Society & Culture

Sky high: 12 self-care tips for when you fly



Flight one of four. 30 hours to go. On the menu: crap food, dry recycled air, mercurial temperatures, sitting-up sleep (the worst kind) and far too many people in far too small a space.

Buckle up, folks, air travel is not for the faint of heart. But forget fears of flying — that’s not even the worst of it. It’s my body I’m most worried about when I get on a plane.

I have had the privilege of flying to the point of exhaustion. And although I know that it is indeed a privilege to travel so frequently that the miraculous fact of air travel becomes mundane, it can take a lot out of you.

So 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. Whether I’m in it for the long-haul, or just hopping on a quick flight, here are my top tips to keep from turning into a travel zombie:

1. Drink water

Obvious, I know but I can’t state this enough. The air is cold, we quickly become dehydrated, and well, for me, something about the changing air pressure seems to kick my bladder into overdrive. It is ridiculously easy to become dehydrated on plane journeys, so 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, again with every meal or snack and every time I go to the bathroom (drinks are usually conveniently located right next to it).

2. Drink orange juice

Okay, I know, it’s the yucky, pre-packed, boxed kind, but it still has Vitamin C, so just drink it! Each time the flight attendant wanders by with water, I take a cup of OJ too, just for good measure.

3. Drink hot water

By now you can probably understand why I take such frequent trips to the bathroom, but really, staying hydrated is the number one, top, most seriously 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-voiced and bleary-eyed — I forego the tea and coffee (which makes me jittery in this state) and opt for hot water instead. In life, and in flying, hot water is like aqua vitae. Chinese medicine has it right.

4. Run

Up stairs. Down stairs. We’re like sheep when it comes to taking the escalator in airports — there’s always a staircase right next to it, and unless I’m in a huge rush, that’s the way I’m headed. After hours of sitting still, my heartrate is begging for a little action — even if it’s just a jog up the stairs or a power-walk down the hallway.

5. Stretch

If I have a connecting flight and have a while to wait at an airport, 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, etc.).

6. Self-massage

One day, I will allow myself the indulgence of a massage at one of the airport spas. In the meantime, I constantly massage my neck, shoulders, temples, hands and any acupressure points I know while I’m awake. This is beautifully relaxing, full of self-love and again, keeps the atrophy at bay.

7. Meditate

Recently, I ventured into a “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 hum of a dozen Muslim prayers settled like a soft blanket over my ears — and in spite of the additional engine noise, announcements and rattling luggage — I found a few minutes of peace. Stillness has never felt so lush, or so necessary. I’m pretty sure every airport has some kind of prayer room, and it’s probably the only place the endless ping of announcements won’t reach you. If you happen to be at Burlington International Airport in Vermont, there is a particularly lovely yoga space.

8. Eat the food

I know airplane food can range from being “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, paleotastic, green, organic etc etc…” 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 this sh*t.

9. Shut-eye

Sometimes I don’t sleep on flights… at all. Even so, I’ll always pop on my headphones and (if I’m on a long flight) a complimentary eye mask; then allow myself to daydream the time away. Just giving my eyes a rest from harsh artificial lighting and computer screens is life-giving in itself.

10. Hygiene

Brushing my teeth between flights has become a new ritual. The first time I started doing this, I was on a crusade against a burgeoning cold and pulling out all the stops for my 25+ hour journey. Now, I think it’s a must and feel that rinsing my face, brushing my teeth, flossing and changing my socks helps to get rid of all the gunk that accumulates in and around me during a flight, restoring some sense of normalcy. I’ve realised that a lot of those gross feelings probably result from skipping daily routines for 12 hours or more. Revelatory.

11. Take off your shoes

This is a simple tip but it can make a big difference to your journey. Toes are a sadly neglected part of the body. If the flight’s more than a few hours, I give them some space.

12. Drink more water

You can’t drink too much, in my opinion, 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 a scary, 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 some sacrifices for the things we love.

We can however, try to minimise its damaging effects on our body and make adjustments to keep ourselves feeling as good as possibly can through it all. It might take a little more effort but it’ll be far more worth it than stepping off that flight, into your destination, looking and feeling like death on a stick.

What are your tips for staying sane and fresh, and being good to yourself as you travel?

{Photo: Arnold Lee / StockSnap}

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Toby Israel

Toby Israel

Toby Israel is a feminist adventurer, a fearless explorer and an incorrigible vagabond. She travels in search of dragons, searches and cross-cultural understanding. Avid dancer, yogi, cook and lover of words, she is inspired by movement and poetry, good food and new things. She studied Anthropology at Middlebury College and now seeks to squeeze by as a freelance writer and 21st century nomad. You can share her journey on her blog, Next Stop World, Facebook and Twitter!

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