The Comprehensive Guide To Surviving A Long Haul Economy Class Flight

It’s a big issue in the life of the budget traveller. I know, I know. Another 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.

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 t-shirt (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 that flight!

Photo Journal: Graceland Cemetery, Chicago

Graceland Cemetery
4001 N Clark St, Chicago
https://www.gracelandcemetery.org

I could tell you how Chicago’s Lincoln Park used to be the city’s premier burial ground until Chicago’s City Council banned burials there. Or that it was decided to move the city cemetery to what’s now Graceland. I could tell you that the cemetery spans 121 acres, and holds the remains of the city’s most eminent residents, including architects, sportsmen and politicians. I could harp on about how beautiful a garden cemetery it is, how it feels like you’re taking the most magnificent nature walk when you’re in the middle of it, which Chicagoans have been doing since it’s establishment in 1961.

Instead, I’m just going to show you how stunning Graceland is through some pictures I took when I visited in late 2017…

Cemeteries get a bad wrap for being creepy places. They generally don’t rank very highly on the traveler’s list of things to see and do. But Graceland felt much more like a museum crossed with a park than a burial ground. Visiting in autumn was magic, with all the leaves turning gold and red. The map you collect when you arrive is also particularly helpful, and adding to the museum vibe is the list of the important citizens buried there and a little biography of them all. And the only remotely creepy thing was the Eternal Silence statue below, and that’s only because Atlas Obscura told me that “looking into its eyes a person could see the nature of their own death…”

A Quick Guide to Ameyoko Market, Tokyo

Ameyoko Market and shopping street
Wedged in between JR Okachimachi Station or JR Ueno Station

 

Tokyo’s Ameyoko Market is a rabbit warren of streets that are home to 500-odd stalls, selling everything from dried fish to nail polish. It was originally opened as a black market post-war, but it’s visited by what seemed like everyone in the city now.

Where is it?
The area it’s located in can get a little confusing, so hopefully this map makes it a bit easier to navigate. I’ve marked on it where I took the photo above, standing at that Y-shaped intersection where the road diverges into two. Those are your two main shopping streets, with others intersecting and cutting across them.

 

How do you get there?
Via subway – it’ll depend where you’re coming from, and you can use this nifty map to work it out, but the closest stations are Ueno-Hirokoji on the Ginza line, and Ueno-Okachimachi (literally across the road) on the Oedo line.

What should I shop for?
There’s not much you won’t find there, but there are a few things that are particularly popular:
– Golf gear: there are more than a dozen multi-level golf shops, selling clothes, shoes, clubs, bags, and even lessons.
Athletic wear and shoes: they’re an active bunch, so probably no surprise that you can find a lot of stores selling training gear (gym shoes, clothes, etc).
– Fish: fresh fish and dried fish, they’ve got it all. If you’re looking at taking some of the packaged, dried stuff home, best check if you’re actually allowed to take it through customs before you stock up!
– Packaged snacks: there are a couple of mega-stores absolutely full of snack foods. Chips chocolate and crackers and lollies in flavours you never imagined could exist.

Do you barter?
Honestly, I didn’t bother, for a few reasons:
a) The prices are marked and already very reasonable.
b) Language barrier.
c) The Japanese are just so damn polite and likeable that I didn’t want to rip them off!

When is the best time to go?
Around 12pm is a good time to go – most of the stores should be open by then, but it’s not so hectic yet that you can’t walk around comfortably. Most casual eateries are already open and the restaurants are still getting ready for the lunch rush which is good, because you’ll want to have eat there.

