The Sisterhood of the Travelling Smartie Pants

People often ask me for travelling advice before they leave on a trip. I guess they think I have debugged my travelling program because I travel so much, but the truth is quite far from it...

Unbeknownst to them, I still battle with jet lag, packing too many items and not being able to sleep on a plane (but that's because of the movies ;-). I once woke up in my bed after returning from a 40 hour flight, to find that I cut my hair off in a jet lag / sleepwalking haze. Not a pretty sight!

Last week, a friend of mine who returned from America couldn't call me soon enough to tell me how much I helped her with my lists and tips, and how she passed my advice on to their whole tour group. They thought the advice was life changing! Life changing might be a bit of an overstatement, but I'll take it anyway. That's when I decided that my advice, as any good advice, is of no use to oneself, but of great use passed on! 

There are no hard and fast rules on what will and won't work for you, but there are definitely a few things that can make your travelling much smoother and more enjoyable. It may seem so insignificant at the time, and therefore mostly ignored by people. For that reason, I have decided to share a few of these "travelling tips" with you:

Tip nr. one: Only travel First class. ;-) Just kidding, but wouldn't that be great!

On a more serious note, here are a few adjustments you can make to make your travelling - in any class - a little more tolerable:

- This I just cannot stress this enough. Bacteria is airborne, and there is nothing worse than catching a cold on the plane en-route to your dream holiday destination, just to spend the week sick and in bed. To avoid this, I always keep a 100ml spray bottle with filtered water with me (you can always refill it on the plane), so that I can spray my face and hands every few hours. By keeping your nasal passages moist, you avoid exposing yourself to all kinds of germs, and your skin feels wonderfully soft and hydrated.

- Avoid alcohol, because that will also dehydrate you.

- I do not eat air plane food. There is just something about it that gives me the shivers. Apart from being utterly tasteless and unattractive, it is usually not something your body is used to eating, and therefore might not agree with you. Be honest: Beef, chicken or fish - have you EVER tasted the difference on a plane?

- There are many alternatives, but I usually take my own food favourites and snacks on board. These days many famous chefs sell take away meals in cooler/heating bags at all big airports. If you don't mind air plane food, you can just add a few of your favourite snacks to their meal, to make it more edible. 

Avoid fatty food that will make you lethargic, and try to travel with fibre tablets. Always a great addition to your travel diet.

- I don't leave for a trip without my iPod/iphone/iPad (one of the three will do). You usually spend hours between flights, or stuck somewhere when you will be totally bored. Remember to pack earphones!

I catch up on all the magazines I have subscribed to but never got around reading, play my games - I am a Sudoku addict -, edit my photos, read novels, listen to music, or take a picture and share it via social media with friends. 

- There are also some very helpful apps you can use for translating, maps, Tripadvisor and more. Make sure you buy a local sim card when you are surfing the web, or you will get a R18 000 phone bill for roaming after 2 weeks in Italy.... :-(

- Scan your travel documents in on your phone - tickets, ID, passport, credit cards and anything else you can think of - in case you lose something and need to stop a card or call you hotel.

- Try and sleep on the plane. It is uncomfortable, but helpful. I travel with my inflatable, fur covered neck pillow, which allows me to sleep anywhere, anytime, and doesn't take space up in my bag. 

- As soon as you land in another timezone, try and fit in to their time schedule as soon as possible. Don't just sleep the day away, try and stay awake for as long as possible, until your body has adjusted.

- Don't plonk down onto your chair, and then get up when the stewardess wakes you up to kick you off the plane at your destination. It is extremely unhealthy and bad for your blood circulation. It is also the reason why some people get off the plane with elephant feet, because of all the water retention. Get up as often as you can, walk up and down the isle, and do the in-flight exercises by moving your feet and ankles.

Deep vein thrombosis is a real threat on a long flight, and is often referred to as "economy class syndrome". This is just another reason you should keep moving and improve your blood circulation. I am not a fan of blood thinners, but I take an aspirin from 3 days before I fly, and then 3 days before I come back again, to prevent blood clots.

- Ahhh, the lifesavers of the Jet Lag police. Whatever you do, make sure you have a pass to airport lounges to use on your lay-overs, or delayed flights. It is just dreadful to hang around in dirty, overcrowded, noisy airports. 

- Here you have quite a few options: Some credit cards (like Diners Club) gives you free access to airport lounges. At least your hand luggage will be safe, you'll have a comfortable chair, food, shower and today's newspapers. You can relax in a quiet place, while planning the rest of your trip. 

- You can also subscribe to Priority Pass if you are a frequent traveller, where you can get different packages (some lounges are much better equipped than others), at very reasonable yearly tariffs for airports all over the world. Off course, if you fly business or first class, you will have free access to any lounges anyway. Think Virgin Atlantic's lounge in London  where you can have a shower, lie down for a relaxing massage, have your hair styled, get a manicure and indulge in delectable sushi, while you wait for your connecting flight! One of my favourite stop overs!

- Pack your own stash of travelling pills, just for convenience. I usually take eye drops, painkillers, something for motion sickness, diarrhea (you never know what can happen) and anti-histamine for unexpected allergies. It is very difficult to find a familiar painkiller in a foreign language, or looking through the shelves and not recognising anything. 

Freshen up:
- As soon as you book into your hotel, unpack, shower and settle in. You will feel a million times better!

City tour:
- Something that will help you enjoy your trip more, is taking a city tour on a hop-on-hop-off bus as soon as you arrived and freshened up. This will give you a very good sense of direction and ideas of what is available to explore next. You don't have to worry about taxis or getting lost on your first day, and you can go back to your favourite spots the next day on your own.

And of course the golden rule of travelling, which I am yet to master is this: pack half, spend double. After you have laid out everything you want to take on your trip, you should put half of it back. You'll thank me later. Whatever you decide on a budget, double the amount. This will make for an unforgettable experience. 

It sounds like a lot to add to your already full itinerary, but trust me, it will profusely enhance your travelling experience. 

Happy travelling!

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