The Comprehensive Guide To Surviving A Long Haul Economy Class Flight

This morning marks my 870th blog post here. 870 pieces I’ve put together just for this little online space of mine sine March 2014. That’s quite something, when I stop and think about  it… But this morning is also going to mark a time for me to step away from the blog for a little while. As some of you may know from past posts, I do struggle with my mental health, and over the past few months, that struggle has become more predominant in my life. So, it’s time for me to take a little step back from blogville and focus on my health instead. This isn’t goodbye, its just see ya soon 🙂

But before I go on hiatus, I wanted to leave you guys with this post. It’s a big issue in the life of the budget traveller. I know, I know. Another bloody blogger posting on that age old issue. Yes, there are a lot of articles and blog posts on this topic, but the majority of them are completely unrealistic – how many of us can SERIOUSLY afford a $350 pashmina to keep us cosy and warm, or have enough frequent flyer points to be able to upgrade to business class? Those tips are not helpful; they’re infuriating.

So what makes me qualified to give useful advise? Chances are, I’m just like you. I don’t have any frequent flyer memberships because I pretty much just book the cheapest flights available. I’ve only ever flown business class once, on a family vacation 15 years ago, because the plane was all but empty and the air hostess probably thought the exhausted family of 5 flying back home from Europe deserved a break. I can’t afford expensive travel clothes or hydrating face masks made from unicorn tears – my current carry on backpack came from Kmart, and my travel document wallet cost $15 from Typo about 6 years ago (yup, that red one below).

Now that we’ve established that I’m not ‘just like you but better,’ let’s get down to it. I’ve flown a lot in the last few years. That’s given me plenty of time to work things out by trial and error. Before we start, let me preface these tips by saying that there is no magic formula to making a shitty, squishy economy seat feel luxurious for 14 hours. But there are ways to make it manageable, so that when the plane doors open at your destination, you’re not disembarking like an extra from The Walking Dead.

 

BOOKING PHASE
Pay attention to your seat selection. Whether you book with an agent or do it yourself online, you should be able to select your seat from a seating plan. I always pick a seat towards the back, for a few reasons:
a) First, you’re generally less likely to have a crying baby. Many airlines provide bassinets, and if parents use them, they’ll need to be seated at the front of the plane (or front of a section).
b) While you can view being that close to the toilets as a bad thing, you can also use it to your advantage for space to get up and stretch your legs.
c) And finally, if there’s no row behind you, you can recline all flight without annoying someone else, and no one can kick the back of your seat while trying yo get themselves some space.

– While we’re talking seat selection, go for an aisle seat. Being able to stretch you legs out in the aisle in between trolley runs make a lot of difference on a long flight!

– Something else to consider when you’re booking is your meal selection. Yes, plane food gets a bad wrap and most of us feel like rubbish after eating it. But you can actually do something about that by ordering a special meal. Here’s the deal with plane food: there are the standard meals everyone gets by default. But you can order a special meal if you have certain dietary restrictions – gluten free, non-pork products, lacto-ovo, there’s actually a lot you can pick from! Given that the main culprit in plane food is excess salt, you could order a low sodium or raw vegetarian meal – all you need to do in most cases is add in the request to the online ‘manage your booking’ portal, or just email customer service for the airline you’re flying, ask for their special meal options, and let them know what you’d prefer!

 

PRE-FLIGHT
– Following on from that last tip, try to eat well in the 24 hours before your flight. Aim for lots of veggies, wholegrains and protein, lots of water, and try to minimise your intake of sugar, alcohol and processed foods. Basically, go low FODMAP for at least a day or two before you fly. Trust me, it’ll make a big difference!

– If you do have a sensitive tummy on flights, its also a good idea to BYO food on board, even if it’s just a few snacks. I generally take with me a punnet of strawberries or blueberries, some mixed raw nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc), and a packet of corn thins.

Plan your arrival aiming to decrease your stress levels. If you’re on a plane for 14 hours and spend half that time worrying about what you’ll have to deal with when you arrive in terms of collecting luggage and organising transport out of the airport, you’re not getting much rest! Know what you’re going to be doing when you collect bags – you may want to book a shuttle bus in advance, or decide to get a coffee once you have your bags before you hit the taxi stand.

 

CARRY ON
There are lots of things I like to take with me on board, like books and journals, but these are the things that will really help you.

Noise cancelling headphones. These are new to my arsenal and hands down the most essential thing to take. Trust me, invest in some, it’ll make flying at least 68% less shit. Crying baby? Bickering couple? Snoring neighbour? Doesn’t matter!

