Zen and the Art of Flying Coach Class

In the coming months, I’m taking two very long international flights. While a younger Mary would have gotten all queasy just at the thought, the more enlightened Mary is so much better at finding inner peace these days.

Here are my strategies for achieving a zen-like state while travel.

1. Wear comfy clothes and take off your shoes on the plane. Put on thick fuzzy socks. Trust me, it’s relaxing.

2. Pack good snacks and water. There’s nothing worse than being parched and hungry and dissatisfied with the food selection on an international flight- especially those wee in between awkward hours when they turn off the lights.

3. Bring a book to read, and make sure it’s a good one. Not just a book you grab off the shelf. If you’re not genuinely interested, you won’t read it and it becomes extra weight. I tend not to bring magazines on flights. While they are fine for doctor’s offices, they just don’t sustain me long term.

*4. This one is my new personal favorite tip. Bring an ipod programmed with a couple hours worth of radio programs. I recommend This American Life series from NPR. They run an hour, and you can choose the subjects that interest you. I’ve been known to get so into them on flights that I actually laugh out loud or even cry (drawing attention from other passengers)…

5. If you’re a person of the creative persuasion, bring a journal to jot down ideas and insights. You never know when inspiration will strike!

6. Better yet, use the time to start your first novel. More on this idea to come…

7. Try to absorb the details of the moment. Concentrate on your breaths, observe the surroundings, and pay attention to what you’re thinking. This tip is totally stolen from Power of Now and other new age philosophies about living in the present. In my own experience, it serves a brilliant practical function of getting you to notice whatever anxiety or judgement you are dredging up and to squelch it. It also seems to speed time up (At least for me).

*8. Another favorite tip is to never check your baggage. You might be wondering what this has to do with finding inner peace on the plane, but in my own experience, it’s psychological. I feel dread flying if I have to worry about my luggage getting lost and waiting at baggage claim. It’s great sitting on the plane knowing that once you land, you’re free!

9. Finally, I consider all the much more hellish travel situations I’ve endured in my life. Hitchhiking. Crouching in the back of an overcrowded truck. Sitting on open springs on a smelly bus. I’m sure you have a few horrid memories in your history as well.

What about you? Got any enlightened strategies for flight appropriate body mind disassociation?


27 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Flying Coach Class

  1. These are brilliant tips to which I can add. Wear comfy socks and bring an extra pair to replace the ones you have on as soon as you arrive at your destination. Your feet will feel refreshed. On music, you’re spot on. On reading, I tend to bring re-reads with me all the time. Books I liked first time around and I know I will like again.

    Great post. Loved reading about your travel experiences.

    Greetings from London.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Cuban,
      Thanks for your tips about the socks and the already read books. You’re right that some books we just can’t ever get enough of. For me, it’s usually Wuthering Heights or Pride and Prejudice.

  2. Thsese are great tips. I always dress for comfort and warmth since planes are always freezing but I never thought of the fuzzy socks. Did you know “This American Life” is recorded in Chicago? I’m using a book based on one of its serious for my class this semester. What always helps me is picturing the place I’m headed to and going through the adventures I’ll have and possible photos. This gets me excited enough so that I can forget about the long flight for awhile. I also usually take a book either written by an author from the destination or one that focuses on it. I always get insight into the place’s culture and sometimes new ideas on what to do when I get there.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Fly Girl,
      Yes, I did know This American Life was filmed in Chicago! I really love that show… which series are you focused on? I like your idea about bringing a book by an author who can tell you something about the destination. It adds to the excitement, and positive imagery goes a long way in making you forget about the discomforts.

  3. I am a total believer in these, especially 1,2, 5, and 8! (And I’ve just started the iPod thing b/c I finally got one!) Have you seen the work of illustrator Christoph Nieman? Your post just made me think of his hilarious recent visual diary of an international coach class flight: http://niemann.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/03/red-eye/

    Hope these impending trips go really well and your new month is off to a great start! Btw, I loved your comment about the poster falling from your wall-lol! I would’ve have just died, especially if it had been after a creepy movie!

