Flying 101: how to fly like a pro in 7 steps
I took my first intercontinental flight when I was 19. My parents did not allow me to travel by myself till the age of 18, so obviously I had some catching up to do. I was travelling to Costa Rica by myself. It was the first time I left Europe, the first time I travelled by myself and I was going to a Spanish speaking country while not speaking a word of Spanish.
What I remember most about that flight is the 14 hour layover I had during that journey. You see, 19 year old me thought saving $100 dollars by doing 14 hours in Atlanta was a GREAT idea..
Little did I know that the whole airport would shut down during the night I was spending there (I was used to 24 hour Schiphol after all), that there would be creepy cleaners who wanted to take pictures of me and asked me where I was staying later.. It was also freezing cold, so I ended up sleeping curled up in a ball at a different gate than the one I was flying out from, after I realised that by telling the creepy men of the cleaning crew where I was flying to, they'd be able to locate me in the deserted airport.
3 years later I am sitting in Hanoi, writing this blogpost. We flew in via Kuala Lumpur (coming from Bali) this morning. Since that first long flight (which must have been about my 7th flight all up) I've lost track of the number of airplanes I've been in. My best guess is that that number is somewhere between 50 and 100.
Here's what I've learned after all those flights. Here are my 7 tips for flying like a pro:
1. What to bring on the flight: I never travel without a) warm socks b) a scarf and c) a sweater or vest, regardless of where I'm going. It is usually super cold high in the air and there is often airconditioning in planes. I've once sat through a 7 hour flight next to someone who insisted on putting his airflow thingy (by lack of a better description) to the "Siberian" setting. The only reason why I did not emerge from that flight with a sore throat was the fact that I had my scarf handy. Other handy things to take with you: special flight socks which will support the blood flow in your legs (especially important if you have a family history of thrombosis) and a travel pillow and sleeping mask.
2. Business lounges: Nothing has improved my travel experiences as much as starting to spend my time in the business lounges during lay-overs. You can access them through certain frequent flyer programs (if you don't have a business class ticket or specific type of creditcard). Its more quiet than the rest of the airport, there is free food, cleaner toilets and if you're lucky even showers. Being able to shower in between two 7 hours flights makes a world of difference. Trust me.
3. Clothing: After I take said shower (or even if I don't), there is nothing that makes you feel more like a human being again, than being able to put on a fresh t-shirt, socks and underwear. (I'd also recommend having deodorant and a toothbrush in your hand luggage). Also, if your checked luggage gets lost or delayed, you have at least got some spare clothes with you.
4. Bags: I travel with a small backpack, it is small enough to go under the seat in front of me, so I never risk having to check it on on a very busy flight. Inside of that bag I usually carry a canvas bag. This allows me to put my laptop & liquids in there before we go through security (so I don't have to pull them out of my -usually overflowing- bag while there are people waiting behind me). After security I like to put the things I need during the flight in there, so I can put the rest of my belongings in the overhead compartment and forget about them for the rest of the flight.
5. Checking in: Granted, I don't always do this, however if you do have access to a printer, just make sure you check in online before you get to the airport. It saves you time when checking in (especially if you travel with hand luggage only) and it ensures you can pick your preferred seat. Win-win!
6. Getting organised: Checking in online can save you a lot of stress, but it pays off to be organised in the rest of your travels as well. Pre-arrange your visa whenever you can so you don't have to stand in line after 22 hours of travel, plan your sleeping schedule during your flight. I always like to work out when I should be sleeping during my travels, especially if I have to take two long haul flights in a row. When we went from Serbia to Bali, I managed to stay awake during the whole first flight (7 hours) and the 8 hour layover (spent in the business lounge with friends) and slept during the entire next flight (10 hours), meaning I basically had a full nights rest by the time we arrived.
Another thing is that you want to take the minimal amount of flights possible. We used to fly from Amsterdam to Dubai, to Australia to Auckland, however after the introduction of the longest flight in the world at the moment (Dubai-Auckland, which is 17 hours), our travel time has been decreased by up to 4 hours. Layovers and changing planes takes a lot of time, try to avoid it wherever possible.
7. Special meals: When I was a "fulltime vegetarian" I always used to request special meals on planes. And even now, after becoming a lot more flexible, I still keep up that habit. Requesting (aka pre-booking) a special meal means you are one of the first people who gets served (no waiting for your food <3) and in my experience the vegan food is often a lot better than the general choices (especially in Asia).
BONUS: Airport hotels: My most recent discovery (we stayed in one last night) but OMG what a game changer. After an evening flight out of Bali, we arrived in Kuala Lumpur around midnight. By 1am we were checked into our hotelroom (which they rent out for a minimum of 6 hours) where a super comfortable two person bed, a shower and toiletries awaited us. I was basically knocked out as soon as my head hit the pillow. We checked out at 7, went for a relaxed breakfast and then boarded our next flight. I'll definitely be spending some of my future layovers this way!
I hope this helps you to improve your flying experience and I'd love to hear your travel hacks and secrets!
Love from Hanoi,
P.s. the picture is from a flight I took, in which me and my friends basically filled up the entire businessclass section and during which we were served some lovely Moroccan tea! (we were flying into Casablanca)