Make up remover wipes and mini fragrance. You’ve been airborne for many hours. You’re tired. You feel irritable and blehh. It’s amazing how much more refreshed you are after giving you face a good clean and spritzing a little perfume over yourself.

Moisturiser and lip balm. We all know planes are dehydrating. And landing after 14 hours with cracked lips and a dry, itchy face feels crap. My go to products are Natural Instinct Rejuvenating Rosehip Oil (great for face & hands, and Burt’s Bees original honey lip balm.

A clean top and undies. You may have a flight delay. You may have a while to wait between connecting flights. You may have a bit longer to travel to your final destination after your flight lands. If you can’t carry a shower and full wardrobe with you, a clean tshirt and pair of undies will make the world of difference!

 

ON THE DAY
Choose your flight outfit carefully; this is not a time for fashion. Bottoms with either lose or stretchy waistbands are ideal; I like a long, maxi skirt or gym leggings. On top, layers. I go with a loose fitting black singlet or tshirt (you’d be surprised at the amount of stains you can accumulate on a flight), a light button up hoodie or cardigan, then a heavier layer or a big scarf that can double as a blanket.

Forget about fancy hats and headbands (headaches are not your friends on long haul flights), chunky jewellery, tight belts, anything decorative.

– While I’m at it, forget make up. You’re sitting on a plane for 12 hours, trust me, everyone in economy class is looking the same level of crap by the end. If you prefer to be made up, take a few small items with you to use at the end of the flight.

Pick your shoes wisely. Nothing too tight or uncomfortable, because your feet will swell and the people sitting around you won’t appreciate you taking your shoes off when you get uncomfortable. Also, socks. Planes get cold, and you’re not going to get much rest with cold feet!

Get to airport early. I’m always at the airport 3 hours before my international flight is scheduled to depart. Because I’m only going to be waiting around at home, so I may as well wait at the airport so I don’t have to rush! Drop your bags off, head to a café or bar, and relax until boarding time.

 

ON BOARD
Set your watch to the time at your destination as soon as you’re buckled in to your seat. Then, act like you’re already on that time. So if they’re serving lunch at midday in your departure city but it’s 7pm in your destination city, consider it dinner. Then watch a movie and try to get some shut eye.

Drink. Water. Buy a big bottle before you board and just keep drinking!

– Yes, they’re daggy and look ridiculous, but wear the compression socks. We get ours here, they’re pretty cheap, and it’s as easy as putting them on and forgetting them until you arrive! They’re good for your body. And while you’re at it, make sure you walk around every now and then, or at least wiggle your feet and ankles around regularly!

All set? Great! Now off you go and book a flight and I’ll see you back here soon 🙂

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Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Vik, Iceland

A beautiful beach, only an hour drive from a volcano, with sand made of pebbled lava. Only in Iceland…

Last year, on the morning of my birthday, I woke up in Iceland. We had a bit of a drive ahead of us to get to the Buubble, where we’d be spending the night. But before that, I wanted to get back to this beach for one last visit. That photo above was taken around 10am, when the sun was finally coming up for the day.

Those huge rock formations in the water are known as the Reynisdrangar Columns. Legend says they’re all that remains of a two-troll battle that involved a ship; nature says they’re parts of the surrounding mountain that became eroded and separated from the main bulk. Either way, they’re an impressive sight.

They’ve got some killer basalt columns, too – having seen Giant’s Causeway before these, I have to say Iceland’s were a hell of a lot more impressive – less tourists, no entry fee, and more than safe enough to climb over. We heard that in summer, it’s not uncommon to see birds nesting up on top of the columns. We were there in winter, though, so we made do climbing the huge steps and hanging out in the cave when the wind got strong enough to almost knock me on my backside. Bonus tip: don’t visit without a wind- and water-proof jacket, and water-proof boots. I felt really sorry for one group of tourists who neglected all of that and spent a fair bit of time huddled in that cave.

The “sand” ranges from fist-sized, smooth black stones, to tiny little grains of lava. Walking from the carpark to the beach, you’ll go through a field of large, volcanic rocks – when they’re blanketed in snow like they were when we visited, it’s an alien landscape that absolutely takes your breath away. Iceland is one of the few places where all of the lame travel clichés like “the quaint little cottage” and “the landscape was an assault on the senses” and “it just took my breath away” are actually valid. There couldn’t have been a  better place to spend the morning of my birthday.

