I feel that if ever I were to write up about my hints and tips for flying and adjusting your body to travel, in the midst of a 30 hour transit period is as good a time as any to do so. Kicking it by a deserted gate in the middle of Brunei’s Bandar Seri Begawan airport, I can feel the mandatory stiffness and tiredness already kicking in but know that at least the exhaustion is part of the plan. But to pick up on a 9 hour time zone difference and beat jet lag from the word go, I know I need to power through for a couple more hours.
You have to start somewhere and why not at the beginning? Booking flights can be a pain in the neck for a lot of people but there are few things you can do to ease the pressure involved with flights. Flight pricing is a very tough thing to predict; specials will come and go, prices might rise as you get closer to your departure date then plummet suddenly to try and fill the plane or you’ll have to mix and match connecting flights taking forever to get there. The first bit of advice I will offer is be flexible. Unfortunately this isn’t viable for everyone but if you can fly mid-week, at undesirable hours such as 6am or 11 pm, you’ll find it to be a lot cheaper than heading away on a Friday night for the weekend. The other side of flexibility is to be flexible with your destination. I would say that about 75% of my flights are decided within two days and are determined by where is cheap and of those places that are, where do I want to go. Travelling this way has allowed me to be extremely spontaneous and opportunistic in travelling by plane as opposed to others who try adapt their travels to a destination, rather than the destination to their travels. If you cannot be all that flexible, then booking 6-8 weeks in advance is normally the time you’ll find the most economic price.
If you’re booking flights for the first time and aren’t keen on using a travel agency or trawling through hundreds of airlines looking for the right deal, a flight search engine is the way to go. Skyscanner, Momondo and the new Google ITA are all a piece of cake to use. Just say where you are and where you want to go to and in a matter of seconds you will have numerous airlines and all their flights at your disposal. I still swear by Skyscanner but have heard savings of about 80% between a Skyscanner and Google price so depending on how much time and effort you are willing to invest will help you get the best available price. The other feature I love with Skyscanner and ties into the flexibility part nicely is that you can say where you are and ask for it to show you the cheapest flights out of there for the day, the week or even the month to anywhere in the world. It makes the life of a spontaneous budget backpacker far more exciting and very affordable.
Selecting a seat
A debate as old as flying itself: window or aisle? (we all know that no one ever wants to be stuck in the middle seat). I myself am a window seat man despite being 6’2 and have come to this conclusion after years of travel and trial and error. I understand the argument for the aisle: more leg room and easy access to the toilet or if you’d just like a wander around the aircraft. However I find that sticking my legs out often results in me tripping people up as they walk past or finding myself getting hit by the stewards’ trolley as they bring around drinks and meals. You also find yourself having to get up every time those you are sharing a row with need to go to the toilet or stretch their legs, which can be very awkward if you are trying to sleep.
As for the window seat, not only do you get to look out the window during the flight completely unobstructed, you also get to control the shutters (or on the new 787 Dreamliners, the window tint). This can help with adjusting to jet lag and if someone else is in control, it can make your life a little more difficult. Say for instance you’re trying to watch a film and they won’t close the shutter so the glare is making it nigh on impossible to see a dark scene or if you just want to see what’s happening in the clouds or over the mountains but they’re in the way, it is much better to be in control of the window. Plus you definitely want to see some of the magnificent cities that you fly into from above; the likes of New York, Tokyo and London all spring to mind. I also find it a lot easier to sleep leaning up against the hull of the aircraft than sitting straight in my chair, although I know of plenty of people who have no issue with this. The other cheeky little thing I find myself doing quite often is putting my foot on the hull-side armrest of the seat in front of me. This is a lot more difficult to do when in the middle or aisle seats without disturbing those in front of you and allows you to stretch and sit in different positions which can be invaluable on a 16 hour long haul flight.
I’m also quite tactical to which row I choose if the option to book my seat is available. I like to go about 4 to 5 rows from the back as I have often found on flights that aren’t full, these are the most likely places to get a row to yourself. Right at the back is the first place people try and the rest of the plane is filled up from the front. This works surprisingly often and you are often the envy of all around you as you lie down or just spread yourself out in a row to yourself. The downside is that you are at the back of the line as far as customs are concerned as you’re one of the last off the plane but alternatively you are often one of the first on the flight as they fill it from the rear. With this method you can also take a gamble by booking the middle seat in a row to further discourage anyone from booking either side of you, however we all know how that ends if someone does join you. I was lucky enough to have a row to myself on both legs of my 7 hour trip between New York and London which was incredibly enjoyable and helped me get my jet lag down a T.
Dealing with jet lag
There are some people who can fly to the other side of the world and never have an issue with jet lag. These are normally the people who can fall asleep despite the neighbours mowing their lawn at 7am on a Sunday or with the party over the road that is so loud it has to be broken up by the cops at 2 in the morning. I am not one of these people yet I have worked out my own system to dealing with jet lag. As previously mentioned, I pick a window seat as it should help me sleep when I so choose to but my preparation starts several days before a flight. It should also be noted that airlines very rarely try and help you adapt, opting to serve you based on your origin rather than destination. For example you may be being served breakfast and a coffee and just waking up when on the other side of the world (the place you’re hoping to adapt to as quickly as possible), they’re having dinner and considering going to bed.
This then leaves the work solely upon you. My work normally starts about 2 nights before hand. I’m normally pretty commitment free 2 days before a long haul flight so that’s when I start ruining my body clock. I’m not even changing it to where I’m going, just changing it from where I am. This often entails staying up till 3am and waking up around 10, so I’m still getting a full day out of it, just breaking my sleep routine early. This results that normally you’re tired on your flight at times you wouldn’t expect to be. However, the kicker here is that once I’ve boarded the flight, I immediately change my watch to the time of my final destination, even if I have two layovers. This allows me to know when I should be trying to sleep or forcing myself awake as I travel, even if it is the complete opposite of everyone else on my flight. I find I keep myself awake if need be, so that when I arrive and can sleep in a proper bed, I am well and truly knackered and instantly have adapted. Using this method, I have avoided jet lag properly for a good few years now, and know that at least while I’m still young, I can carry on getting away with it.
I absolutely love flying and everything involved with it; from the airports to that initial feeling when you take off irrespective of the fact that you’ve done it dozens of times before. Not everyone finds flying an enjoyable experience but over the years I have refined my methods so that I’m comfortable during and after transit and this is what works for me. If you’ve got any alternative arguments, please fire away as I’d love to hear what they are and can debate them as to why mine are better! 😉