Listen, friends, my computer may have taken its final breaths. Over the last 48 hours, I haven’t been able to waken it from whatever deep sleep has taken hold. This is bad news in general; worse news for blogging. While I work on regenerating my technological existence, I cobbled together photos of—at least—travel, for this post on long-haul favorites. Hope to be back at it in full force, asap. Yeesh!
After 4 years abroad, and enough inter-continental travel to warrant a few opinions, I thought I’d put together a quick list of travel favorites for long-haul trips (8+ hours; economy class). My first goal is to share, but my second is to hear suggestions; there are always more efficient, more pleasant, and less harried ways to reach your destination.
Whatsapp: While for some this suggestion is basic, I know many who have yet to realize the brilliance of this app. Time zones be damned; Whatsapp keeps the conversation (text, voice messages, photo, video) going, both with individuals and groups.
Turns out, it’s brilliant for travel as well. If your plans change, your flights are delayed, or you decide to extend a layover, you can connect to Whatsapp and send messages to your VIPs on even the most feeble internet connections (I’m looking at you, Bole International Airport). As tourists, we’ve used Whatsapp to coordinate with drivers and tour guides in Zanzibar, and to get on early guest lists in Dubai clubs. Whatsapp is light, easy, simple to use, and has highly saturated Asian, African and some European markets—it had 1 billion users as of early 2016. Lastly, it’s encrypted, which is a comfort when you’re living in or traveling to security-sensitive areas.
Tripcase: There are several apps out there, both free and paid, that’ll consolidate your itineraries and send alerts to your mobile. After research, Tripcase is one of the best-rated among free options. While I don’t think it’s necessary for simple round trips, it does come in handy when you’re on a 4-stop, multi-continent whirlwind like we were, recently.
Heidi Swanson’s travel kit (via Remodelista): I’m a fan of Heidi and her aesthetic (also her 101 Cookbooks blog, and her two “supernatural” cookbooks). She’s got great suggestions at the link above, including her “Russian doll” packing approach, and traveling with your own food (see more on that, below).
Healthy eating while traveling (via 101cookbooks): No matter where you live, travel can do a number on your digestive system–especially when your options are limited, as on airplanes. My preference is to prep and carry my own food, within reason (I wouldn’t schlep a picnic basket from the Horn of Africa to L.A., for example). Things like hard boiled eggs, dried fruit, quick oat breads, or even more exciting dishes made with ingredients to which your body’s habituated, help ease the transition to foreign stuff. For sweets, consider banana bread or no-bake cookies, like these or these, which usually have substantive ingredients like oats, nut butters, seeds, or bananas. Heidi’s post on this topic, linked at the top of this paragraph, got some great feedback from readers and is worth a scroll to the comments section. I also make sure to carry my usual supplements and probiotics with me, to keep it consistent. Don’t forget the water–chug it down, even if it means a dozen bathroom breaks. It’s worth it.
Vegetarian meal options: Give ’em a chance. I’m no food snob, but there’s something absurd about eating pre-packaged, microwaved meat many thousands of miles in the sky. Yet, forgoing the meat in airplane meals leaves you with carbs, starches, fillers, and a lot of sugar. When I book flights these days, I always request vegetarian meals, for a couple reasons: The “Asian vegetarian” option will get you vegetables as well as protein in the form of dairy or eggs; the “vegan option” works for those with dairy intolerance. If you’re lucky, either gets you steamed veggies over rice, or a tomato chick pea stew, and much healthier breakfast options. An added benefit is that crew tend to organize the “special” meals early, so you may get yours before everyone else!
On that note, it looks like flying (including white noise and air pressure!) actually affects taste:
The study found that “at low pressure the detection and recognition thresholds of…odorants are higher,” confirming that sense of smell is impaired in the air. When it came to flavors, the threshold for detecting salty and sweet tastes was much higher in low pressure, while bitter tastes weren’t noticeably affected. The threshold for monosodium glutamate (MSG), the additive commonly associated with “the fifth taste,” umami (or savoriness), was only slightly higher.
This lends credence to the (only anecdotal) observation that many people seem to order tomato juice (or tomato juice’s boozy cousin, the Bloody Mary) on planes. Tomatoes are chock-full of umami, and if their flavor is strong where others’ are weak, it stands to reason that they’d be more appealing above the clouds than beneath them.
Tea: Related to the above notes on food, I always bring several bags of tea–usually a spread of green tea and some herbal varieties, like ginger or mint. The latter help with stomach trouble, and green tea wakes me up and makes me feel virtuous if I’ve succumbed to an Extreme Carb Event during travel. It’s easy enough to find boiled water anywhere you go, and the aromas and flavors of my favorites are a comfort when my body is dealing with rapid change.
Clothes: It’s taken me years to
get over myself find my groove. For long hauls, my uniform is: Black leggings, soft cotton t-shirt, over-sized sweater (ideally with a high neck), a scarf big enough to serve as a blanket if needed, and slip-on canvas shoes. Also, a change of underwear in my carry-on. I may not be the most stylish on the flight, but in terms of comfort, this equation hasn’t failed me yet.
Health & Refreshers: Here’s one where suggestions are welcome! Face cleansers in the form of wipes are a must, although I haven’t taken to a particular brand yet. I always have lotion because the plane air dries me out. Other then those items plus a tooth brush and deodorant, I’m pretty low maintenance. Staying hydrated helps here, too.
Luggage & Ergonomics: While luggage is a minor obsession for some, the bags I check don’t preoccupy me that much; if it’s water-resistant and stays closed in transit, I’m not too worried. The art of the carry-on, though, is an ongoing puzzle. Lately I’ve come full circle to the backpacks of school days: large enough for a laptop, keeps my hands free, keeps my lower back in decent shape after hours of sitting, walking, waiting. While I prefer a basic Jansport, my partner just returned from a trip to Dubai singing the praises of the Caran Y 35-40 hiker’s style pack that I stole from my little brother a couple years ago. I can’t find a single image of this backpack online, or much about the Chinese manufacturer, either. But I believe it was purchased at a big-box outdoors/sports store, so if you come across the brand, give it a try. Very comfortable. Lastly, arch inserts for your shoes! I tend to wear slip-on canvas numbers when traveling, so these slide in easily and make a big difference when you’re schlepping between terminals; the cheapest ones have done the job for me.
Kindle: I love it, I use it on flights. (Thanks, Dad).
Jet lag support: This is a full blog post in itself, and advice differs depending on fly time, total travel time, direction of travel, climate, etc. The general rule says you need 1 day to adjust for every hour of time zone difference, and that’s proven true for me. My goal is minimize the impact of jet lag and its wear and tear on my immune system, since I tend to get pretty ill when crossing continents.
What’s common among recommendations is that hydration and light exposure are key components of your well being upon arrival. To that end, in addition to drinking tons of water on the plane, I drink Pedialyte, electrolyte-flooded waters and juices, or sometimes go with straight ORS, to ensure I’m hydrated once arrived. Light exposure is a bit trickier, but it makes sense to wear sunglasses when appropriate (until 7am or so in your time zone of origin if traveling East, for example), and take melatonin a couple hours before you’d like to sleep at your destination.
The potential of the ask: One thing I’ve learned from my partner, difficult a lesson as it was for me, is that it never hurts to ask: For perks, for upgrades, for kindnesses, for small things that will make your travel more pleasant. Mustering the courage to simply ask while traveling has gotten me free Wifi, access to status lounges in airports, food prepared to my preferences, free flight changes, and more. As long as you’re gracious, it’s worth it.
Happy trails! Fingers crossed I can resurrect the machine!
P.S. None of this is sponsored! I’ll let you know if it ever is.