The Plane Trip

June 24, 2008

Wow, it’s a long flight.  This is about the 10th time I’ve made the journey halfway around the world.  This time, we left our hotel at 6 AM, were in the air or in airports about 30 hours, and then arrived in our hotel in the USA at 2 AM about 32 hours later.  Everybody has different ways of coping with this type of travel.  I mean, some people fly first class or business class.  That makes it easier, because one can stretch out a bit more and can actually sleep.  There are also different strategies for coping with jet lag.  I’ll share what we do. 

First, be sure to pack your carry on luggage right and wear the right clothes and shoes.  For clothing, remember that it will be cold when you’re flying at 40,000 feet but there will also be times and places when it will be hot.  So, layer with some lightweight clothes underneath and a jacket or overshirt that can be put on or taken off as needed.  It’s a long time sitting in the same crowded seat and cabin, and the angle of your leg sitting in a seat and lower than the rest of your body is not great for circulation coming back up from the feet towards the heart.  Some people’s feet swell so badly that they can’t get their shoes back on after they take them off.  So, wear loosely fitting clothing, carry some loose socks, and wear loose, slip-on shoes.  Carry some slip on slippers (like they put in hotel rooms) for wearing during the plane ride, and change into the loose socks as soon as you are on the plane. 

I think I can count six different times that we went through airport security checks.  At each check, we had to remove our shoes and belts.  So, it’s best to wear slip on shoes.  As your bag may be searched, it’s also best to pack small items all in a plastic baggie so they can easily be located and also so they don’t fall out all over the place as you empty your bag for the security officer. 

As odd as it may look to bystanders, I also try to find some discrete way to exercise and elevate my feet during any long layovers.  For instance, in the Tokyo (Narita) airport, there is a great lounging area on the downstairs level.  In contrast to the main level, it’s remarkably un-crowded.  During a multi-hour layover on this trip, we were able to find some benches to lie flat on for awhile, but then I also lay on the carpet and did some leg lifts as well as some other floor exercises.  Yes, I’m sure it was a unsightly, but my body thanked me very much.  Some people take advantage of massage outlets in airports; I guess that depends on your budget and time.  (In terms of time, be sure to schedule at least a two hour layover when switching flights in an international airport or switching from international to domestic and going through immigration and customs!)

Your carry on should also include a toothbrush and washcloth so that you can freshen up in airports or in the plane.  A very small hand lotion and lip moisturizer can be nice.  The smallest sample sizes are allowed in your carry on but not anything big.  A change of underwear in case your bag gets lost. 

To reduce swelling in your legs, be sure to get up and walk around the cabin now and then.  Exercise and stretch as much as you can, even at times when you don’t feel like you need to.  It’s easy to just sit there on the plane, but your body will thank you later if you move around and stretch and exercise all your muscles from time to time.  Your tummy will also thank you later if  you keep meals light and reduce protein and fat consumption.  Just say no to alcohol, as well, and you’ll feel better in the long run.  Drink a lot of water — drink more than you think you need.  I don’t even try to understand why.  Various reasons that come to mind are dry cabin air, sitting a long time, immobility, altitude.  But a flight like that affects basic metabolism; and the more water, more exercise, and less heavy food, the better. 

The other big issue is jet lag.  What works best for my family, in every trip, seems to be to sleep as much as possible.  On every flight over the ocean, a meal is served.  We wait until they begin serving this meal (because we don’t want to get sleepy and then be waked up and not able to go back to sleep), and then we  take an over the counter, mild sleeping pill (e.g. Tylenol "Simply Sleep").  Then we try to sleep as much as possible on the flight.  (We carry our pillows on the plane, and use them, too.)  We all find that the more we sleep during the trip, the better rested we are when we arrive, and then the better we do overall.  Some people say to try to force yourself to stay awake to get on the new schedule, but we don’t try to do this.  We sleep at every opportunity, we take the approach of "be kind to your body" and follow the signals of our inner clock as it readjusts itself.  You can count on an early evening "crash" time when you find it very difficult to stay awake.  So plan on it and just nap a bit then.  Also, plan ahead for quiet activities you can do at 4 AM if you wake up then.  Expose yourself to plenty of natural light, especially early in the morning, plan on sleeping early or taking a late afternoon nap each day, plan on waking up early in the morning, and adjustment comes very fast. 

We had a good trip over.  We were all able to sleep a lot on the plane.  We had some good layover time and were able to find comfy chairs in the airports where we could elevate our feet and rest our necks by getting a bit more horizontal than the airplane seats allow.  We arrived feeling relatively well rested, have slept enough here, and believe it or not feel almost normal in terms of being on schedule here!  It’s been a good landing.  Just about the time I go home is when I’ve finally figured out how to do it! 

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