Visiting Yosemite National Park, USA

I thought we’d go to Yosemite National Park today, because it’s a pretty incredible place. Like many Australians, we didn’t really know where to start in planning our visit to the park, and a lot of information we found online seemed to be more geared towards Americans, so here are some tips that I hope will help others make the most of their first visit to this gorgeous place.

HOW DO I GET THERE?
Drive. Well, fly to the general vicinity, then drive. If you fly into San Francisco, it’ll be about a 4 hour drive, around 5 hours from Los Angeles, or 7 hours from Las Vegas.

 

HOW LONG DO I NEED?
It’ll really depend on how much you want to do – for a bit of a taste, 3 days is a good amount; if you want to do some camping and serious hiking, give yourself a solid week.

WHERE SHOULD I BASE MYSELF?
You’ll need to consider the time and money trade off when you decide where to stay. The closer you are to the park, the more accommodatiom tends to cost. But if you go with something cheaper, it may add on quite a bit of driving time to and from the park each day.

We stayed in the Yosemite Valley at the Yosemite Westgate Lodge – it took us around an hour to get to El Capitan, had a restaurant and laundry on site, and very big, comfortable rooms. If you’d like to camp within the park, head to the National Park Service website for more information.

 

CAN I PARK MY CAR IN THE PARK?
Absolutely – car parking areas are all well signed, and they have a free, eco-friendly shuttle buses to scoot you around between major sights. It’s best to check for road closures and snow chain requirements in winter online before setting off, too.

DO I HAVE TO PAY TO ENTER?
Yes – you can buy a seven day pass from USD $30.00 per car from the entrance gates situated on all the roads into the park. Basically, plug “Yosemite National Park” into your GPS and prepare to hand over $30 when you get close to the park!

 

WHAT FACILITIES ARE AVAILABLE?
If you head to he Visitor Center in the middle of the Yosemite Valley, you’ll find park staff to answer your questions, as well as a pretty impressive general store (souvenirs and food and groceries), bathrooms, a café, camping grounds and shuttle buses. When you’re out and about, taking your long drives through the park, you will be able to find toilets periodically, but fair warning: they’re drop toilets…

WHAT SHOULD I SEE IF I ONLY HAVE A FEW DAYS?
If you have limited time, I’d recommemd the following…

Day 1: Drive to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and leave your car at one of the parking lots in the area. Between walking around and using the free shuttke, you’ll be able to see summits like the Half Dome, El Capitan, Eagle Peak and Sentinel Dome, walk along Tenaya Creek and the Merced River, maybe see some deer while you picnic at Mirror Lake, and check out the Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center.

Day 2: Get into your car, stock up on snacks, and drive the Tioga Pass Road all the way up to Tuolumne Meadow and back. Make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes so you can hike around Olmsted Point, and pack a picnic lunch to eat on the shore of Tenaya Lake.

WHAT SHOULD I BRING?
• Sunscreen. Always. And actually use it!
• Sunglasses. When that sun hits white rock or reflects off the water, your eyes will thank you.
• Layers. Just because the day starts cold, doesn’t mean it won’t heat up. Light layers are your friends.
• Comfortable shoes you can walk all day on uneven terrain in.
• A backpack – you don’t need to be toting a handbag around here.
• A map. If you’re planning on hiking, you don’t want to rely on your phone – batteries die, signals are lost. If you intend on exploring, even a small map is a good idea.
• A water bottle and snacks. You can of course buy it all there, but it’s always much cheaper to BYO. Just remember to take all of your scraps with you, because bears.

UMMM… BEARS??!
Yeah, that’s a thing. All you really need to know is stick to the marked paths as much as possible, if there aren’t many other people around, make plenty of noise as you walk (they don’t like that), and when you’re done with your picnic, pick up any pieces of lettuce and ham that have dropped out of your sandwich, and dispose of all food waste in one of the many bear-proof bins you’ll find in the park.

Eat here: Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, New Orleans, USA

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz
4801 Tchoupitoulas St, New Orleans
http://www.snobliz.com

If you find yourself in New Orleans, count yourself lucky. Because summer over there is snoball season, and the only place to get them from is Hansen’s. If you live over there, you already know about Hansen’s. If you don’t, keep reading – its much more than just dessert.

It’s a really simple concept for a hot day treat: shaved ice, drenched in flavoured syrup. Starts as a frozen dessert requiring a spoon, ends as a slushie. And they’ve been making their snoballs the exact same way since they started in 1939.

See, Ernest was an enterprising young machinist who created a machine to shave light, fluffy piles of ice. And his wife, Mary, was a whiz in the kitchen where she came up with the syrup recipes (which they still follow to make their syrups in-house to this day).

