The Flight Thing (Solo Backpacking series)

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

Quick disclaimer: I'm not a vulgar person but my vocabulary can be colourful. My life is R-rated and my website occasionally reflects that. Be aware of some frank language. (All my photos are PG, but please read blogs before sharing with kids).


Your travels to an exciting new destination, or to a familiar one, will start your vacation on either the wrong or right foot. Regardless of where we are heading, so few elements of travel are within our control. Here are 26 things (that are within our control!) that could help make our journeys as pleasant as possible.


BUY YOUR TICKET

1. Purchase directly from airlines Years ago, I’d hunt for deals on third-party websites such as Expedia, but the discounts and good customer service have long since disappeared. If you have problems with your flight, luggage or cancellations, most airlines won’t help you out if you’ve purchased through a middleman. Skyscanner.com has a great feature: Type in your closest airport, type ‘Everywhere’ as the destination and a slew of national or global cities will pop up. Helpful and pretty cool. So now I check out third-party sites for flight ideas, then pop over to the airline itself. For a flight from Canada to Croatia, Expedia and GoogleFlights both quoted higher prices and less favourable routes (2+ stops) than the Lufthansa website itself.

2. Maximize your flight time For domestic flights (mainly flights to see family members), I usually catch a red-eye. That way, precious family time doesn’t get used up to fly, especially as I can usually snooze on an airplane. Actually, I try to book red-eye flights across the Atlantic whenever possible. Provided I get some shut-eye, I usually wake up at my new destination and can better adjust to the new time zone. And for flights across the world, well… whatever works. Do the best you can.

3. Choose a window seat whenever possible You won’t have to get up for others and you can lean against the window to sleep. Skip the coffee or minimize your intake of liquids in this case.

4. Or, choose an aisle seat If you’re tall or if flying leaves you feeling claustrophobic, choose an aisle seat so that you can indulge in the occasional sprawl. Even better, you won’t inconvenience anyone when you get up for your regular stroll down the aisle.


PACK YOUR CARRY-ON BAG

5. Bring extra clothes \ toiletries This has saved my ass several times now. I bring a small bag of tiny toiletries, as well as extra undies, bra, trousers, top, swimsuit and even shoes or socks. The airline lost my luggage for 2 days when I flew to Ireland; exploring rainy, sticky Dublin (and shopping for clothes and toiletries) would have royally sucked without those extras.

6. Keep electronics and liquids accessible You’ll be taking these items out for security, so make sure they’re easy to find in your carry-on. Place liquids in a waterproof bag. When she’s going through security, my friend Jenn grabs a bunch of those 1L plastic bags and keeps them for later use.

7. Keep sleep stuff handy Inflatable neck pillow, earplugs and eye mask should be easy to find in your carry-on.

8. Bring a collapsible (or at least reusable) water bottle Fill it up after passing through security. Drink sparingly if you’re sitting by the window.

I really like HydraPak’s 750ml collapsible water bottle. I found that it stood up very well even when mostly empty, and it stayed sturdy in my hand as I was drinking from it.

9. Bring a charging stick You might not have access to a working USB charger, so this might come in handy.

10. Pack healthy snacks Fresh hard fruit (not bananas, which might be squashed) or dried fruit, pretzels or popcorn, fruit bars, crackers or rice cakes, protein bars, jerky, even your own tea bag. As much as I love nuts, I’d really prefer not to accidentally provoke an anaphylactic reaction; I can live without my favourite snack for a day.

11. Bring a few antibacterial wet wipes Wipe down your tray table. Wipe your hands after using the bathroom.

12. Bring a small packable bag in your carry-on Between security and boarding, I keep everything I’ll need during the flight itself (sleep stuff, laptop, iPod and earphones, books, pen, snacks) in this small bag under the seat in front of me, and keep the rest in my carry-on (stowed in the overhead compartment).


I like Eddie Bauer’s 30L packable backpacks. They pack into a small upper pocket (where you can stash keys, wallets and IDs), are made of durable fabric and are solidly built.

YOUR CHECKED BAG

13. Wear your heaviest clothing on the flight to minimize baggage weight Even to a tropical destination, a coat or sweater can cover you up in a chilly cabin or be bundled into a pillow if you don’t have one. Same with a scarf or a wrap. A hat can cover your face and block light out during a flight.

