Up In the Air: How to cope with air travel

On Thursday I leave for home on a long flight with four stops (two flight changes) between me and home. And if you’re anything like me, you don’t mind the whole actual flying thing, but man does the smell of jet fuel and stale air make you nauseous. And airport food? Forget it. Fast food is not the best thing to eat while traveling, especially not if air travel (or car travel) makes you sick.

This is where I am going. And no, there will not be any snow in June.

So here are some quick tips on how I cope with common travel ailments:

Upset Stomach

  • Bring along plenty of simple, fresh snacks. I like to bring dried fruit, nuts like almonds, dry cereal (like Kashi’s Autumn Wheat), fresh fruit or carrots, crackers, and maybe a little chocolate. Marinate your cut carrots overnight in lemon juice. You will NOT be sorry.
  • Get gingerale when the flight attendant comes by with that drink cart. The combination of carbonation with sugar and the soothing power of ginger can help settle an upset stomach. Alternately, bring your own ginger tea bags and ask for hot water. Ginger has been clinically proven to help fight nausea.
  • Drink plenty of water. Not only will this keep you hydrated, it will help keep your stomach feeling full without actually giving it much to have to digest.
  • Don’t read! Unless you have an iron stomach. Reading while moving (even if I myself am not moving) makes me really nauseous.
  • Wear pants with a comfortable waist band. Constricting your waist is never helpful to an upset stomach.
  • Most of all – don’t worry too much about it! Constantly worrying about an upset stomach can only make it worse.

Headache

  • Again, drink plenty of water. Airplanes have very dry air and it is easy to get dehydrated. Dehydration can easily cause headaches.
  • Chew gum. Some people (like me) are very sensitive to changes in air pressure and this can put pressure on your eardrums, causing pain. Chew something, swallow a lot, and yawn a lot. This will help restore equilibrium to your inner ear.
  • Give yourself a neck rub. When we’re stressed (like if you had to run to make your flight connection), we often store tension in our necks and shoulders, which can lead to tension headaches. Even though giving yourself a neck rub is not as effective as getting one from someone else, it does help relax your muscles somewhat.
  • Bring headphones. I find the noise of jet engines to be annoying and it hurts my ears. I bring large, over-ear headphones (though not the expensive noise-cancelling ones), which helps shut out some of the outside noise. Just don’t crank your music up too much as that can give you a headache too.
  • Don’t forget the ibproufen. They make handy dandy little travel sizes now with just a few doses in each little bottle.

Stiffness

  • When on a long flight, flex your leg, thigh, and butt muscles and stretch your calves if you can. If on an international flight, get up every two hours and walk around a bit. This will help prevent stiffness and also potentially dangerous blot clots from forming.
  • If you have a layover between flights, don’t just sit at the terminal – get up and walk around! Stretch a bit (ignore the funny looks). Even just standing uses more muscles than sitting. Don’t forget to stretch your arms and back in addition to your legs.
  • When sitting, try to relax. Having tense posture while sitting will only hurt more later.

Boredom

  • If, like me, you can’t read on airplanes and you are traveling alone, long flights can get pretty boring. My personal solution? Music. I personally like soothing music like symphonic film scores or soundtracks. Helps me relax.
  • Read. If it doesn’t make you nauseous. Finished your book? The Sky Mall magazine is always full of amusing idiocy and a few things that might make you think, “Actually, that looks really useful!”
  • Don’t like music or don’t have an MP3 player/iPod? Look out the window and compose poetry (I’ve done it) or imagine what life is like for the “little people” “way down below” (it helps if you have a faux snotty attitude). Or just marvel at the lovely view and the fun feeling you get flying above the clouds.
  • Talk to the person next to you. Can be awful, but generally not as bad as you might think.
  • Bring a deck of cards and play endless rounds of solitaire.
  • Bring kiddie-oriented travel games, but try to avoid electronic ones that beep incessantly. For instance, “Wheel of Fortune” the electronic game is addictive, but dear lord does it beep a lot.
  • Knit. Most airports will now let wooden knitting needles (and plastic crochet hooks) through security and onto the plane.
And now that I’ve imparted all this wisdom, I’m off to pack up my snacks and my carry-on of things to do.
One more thing – pretty much all of these rules apply to car trips, as well. Readers, do you have any other pieces of wisdom to impart?
Happy, safe, and boredom-free travels this summer!
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