Now run by the third generation of the family, they open every year while the weather is hot. Walking into their store is like walking back in time to the most perfect cotton candy-pink museum you could imagine. It really is one of those places that make New Orleans what it is, especially these days when there aren’t many family businesses still around. We got lucky last year; with the city experiencing a particularly long summer, they were still open in late October, and we got stuck into this coconut pineapple snoball.

The Laundromats of Europe

When one is travelling for four months, one must do laundry. Because it’s impossible to pack four months worth of clothing if you don’t wash any of it. We stayed in a lot of Airbnbs that had laundries, which was super helpful, but in some cities, we needed a laundromat. And luckily for us, because so many people can only afford to live in small apartments, Europe has plenty of them. Here’s the highlight reel – hopefully it help you when you need clean clothes on your travels… or at least give you a Monday morning laugh.

 

Barcelona: Bugamatic
http://www.bugamatic.com/en/

Pros: Easy to operate with instructions in English as well as Spanish. You can buy laundry detergent there if you don’t have your own. And there’s a small coin-operated coffee machine in there.
Cons: The coffee machine didn’t work.

 

Bern: Wash-Bar
http://www.wash-bar.ch/de/

Pros: The washers and dryers all have names (Bruce, Marie, Frank, Cindy). The staff are quick to help foreigners who can’t read the instructions. You don’t need to add detergent – it’s already in the machine and included in the price. You can buy food and drinks there – alcoholic drinks. At 10am. Because it’s an actual bar.
Cons: The instructions aren’t in English so you can’t pretend to know what you’re doing.

 

Berlin: Waschsalon 115
http://www.waschsalon-berlin-mitte.de/

Pros: Lots of machines available. A few decent restaurants nearby to eat at while you wait. A small store selling alcohol and snacks a few doors down if you visit at night. A café on site if you visit during the day. Apparently run by some eccentric German twins who we didn’t have the pleasure (terror?) of encountering.
Cons: Instructions were a little vague (but by that point in the trip, we’d worked out they’re all the same).

 

Venice: Effe Erre Laundry
https://www.yelp.com/biz/effe-erre-venezia

Pros: Had a few extra large machines for giant loads of laundry. A few cafés nearby to supply caffeine and snacks while you wait.
Cons: Not many machines, and not super cheap, but nothing in Venice is.

 

Prague: Prague Andy’s Laundromat
http://praguelaundromat.cz/en/

Pros: It was like an apartment – there was even a couch and beanbag lounge with books and toys. Free hot drink for every customer. Free wifi. Computers available for use if you attend sans smart phone. Great café a few doors down for sandwiches while you wait.
Cons: It was like a sauna in there – in minus 2 degrees Celsius, I sat in there in a singlet, sweating bullets.

 

Vienna: Schnell & Sauber Waschsalon
http://waschtraum.de/schnell-sauber-waschsalon-hoegn-in-wien/

Pros: Heaps of machines. Easy to operate. Supermarket and free public toilets across the road. Café close by for caffeinating while waiting.
Cons: We got yelled out for eating a bag of chips while we waited for our laundry to dry by a grumpy little Austrian lady.

A Weekend in Ronda, Spain: Why to go & how to get there

A few years ago, I saw a photo of this bridge and the surrounding area in a travel brochure. Before I knew where it was, I decided I had to go there. I had to see for myself this incredible little town that seemed to be built on rock cliffs.

It turned out this place was Ronda, in Spain. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to, and it’s constantly overlooked because of bigger tourist towns like Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and San Sebastian. We found there was so much more information on all of those other places than there was on Ronda online, so I wanted to put together a bit of a guide for others who are travelling to Spain. Because Ronda is very much worth visiting while you’re over there!

 

HOW TO GET THERE:
By train – cheap and easy.  The best airport to fly into is Malaga, and you’ll be able to catch a direct train from there, which takes 2 hours each and cost us around AUD$35.00 per person.

You’ll be able to book online a month or two before travel, and the best website we found to book with was on Loco2, which has a really user-friendly booking system. Their website will advise you if your tickets can be downloaded to your phone, if they need to be printed, or if they are paper tickets that must be posted to you, and you can create an account so that you can access your trips easily.

 

WHERE TO STAY:
We stayed at the Hotel Colón, which I couldn’t recommend more highly. Its a basic hotel (we’re not fancy-hotel people), but in a great location that’s within walking distance of everything you’ll be wanting to see, lovely staff, 24 hour reception, free Wi-Fi, and a huge complimentary breakfast served in their restaurant.