14. Tie on a luggage tag or colourful ribbon Useful if you’re checking a standard black suitcase or backpack.

15. Photocopy tickets, passport, health cards or health forms and VISA passes Email copies to yourself, then keep them in a folder. My mom has electronic copies of my passport, just in case a copy needs to be emailed to an embassy somewhere. Having physical proof of your first-night accommodations is a good idea too, as well as copies of any return flights. Some countries actually require « proof of exit ». Ex: New Zealand required physical proof of my ticket OUT of the country, which I had purchased but hadn’t printed. I came close to having to buy a second return flight at the gate, at the risk of being denied boarding, until a kindly agent allowed me to print my return ticket (accessed from my email account) directly from his desk at Heathrow Airport. Close call; I’m not sure I’ll ever be that lucky again.

16. Take a photo of your checked bag You can send it to the airline if it gets lost and it’ll be easier for them to find it or identify it.


ENJOYING YOUR FLIGHT

17. Wear minimal jewelry through security It could set off security sensors and it’s just more stuff to take off and put back on. Keep all but your most valuable jewelry in your checked luggage.

18. Set your watch to your destination time Try to plan your meals and sleep accordingly, and you’ll adjust to the new time zone all the more easily.

19. Download free airline apps before boarding Air Canada Rouge has a great app that allows you to upload tons of free movies to watch with your own device. Make sure said devices are fully charged before boarding.

20. Make a fun, new playlist Create a music playlist that matches your destination country. Get pumped up for a fun tropical holiday, upload some new rockers or discover music from your upcoming travels. While researching Norway, I discovered some cool stuff by Mari Boine; I’ll definitely be listening to this on the plane ride to Norway.

21. Listen to podcasts or audiobooks Download something funny or inspiring to distract you. Here are Time Magazine’s 50 Best Podcasts.

22. Bring an exciting new book or an old favourite I usually carry one of Bill Bryson’s books in my carry-on. They are worth their weight in giggles and amusing anecdotes. Bring sudoku puzzles, do some colouring. Whatever floats your boat.

I’ve read A Short History of Nearly Everything four times now. Bill Bryson always makes me laugh, and his witty and self-deprecating humour feels like home (cozy and familiar) when I’m far away.

23. Bring your own headphones Watch a new movie, download a series from Netflix or listen to your favourite tunes, but don’t get caught having to pay for low-quality earbuds on the flight.

24. To recline or not to recline A huge debate has erupted online about this recently, which I find both embarrassing and nonsensical. Here are the non-emotional facts: All personal seats recline on planes (with a few exceptions), and you are absolutely within your rights to use it accordingly. As is everyone else. You are also within your rights to use your personal tray table, to turn on your personal light, to use your personal air vent and to watch a movie on your personal screen. I recline my seat once during my flight and I tend to leave it that way until the plane is ready to land. I take care to recline it gently, so as not to startle the passenger or jostle items behind me. I travel more than almost anyone I know, and people have reclined the seat in front of me countless times. If it crowds me or inconveniences me, it’s MY problem. If the person next to me is reading with their personal light and I didn’t bring a sleeping mask, it’s MY problem. If my neighbour wants to open their air vent and I didn’t bring a sweater, it’s MY problem. If I really want more leg room or elbow room or headspace room, I must spring extra cash for a better seat or I must suck it up. Period. Let’s keep emotions out of it and deal with life’s little inconveniences in non-Neanderthal ways. Common sense goes a long way here.

25. Take a photo of your parking space Find your car more quickly when you return.

26. Lastly, be smart and travel-savvy. It’s not their problem, it’s mine. Repeat this mantra in your head if need be. Rescheduled or cancelled flights are a pain. Unexpected charges (for heavy bags, for instance) are a pain. Regardless of whose fault it all is, and how frustrating it all is, this is the bottom line: That airline employee behind the desk holds all the power to make or break your trip; to cancel your trip outright or to book you on another flight without charge. Your flight attendant is the one holding your water and your hot coffee. So be intelligent about controlling your temper and your attitude; passengers yelling or losing their cool at airline employees or fellow travellers ALWAYS look amateurish and unworldly. Always.

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