Airplanes- how we love to hate them. Tight spaces, miserable food in those rare instances when it’s served at all, and the fun of sharing space for hours with a load of strangers. At times, serendipity places you by a fascinating person but other times you get the toddler kicking your seat, the arguing couple slinging insults, or someone who insists on discussing politics.
While those are certainly nightmare situations, most of my airplane trips have been bearable at least, and many more were delightful. It helps to reframe the situations. On my first flight to Greece, a bunch of folks at the back of the plane were literally having a party. Needless to say, I couldn’t sleep so I wandered back to use the restroom and perhaps ask them to tone it down a bit. I encountered several Greek families heading home for a family wedding. They were brimming over with happiness. Despite my abysmal, nonexistent Greek language skills, they pulled me into the family group and by the flight’s end I had invitations to several homes in Greece. (I didn’t go, mainly because I was traveling with my teenage son and our plans were already set.) But despite a sleepless night, it was a memorable flight with memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Airplane Survival Pack
Assuming you’re an adult traveling by yourself or with other adults, there are a few things you can pack that will make your flight easier. Parents of small children will need a much larger emergency pack tailored to their children’s needs.
Earplugs. I never travel without them. They muffle all sorts of unpleasantness.
Tiger balm. It can be used on the temples for headaches, under the nose for sinus congestion, and on complaining joints or muscles for pain relief. And the jar is small enough for your tiny tsa bag.
A lightly scented scarf or handkerchief. You don’t want to give your seat mates headaches with a 90s style power perfume, but a light scent that you can bring near your nose if the stale airplane odors start to make you queasy can be a lifesaver. Vanilla or lavender scents are especially soothing.
Eyeshade. This is especially good for long flights when the lights are often on when you should be catching shut eye.
Melatonin. For international multi- time zone flights, I take a pill at bedtime in the new zone. Does it help? Maybe. But I’m up for trying everything to minimize jet lag.
Ebooks. As an avid (and speed) reader, I love ebooks! I used to have to buy 5 or 6 books at the airport to get through my flight and give them away as I left the plane. Ebooks are much lighter.
Swimsuit. No, one cannot usually swim on the plane, but a quick dip in the hot tub at my destination can unkink my sore body.
Plugs for electronics. Many planes now have plug ins at each seat. This is especially wonderful for long flights.
A pre-charged no-plug charger for my electronics. If your plane does not have plug-ins, this will ensure you aren’t left hanging in that thriller you’re reading.
A small selection of any medications you might need while on the plane. It is much easier to get items out of your purse or daypack than your wheelie that is crammed into the overhead bin. So plan ahead.
A sense of humor. Things will still go wrong. If a tired toddler is kicking your seat (and the parents are asleep), try pretending that he’s giving you a vigorous massage.
While the food on airplanes is often minimalistic, you have options. And international flights still offer full meals.
For domestic flights, I generally find appetizing options in the concourse that are tastier than meals purchased from the airline. If I have time, I eat my meal before my flight and just have juice or water on the plane. And trail mix, jerky (there are even vegan versions), and fruit are good carry on snacks.
For international flights, a lot depends on the carrier. One of the best meals I had aloft, was the Korean option on Korean airlines–some sort of spicy bulkogi. So here are some tips:
Special needs meals. If you need these, don’t forget to pre-order them. If you don’t need them, they’re still sometimes worth pre-ordering, as the options are often more interesting, especially for the vegetarian meal. One downside, you may have to wait longer for your meal.
If you’re adventurous, choose the cuisine of the country flying the plane when the flight attendants offer a choice. It will almost always be better than the “American” choice.
Think food when booking. If you have a choice of carrier, Korean airlines, Singapore airlines, and Japan airlines are known for having especially good meals. Obviously, one wouldn’t pay a huge amount more just for the food, but if you have a choice between these carriers and others with less-tasty food reputations at about the same price, choose these.
This is critical in a long haul. Do stretching exercises at your seat, get up and go to the restroom more than absolutely necessary, and stand at your seat whenever you’re awake. Thrombosis would ruin your vacation, so exercise.
When all else fails, close your eyes and imagine all the fun you’ll be having at your destination in just a few short hours. Happy flying.
American tourists are often somewhat unsettled by Japan’s almost totally tip-free culture. One doesn’t tip cab drivers, doormen, hairdressers, the list goes on and on. An attempt to tip your server at dinner or a bartender at a bar could be offensive and puzzling to the recipient. Needless to say, this should be bliss but cases angst and guilt for Americans coming from a must-always tip environment.
One also doesn’t usually tip maids but there is one exception, at a higher-end ryokan (Japanese style inns often found in hot spring resorts.) In that situation, the tip is more of a “thank you for letting me stay here” than a tip’s “thank you for excellent service” meaning. For one thing, the tip is given at the beginning of a stay, not the end, and must be a clean, crisp bill in a nice envelope. I took it a step further and added little thank you cards in japanese with my envelopes.
We will present one of these card and envelope sets with a clean 10-2000 yen bill inside to the maid who shows us to our room. The amount depends on length of stay and the current currency exchange; we’re only staying one or two nights.
If you’re visiting through a tour, you might give a tour guide a thank your envelope at the end.
I made extra because we can always pull out a card (no envelope) and leave it the table after a super nice meal when the server couldn’t understand my mangled Japanese.
While tips are unwelcome, gifts for hosts are required. More about that later.