 

WHAT TO DO IN A WEEKEND VISIT:

Day 1:
– Go for a morning walk through Alameda del Tajo Park
This gorgeous 19th-century park is full of enormous trees, wide walking avenues and park benches. It also has an absolutely insane view out over the gorge, if you’re not too bothered by heights.

– Keep walking on to the Ronda Bullring
Built in the 18th century completely out of stone, this was the heart of the city for a very long time. You can head in and check it out from the inside for around €7.00 per person, or just have a wander around the outside. Be sure to check out some of the gift stores around the bullring selling hand-painted ceramics.

– Check out the Puente Nuevo bridge over El Tajo gorge
Yup, the bridge in the first photo. Built in the mid to late 1700s (it took over 3 decades to complete), this is one seriously impressive feat of engineering.

– Take a break for lunch
Visit Casa Quino on Calle Nueva for a platter of Iberian cured meats, cheeses and a jug of sangria. There isn’t a better lunch in Ronda.

– Visit the Jardines de Cuenca
The gardens are gorgeous, even when we visited in winter, but it’s also one of the best places in the city to visit for a killer view of the Puente Nuevo.

 

Day 2:
– Get an early start with a hot air balloon ride
Hands down one of the best experiences of my life was driving down to the bottom of the gorge and rising up over the town of Ronda in a hot air balloon at sunrise. We went with Glovento Sur, and they were fantastic, even bringing us to a local eatery for breakfast after the ride.

– Make your way back into town and visit the Arab Baths
Similar to the design of Roman bath houses, the Arab Baths in Ronda are believed to have been the main public baths for the Moorish population back in the 11th century. It’ll cost you around €8.00 per person to walk through the remains, and there’s a great little film playing in there to show you how the baths would have operated.

– Stop for lunch, again
Keep heading south and order from the hand-written tapas menu at De Locos Tapas – the patatas bravas are especially delicious. And more sangria, obviously.

– Climb up to look down
After lunch, look over your table and across the plaza, and you’ll find some steps up to a wall – climb on up to burn some of those lunch calories and you’ll also get a great view.

– Visit Mondragon Palace
Once the palace of a Moorish ruler, it’s now a little natural history museum. It’ll cost you around €4.00 per person for entry, and is well worth it – a lot of the ceiling and tile details are well-kept originals, and the garden is completely magnificent.

Eating the city: Berlin, Germany

It’s not all meat and potatoes… well, I mean, there is a lot of that, but it’s really, really good!

Potato dishes

Why get it:
Germans do potato particularly well – there’s a lot more to it than mashed potato with meat. Dishes like this one from Zur Rose make it a kind of replacement for pasta, without making it just like gnocchi.
We got ours from: Zur Rose, Weinbergsweg 26, Berlin 

 

Goulash and potato dumplings

Why get it:
When you’re travelling through Germany in winter, you want warm, hearty comfort food. That’s goulash with the aforementioned mashed potato. It may look like dog food, but the meat is fall-apart-in-your-mouth soft, the sauce is rich, the sauerkraut is the perfect food to cut through the richness of the goulash, and mashed potato is always a welcome addition.
We got ours from: Georgbräu, Spreeufer 4, Berlin

 

A cured meat and cheese breakfast spread

Why get it:
It’s not all rich, hearty food – places like Alpenstück are breaking the stereotype with some really basic but delicious options for the modern traveller. Everything is so fresh and simple, it’s the perfect change from the typically heavy meals you’ll eat later in the day.
We got ours from: Alpenstück Bäckerei, Schröderstraße 1, Berlin

 

Pork knuckle

Why get it:
For that heavy meal later in the day, you can’t beat a crispy-skinned pork knuckle. This is the quintessential German plate of meat: juicy, soft pork under a crispy, salty layer, sitting on yet more sauerkraut with a side of yet more mashed potato. Sounds like it’d be getting repetitive, right? Wrong.
We got ours from: Weihenstephaner, Neue Promenade 5, Berlin

 

Traditional German sweets

Why get it:
After all that meat and potato, you’ll be wanting some sugar to balance things out. And Germany does sweets just as well as they do meat and potato. Some delicious options to look for are strudel biscuits – basically a jam covered butter biscuit with ‘crumble’ on top, and nussecken, an absolutely delicious nut/apricot jam/chocolate concoction (click on over to get my recipe for them!) that you really have to try.
We got ours from: A tiny little café that I can’t remember the name of…