Essential long-haul travel hacks from a life on the road

I’ve been touring internationally in my role as a professional sound engineer for around 20 years. I’m also an English ex-pat living in Australia, and I’ve to’d and fro’d since getting together with my Aussie husband in 2006. It’s fair to say that I’ve picked up a fair few travel tricks along the way, so here are my favourite ways to make long-haul travel as painless as possible.

– The biggie: don’t get caught in the middle! As soon as you book a flight, choose your seat. If aisle seats are your thing and you’re travelling alone, choose the outer seat of the middle row of four. The logic behind this is that if a couple gets put in your row, they’ll be put on the outer seat on the other end and the one next to it, leaving the seat next to you free. Obviously if a flight is full then the seat will get filled by a single traveller, but this tactic offers you the best chance of an empty seat next to you. (It doesn’t work for the windowside row as they are generally three seats across.)

– Be aware that although bulk-head seats may offer more leg-room, the arms are fixed as the TV and tray tables live in there; so even if you get an empty seat next door you won’t be able to spread out. It’s also where the baby bassinets are situated… great if you’re flying with a baby, but you might want to steer clear if you’re not.

– Ordering a special meal, even if you have no dietary requirements, is a great move. Special meals get brought out well in advance of the main service and are frequently a lot more interesting. I order Asian Vegetarian, which is generally something Indian or Thai; and I’ve usually finished before the main service has started, meaning I can use the bathroom without the post-meal queue and get settled down for the maximum sleep.

– Take a refillable bottle. Almost all airports have drinking fountains or refill stations, and there are also drinking water taps on long-haul planes (usually near the loos or the service areas), so you save yourself money as well as helping the environment by saying ‘no thanks’ to the silly little plastic bottles that the airlines hand out. As long as your vessel is empty when you go through security, there’s no problem with the 100ml rule and it can be as big as you like, although consider the fact that you’ll need to put it somewhere once you’re on board – any more than a litre gets a bit clumsy.

– Talking of liquids – invest in re-usable clear plastic zip-bags for your small liquids. Keep non-liquid toiletry items in a separate zip-bag – it saves hassle at security because some airport staff get funny about them being mixed. Be prepared BEFORE you get to the conveyor belt – have liquids bag, laptop and tablet out of your carry-on and be ready to remove your belt and shoes if asked. It saves you from getting flustered and means you don’t delay the people behind you!

– Think about comfort – you’re going to be stuck in one seat for up to 17 hours, so jeans, tights and fancy clothing are a really terrible idea. However, that’s no reason to show up looking like you’re going to the gym or haven’t got dressed yet! Save your really daggy trackie pants for home and invest in some middle-ground jersey clothing that looks reasonable but is comfy enough to sleep in. As soon as you board, put your shoes in the overhead locker, put your flight socks on, and leave them on until you land. I also take cosy socks to go on top, and a couple of warm layers – long-haul planes can get really cold.

– Flight socks? I do recommend them. Ankles and legs can get really swollen on long flights, and nobody wants deep vein thrombosis. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’re not a candidate if you’re in good health and not overweight – my legs swell up like an elephant on flights, and a friend of mine got DVT in her early 30s. Neither of us are big people or in poor health, so it can happen to anyone.

– Ear plugs and an eye mask are a must if you want to get some sleep.

– If you have a long layover between flights, check out your options at the transit airport. For example, Singapore has an airside hotel (Aerotel) at terminal 1, which offers 6-hour room packages, including a meal, starting at 70 Singapore dollars (about £38). If you have only a couple of hours to fill, you can use their outdoor pool and very nice shower facilities for just 17 SGD (£10)! Considering how easy it is to spend money feeding and entertaining yourself at an airport, this is one of my all-time top travel finds.

– Let your bank know that you’re going to be out of the country. I travel such a lot that it’s not practical for me to do this for every trip, so I just make them aware that I travel internationally but don’t expect to be making any large purchases. Doing this means that you don’t set alarm bells ringing and have an over-eager bank stopping your card and leaving you stranded when they see overseas activity. This does potentially make you slightly more vulnerable, so get the relevant banking app and check your account daily. This takes seconds and has the added bonus of making you more financially aware and less likely to overspend. Also consider getting an ‘emergencies only’ credit card, just in case your debit card does get stopped for some reason.

– Take a small medicine kit containing whatever over-the-counter remedies you usually use for minor ailments – something I have done ever since trying to explain cystitis to a Russian chemist using only sign language! Even in first world countries that speak your language this is a good move – if you start feeling unwell at 3am you don’t want to have to wait till the shops open and then schlep around trying to find a pharmacy.

Long-haul travel is never completely painless unless you’re up at the pointy end – and if you’re lucky enough to be travelling business or first, take it from me, it’ll ruin you for life when you do have to turn right! But if you take some of these ideas on board, it’ll make the whole experience a lot smoother and you’ll take far less time to recover when you arrive at your destination. Happy travelling and bon voyage!

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