Aviation journalist John Walton recently took a crazy trip, spending six days in a row on airplanes. At the end of it he came back armed with new flying tips and a reminder of what's really important during a busy travel week.
1. Research the travel apps before you go
Take even a few minutes to read up on the crucial applications to download to your smartphone. That includes making sure that you have the local ridehailing options handy: Uber isn’t legal everywhere, and even where it is it’s not always the best option.
But beyond that check is there an app for the subway/metro, and do you need to pre-register a credit card or is there a contactless option like Apple Pay? Do people use something else than the official app to navigate? Do some sleuthing on the web and ask around on social media.
2. Open and update your existing apps too
Speaking of apps, make sure they’re ready to use. In much of Germany before this year, the ridehailing go-to was MyTaxi. Now MyTaxi is called FREE NOW and I had to receive a texted code to be able to log in to it the first time after the change. I also had to update my credit card because the number changed since I had last been in Germany.
This is very much the sort of faff you want to take care of in the comfort of your own home rather than standing in a very cold drizzlestorm during the late evening at Munich Airport, believe me.
3. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Travelling is exhausting, and in particular it’s dehydrating, since most planes fly at the equivalent of being 8,000 feet up in the air, and have very low cabin humidity. To prevent dehydration, I always try to drink at least half a litre every hour I’m awake when flying, or more if I’m still thirsty or it’s been particularly hot. And in that weird autumnal warm period, airports all seem to be set to ‘sauna’ mode.
Nothing caffeinated or alcoholic counts, although do see if there is any non-alcoholic beer on board: funnily enough, this has a lot of electrolytes and some Olympians are using it instead of neon isotonic sports drinks! Don’t be that person who picks a window seat and then keeps getting up to pee, though. If you know you’re going to need to keep popping up then select an aisle seat, or if you can’t then at least offer to switch with the aisle passenger.
4. Give up the caffeine habit
This may seem like sacrilege, but I’m happier when I’ve let my body adjust to life without big regular doses of caffeine. Earlier this summer I managed to get myself through the headache phase of giving up coffee at home to see what it was like. My take: switching to tea in the morning helped balance out my energy levels, and I ended up feeling just as awake without coffee as I had with it.
Now, on those few mornings when I really, really need the caffeine, a single cup of good stuff really makes me feel the effect. Your mileage may vary but especially if you’re jetlagged, don’t assume that a lot caffeine will help, and consider cutting yourself off as early in the day as you can. You don’t want the residual caffeine being part of what’s waking you up at 3:30am.
5. BYOB - bring your own breakfast
Especially on those shorter red-eye overnight flights like New York to London, I’ve never understood why airlines insist on feeding you dinner at 6:30pm, then let you sleep for three hours before deploying the rubberised omelette and weaponised croissant. Not only is it not exactly gourmet, it also comes long before the end of the flight, so you’re awake and caffeinated, staring at the seatback, unable to fall back asleep.
My plan is always to put my headphones and sleepmask firmly in the “on” position and ignore the trolleys. I sleep as late as possible until the announcements that the plane is about to descend, then go change out of my sleepwear into normal clothes again, and munch my way through a cereal bar while the plane is landing. Because who doesn’t want an extra hour of sleep on the plane?
6. New airplanes really do help
Speaking of sleep, have you ever read about new airplanes like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 making you less tired and jetlagged? The idea is that because these are made of more composite materials like carbon-fibre than previous generations, they can be pressurised to 6,000 feet instead of 8000, and can have higher humidity inside as well.
Net effect: it’s less like spending time in a high desert. That’s good for sleep, for that dry-eye feeling, for your skin, and for just generally feeling less exhausted on arrival. They’re rapidly becoming my go-to planes for just that reason.
And as a bonus tip… even when it’s crazy and exhausting, try to enjoy it!
I’m fortunate enough to have friends and family all around the world, and even when tired it was a delight to pop in to see a dear friend with a new baby, revisit some of my old haunts, and take in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the world.
Jetlagged to hell? Go for an early morning walk, or do some late-evening blue-sky thinking. Stuck on a plane? Make the most of it and catch up on a movie, or put your brain in neutral and look out the window. (But, honestly, don’t spend six days in a row on a plane.)