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Long-Haul Flight Survival Tips

Nobody enjoys the dreaded long haul flight. They’re uncomfortable, awkward, and the bane of many a traveler. I’m used to 5 to 7 hour flights, but my 35+ hour economy class odyssey from Atlanta to Phnom Penh was an entirely different adventure. Below are a few tips for making your next long-haul flight as smooth as possible

Seat Selection – can make all the difference. As I planned on sleeping for at least half of the trans-pacific leg I picked a window seat on the side of the airplane that mirrored my preferred side of the bed so that I could lean into  the wall. This also meant that the other passengers in the row didn’t have to wake me when they needed to move.

Entertainment – is key. Check the airline rules carefully, because your US domestic preparations might not work. The electronics ban on flights from some countries to the US means that you can’t rely on your tablet or laptop for distraction. Additionally, Chinese regulations do not allow the use of “airplane mode” on your smart device, so all phones must by powered off for the entire flight. Two women were jailed recently for failure to comply, so no sneaking around. Many airplanes do have touch screen entertainment centers for each seat, like my Chinese Eastern Airlines flight, fully loaded with movies, music, and games. Your old mp3 player may be allowed, as long as it doesn’t have a cellular data option. I’m a knitter so I always bring some yarn and a pair of needles. Right now, most airlines allow knitting needles, but I’d recommend sticking to a wooden option.  Also, never underestimate the power of a good book. A few cheap paperbacks from a second-hand store are my weapon of choice, as they can be easily left behind for others to read and enjoy.

Snacks – can be a lifesaver. Even if your flight includes a meal service you can never be sure of what you might get. This is doubly true if you have allergies or any diet restrictions. Pre-packaged snacks are a safe option which insures that you’ll always have something to eat when you need it. I do like fruit when I travel, but you’re not always allowed to bring fresh produce with you when you travel internationally – even in your carry-on. I opt for granola or protein bars, nuts, and raisins.

Sleep – is a necessity for changing time zones. I don’t sleep easily on flights, but even a short nap is invaluable for a clear head with international layovers and flight changes. This past trip was my first time using melatonin and now I’m a believer. This in combination with my eye mask and earplugs were a necessity. Travel pillows or neck style pillows aren’t just for heads. I like to place mine in my lower back area for comfort and mum enjoys hers under her knees for bit of an angle. There’s also a lot to be said for having a blanket or scarf you can use as a cover. I like to pull mind up over my head to help block out light and its a visual cue to the cabin crew not to bother me (just make sure the seatbelt is on the outside).

Cleaning Up – can make all the difference. Face wipes, lotion, and tooth-brush and toothpaste in my carry on gave me the option to impersonate my normal evening and morning routines.  Just being able to wipe the re-circulated air off my face and bush my teeth was more relaxing than I could have imagined. A post-nap cleaning was refreshing and I arrived at my destination feeling less dirty than I typically do.

Easy Carry-On List for a Smoother Long-Haul Flight

  • head phones/ear buds
  • paper books/magazines
  • snacks
  • melatonin
  • travel pillow/neck pillow
  • eye mask
  • blanket/pashmina/large scarf
  • tooth-brush & toothpaste
  • pre-moistened face wipes
  • lotion for face & hands

Do you have any tips for long flights? Share it with us!

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Night Layover in Nanning

When I first booked my flight to Cambodia, a scheduled 10 hour layover in Nanning, China gave me some pause. I knew nothing about the city nor what I might encounter during my flight change.  Guidebooks and internet resources describe this “small city” of 2 million people as a train stop en-route to Vietnam and tout waterfalls and historic areas outside of town.  As I was due to arrive after midnight, none of this was very informative for me.