What should I eat?
A sashimi bowl from the place in the photo above. It’s cheap, it’s market fresh and it is delicious. My bowl of fresh tuna, fatty tuna and salmon on sushi rice cost about AUD$10.00, and it was magnificent. If raw fish isn’t your jam, they cook up gyoza and tempura, too. Next door is an Osaka-style takoyaki stand if you fancy something a bit different. And then head back for a matcha soft serve. Just try to get a seat outside if it’s a hot day – the tiny little kitchen gets pretty warm…

Normally I’d say anywhere at the market is good for eating, but there are actually some really touristy places here I’d highly recommend steering clear of. General rule of thumb is if you walk past and someone walks after you waving a menu in your face and telling you that you must try their blah blah blah, don’t bother. If the food is good, they won’t chase you down to eat there because there will already be a line at the door.

If you have room for dessert, look for the taiyaki stand. Creamy smooth vanilla custard inside a golden crisp fish-shaped waffle. The perfect hand held market food.

How do I pay for stuff?
It’s a market – cash is king. If you’ve forgotten to bring some with you, just look for the green and blue Family Mart sign (they’re on every second corner), which should have an ATM inside.

 

When I’m done shopping, what else is there to do?
Head up to the Ueno Imperial Grant Park to walk off all that sashimi – it’s a short walk away, and the grounds are gorgeous. There are several pagodas and shrines on the grounds, museums, and even a zoo. And, if you time it right, cherry blossoms.

 

Top 10 Things To Do in Barcelona

1. Get stuck into the markets!

Where? There are SO many! Try Mercado de Santa Caterina (Av. de Francesc Cambó, 16), Mercat de la Concepció (Carrer d’Aragó, 313-317), and of course La Boqueria (La Rambla, 91).
Why go? Because there’s no better way to get to know a city than by visiting the markets! You can get a taste of the food, the people and the culture all in one hit, as well as some more unique souvenirs than what you’ll find in stores.
How long will you need? As long as you can spare. At least an hour per market is ideal.
Cost? Depends how much you’re planning to eat and buy! They’re pretty well priced, though, so you won’t have to blow a heap of cash to come out with a full belly.

 

2. Stroll La Rambla with a gelati in hand

Where? La Rambla, a large pedestrian walking street.
Why go? Back in the ‘old’ days, people used to go out and promenade of an evening; basically, walk up and down the street, seeing who else was out, enjoying the fresh air. La Rambla is perfect for an afternoon or evening promenade, because not only is it beautiful and always busy, but there are lots of little gelati stalls lining the walk.
How long will you need? How much gelati can you eat?
Cost? A few euro will be more than enough for a gelati.

 

3. Enjoy a Gaudí day

Where? There are perfectly preserved sites all over the city – a few favourites are Park Güell, Casa Batlló, Casa Amatller, Casa Milá, Casa Vincens
Why go? You don’t need to know anything about architecture to appreciate Gaudí’s work. These sites are all magnificent, all marked by that distinct, colourful mosaic tile work people so often associate with Barcelona. Walking through these places feels like a stroll through a movie set, and while the designs all have similar elements, they all feel so different. Maybe you’ve heard of Gaudí before, but after you visit, you’ll get why he’s such a big deal.
How long will you need? At least 2 hours for the bigger sites that require tickets.
Cost? Anywhere between free for places like Casa Amatller, where you can admire the façade free of charge, to around  €25 person for a fast pass entry to Casa Batlló.

 

4. Explore the Gothic Quarter on foot

Where? Stretching out from La Rambla to Via Laietana.
Why go? This is the best part of the city, for my money. The streets twist and wind in no real order, and there is SO much to see if you’re ready to spend the time getting lost there.
How long will you need? Spend at least half a day wondering the Quarter. But once you’ve been there, you’ll want to head back again.
Cost? Walking and window shopping are always free!

 

5. Eat tapas and drink sangria at Mesón del Café

Where? Carrer de la Llibreteria, 16
Why go? Tucked away in the heart of the Gothic Quarter, this is the perfect place to indulge in one of the best Spanish pastimes – the tapas are freshly made and the sangria is the best in the city.
How long will you need? Spend at least an hour to slow down and enjoy the time out.
Cost? About  €5 for a glass of sangria and a few euro per tapas plate.

