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.