Women in the Know: My sister on surviving long haul flights

Sarah, a wee bit excited to see an elephant in Zambia

I like to think I know a thing or two about travel, but if I’m completely honest it’s my sister who is the expert. Like me Sarah was born with the travel bug and was taken abroad before she had teeth. But having spent almost the last five years living overseas I’m prepared to concede she’s the foremost authority on long haul travel. Sarah has a full passport, a knack for avoiding jetlag and a deep-seated hatred for people who jump up to leave as soon as the plane touches down. As part of my new Women in the Know series I’ve asked her to share some tips for surviving the less enjoyable aspects of travel.

Tell us where you have lived and travelled in the past 5 years?

In 2013 I moved to Samoa for what was meant to be 1 year living abroad, from there I moved to London for further study which took me to Rwanda, where I’ve now lived for over two years. Compared to Australia, Rwanda actually feels incredibly central – its 8 hours direct from London and 6 hours from Dubai! Since living here I’ve been lucky enough to visit all the bordering countries – Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and the DRC, plus Kenya, Zambia, Switzerland, Greece, Italy, France, the UK, Sri Lanka, India, and Australia.

Sarah in Savai’i, Samoa

I’m always jealous of your smart comfortable travel attire, what are your tricks?

I’m not wanting to dress fancy on a long-haul flight, but I also try to avoid looking too schlubby because I always seem to bump into people I know in airports. Or one time I saw Tom Jones! And who wants Tom Jones to see them in tracky daks? So I always wear:

  • Black leggings that are thick and good quality so they are borderline pants.
  • A Big Blankety Scarf, for my sleeping on the plane routine (see below!) and generally for plane warmth. In summer the one I use is actually a Turkish towel I bought in Crete but I feel like it works as a scarf?
  • Underwireless bra.
  • Slip on shoes, for ease of security check and foot swelling situations.
  • My Uniqlo fleece jacket that folds down into a tiny bag, comes with me everywhere, and is collarless so somehow feels a bit less like hiking wear.

Aforementioned Uniqlo fleece jacket… oh and a gorilla! Rwanda

What are your in-flight must haves?

I have a little pouch of in-flight essentials that lives in a drawer in my bathroom whenever I’m not travelling, so I can just grab it and go. In it:

  • Eye-mask from Amazon.
  • Putty earplug which I would upgrade to noise-cancelling earbuds if I wasn’t sure I would lose them immediately. These babies are cheap and you can pick them up in any chemist!
  • Wipes and hand sanitizer because planes are gross.
  • Lucas’s Paw Paw ointment because planes are dry – I dab it inside my nostrils when the plane air dries them out.
  • Socks because planes are cold.
  • Aesop Ginger Flight Therapy which was given to me and to be honest for the longest time I wasn’t sure what to do with a ‘pulse-point therapy roll on’ (nice smelling oil in a little bottle) but then one time someone got onto a flight next to me with the most horrific B.O. I rolled the oil onto a tissue, stuck the tissue into the neck of my top and covered my head with my Big Blankety Scarf and had my own little aromatherapy situation that totally overpowered the terrible B.O.

Cartagena, Colombia

How do you avoid jetlag and manage to get some shut-eye on the plane?

When I fly from Africa to Australia it’s 2 x 10 hour flights – and I probably sleep about 8 hours of each flight. I strongly believe that most of what people think of as jetlag is actually fatigue. I also strongly disagree that you should try and adjust to the new time zone on the flight; my personal theory is that if you sleep as much as you possibly can on the flight, your body will be so confused about what time it’s meant to be on so you can just do a hard reset when you land. It always works for me – I rarely suffer any jetlag in either direction.

