Flight one of four. Thirty hours to go.
On the menu: crappy food, recycled air, mercurial temperatures, sitting-up sleep (the worst kind), and far too many people in far too small a space.
Forget fear of flying. It’s my body I’m worried about when I get on a plane.
I have had the privilege of flying to the point of exhaustion — and it is, indeed, a privilege to travel to such an extent that the miraculous fact of air travel becomes a mundane chore. Over time, I’ve learned to take care of myself better during the journey, so it doesn’t destroy my body and ruin the fun of the destination.
Long-term, I’d love to cut air travel entirely and get around by boat, rail, and bus. But with friends and family spanning the globe, so far I’ve found this mode of transport unavoidable.
Whether I’m in it for the long-haul or just hopping on a quick flight, this is how I keep from turning into a dried-out, sunken-eyed, stiff-limbed zombie:
1. Drink water.
Of course. The air is cold, the pressure is weird, and maybe it’s just me, but something about the changing air pressure seems to kick my bladder into overdrive. It is ridiculously easy to become dehydrated during air travel. Not only do I start the trip with a full bottle of water (filled up on the other side of security, of course), but I also make a point of drinking a cup of water every time a flight attendant offers one, and again with every meal or snack, and again every time I go to the bathroom (drinks are usually conveniently located right next to it).
2. Drink orange juice.
I know, I know. It’s the gross, from-concentrate kind, but it still has vitamin C, so I drink it. Each time the flight attendant wanders by with water, I take a cup of O.J. too, just for good measure.
3. Drink hot water.
By now you can probably understand the frequent trips to the bathroom, but really, staying hydrated is the number one most important thing. When I “wake up” at the end of red-eye flights (if I was lucky enough to sleep in the first place) — groggy, croaky, and delightfully bleary-eyed — I forego the tea and coffee and opt for hot water instead. Chinese medicine really has it right on that one.
Up stairs. Down stairs. We’re like sheep when it comes to taking the escalator in airports. There’s almost always a staircase right next to it, and unless I’m in a huge rush, that’s where you’ll find me. After hours of sitting still, my heart rate is begging for a little action — even if it’s just a jog up the stairs or a power-walk down the hallway.
If I have a connection, I’ll find a quiet patch of floor to do some stretching—nothing crazy. I’ve found a few forward folds and hip openers suffice to keep the atrophy at bay. If it’s one flight, I’ll stretch in the aisle while I wait for the toilet, or whatever I can get at in my seat (neck, wrists, shoulders, and so on).
One day, I will also indulge in a massage at an airport spa. In the meantime, I am constantly massaging my neck, shoulders, temples, hands, and any acupressure points I know of during my waking hours. Beautifully relaxing, full of self-love and, again, keeps the atrophy at bay.
Recently, I ventured into the “prayer/meditation room” while waiting for a connection in Amsterdam. I did as instructed by the sign: took off my shoes, sat quietly, and meditated. While the drone of a dozen prayers settled like a soft blanket over my ears, I found a few minutes of peace. Stillness has never felt so lush — or so necessary. Most every airport has some kind of prayer room, and it’s probably the only place the endless ping of announcements won’t reach you.
8. Eat the food.
Airplane food can range from the most depressing thing ever to, “Well, that wasn’t terrible.” I often lose my appetite around it. However, I eat whenever and whatever I’m offered, and somehow always turn out to be ravenous. There are times for picky eating and odes to whole, fresh, raw, “paleo-tastic,” green, organic food. This is not one of those times. I eat it, I like it, and I thank the universe I’m not paying any extra for it.
Sometimes I don’t sleep on flights—at all. Even so, I’ll always pop on my headphones and (if I’m lucky) complimentary eye mask and make believe. Just giving my eyes a rest from harsh artificial lighting and computer screens is life-giving.
Brushing my teeth between flights has become a new ritual. The first time I bothered, I was on a crusade against a burgeoning cold and pulling out all the stops for my over 25-hour journey. Now, I think it’s a must. Along with rinsing my face, flossing (when I remember floss), and changing my socks, brushing my teeth serves to get rid of all the gunk that accumulates in and on my body during a flight, restoring some sense of normalcy. I’ve realized that a lot of feeling gross probably results from skipping daily routines for 12 hours or more. Revelatory.
11. Take off the shoes.
Toes are a sadly neglected part of the body. If the flight is more than a few hours, I give them some space.
12. Drink more water.
You can’t drink too much, given the circumstances (being trapped in a giant metal bird full of stale air, germs, and invisible elves that steal all your moisture). Drink water until it comes out of your ears…and do all those other things, too.
Chances of deplaning as a dried-out, exhausted shell of a zombie? Slim to none. Chances of feeling totally, 100 percent awesome and loving life? Also slim to none, but hey, we have to make sacrifices for the things we love.
I’d love to know—what are your favorite self-care practices for air travel? Please share!
Author: Toby Israel
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Editor: Leah Sugerman
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina