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How to Cope With Long Travel Days

I won’t embellish on the obvious; my fluffy Clive Cussler novel and notebook were instrumental in using up the numerous hours spent sitting around bus stations and airports. The problem is that most people can’t seem to sit still for more than a few hours at a time, especially when faced with the often uncomfortable seats provided in such places.

One key method of relieving the physical discomfort is to periodically change positions or find a place to stretch. Yes, there is a good chance you will look silly when doing warrior pose in a busy airport, but you will feel much better after a few brief and basic stretches. I found this to be most valuable just before getting on the plane and after disembarking. Sitting for extended periods can cause swollen feet, aching joints and muscles and stomach pain from indigestion.*

Hydration is one of those things where most people disregard what they know is good for them. Staying hydrated is key on any long trip, and even more so on an airplane where the air is not always properly humidified throughout the cabin and travellers may suffer from the drying of the mucus of the mouth and nose, which normally act as a protective barrier to bacteria and viruses.* Dehydration seems to also contribute to jet lag which is basically caused by your body’s inability to match its natural rhythms to those of your new time zone. The symptoms of dehydration will add to your discomfort and make it harder for your body to adjust. The answer here is to bring extra water on the plane with you and avoid excessive consumption of alcohol. To use an old climbing adage: The happy mountaineer always pees clear.

Relaxing with a good book
Relaxing with a good book
My flight home included a ten hour layover in Beijing. I had planned to leave the airport and attempt a brief exploration of the city, but I was efficiently moved through passport control and security and before I knew it I found myself standing in the departure area with no real idea how to get back out. By the time I figured out how to escape I had lost most of my motivation to go out into the plus one degree celsius temperatures that I knew awaited me and my lack of warm clothing. This left me with quite a bit of time on my hands and after several laps of the expensive stores I was back to sitting and reading again.

One thing that has worked for me on several occasions is the ‘every-hour’ game. I can spend a lot of time sitting in one place with a good book, but even when I’m on a comfortable couch at home I still need to get up and move around every once in a while. While sitting in the airport I would invent a mission for myself and go complete it. Sometimes my mission would be as simple as finding the bathroom that was as far away as possible from where I was sitting before using it. Other times I would try to find a new and more comfortable place to sit.

A brief sidetrack here. Don’t be ashamed of sitting on the floor or looking silly because you’re basking in the warmth of the morning sun on a large window ledge. Unless you are asked to move or are trying to find a way to use that large advertising banner as a hammock, then don’t worry about how the other airport patrons regard you. Those odd sideways looks they keep giving you is just their way of expressing their wish to be able to stretch out their legs without feeling like they are going to get in trouble.

Since I was ushered through security with an international transfer escort, I was checked-in for my next flight several hours before the usual time and was not given a departure gate number. In the departure area was a set of four monitors which updated the flight information as it was assigned. Flights were listed in order of scheduled departure time with the later flights showing up on the fourth monitor. At first, I would only glance at the monitors as I was walking past but it was too early and my Vancouver flight was not even listed. Once it made it on to the fourth board though, it became a great diversion to walk away and come back later with a guess as to what position my flight might have moved up to or to guess when it would make it to the third monitor. At one point I discovered another set of monitors; these ones with seats nearby. As my flight was closer to being assigned a gate number I did things like trying to guess which gate it would be assigned. I even recorded some of this in my notebook. This is why I can tell you about the 9:20 flight to Ulaan Bataar (it’s in Mongolia) that was delayed until 18:00, or that flight CA991 to Vancouver was assigned to Gate 19 at 12:41.

This will no doubt sound ridiculous to you sitting in front of your computer but after a pseudo-epic bus ride 48 hours earlier and close to 20 hours of this trip already underway, it was liking watching Citation win the Kentucky Derby.

In the end there is really only one thing you can do, and that is to have patience. Stress is also a major contributor to the dreaded jet lag (among other things) and being upset about having to sit around for so long is only going to prove the theory that time is relative and that your ten hour layover is going to feel like twenty hours. As cliché as it sounds, this is an excellent time for meditation and contemplation. Reflect on the highlights of your trip, or the fun adventures you are about to have. Look forward to the next leg of your journey, even if that next leg is returning home.