First, let me say if you are a seasoned international traveler you can probably skip this article and just move right along to something else. But for those of you that have little to no experience with international travel, I’m going to teach you how I roll when I travel to minimize the pain and maximize the pleasure.
So I’m off to Asia and my flight is 15 hours long. I gotta tell you this is pretty much as long a motherfucker as you can get in terms of long haul flights – I don’t think planes can fly much longer without refueling. I want to give you some tips on how to make it through such a long flight without drowning yourself in the lavatory due to boredom. Let’s take a look at what I bring with me to make this bastard of a flight as painless as possible:
1.) A medium sized travel backpack with compartments for a laptop, camera and miscellaneous other small gadgets
2.) A lightweight laptop computer (loaded with movies and games)
3.) A universal international power adapter (i like this one)
4.) A camera (as described in our article team equipment)
5.) A Kindle (it’s worth the extra money for 3G)
6.) A decent pair of noise canceling headphones with an an adapter for the plane
7.) A GSM WiFi capable smart phone that doubles as a video player, mp3 player, audio book player, etc.
8.) A small bottle of liquor purchased in duty free
9.) As many bottles of water as you can comfortably carry (they never give you enough on the plane)
10.) Plenty of cash (often times it makes sense to just use your debit card but not always)
11.) Plenty of [healthy] snacks
11.) A suitcase you will check that is expandable (come on you know you’re going to want to acquire some shit abroad)
Now that you’re packed I’m going to give you some tips on gliding through the airport check in and security bullshit. Check in online if at all possible. For the love of god get an aisle seat and/or an exit row. Wear a pair of pants that doesn’t require a belt and a pair of slip on shoes or flip flops. If you can’t check in online find out if they have a self-check in kiosk and use that. If you can’t check in online or use a kiosk bite the bullet and get to the airport absurdly early (I’m talking about like 3 1/2 hours). Sure it sucks to sit in the airport but you have your kindle and your laptop, you can get some work done if you’ve taken the advice in “escape the corporate prison,” or you can read if nothing else. Better to be productive sitting in a coffee shop than standing in lines for hours. If you’re there really early chances are you can check in without waiting in a huge line. Now that you’ve got your boarding pass and gotten rid of your big check bag you can stake out a coffee shop, bar, bench, etc. that has a direct line of site to the bullshit security check, if possible. These things usually get flooded in waves and then they clear out before they get flooded with people again. Keep your eye on it and as soon as you see any opening get through security quickly and easily without having to stand in a huge line.
Now you’re past the security checkpoint, go shopping for water and booze. Thanks to the retarded government assholes that habitually fail to recognize that blowing up an airport security checkpoint is as effective as blowing up an airplane, you can’t bring your own water and booze, you have to overpay for it after the check point. On a flight like this you’re going to need booze and water so just bite the bullet and buy that shit as overpriced as it will be. Unless you are in business or first class you aren’t going to get everything you need when you need so it’s better to bring with.
Go to your gate, get online and do some work or read a book. If you’re going to read, read something that will offer some measure of self-improvement and/or some knowledge of your destination for Christ’s sake. Be productive with this time that is simply wasted for 99% of the other people.
There are two strategies to getting on the plane, get on first or get on last. If the plane is very full make sure you get on first – there won’t be any overhead space for your gear if you get on last. Getting on first is easy. As soon as they start boarding business and first just go stand next to do the ticket taker dude and wait, as soon as he calls the regular schmucks you are right there and you can get on. If they are doing that zone bullshit just wait till your zone and it will be well worth it. You really want a place for your backpack in the overhead bin close to your seat so you can have leg room yet still have easy access to your gadgets.
If the plane is relatively empty go ahead and get on last. Pay attention, though, don’t miss it! Once those fuckers shut the door they won’t let you on no matter what. If the plane is empty, you get on last after everyone else is settled and you have a cool stewardess (or stewardi, I’m sure that’s not the correct plural but it sounds better than stewardesses) she might let you just take any seat you want or even a whole row! It’s happened to me a couple of times. A whole row of seats on a transatlantic or transpacific flight is the jackpot! Be nice to the flight attendants, they can make your flight pleasant our miserable! Help them if you have the opportunity. Maybe you can help get a heavy bag into the overhead bin or perhaps you can translate for them if they have a problem passenger they can’t communicate with but you happen speak the right language. This will usually pay off in spades.