  4. Great strategies here. Really, I have found staying hydrated to be very very important… as well as having a few snacks. The other tip on long international flights is to get up and walk around every 3 or 4 hours. Make a lap around the plane so your body won’t forget that you have legs… Also, sleep in 4 to 6 hour stints; it makes everything go faster. πŸ™‚

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Ryan,
      Yes, being thirsty on the flight is just the worst, isn’t it? Great idea about sleeping in stints. I just wish I could manage 3 hours at a time, let alone 4-6. I’m going to follow your advice about walking a lap this next time. I usually don’t do it as I feel like I’m invading other people’s space, but hey, they’re invading my space too!

  5. great tips, i enjoyed it. i agree with wearing warm and comfortable clothes for the duration of the flight. also you should carry accessories like hand held devices to play games while on board

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Claire,
      Yes, the pillow is important too! I’ll be flying from Japan back to the States, and then Japan to Australia… are you going anywhere this holiday season?

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Kavita,
      Do you mean it’s hard to pack light if you’re traveling a long time? In my case, I try to pack essentials, even for long trips and then just do laundry along the way. The hardest part of packing for me is usually bulky shoes and coats, but I make a point to wear the bulkiest items while I’m flying…

      • I had to check in my luggage when the holiday was for a month. Packing light kinda flew out the window as everything seemed essential at the time. Packing light for a 2 week holiday seems a lot easier.

      • maryrichardson

        Dear Kavita,
        It’s also hard to pack when you’re going multiple places that require both summer and winter clothing!

  6. These are all great tips. Personally, I like bringing magazines on flight with me. I don’t read them otherwise. If I can find a Men’s Fitness magazine, I’m set for a good chunk of the flight. If I don’t have this than I’ll bring a good book. Also, water is something I have to bring.

    I’d like to note that if you download a podcast to your iphone that it can actually erase all your music. My gf downloaded one so she could learn some Spanish and all her songs were erased. She had to get by with the few she could get back.

  7. winxrocker

    Haha! I don’t exactly wear fuzzy socks, but dust bunnies are great too!
    I usually bring my iPhone with all sorts of songs loaded into it, and after I get bored of those, it’s iPod for me!
    I always snag a little something from Duty Free before going off to the plane, and I make sure I carry plenty of water.
    One more. Make conversation with your fellow passengers! This is great, and I once sat next to another Peace Corps volunteer, and his experiences were, well, I was speechless after he spoke…

    • maryrichardson

      Yes, a great conversation can really help time pass! I once talked to a Japanese movie producer for like 8 hours on an intl flight. It was good for us, but I think we annoyed our neighbors!

  8. Definitely never check (no need to worry if your bags reached). For flights of less than 8 hours, (unless flying business class, which is rarely) I always eat a big meal before getting on the flight. So I ignore them when meals come around, at most having the pre-landing snack. A good meal makes you sleepy, so that’s a plus. And you avoid the aggravation of bad food. Another plus! xo bb

    • maryrichardson

      Dear BB,
      I like your idea of eating a big meal… I can always sleep when my stomach is full! I’m going to try that out this time.

  9. We travel with young kids so keeping them entertained on International flights is a huge concern (not only for our own sanity but the sanity of passengers around us). We find that bringing a portable DVD player keeps them entertained with movies for hours. We also buy activity books with stickers. Thankfully the bulk of our trips have been at night so we keep them awake as much as possible before the flight and then they tend to sleep for a good portion of the flight. Last trip we were fortunate enough to fly Biz class which really spoiled us.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Matt,
      Lucky you with business class! I’ve never done it in my life yet, but I’ll have to splurge one of these days and go for it on an especially long flight! I’m sure traveling with children takes the stress to a whole new level, huh?

      • Last time it was only one kid, this time it will be 2 so twice the stress I think. We were lucky enough last time that my sister spent 700,000 FFM to get us into biz class. Hmmm…wonder how many miles she has now? πŸ™‚

  10. Plant your heels on the floor and “do the ABC’s” with the rest of your foot. This ends up moving most of the parts of your leg that develop blood clots.
    I raid the airplane magazines as I get on the plane. They are usually in a cubby by the door. I can usually get something like The Economist.
    I wear flip flops and then put on the socks. When I get up to walk around I don the flip flops. There are too many areas of a plane that get wet (yuck!)
    I always bring comfortable earphones.
    A small vile of lotion goes a long way when you are tired.
    I hydrate for 24 hours before the flight and then go without for two hours before. No alcohol (unless heading for a non drinking country- then all bets are off!)
    I also carry my luggage. http://www.rtwblog.com/ Rolf gives some excellent tips in his no baggage challenge.

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