as modular as possible.  The more bags and crap you have to remember the worse off you'll be, especially in transit where you may have to collect your checked bag between flights and re-check it, while also juggling your laptop bag and personal item.  If you have trouble with packing lightly make sure your checked bag has wheels so it doesn't break you in half.  And make sure everything you're carrying has a specific place in your bags - when jetlagged and under-slept, it's surprisingly easy to leave small items - like passports or phones - behind.
8) Check nothing you can't manage without.  When flying super-long haul you're likely to be away for at least a few weeks so you'll probably have to check at least one bag, but be strategic. Recently a friend flew to her destination wedding and her baggage was lost for the duration of the trip.  No wedding dress.  No make-up.  Complete disaster.  I have a personal rule never to check electronics, so I have a moderate-sized laptop bag into which I can pack my DSLR, my laptop, my iPad and all my chargers.  I can then take an additional personal item with all of the essentials previously listed plus some other stop-gaps.
9) Carry a clean pair of underwear or two and a clean t-shirt.  While wandering those enormous equatorial airports it will be warm.  You will sweat.  If you're traveling to or from winter you may be over-dressed.  And you will have been wearing the clothing you're in for 16-24 hours.  There's nothing as grotty as sitting in a wet t-shirt and sweaty undies as you wait for your second 12-hour flight to take off, so save yourself the agony.  You can also make things just a tiny bit nicer in that transit time by showering right before you leave the house for the airport, so you're generally as fresh as possible.  Handwipes and kleenex (mentioned above) allow for a bit of a field-shower in the transit toilets if you feel the need.
10) Try to sleep according to the timezone you're going to.  This is advice I can never take as I find it almost impossible to sleep cramped in long-haul seats, especially with the temptation of free movies right in front of me, so I just do my best.  The 12- hour long-haul legs you'll be flying start and end with a meal service and have a 8-hour period of lights-out in the middle, regardless of the timezones involved.  If you can't sleep in accordance with your new timezone, just try and get any sleep.  Any shut-eye is better than none when you arrive dazed in transit and need to figure out how to get through security and to your next boarding gate which is likely to be more than a kilometre away.  Some sleep is also important when you arrive at your final destination feeling like a*s and having to navigate an unfamiliar city to get to your accommodation.
11) Go light on the alcohol and coffee.  It's going to keep you awake and unless you're flying Air New Zealand the wine will be vinegar anyway.
12) Before you touch down for transit, brush your teeth and wash your face to get alert, fill in your arrival card and put it with your passport ready for passport control, then set your watch and/or phone to local time.  You don't want to miss your next boarding call in your under-slept, jetlagged state.
13) When you arrive in transit, locate your bag if necessary, clear passport control and security, re-check your bag if required and then locate your gate.  Once that's all done you can relax with your iPad, hit duty-free (although I usually window shop only to avoid purchasing anything too big to fit in my personal item) or get food.
14) If you're transiting through Hong Kong I recommend Pizza Express.  Bottomless iced tea and decent free wifi.  Just keep an eye on your flight time and make sure you know how long it will take to get to your gate.
15) Before you arrive at your final destination sort your paperwork, re-set your watch, wash your face and brush your teeth, apply perfume or deodorant, maybe change your underwear again and start thinking about what you're going to need to do as soon as you clear customs and immigration.  I find focusing on what's coming up is a good way to feel clearer and sharper through the inevitable fug of jetlag and fatigue.  It can be a good idea to pre-buy a SIM before you leave New Zealand so that you can start using your phone to navigate public transport like the London Underground as soon as you arrive, without worrying about super-high data charges.
16) On arrival, get onto the new timezone as soon as possible.  This means regardless of the sleep you've had en route, stay up till dark if you arrive during the day, or get up at a normal local time in the morning, even if you've hardly slept.  Make sure you walk around outside in the daylight as soon as you can.  You will feel worst during NZST 4am-5am, whenever that is at your new destination, so if you need to and you can, just take a nap.  For the first day you're going to be pretty useless and that's all part of the fun.
That's it.  Sixteen tips for surviving super-long haul.  I'll be referring back to it on my next trip.

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