When it comes to airplane travel – the well-worn phrase “the journey is more important than the destination” can depend on one all important factor – are you a savvy traveller? You don’t have to be an experienced frequent flyer to be travel-savvy, but you can certainly travel better when you are a well-informed traveller.
I am not a seasoned traveller, but I would like to stay that I am now a savvy traveller when it comes to airplane travel as I have clocked up quite a few air miles during my life-time. Although I am still not 100% convinced that I am a fan of this mode of travel, I believe that if you are prepared with some essential tourist travel tips you will travel more comfortably. So before I begin this guide for newbie plane travellers, let me digress.
The first time I dreamed of being on a plane was when I was a child. As I stood in my backyard and gazed up at the sleek white underbellies of the many planes that flew thousands of miles above our house, I wondered what it would be like to travel on one of those amazing flying machines. My nana lived near the airport and from her balcony I used to watch the airplanes coming into land at Mascot airport. At night they looked like tiny fairy lights twinkling away in the night sky.
The next time I was at the airport I was saying goodbye to my dad who was going back to visit his homeland, England. With my face pressed up against the glass in the terminal lounge, I watched one of the 747’s take off and it looked impressive as it raced down the runway and gracefully rose from the confines of the earth into the endless abandonment of the sky. As I got older I continued to dream and save so that I would, one day, be escaping to far-flung romantic destinations and exploring iconic cities that I had only read about in a book or seen on the television.
But one of my earliest experiences of the airport that impressed upon me were the masses of people rushing to and fro with luggage piled high on trolleys or dragging their baggage behind them. I wondered why so many of them looked so cranky because in my mind I saw them as the lucky ones who were able to fly away from grim reality and escape to exciting and exotic destinations.
I would ask my friends who were experienced travellers about these weary-looking passengers and the responses quite often were “It’s because some of them are about to miss their flights, or they have been stuck on a plane for over 20 hours and that’s a long time to be sitting in one place.” At the time I did not give these responses much thought, but now that I have had the opportunity to be one of those cranky worn-out plane commuters, I sympathise wholeheartedly.
An introduction to the ‘joys’ of plane travel.
My first plane flight was terrifying. I was on a short domestic flight from Sydney to Coolangatta, which is located on the Gold Coast. My travel buddy, a more experienced traveller, failed to tell me about the dreaded word that haunts all frequent flyers- turbulence! Honestly, I thought I was going to die. The plane was going up and down and I am sure side-to-side. Of course now I know that the pilot was dropping the plane a thousand feet or so to escape the bad weather. I had never been scared of death before but that was because I had never been faced with it. At least that was what I believed at the time.
I looked over at my friend who sitting next to me as cool as a cucumber and she glanced back at me with an amused expression, patted my arm and said “Don’t worry it’s only turbulence, it will all be over soon.” In disbelief I stared at her and thought “Great thanks for telling me – now!” Secretly I wanted her to be as panic stricken like I was. And what’s worse, as we finally came into land, this terrible searing pain began to run from my ears into my neck. My ears were blocked, but I could certainly hear my heart hammering away. My friend was still calm as ever and infuriatingly insensitive to my suffering – miserable comforter that she was – “Just blow through your nose and your ears will unblock” – was her cool response. Yeah right! It took me an hour after the flight to unblock them.
Since that day I have flown several times, and if there has ever been any turbulence, I had become as nonchalant as my travel buddy had been. I have had a few scary moments since then, but all of my journeys had only been short domestic flights. I had not attempted the flight to end all flights – the international or transatlantic flight.
Sydney to London is 21+ hours, with a short stop over in Singapore (these days it is via Dubai). I now fully understand all those grumpy irritable “get out of my way I want to kill someone first and then have a shower second” travellers I saw in the airport all those years ago.
Aviation is completely unnatural. The birds have got it right. Unfortunately we will never be able to take to flight like our feathered friends. Airplane travel can be enjoyable if you have the privilege of flying Business or First Class, but being stuck for hours squashed between other cranky travellers and having to sit in a cramped seat can feel like a nightmare. All Economy travellers look forward to getting up and stretching their legs which never seems to stretch anything. One month later and I still had knots in places I never knew existed.
If you are new to plane travel do not despair or panic, just remember these Top Ten Tourist Travel Tips and you will be a savvy traveller and hopefully a more comfortable one.
