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10 tips for long haul travel, Zen Peacekeeper style

Wednesday, August 18, 2010 by Marianne Elliott

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If you live in New Zealand, traveling anywhere other than Australia or the Pacific means a long-haul flight so I’ve regularly flown for up to 35 hours for the past three decades. For many years I flew almost every week (don’t ask about my carbon footprint, I’m still working it off!).

On my most recent trip (a paltry 20 hours to get to California) it occurred to me that what now comes naturally to me is a nightmare to many others, so I thought I would share some Zen Peacekeeper tips for long-haul travel.

1. My number one travel tip is to be kind. Every one else is tired and uncomfortable too. Nothing soothes the collective nervous system like a little kindness. Smile at the staff and thank them. Let the agitated man go ahead of you in the queue. Offer to help a mother with her baby. Trust me, it’ll make you feel better too.

2. Always come prepared (mentally and practically) for delays. When delays happen, and they will, remember tip number one: kindness goes a long way. Likewise, if you check your luggage, always come prepared to lose it. Anything essential for your visit should be in your carry on, together with at least one change of underwear, a clean top, something to sleep in and your basic toiletries.

3. Long haul travel in economy class is uncomfortable. There is no way around it, we all have to go through it. The only way I know to prepare for it is with yoga, meditation or any kind of practice that teaches me to stay with my discomfort without judgement. You get through 15 hours of sitting in economy class the same way you get through five minutes of an uncomfortable hip-opener, one breath at a time.

4. Learn the security rules and stick to them. None of the people you are dealing with invented the rules, nor can they bend or change them for you. Holding up the queue by objecting, or even just failing to observe the rules, is inconsiderate and unnecessary.

5. Always carry a large, warm scarf. Airplanes and airports are often cool and if you are delayed you may want to nap. Even if I’m not napping, wrapping myself in a shawl makes me feel immeasurably more comfortable.

6. When I was a little girl having trouble sleeping, my mother told me that it doesn’t matter if you can’t sleep as long as you lie very still with your eyes closed and breathe deeply. She was a genius, obviously, because she not only got a quiet, still child through the night, she also got a rested child in the morning. These days, I apply this rule to long haul flights. If I can’t sleep, at least I can allow my mind and body to rest. Stressing about the lack of sleep only makes me more tired at the other end.

7. If you fly a lot, consider investing in noise-canceling head phones. At a minimum, wear ear plugs. Airplanes are noisy. Both will help with no. 6

8. Likewise, I highly recommend that you get a really lovely, comfy eye mask. Even if you are not sleeping, your eyes need a rest, especially from the dry air in the airplane cabin. Resist the temptation to watch movies all the way. Slip on an eye mask and listen to some relaxing music, a guided meditation or even an audio book. Give your eyes a break.

9. On flights of more than six hours, get up and stretch at least a couple of times throughout the flight. I know that security rules discourage you from hanging around the toilets, but doctors still advise regular stretching. I tuck myself in to the emergency exit over the wings and do some forward bends, standing hip-openers and gentle back bends. If I’m stuck in a window seat then I get all yogi on it and contort myself into a few stretches in my seat.

10. Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised that my last travel tip is to carry a thermos and a few of your favorite herbal tea bags and ask for hot water once you get on board. As soon as I land I find somewhere I can get a big cup of steamed soymilk or almond milk. Warm liquids are deeply comforting and they help me get grounded after all that movement.

I have other tips, but they all really boil down to this: be kind, be flexible and be prepared for the unexpected. Long haul travel has taught me more than almost any other experience about how I can cause or ease my own suffering.

One breath at a time, Grasshopper, we cross the oceans and the continents one breath at a time.

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15 Responses to "10 tips for long haul travel, Zen Peacekeeper style"

  1. kathleen says:

    Thanks for this wonderful list of travel tips – very well timed for me! I’m flying to South Africa from NZ with a 4 year old and an 8 year old in 3 weeks time – these tips are going to go a long way to making our journey more enjoyable!!
    Blessings
    x

    • Marianne Elliott says:

      Kathleen, I wish you smooth travels and many kind travel companions. Children are wonderful travelers generally, but they get tired and aren’t always able to envisage the pay off at the other end. I always make a point of engaging my youngest co-travelers when I can, they usually make me smile and I hope that Mum or Dad enjoys a rest…

  2. Mary says:

    Marianne,
    I really appreciate your helpful list, and I agree with what you say about kindness and expecting some discomfort. In my case, I’ve been in so many dreadful travel situations through the years, not on airplanes per se but train rides, hitchhiking, etc. I often have to resort to body and mind displacement and go to my happy place. It sounds strange, but I sort of decide ahead of time what pleasant things to think about when it gets bad…

    • Marianne Elliott says:

      Hi Mary, once upon a time someone taught me to build an invisible energetic bubble around myself if I found myself in close proximity to unpleasant company. I use the bubble sometimes when I’m flying or on a long bus or train ride…

  3. LaGitane says:

    Brilliant!

    I would add, from my own personal list:

    – Bring a clean t-shirt and pair of underwear and change halfway through your trip. It can make you feel like a whole new person!

    – Fuzzy socks. Nuff said!

    – Pack lip balm and hand cream – airplanes and airports really dry you out.

    – Invest in one of those neck pillows. It makes a HUGE difference!!

    I also keep a fold-out bag in my carry on, and just before boarding a long haul I put everything in it that I am likely to need – water bottle, eye mask, fuzzy socks, jumper, book, ipod etc. That way I can put my carry-on bag overhead, and take the little bag to stuff under my seat so I’m not constantly having to get up and get things out.

    Oh, and I ALWAYS do yoga the day before a long haul. I find it helps prevent me from cramping up on the plane.

    🙂 Peace!

  4. Swirly says:

    GREAT ADVICE!! I am always hungry for wise travel tips, especially from a pro like you. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Great advice – I have to remember that one about the thermos and herbal tea!

    Lots of similarities to a travel post I wrote recently… http://fumblingforwords.com/2010/05/31/traveling-with-confidence-and-creativity/

  6. Andi says:

    Such great tips!!!!!!

  7. brilliant advice, love.
    i also make sure that i follow my usual bedtime and waking rituals. washing my face, applying moisturizer, brushing my teeth, taking out my contacts, etc. helps to normalize the affair, and adjust to the time change.
    and, i too, am the one doing yoga bends by the emergency exit 🙂

  8. […] Marianne Elliott’s blog, 10 tips for long-haul travel, zen-peacekeeper […]

  9. leonie wise says:

    yep, i couldn’t agree with you more. these are a great set of travel tips and ones i try also to remember when travelling. smiling at people (ground crew, airline staff, fellow passengers) and saying thank-you goes a really long way to making a long journey more pleasant.

    also, the herbal no jet-lag tablets you can buy in NZ are a life-saver for me. i have jumped countries and time-zones with ease with the help of that magical remedy.

    also, finding time to be grateful for even having the amazing opportunity to travel to other places is something i think about a lot if stuck anywhere, or delayed. so many people never get to see the places i have been and i often take a few moments to be thankful for all the adventures that i have. all delays, lost luggage, or any other upsets can be quickly forgotten once i remember to be thankful.

    such a fab list marianne. wishing for you only the best of adventures, near & far

  10. […] – and helping everyone around you survive – long haul travel by Marianne Elliott http://bit.ly/9O5Lor To my aunt: "I’m looking for a plane ticket and your friend is a travel […]

  11. Anthe says:

    Dear Marianne,
    Those tips are indeed helpful. I would encourage you to go even deeper into the subject. You might underestimate to number of people that have a terrible fear of flying. Looking around in any airport, a person like me, terrified, recognizes “fear-victims” easily. It is not a very yoga-thing to be afraid, but some things are just too powerful. Yoga exercises have helped me greatly in overcoming my fears. You could really advise it to the readers of your lovely webpages and even come up with practical tips.
    Anthe

  12. Barbara` says:

    Thank you for your lovely list. It is inspiring and great advice. I will try to use it on my upcoming long haul trips. Thanks again!

  13. […] it inspired me to write about this here again. I have written about long haul travel before (see here and here), but just as my body keeps changing, so does my yoga practice. These days I need a lot […]

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