Planes, trains and automobiles: how to survive a big trip

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You're exhausted, disoriented and in need of exercise. Your throat is dry. You smell like a gymnasium changing room and you oscillate between feeling bloated and starving. You're even a touch on the low side. Welcome to the after-effects of the big trip.

Be it on a plane, train or automobile, big trips can be great fun. But they can also take their toll. As an Australian, I am well versed in long distance travel. When I was young I was dragged off regularly on 10-hour interstate car trips to visit relatives.

These tedious 'retro-era trips' were way before the days of iPods, iPhones and state-of-the-art entertainment. Instead, we counted telegraph poles and played 'eye-spy' and alphabet games. (Ten hours of eye-spy straight can turn you off games for life, let me tell you; 'Are we there yet?' was forbidden.)

Surprisingly, I'm still a sucker for drawn-out journeys - from two-day chicken-bus rides in Bolivia to three-day train legs across the USA and regular flights between Australia and Europe.

In truth, I've never perfected the art of long distance travel. But I've collected a few good tips along the way.

Related article: The Great Wall of China

General travel

  • Drink plenty of water, and pack some dried fruit and healthy snacks - not junk food. (Okay, so this sounds obvious, but thinking about it and doing it are two different things!)
  • Always carry a roll of toilet paper.

Automobile travel

  • 
Break every hour.
  • Don't be too over-enthusiastic. If it's getting dark, or you're tired, call it a day or night.
  • Don't hog the wheel - share the driving.


Train travel

  • 
Walk around every hour.
  • Chat to your neighbours - the Indian train trips are among the world's most challenging, but enjoyable, trips.
  • Carry a sarong and an eye mask - handy for extra warmth and to block out light if you want to sleep.
  • Know the status of meals - stock up on supplies (China) or poke your head out the window and buy from the hawkers (India).

Plane travel

  • Plan your seating. The website seatguru.com helps you find the best seats. Grab a window seat (if you prefer to snooze) or an aisle (if you like to move around). Get to the airport early to arrange if pre-booking isn't available.
  • Take an extra pillow - one you're happy to dispose of at the end. It beats the thin bits of foam normally provided, and it's handy to support your lower back or neck. A toothbrush and toothpaste are handy, too.
  • Don't fight the urge to sleep - and don't try and stay awake to watch the end of a movie.
  • Avoid alcohol. Yes, it's the fun bit - especially if it's free - but it can make you feel terrible.
  • Avoid sleeping tablets. You need to be moving (think blood clots).
  • Change into loose fitting - but socially acceptable - attire. My flight attendant friend swears by his 'comfortable clothing' (ahem, a Telly tubby-style jumpsuit).

Author disclaimer: this only scratches the surface of tips for long distance travel.

More on jetlag

Jetlag is the least fun part of flying. Changing directions (especially west to east) and time zones are believed to de-synchronise your Circadian rhythms, otherwise known as your body clock. Sadly, few cures exist although some swear by taking melatonin: in tablet form, this hormone is said to help adjust your sleep-wake cycle.

Don't stress about jetlag; your body will eventually adjust. But it's worth factoring a day or two of recovery time into your trip.