 

6. Get an education at the Barcelona City History Museum

http://ajuntament.barcelona.cat/museuhistoria/en/
Where? Plaça del Rei
Why go? Not only is this an incredible museum with fantastic exhibits, it’s also set in a palace. And it’s a palace that contains the remains of one of Europe’s largest Roman settlements below ground level, which are all part of the exhibit and open for you to see!
How long will you need? A couple of hours to see it properly.
Cost?  €7 per adult.

 

7. Do a little people watching in one of the parks or squares around the city

Where? There are more options than you’ll cover in a few days, ranging from the big, popular ones like Plaça Reial and Plaça de Catalunya , as well as lots of smaller and quieter ones like Montjuïc and Parc de la Ciutadella.
Why go? There’s a lot to do in Barcelona, so it’s nice to take a step back, sit in one of the beautiful public  spaces and take it all in.
How long will you need? As long as you need to rest and recharge.
Cost? Free!

 

8. See the Sagrada Família, inside AND out

http://www.sagradafamilia.org/en/
Where? Carrer de Mallorca, 401
Why go? I’m not a religious person, but this building took my breath away. While it may never be finished,  what is there is the most spectacular building you’re ever likely to see.
How long will you need? A good 2 hours.
Cost? Basic tickets start at  €15 per person.

 

9. Visit Camp Nou

https://www.fcbarcelona.com/tour/buy-tickets

Where? Carrer d’Aristides Maillol, 12
Why go? Even if you’re not a football nut, the team means a lot to the city, and it’s a pretty impressive stadium and museum. It’s also really well set up for non-football fans, so even if you don’t know the first thing about the game, it’s still worth the visit!
How long will you need? Half a day.
Cost?  €25 per adult.

 

10. Take in some shopping & architecture on Passeig de Gràcia

Where? between Avinguda Diagonal and Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes
Why go?  If you’re a shopper, you’re going to love this area. Ditto if you love some good architecture – buildings like Gaudí’s La Pedrera are on every corner!
How long will you need? Spend a few hours exploring and looking and shopping.
Cost? Free.

How To Day Trip From Dublin to Giant’s Causeway (without a tour guide)

When we added Dublin to our itinerary, we decided to add a day trip out to Giant’s Causeway. It was going to be a long trip, but if we were that close, I couldn’t really pass up the opportunity. We vetoed the overpriced, big group, organised 15 hour day trips we saw online and decided to just hire a car and do it ourselves.

Some rotten weather meant we had to adjust our plans a little and miss a few stops we’d originally planned. But we still had an awesome day and would definitely recommend the DIY route over the group tour. Here’s how to do it…

 

OUR PLAN:
Collect the car and start driving north, then make our way around to see:
– Castle Ward
– The Dark Hedges
– Old Bushmill’s Distillery
– Dunluce Castle
– Giant’s Causeway
– Dunseverick Castle
– Ballintoy Harbour

WHAT WE ACTUALLY ENDED UP DOING
– The car hire places in the city didn’t open until a bit later in the morning, and we wanted to get started early, so we caught a bus from city (we stayed near Dublin Cathedral and there was a pick up point just around the corner) to airport to collect car. This was going to be cheaper than a taxi, and cost us €7 each – just have correct change ready to pay for your tickets.

– We picked up the car at 7.30am and got started without any issues – navigating was pretty easy, thankfully.

– First stop was Castle Ward, the site of some of Game of Thrones’ Winterfell scenes. A beautiful 18th Century mansion sits on the enormous grounds, which were something else when we visited. Autumn leaves + castle grounds = magic. We only saw a few other people on our way in, both groundskeepers. And the lovely lady working in the bookshop. Otherwise, we were the only visitors. It may have been because it was low season there was no one there to take our admission fee (£8.60 per person), and we didn’t actually go into the mansion, but instead we wondered around and enjoyed the gorgeous grounds in peace. Great idea heading there first.