1. Research your chosen airline and your country of destination.
A savvy traveller knows what to expect from plane travel. Of course, this does not include unforeseen circumstances. If you research the effects of plane travel and the details of the airline that you will be travelling with your mind will be put at ease. Also researching your destination has a two-fold purpose: you will be familiar with the country’s culture, weather, transport options, and it also helps you to be prepared when you finally leave the airport.
When I travel I always research the details of my chosen airline such as their seat options, food and entertainment as these things can change depending on the airline. Before I left Australia to fly to England I researched the best option for traveling from London to Yorkshire. The answer was: National Express Coaches. And if you book online you might be able to snag a cheap fare.
There are also some good travel sites on the Internet that will help you become a well-informed traveller. https://smartraveller.gov.au.
2. Ask a travel agent.
If you are still a little old fashioned and you do not like the idea of booking through a website, a reputable travel agent can not only can secure you a good deal, they can provide additional information about travel as well. They have the travel experience and they have heard many tales from other travellers, so it is well worth asking them for advice.
3. Avoid Alcohol if you can. Drink plenty of water.
Being a captive passenger for an exceedingly long time makes a plane traveller look forward to the food, which is pretty good these days. Then there is the alcohol, which we are told by the experts to avoid and drink water instead. Alcohol may distance you from the reality of being stuck in a hollow noisy metal tube but it can be very dehydrating. On a long flight I still like to have a drink or two but I alternate my alcohol with glasses of water as it helps with the dehydration that can result from the air conditioning.
4. Dream of your destination.
Whether it is a business trip, a holiday or flying home to see the relatives, think or dream about what you will be doing once you leave the plane. One thing I got right as a complete novice to the rules of flying is that when things get hairy in the air my thoughts turned to my future destination, my holiday, which I have been dreaming about for months.
When it comes to flying – the destination is more important than the journey. Flying is just a means to an end.
Of course, plane travel has its perks – your own personal entertainment system. And if you are unable to pay for the luxurious Business Class or First Class, you now have the Economy Plus option that offers slightly wider seating and more leg room.
5. Take the aisle seat.
Not everyone will agree with me, but if you are terrified of heights do not sit in the window seat, you will be tempted to look out the window. If you have ever seen the original Twilight Zone movie, you will never look out a window again. So try to get an aisle seat. You may have to be mindful of the drink trolley as it sails merrily by at some ridiculous hour, but at least you can get up and stretch your legs without having to clamber over your fellow passengers in the adjoining seats.
6. Be Entertained.
Keep yourself entertained. Watch the movie, listen to music, read a book, play a game. If you have a smartphone or iPad, you can switch them to Flight mode, when you are advised to do so, and live -stream the music from the in-flight music channel. Many airlines offer fantastic on-board entertainment options. Also consider this – you are paying for it as part of your flight so why not use it. Entertainment will distract you from your fears. Simple, but effective.
7. Travel medicine.
Travel sickness can have you stuck in the toilet at the airport, which can cause you to possibly miss your flight, but if you buy some travel medicine – you can be spared this embarrassment. Ginger is also good for an upset stomach. If you forget to buy medicine before hand, you should be able to purchase some at the airport.
8. Take earplugs and eye-drops.
Earplugs can help with the in-flight noise: crying babies or overly chatty fellow travellers.
Eye-drops are a good way of coping with dry or irritated eyes during your flight. I developed an allergy on my way back from London and I was almost blind for most of the flight. Fortunately a friendly fellow traveller helped me locate my luggage once we had reached Sydney. But some eye-drops would have come in handy.
9. Buy a travel eye mask.
A travel eye mask can help to block out any light. Even when the lights are dimmed on the plane, there will still be reading lights that could cause you grief and make you loose sleep.
10. Take a travel pillow.
An airline will usually provide you with a pillow, but bring your own in case you want to have a short kip in the airport lounge. But remember to keep your eye on the time. Time flies in the airport, which causes many travellers to miss their flights. You will know who these travellers are, they are the people who are running like crazy through the terminal.
This is my personal favourite travel tip: Buy some lollies. They can help when your ears begin to block as the plane starts its descent.
Finally, remember the travel mantra: When it comes to flying, it is not the journey that matters but the destination.