My domestic Shanghai Airlines flight was the last arrival of the day.  The small, mostly regional airport closed soon after, with all the lights shutting down and the only staff a cleaning person or two. The doors were propped open, and people were stay inside near the baggage claim, but the heating was turned off and the metal benches were separated by armrests. I took a deep breath and decided to head into town. In the daytime there is a bus you can take to the train station near downtown, but after 11p it’s taxi only.

entrance to the Nanning night market

The taxi driver who flagged me spoke no English (and I speak no Mandarin), but we did manage to communicate through a translation app on his mobile phone, which we passed back and forth. He named an over-priced night rate of 160 CNY, which I accepted (note – next time, haggle!). The 45 minute trip from the airport seemed to fly as he sped around lorries with no regard to speed limit signs or lanes in the road. I had previously read about the Night Market in downtown and decided that could be a place to explore a bit. By the time I got there at 2am on a Thursday morning, the market was about 1/3 open. Restaurants were sweeping trash into piles in the middle of the street and a few locals were stumbling out to catch a ride home.  I walked around the few remaining stalls with seafood on sticks, tofu noodle bowls, and fruits before deciding to venture a little further.  A few blocks through tall, modern concrete buildings leads you to the Yongjiang river. Along the side is a lovely, clean, well manicured park.  Everything was silent and empty.

NNG from the taxi

By 4am I gave up and took a taxi back to the airport, the return trip costing night rate of 116 CNY. This driver didn’t have a translation app, but thankfully I had written down the word “airport” on a post-it note, which did the trick (after he corrected my pronunciation). The first domestic flight out of Nanning is around 7am.  Using my western standards, I assumed the airport would officially re-open 2 hours before. Instead, I walked in circled in the dark airport until the lights turned on at 5:45am and the first check-in counter opened at 6.  My international flight to Phnom Penh at 10am didn’t open for check-in until 9. (side note: I’ve never been so happy to be traveling with only my backpack.)

Lesson learned: if you’re going to have a layover in Nanning, aim for the daytime. The city looked lovely and I hope I get a chance to see it in full glory in the future.

 

bridge across the Yongjiang river

 

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My Top 10 Must Pack Items

On my quest to become a perfect packer (more at PackRat Will Travel), I have learned a few tricks. Below are the top ten items I will no longer travel without…