A lot of people claim to not be able to sleep on planes, but I say they’re not trying hard enough. It’s easy to get on a plane and feel all excited by the movies and the free food but I say this: have you not seen movies before? Have you not eaten average food before? You have, dear reader, and you will again, so knuckle down and focus on sleeping through this flight so you can hit the ground running on arrival. This is how I do it:

  • I always try to be last on the flight, so once I’m in I know I won’t be interrupted by anyone else boarding and also I can spot free seats. Once the doors are closed, I settle in – shoes off, socks on, earplugs in, eye mask on, Big Blankety Scarf over the head and around the neck and shoulders for warmth, personal aromatherapy depending on how I’m feeling, airline blanket tucked in. It’s kind of a sensory deprivation situation and its key to being able to sleep.
  • I ignore the meals; I make sure I’ve eaten a good meal before boarding and take snacks so I can sleep through the food. I sit there, until I fall asleep. Sometimes this takes what feels like ages! Maybe an hour or more! This is what I mean when I say if you think you can sleep on planes you’re not trying hard enough – most people would try for maybe 20 minutes and then give up and watch a movie, but if you’re patient and committed to it, you will fall asleep and stay asleep, and it will make the flight go by amazingly
    fast, and your arrival be that much more pleasant.

Big Sur, California. I think I have a photo in the very same spot?!

What are some hints for effective packing (i.e. not just throwing it all in a bag and hoping for the best)?

I am pretty obsessive about packing light because I hate schlepping around things I don’t need. If possible, I travel with only carry-on. I did a 6-week trip to Cuba, Guatemala and Mexico, and a month in India with only a carry-on size backpack. I just came back from 8 days in Nairobi for work with only carry-on. When you only have carry-on, you get out of the airport so much quicker, you move around so much more easily, and there is no risk of having your bag lost which is always an enormous ball-ache!

The key to packing light is that it takes time – if you pack in a rush you will throw all sorts of random stuff in there, but if you take time to plan outfits rather than just throwing in clothes willy-nilly, and you’re prepared to hand-wash things on the road (do it in the shower!), you can take so much less.

Going bananas in Cuba

Any final tips?

Always assume if you’re checking in that your bag will be delayed and ensure you have a spare set of essentials in carry-on, memorise your passport details to make immigration and flight booking smoother, and for the love of god don’t stand up as soon as the plane lands.

And where to in 2018?

The US, Indonesia and Malawi for work, Mozambique for fun, Egypt and Romania to visit my husband’s family, Tanzania and Spain for weddings, and Australia for Christmas.

Sarah and I in Crete circa 2016

In Kenya last year

Thanks Sarah, for being my first Woman in the Know!

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12 Responses to Women in the Know: My sister on surviving long haul flights

  1. Lynne O'Brien says:

    Well that’s a hard act to follow! 😉 So wise!

  2. Jess Carey says:

    Love!! And with that much travelling, she clearly knows what she’s talking about! I’m a big fan of the Blankety Scarf too, but I realllyyy like the sound of having your own little aromatherapy session! Great tip!

    • Bec says:

      Me too! My cousin recently stayed with me and brought her amazing aromatherapy oil collection, I’m so keen to get a diffuser now! Although weirdly the lavender oil did not help me sleep, I just love the smell of oils in my house.

  3. Olympia says:

    Awesome tips & super interesting! Can’t wait for more of this series 🙂

  4. Ellie says:

    I love this! Excellent tips. I’m lucky to be a good sleeper so can always manage to conk out pretty quickly on flights but my husband believes that he ‘can’t sleep’ on flights….perhaps he just isn’t trying hard enough!

  5. This is great! I think she’s spot on about jet lag, I always just sleep as much as possible, although that was pretty-baby days. It’s a bit more complicated now.

    • Bec says:

      My heart goes out to parents of little ones on planes! It must be really hard, especially with all those helpful judgemental looks from other passengers…

  6. Michelle says:

    I love the advice: if you can’t sleep on planes, you aren’t trying hard enough! (Although flying with children is another thing altogether when it comes to sleeping…) I generally apply that advice to all aspects of life! If you are privileged, educated, employed and can’t buy a house…you aren’t trying hard enough! ( I have bought two on a single parent and part-time teacher’s wage…) If you can’t lose weight (as I can’t, post-40) then I am not trying hard enough! (and I am not! Unless drinking red wine and eating cheese while the kids play could be considered trying…) If more people tried harder in all aspects of their life, we would all be better for it!
    You and your sister are fabulous, Bec! I check in on your blog every few months and I am never disappointed.

    • Bec says:

      Haha I love this comment!! Thanks for checking in Michelle. I am definitely not trying hard enough to get fit when I’m making my own ice cream sandwiches with gooey Woolworths cookies…

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