Now that you’re settled in your seat your only task is to not go mad with boredom. I prepare for this in a few different ways. First I make sure that I’m exhausted to begin with so I stay up late the night before (or sometimes I don’t even sleep at all). You’re going to be going through a major time change and your sleep schedule will be all fucked up anyway. With that in mind I break out some heavy reading material, the kind that will really put you to sleep in no time flat and I discretely crack open my liquor. I say discretely because a lot of airlines try to prohibit you from drinking your own liquor so they can sell you their own overpriced shit. It’s shitty rules like these that I feel compelled to go out of my way to break just on principle alone. Just keep it on the DL and you’ll be fine. The combination of exhaustion, liquor and heavy reading material should put you out like a light.
Try to sleep away as much of this god awful flight as you can. Hopefully you can knock out at least half it. Worst case scenario you probably have about 7 hours left to go. You can bang this out by reading a book, doing some writing on your laptop, watching a few movies or some combination thereof. If you’re really lucky maybe your plane has WiFi, if that’s the case you should be able to figure out how to entertain yourself for a half day. You probably just fuck around all day on the internet when you’re at home anyway!
So I’m actually sitting on the plane as I write this. I took a flight that I booked through Expedia for just over $500 on a Chinese airline. All in all it’s not too bad. Cute attentive stewardi, clean plane, decent amenities, edible food. That’s about all you can ask for when you’re flying coach. The one big drawback is they don’t have personal entertainment systems. However, since you listened to my advice and brought a back pack full of happiness in the form of electronic amusements of all shapes and sizes you’re going to be fine because they do have power outlets!!!
Reader M adds the following hot tips:
I travel international a lot. A tip I use to to ensure I’m not stuck in airplane purgatory (i.e. a middle seat between an aisle and a window) is to use Seatguru.com to check out the airplane configuration and to find the best seats on the jet while avoiding the worse. When booking or checking in on line I modify my seat choice accordingly based on that site. It’s great. I always ask for an aisle seat because I hate crawling over other passengers to get up to use the head or to get something out of the overhead bin. And if I’m able to get an aisle seat on an exit row it feels like I’ve won the lottery!
Another tip for security lines: Think like the George Cloony character in the movie “Up in the Air” and use profiling in the queues. Old people, families traveling with children, and hip-hop wannabes are going to take forever to get through the lines. Avoid them if possible. Look for the business people who are already undressing unpacking in the queue and get behind them. They are generally experienced travelers and know what needs to come out of their bags and off their bodies before they even get into the security line.
Funny I was thinking about “Up in the Air” as I wrote this but I forgot about the profiling, thanks for bringing that up! Shitty movie but great travel advice for the frequent flier.
El Matador adds:
Yes, bring your own food. No, don’t drink alcohol. It compounds jet-lag and the dehydration inherit in long haul travel.
A little-know fact is that people get a certain euphoria from flying. They also are disengaged from their routine social norms because they are away from their own world. That means, lowered inhibitions and anything-goes rules for engaging women in conversation on a plane.
I’ve observed people getting VERY cozy with people they just met on a flight. The mile-high club is famous for a reason though what people forget is that airplane bathrooms are gross and women get really uncomfortable in such spaces. Or not, LOL.
Chances are that the pretty girl you meet on the plane is going to the same place you are so you can agree to meet up. The weird thing about female psychology is that they actually think that both of you being on the same plane to the same place is a coincidence, and that it’s really amazing.
Introduce yourself to whomever strikes your interest on a plane. For some reason, it works.
Don’t even get me started on stewardesses. There’s enough there for another article…..
I actually agree with him if you have a need to get over your jet lag quickly, usually I don’t and my need to be passed out drunk instead of dying of boredom outweighs my need to get over jet lag quickly. For business travelers with an early meeting the next day getting wasted is certainly a no no! We certainly hope El Matador will write a future article on the mile high pickup and stewardi.