  1. Pitchable Ponchos
    I pack a few disposable rain ponchos for travel during rainy season, or to locations like the amazing city of London, where rain seems to be a year-round ordeal.  Visitors also underestimate the need for ponchos when vacationing in sunny Central Florida, where brief afternoon thundershowers are a daily occurrence. I typically find ponchos in the drug store for a couple of bucks each. They’re light, take up no room at all, and will prevent you from having to choose between overspending or modeling an unflattering-at-best plastic garbage bag. If your’re preparing to travel with a group, you can also order clear, disposable ponchos by the dozen for $19 at Uline.com.
    *Tip – if you hike into the Costa Rican rainforest, do not leave your rain ponchos in your rental car. http://www.meetuatgate.com/2016/04/30/thats-why-its-called-a-rain-forest/
  2. Techie Tool Kit
    A camera charger, a back-up battery, an extra SD chip, a cell phone charging cord, a Fitbit charging cord, a USB wall port and a USB car converter are my personal top tech needs. All tuck neatly in a transparent sandwich sized Ziplock. With three camera batteries and a cell phone to charge, I easily could employ three converters on an international trip. This summer, mistakenly packed only the converter I would need in Uruguay, South America. I neglected to research whether the same converter would work in Argentina. The answer was NO.
    *Tip – Save yourself some angst. Pack the complete kit, and be done with it.
  3. Pre-Packed Toiletries
    Since traveling intermittently for business in the ’80s, I have kept a grab-and-go toiletry bag packed at all times. When I return home, I refill what’s needed (like a fresh mosquito repellent bracelet) or add an item to my shopping list while it’s fresh on my mind. Among other necessities, I always have antibacterial wipes, my mini sewing kit, a magnifying mirror, a personal heating pad to fend off chills or sore muscles, and a small rubber door stop to wedge under my door for added security while in my room. My fully-packed catch-all bag resides in my small rolling carry on, providing a speedy way to skip town!
    *Tip – Hang a few safety pins from the bag’s zipper pull.
  4. Pretty Pill Box
    Ditch the bulky bottles. I photograph each bottle label with one easily identifiable pill, to ensure I have accurate documentation for two purposes; to verify my prescription while traveling, and to assist in case of a medical emergency. I take a full week in a pretty little pill sorter, with a few extras of my most important medications in case of a delay.
    *Tip – If you are prone to motion sickness, be sure to have your doctor prescribe Transderm patches for behind your ear.  Each works for three days – but the protection WILL wear off if you do not replace it by the end of day three. They fit right in the bottom of my pill case.
  5. Bubble Wrap
    I somehow gravitate towards bringing home “breakables.” So I pack a small roll of bubble wrap. I’ve carried home a vintage vase and a set of beautiful stoneware plates from England. I lugged a treasured pitcher from Paris, wrapped in a layer of bubble wrap, and padded with soft clothing. And I recently transported glass jars of goodies from South America. Yet, due to bubble wrap, I have yet to discover a broken artifact in my bags upon my return.
    *Tip – Consider shipping when you can; you’ll already have the bubble wrap!
  6. A Reusable Tote
    My favorite bags easily cover all bases, transforming between shopping bag, beach bag and “technology undercover bag” to deter thieves. I have very different preferences, depending upon mode of travel and destination. For international travel this inexpensive IKEA pocket-pouch converts into a generous sized backpack. For domestic air travel, I prefer a “personal item” that zips closed, like the duffel style bag available in our MeetUatGate online store. When driving, I prefer an open beach tote  stuffed with easy-to-reach road trip snacks.
    *Tip – The  IKEA pocket bags come in two sizes/styles and make great thank you gifts for travel hosts or new friends who you connect with during your travels. Take a few extra!
  7. Empty Ziplock Bags
    Ziplock bags ensure liquids like local sauces, liqueurs and perfumes do not leak onto your belongings. These also protect your fabrics from absorbing the scents of culinary herbs and seasonings you may want to take to or from your own home kitchen. I collect shells from each beach I visit, and the shells stay divided until I can display them. They also keep the tekkie tools listed above in one place. Quart and gallon sized ziplocks have a perpetual home in my rolling carry-on.
    *Tip – Pack a sharpie and clearly label your bubble wrapped and bagged items. I have this bag of beautiful, unlabeled stones…
  8. Wine Protectors 
    I must admit that I own both versions of these padded wine bags, and use them on nearly every trip. I carry wine, liquor or even olive oils to and fro in these great bags. My brief review: The WineSkin Wine Bag is more durable and a bit more attractive, but I like the heavy cotton absorbent padding in the Jetbag. I once carried a bottle of vino that sprung a slight leak  – and the potential mess was absorbed in my Jetbag, shielding  my clothing and new treasures from red wine..
    *Tip – The Jetbag accommodates BOTH a bottle of wine and a small bottle of sauce or olive oil (upside down and adorned in bubble wrap, of course. )
  9. Camera and Journal: With watercolor pencils and a waterbrush
    A few years ago I started creating a journal page depicting each trip.  I often have to finish them when I arrive home, but I have photos that spark vivid memories, allowing me to re-live sights, sounds and experiences. I write random things like names of kind waiters and foreign language snafus, sketch odd things like road signs and objects, and write descriptive entries about what I hear, see, and feel. The proportions of my scribbles are most times off, but my pages make me smile nonetheless. A waterbrush pen is a great tool for quick sketching on the move. The body of the pen is a water receptacle, so it stays moist without a cup of water nearby.
    *Tip – If you are unsure of your sketching skills, a small pad of tracing paper is your friend. Take rubbings of signs, portions of historic markers, foliage or textures and hand write your notes around them. Photograph or scan your “travel art” once home.
  10. Packing Cubes
    Last but not least, this year I became a packing cube convert! There are more expensive options, but the IKEA four-pack is an easy, inexpensive favorite as a start. For Li, packing cubes are about organization. For me it’s all about compression. When I traveled to South America for three weeks during their winter, I packed heavy sweaters, a sweatshirt, jeans and boots  – and could not believe how much could be rolled and stuffed into a single packing cube. The mesh allows the air to escape while you compress (sit on?) and zip the cube.
    This spring, I traveled to Cabo San Lucas with just a rolling carry-on and my clothing in just the three cubes pictured. The small cube contained five pairs of panties (hidden from view, thanks) and two swim suits, because what sane woman  could go to Mexico with only one? The mid-size cube contains a knit sundress, a pair of leggings, a casual knit dress that doubles as a beach cover-up, and a long sleeved tee. The largest cube is double-sided, with one side containing long cotton pants, a long knit skirt, two tanks,  a men’s white linen shirt, a cotton pashmina, and a strapless bra. The reverse side contained non-clothing items listed above like tech items, rain ponchos and journaling supplies. When I travel internationally, I pack clothing that I plan to leave behind. I plan for for the bubble wrapped treasures and of course, the wine bags full of goodies!
    Serial travelers may want to check out http://bestreviews.com/best-packing-cubes.
    *Tip – A clothing-packed cube doubles as a nice, firm travel pillow. Just pack it into a pillow case. I’ve even carried mine on my flight, as pillows count as neither a personal item nor a piece of luggage.

