Like many travelers, I have developed my own routines and preferences for doing life on the road. Some I do purely for my own amusement, others I find are necessary for my comfort. While some of this might seem a bit OCD to you, my quirky ways make me a less cranky and more well-adjusted companion. And so, I willingly expose myself in the likely event that it will help you in your journey. I’ve learned what works for me over the years and encourage you to do the same. Bonne chance!
A word on being FLEXIBLE. Without a doubt this is the single best quality one can possess when traveling (perhaps in life), especially if you are with a group, especially if you don’t know your travel companions well. I have found myself in the craziest situations of my life whilst abroad and a more rigid person would have gone straight to the loony bin at best – to prison at worst! Sometimes things don’t always go the way you’d imagined. Bring along a self-deprecating sense of humor, and life will be even better.
Wherever you go, take the time to talk to the locals. Everyone is an expert of their own surroundings, so ask the opinion of others. You’ll learn more, be enchanted and make new friends – an experience that reading a guide-book can’t give you. If you don’t speak the language, learn the greetings and some basic phrases. It will go a long way. Most likely you’ll find yourself pointing and hand gesturing a lot, laughing all the while. Kindness and respect speak in any language.
I once met a guy who told me he had this rule: he never sat down in airports because he figured he had a lot of time to that on the plane. Fair enough. I always think of him when I am waiting to board a looooong flight. I can’t say that I live by his rule, but it’s worth considering.
If you know in advance that you are going to be in an airport for at least a few hours, do some research ahead of time to see what sort of stuff the terminals offer. Some will be totally devoid of food or drink let alone entertainment or shopping, but others will have a lot of interesting options including spa services, movie theatres, couture shopping, bar and lounge, swimming pool, gaming rooms, gardens, even places to shower and sleep.
The longest single layover I’ve had without leaving the airport is 13 hours. I spent half a day in Tambo International Airport, in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was seriously travel weary upon arrival, as it was not the first leg of my journey. Coupled with the fact that I would have had to get a visa, clear customs and pass security for a few hours didn’t seem worth it to leave. I learned a thing or two about how to pass the time. When you know you’ve got a whole day ahead of you, dig deep, get creative and engage all your senses to stave off whatever boredom threatens to ruin you.
Necessity they say, is the mother of invention. So, I give you, Global Staci’s Layover Survival System!
#1 – Get to the restroom and clean up. I wear contact lenses, and sometimes I need to take off my glasses, wash my face, put in my lenses, brush my hair…you get the picture. Go through as many of your personal cleaning rituals as the space will allow. You’ll feel better almost immediately!
#2 – Listen to your body. If your time in the airport begins in the evening when not much is open and you are tired, see if they have a quiet room or a place to sleep. Even if it costs something, it’s probably worth it. If you are hungry head to a restaurant, with table-service if available. Take your time and eat with pleasure. People watching is always a good pastime and no less so when you are eating alone. If you notice someone else dining solo, bravely go where few go and ask to join them.
#3 – Stretch your legs. I make my rounds in the airport no matter how small it is (okay, some airports are really small, but you need to get moving if you’re gonna be there for a while). This is an opportunity to get the lay of the land so you can plan your time.
#4 – Armed with information, make a schedule for yourself if that helps you. If there is a book shop, I treat it almost like a library, casually perusing the books at my leisure. This is something I don’t take time to do at home, so I find it a pleasure. I might purchase a book or magazine then head for a comfortable spot and read it cover to cover. If there is a spa (mini-spas seem to be popping up in many terminals these days) I book a treatment. Consider catching up on journaling, blogging or keeping in touch with friends via email or Facebook.
#5 – Design a project. Set goals and write with intention how you plan to follow them. Create a photographic essay of how you spend your time, or a visual study in something interesting you observe such as a fashion trend. Pay it forward; wander with the intent of helping others. Write a love letter. Find a place to practice yoga. Meditate. Relax. Enjoy.
#6 – Practice gratefulness for the time you have and for being mindful of how you spend it.
Let me begin with what I call my “Standard Flight Prayer” since I am someone who prays. I’ve shared this with many an anxious traveler – maybe it will help calm your nerves too.
“Dear Lord, whether on the ground or in the air, please don’t allow any harm, death, fear, injury, anxiety or a bad attitude to come to anyone aboard this aircraft, and let our bags arrive on time exactly as we packed them. Amen.”
I’ve been praying these words on every tarmac I’ve graced for as long as I can remember. The last two items, the bad-attitude-and-baggage part, I added after mishaps in each category. Future modifications will depend on future travels. [Smile.]
Guidelines on clothing. I never wear denim or restricting fabrics and prefer elastic waistbands for long flights. I always dress in multiple layers that can be removed easily. Once I know I’ll be seated for a while, I take off my shoes. For flights over five hours, I put on compression socks. And, I always take a change of clothes in my carry on bag, which wards off the “ickies” and the “stinkies.”
