My 15 tips for successful and pleasant transcontinental travel
I recently completed 4 wonderful months of travel in Mexico and South America — collectively known as LATAM (Latin America). In Chile, I witnessed the majestic mountains and frigid temperatures of Patagonia. A 2-day trek along the Inca Trail in Cusco, Peru, culminated in breathtaking views of Machu Picchu. Not to be outdone, Piedra del Penol in Guatape, Colombia, made climbing more than 700 stairs one of the most athletic and rewarding experiences of my trip thus far. If that wasn’t enough, viewing the Pyramids of Teotihuacan, Mexico, from the front-row seat of a hot air balloon was the ultimate icing on the cake! But like all good things, my time in LATAM quickly came to an end. The next four months would be spent on an entirely new continent: ASIA!
My desire to visit Asia began over a decade ago after reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. And now, that time had come. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about my impending 30 plus hours of transcontinental travel. Would I be able to sleep on the plane? Would the seats prove excruciatingly uncomfortable? Should I be concerned about developing blood clots? More than anything, would I grow increasingly unpleasant and cranky with each additional hour of confinement to an aircraft?
I poured over internet articles providing tips for enduring long flights. I found most of the tips to be extremely helpful. More helpful, however, was incorporating the routine habits that keep me healthy on a daily basis. And when I emerged from my 30 plus hours of travel from Mexico City to Hanoi (complete with layovers in NYC and Seoul, Korea) I found that my preparation and implementation of the tips below resulted in one of my most pleasant travel experiences to date!
Want to decrease the stress and crankiness potential of your next long haul flight? Here are the tips I used to emerge from my travels as Peggy McPleasant and NOT Cranky McCrankster!
- Have a pleasant, positive attitude. Sounds simple enough, right? But alas, many whine, complain and obsess over their upcoming multiple hour travels. This only serves to create more stress and anxiety. Instead, embrace your upcoming travels. Develop a positive mindset. And unless you’re traveling for work, remember, this was a trip and destination you chose. No one is making you take this flight. So start your trip early with a good attitude. It will make all the difference!
- Use social media. During my flight from Mexico City to Hanoi, I used Instagram stories to update my followers on my travel and my whereabouts. I posted during pre-boarding, layovers and right after landing. My followers enjoyed seeing the play by play of my travels and I was encouraged by the well wishes I received in response to my posts!
- Get a good night’s rest the night before your travels. The travel alone exhausts you and tests your endurance. No need to augment that effect.
- Don’t wait until the last minute to pack. Unless you’re one of those people who only needs 30 minutes to pack for a long term trip, start packing early. It minimizes stress as well as your chances of forgetting something.
- Arrive early to the airport. Ideally, you’d arrive somewhere between 2–3 hours prior to your international flight. This allows time to check luggage, go through security, eat a meal and relax while waiting for your flight. Are you starting to notice a theme?
- Call the airline to request your preferred seating arrangement. Travelers fall into one of two categories when it comes to preferred seating on a plane: window or aisle seat. Don’t leave this important aspect of your flight to chance! As soon as you’ve purchased your ticket, call the airline to request your preferred seat.
- Drink plenty of water. Before the flight. During the flight. And after the flight. Drink water! Flying is extremely dehydrating. Couple that with flying for extremely long periods of time and you run the risk of looking like a raisin once you arrive at your destination! Your water consumption may result in multiple visits to the lavatory but that’s ok! Why? See the next tip!
- Walk around and stretch during your flight. Long periods of inactivity are one of the biggest risks for blood clots. A transcontinental flight certainly counts as “inactivity”. To combat this risk, walk around and stretch every 1–2 hours during your flight. If you’re drinking enough water, as discussed in tip 7, your trips to the lavatory will serve as double-duty! Compression socks also prevent the risk of blood clots. Before your flight, purchase a pair in a fun print!
- Set your clock to the time at your destination. This helps to set your circadian rhythm and combat jet lag. During the flight, try to sleep during the times you would at your final destination. Full disclosure: this doesn’t always work. If it doesn’t, give yourself some grace. There’ll be more than enough time to adjust once you arrive. In addition, if you have difficulty sleeping on planes, consider essential oils such as lavender, eucalyptus or spearmint. Melatonin is also a natural supplement that can assist with sleep. For prescription medications for sleep, always consult your doctor.
- Keep your regular (healthy) eating habits. For me, that means avoiding dairy, red meat, and fried foods 24 hours prior to travel day and continuing that trend until I arrive at my destination.
- Use caffeine and alcohol judiciously. Both act as a diuretic and counteract your hard work of drinking water!
- Relax. No. Really. RELAX! Don’t try to conquer the world (e.g., get a headstart on your taxes, finish that spreadsheet you’ve been working on, etc.) during your flight. At 30,000 feet above the ground, flying is one of the few times you can TRULY disconnect and focus solely on you. DO THAT! Watch a movie (or two), journal, finish that novel it’s taken you 6 weeks to read. Oh, wait. Is that just me?! LOL! Also, most airlines have inflight entertainment for international flights. Just in case the selection is not to your liking, be sure to download your favorite movies or TV shows on your tablet or device of choice.
- Keep your personal hygiene routine. You instantly feel better when you feel fresh and clean! Bring a change of clothes, or at the very least, a change of underwear in your carry on. Pack a toiletry bag with deodorant, face cream or a face mask, and a sleeping mask. Bring makeup remover wipes to wash your face and a toothbrush and toothpaste to brush your teeth (most airlines will supply this). In instances where showers are not available, body wipes are a lifesaver. These shower wipes from Sephora have come in handy far too many times for me to count. I don’t travel without them!
- Invest in slippers for long flights. They’re comfortable and keep you from having to put on shoes to visit the lavatory.
- Use layovers for rest and rejuvenation. Not productivity. Eat a meal. Explore the airport. And if amenities such as nap zones, showers, and/or lounges are provided, take advantage and relax. Remember Tip 12?
I’m excited for you to try these tips during your next transcontinental flight! I guarantee you’ll have a more pleasant, relaxed and enjoyable experience! Seatback and tray tables up! We’re ready for takeoff!