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JetBlue Serves Up Hugs!

While today’s airlines don’t typically claim to offer the ultimate in luxury, every airline has an opportunity to deliver great service. On August 3, 2016, JetBlue’s team made my day! At Charleston International Airport, Lucia and Caroline were so kind that my second – and final – check-in experience included hugs. My send-off on this International trip to generate work is stellar, yet I’m still in my home city with my first flight delayed nearly two hours.

During my initial check-in Lucia attempted many avenues to grab me a primo seat on my connecting red-eye on LATAM Airlines. She tried her best to ensure I am not seated in the middle on my midnight to 6am flight. Although she was unable to grab me seats, this kind, funny, and engaging professional was fabulous. With a grin, Caroline watched. I told Lucia how awesome she was and rolled my carry-on through to the TSA pre-check line.

Selection for pre-check status is a blessing. How I’ve managed to sail through security the last couple of times is a mystery. Laptop stays in bag, clothing and shoes stay on, and my feet remain germless. But today, even in the premium line, my bag was pulled for closer inspection. Two TSA agents transfer my too-heavy carry-on to the inspection table. Is it the four pounds of Toll House chocolate chips? Did the agent have a problem with the block of Smoked Gouda cheese or the frozen Tasso Ham in my bag? Charleston stone ground grits are certainly not the issue. Yes, Charleston shrimp and grits and Toll House cookies are on the menu for this weekend. Turns out this seasoned traveler tucked a padded bottle of Cave Ridge Port wine in the wrong suitcase.

Do not pass go. Do not proceed to the gate. The choices are slim: Drink the whole bottle of high test wine and stagger back through security. Or re-visit Lucia and Caroline to determine whether I can slip the bottle into my already checked bag. While the first was tempting, I chose the latter option.

Caroline-LuciaLucia not only welcomed me back, but also remembered my name and destination. Caroline laughed with us during the ensuing comedic episode. Had they been two different individuals, would they have been annoyed that I expected them to help me save a bottle of wine? They could have rolled their eyes. Instead, they hugged me, wished me an awesome trip, and allowed me to snap a quick photo of their gracious smiles.

 

WineAndBagAs I begin this particular journey, they remind me of the importance of not just the places you see and the moments you experience, but also the people you meet along the way. Travel never goes exactly as planned. So laugh at your mistakes and enjoy the journey!

My good friend Helene recently advised another friend to take a step back to view a stressful situation as a sitcom episode. Is this season 5, episode 17? A chick lugging a fifty-pound carry-on bag and a forty-pound “personal item” gets ousted from the TSA fast lane for attempting to smuggle a bottle of special Port. Next scene? Upon returning to the fast lane, sans bottle, the TSA passport dude asks why she’s back. She explains. He offers to drink the wine with her when he gets off work. Her luck? It’s already in her checked bag!