How to Tolerate International Air Travel

Did your mother ever tell you that old travel adage, claiming that “getting there is half the fun?” Well, Mom lied. “Getting there” sucks, especially when international flights are involved. Inflight amenities are all but disappearing and the airline always sits you next to the most unpleasant neighbors. I mean, you’re inevitably stuck with the Exhausted-Young-Couple + Screaming-Infant Combo, or the Awkward Conversationalist, or the I-was-too-busy-to-shower-but-still-found-time-to-gel-my-fauxhawk Guy. Since I take pity on travelers like you, I’ve come up with some tips to make international air travel tolerable. You can thank me when you land.

What to bring…

  • Always carry both dollars and euros with you when traveling internationally. If you arrive in a smaller airport and can’t obtain local currency, you’ll be able to get by with internationally accepted dollars and euros until you can find a currency exchange.
  • If you’re as frugal a traveler as I am, carry an empty water bottle through security. You can fill it up at a water fountain once inside the terminal and avoid shelling out ten bucks for an Evian.
  • Bring documentation explaining where you are going and what you are doing abroad to show foreign customs officials. This may be a letter from your study abroad program or the name and address of the person you are visiting. Call me paranoid, but this has saved me least twice when I haven’t been able to communicate with suspicious airport authorities.
  • Sign up for frequent flier programs with all major U.S. airlines and bring your membership cards when you travel. Membership is free and most international airlines have partnerships with U.S. airlines, so there’s no excuse to miss out frequent flier miles.

Reduce your travel time…

  • Pack light. Checking bags not only delays you on both ends of your journey, but also increases the risk of lost luggage. When at all possible, travel only with carry-on luggage. No matter how good you look in those knee-high pleather boots, they’re not worth checking your luggage.
  • Twenty-four hours before your flight, check in online and print out an e-Ticket. If you’re not checking luggage, you can skip the check-in desk and go straight to security. Though some international airlines will not issue e-Tickets for connecting flights, make an effort to print out an e-Ticket for every leg of your journey. Be absolutely sure that the name on your boarding pass matches the name on your passport to avoid any confusion.
  • Upon arrival in a foreign country, get to customs inspection quickly and pass as many other passengers as possible. Do whatever it takes to get there first, but be aware that social norms in some foreign countries may prohibit you from pushing small children out of your way.

Fight jet lag…

  • Open bars are just about as dangerous on international flights as they are at AA meetings. While the flight cart on most international flights is essentially an open bar, you’d be wise to resist the temptation to throw back as many Bloody Mary’s as you can; the effects of alcohol are intensified at high altitudes, so consuming even small amounts can result in hangovers and fatigue upon arrival, exacerbating jet lag.
  • Jet lag is to today’s traveler what dysentery was to Ma and Pa when they traveled the Oregon Trail on your Macintosh circa 1992. But Ma and Pa didn’t have access to clean drinking water, and you do, so drink plenty of water both before and during your flight to fight jet lag. The cabin’s dry atmosphere makes you prone to dehydration, causing headaches and a sore throat. Stay hydrated by constantly taking small sips of water.
  • Avoid overeating. You eat airplane food not because it’s haute cuisine, but rather because it’s placed in front of you and you’re bored. But eating sodium-laden plane food both dehydrates you and disrupts your body’s circadian rhythms. So instead of gorging on reconstituted beef nuggets and soggy linguine, you’re best off skipping the inflight meal altogether and snacking on something light and high in protein. Granola and dried fruit make a perfect combination and will help you fend off fatigue upon arrival.