Because I am not usually in the first class cabin (okay almost never) I’ve got a few tricks to keep me more comfortable in the cattle car. I used to prefer the window seat for sleeping, but now I try to sit on the aisle, preferring instead to get out of my seat more frequently and stretch my long legs more easily. Before settling in for slumber, I make a trip to the bathroom and wash my face and brush my teeth just like I would anywhere else. Sleeping in an upright position isn’t exactly easy for anyone, but a neck pillow, eye mask and earplugs make it a whole lot more likely you’ll catch some Z’s. I also opt to take meals when they are offered, rather than sleeping through them. It helps me regulate my body more effectively and get over jet lag quicker.
Finally, I am not above watching a great movie in flight more than once! If the entertainment system offers news or other programming related to your destination, it’s fun to watch that too.
Travel in the developing world means that you will be wise to get yourself vaccinated against all sorts of nasties. Some countries require proof of certain immunizations to enter. Consult your personal physician or travel clinic professional to get the most current information.
I’m the sort of person who doesn’t like to take even an aspirin for a headache, so you could say I’m sort of anti-meds. But I ain’t stupid! I always take my Cipro with me for tummy troubles and a bunch of over-the-counter remedies for constipation, diarrhea, headache, allergy, cuts & wounds….you name it. It’s also helpful to have a good pair of tweezers, nail clippers and alcohol swabs. Many folks like to take something to help them sleep on long flights. Travel for me often means I get a break from two young children so I need NO help sleeping, but I’ve tried Melatonin, a natural sleep aid.
If you suffer from motion sickness (think bumpy winding roads, choppy water, even roller coasters) the best remedy I’ve tried is Relief Band Voyager. It actually zaps you with a low-level electrical current that talks to your nerve, which apparently talks to your stomach. It’s helped me get through some heavy seas while sailing and if you have bad motion sickness, you might consider giving it a try. Be sure if you purchase Dramamine to get the non-drowsy formula unless you want to sleep through life! Others seem to like the Sea-Band bracelets, which can also be purchased as at most pharmacies.
Don’t forget your prescription meds and bring along a copy of the prescription in case you lose them and need to fill it again~!
I love to eat. I love to try new things. In fact, I think it’s crucial to maintain an open posture towards eating at another’s table. I would hate to insult anyone, make them uncomfortable, or cause them to doubt themselves as a gracious host. However, we all have our limits. I have a vivid memory of being served a highly prized cut of meat for my dinner in Madagascar. I was the guest and as such got dibs on the best stuff. Turns out it was tongue of Zebu, the Malagasy cow. Let’s just say I’m an unlikely guest on Andrew Zimmern’s television show Bizarre Foods. As politely as possible, I ate around my plate’s main attraction.
Having said that, I’ve tried all kinds of things and enjoyed most of them. Fortunately, I also have an iron clad stomach. I find that very little upsets it. Remember Benjamin Franklin’s words, “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.” Stay safely hydrated. This means you will need to drink more water than you think.
ABOVE ALL ELSE, before eating (and in general) WASH YOUR HANDS! I am a chronic hand washer. And I don’t mean use that anti-bacterial alcohol-based stinking hand sanitizer! Good old-fashioned soap and water will do the trick and is widely available. When it’s not, use hand sanitizer. But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s the same thing as hand washing. Be careful not to touch your face or your food (if possible) until you can wash you hands.
We all have them. Best to find out what yours are before you leave home. Someone once asked me what things I can’t live without. After wracking my brain to come up with something I had to concede, there’s nothing I can’t live without. There are, however, a few things I would really really miss. Some things are easy enough to bring along. I’m pretty low maintenance. If there is something you can’t live without and you can’t bring it along, you had better adjust your expectations or please – stay home.
- A notebook or paper and something to write with. Necessary to write down things you don’t want to forget. Or to give a heartfelt handwritten note or your email address to a new friend.
- Interesting Reading. Wherever I travel I love to read the local paper, if it’s in English. Since I’m not literate in any other language, I like having a book or two that I can sink my teeth into. Even if you prefer conversation over reading, as I do, there will be times when there ain’t anyone to talk with.
- A camera and video camera.
- Sunglasses. I miss them when I don’t have them, in winter too.
- Lip gloss. Origins Hula Girl is my favorite.
- Freshly ground coffee with cream. I find that I miss this most while I’m traveling because a lot of the world simply doesn’t have great coffee. Instant coffee has totally invaded the planet and become the bane of the coffee drinkers everywhere.
Grandma – “It will all come out in the wash.”
Uncle Paul – “Poor planning equals poor performance.”
Seal – “But we’re never gonna survive, unless, we get a little crazy.”