 

The Dark Hedges was our next stop, which starred in Game of Thrones as the King’s Road. I guess we were lucky that the weather played it’s part – it was grey and overcast and a little somber when we arrived, so it looked even more dramatic and foreboding (even though they’d recently been pruned and the branches remaining were losing their leaves because we were there in November). What you don’t realise from the photos is that it actually is a road. Lots of people walk it. And plenty of cars will drive up and down in while you’re trying to take your lovely photo. There’s nothing else around it, either, so if you’re just going to get the shot, you’re probably going to be a little frustrated. We took a few snaps in between groups, but honestly, it was just really cool to walk to walk through these giants planted back in the 18th Century and look out over the fields alongside them.

 

– By the time we got to Dunluce Castle, the weather was really starting to take a turn. The wind was enough to almost knock me over while I stood near the cliff edges to take some photos, and the water below was furious. That’s the only word I can think of to describe it; absolutely, viciously, furious. But it was stunning – even when you can barely stay on your feet, looking at this ruined castle up on the cliffs is a pretty incredible experience. Because the weather was getting so nasty, we didn’t stay long – we physically couldn’t, the wind was so strong. We were also getting pretty hungry, so we moved on to our next stop to wait the wind out a bit…

 

– … at the Old Bushmills Distillery. Irish whiskey is meant to be some of the best in the world, and my husband is a whiskey man, so off we went. We didn’t really want to spend the time doing the tour, so we thought we’d just have a bite to eat and maybe try a few of their whiskeys. By then, it was starting to get a bit later in the afternoon, so we jumped back in the car.

 

Giant’s Causeway was to be our final stop of the day. And despite the horrible weather (it was starting to rain at this point, on top of the torrential wind), it was super busy.

To be honest, it wasn’t the wonderful experience I imagined it would be, for a few reasons:
* The Giant’s Causeway itself is a natural phenomenon. You’d think that would make it available to the public. You’d be wrong. The National Trust let you know once you’re already there that you can visit it for free, but you have to pay for parking. Given there’s no where else to park in the general vicinity, the extortionists are making a bundle from car parking.
* There were tour bus-sized hoards of people there, who were clearly there for no other reason than to take photos for social media accounts. To the point that I had a middle aged woman try to shove me out of her photo. Yup. All of this natural beauty and magic has been reduced to the perfect Instagram shot, and that took a LOT of the experience away for me. We’d come all that way and been forced to pay our parking, so I made my way out onto the stepping stones to check it all out a bit more, but that feeling of “wow, how incredible” just wasn’t there.

By the time we finished up at Giant’s Causeway, the rain and wind were both getting heavier, and we were conscious of having to drive back in such crappy conditions in the dark, so we decided to cut our loses and make our way back to the airport to drop off the car by 7.30pm. I guess Dunseverick Castle and Ballintoy Harbour will still be there for our next visit!

 

CAR HIRE TIPS
– We used Dan Dooleys and they were fantastic to deal with from start to finish. On the day, we went to their airport office, fixed up the paperwork, and  used their shuttle to take us to parking lot (which is the same location the car was returned to).

– There is an Applegreens about 10km from airport where you can stop to fill up fuel.

– In terms of fuel cost, we had a hybrid SEAT Ibiza, we drove 600km and it cost around €50 to re-fill the tank.

– We picked up our car at 7.30am, and returned it at 7.30pm – the 12 hours hire, including Excess Waiver Insurance and an extra driver cost just under €100.

– I’d highly recommend getting a small car for the narrow Irish roads!

– We went in November, and it gets dark early at that time of year, so you’ll need to be prepared to drive in the dark.

– Pack snacks and water. You’ll be travelling mostly on expressways, so there are not many stops unless you want to turn off.

– Have money ready for the toll booth – they weren’t expensive, but the booth attendants will like you a whole lot more if you have some change on you.