Nuuk Helicopter

Traveling by plane like a rockstar

One of the questions that we get asked a lot is “how do you recover from jet lag quickly?”. Because we travel long distances so often (Iceland, Greenland, Alaska, Central America) by plane, this is an excellent question! This is related to a couple of other future posts: Surviving TSA, Packing Efficiently, and Fitness and Flexibility on the Road. Mindy & Emily may chime in later, but for now, I (Sarah) am going to tell you how I can take a red-eye and start the day in Reykjavik like I slept on a pillow-top at the Four Seasons.

First: dress for success. No matter what my role is on the other end of the flight (rugged field guide, conference attendee, bridesmaid), I dress the same on the flight, with fresh (and role-appropriate) clothes in my carry-on. Next, it is important to keep in mind that a good flight often depends on how you are treated by the flight attendants. Dress in your PJ’s and you will likely be treated with part disdain and part amusement, but not with very much respect. In addition, it is a good idea to think about how challenging your attire is going to be for security; easy is no belt, slip on/off shoes, a good & safe place for documents. So, what’s the happy medium? Bottom-to-top, this is what I wear:

  • Compression socks: nothing sucks more than trying to put on some hiking boots and not being to lace them up because your feet or ankles or swollen, never mind how you might look in some “neutral” bridesmaid stilettos with cankles. SO, compression socks, they help reduce swelling (by increasing circulation), and (BONUS), they might also help reduce the possibility of a flight-induced blood clot (see this study here).
  • Comfortable, slip-on shoes. Even with the compression socks, having shoes that can take some change in foot size and slip on and off is awesome for when you want to got to the bathroom (with shoes!) or relax with your feet up (without shoes!). Mindy & Sarah (me) prefer Sanuks – they are the pretty close to slippers but have a sole so are great shoes for getting around town or cabin without getting your feet wet.
  • Cotton, breathable underwear. Nuff said.
  • Comfortable, lightweight, neutral color pants. For women, you can go with a yoga pant that also works as a legging (then wear a tunic/short dress). Or you can go with a pair of stretchy-comfy pants (but not sweatpants!); personally, I like the knit pants from Lululemon (mine are dark purple). For men,  after some research, these from Rohan Designs or these from Bluffworks seem like good options.
  • (For the Ladies) Cotton, breathable bra or tank. Nuff said.
  • Lightweight top; I like a yoga-inspired T (like this one, because I do think there should be more love in the world), but a tunic also works.
  • Fleece or sweater. This is a great way to move things out of your bag and onto your body to reduce packing weight.They also make great supplemental blankets or pillows in-flight. While this fleece used to be my favorite warming/pillow device, I’ve recently switched to Icelandic sweaters.
  • Glasses. While contacts have come a long way in terms of 24-hr wear, sleeping while wearing contacts always leaves my eyes puffy and with bags. Nothing says red-eye flight more than red eyes!

Second: the carry-on bag or bags. These days you can save money by having a personal item (i.e. backpack) and a carry-on bag (i.e. a roller). If you need to reduce the number of checked bags and use a roller, that is part of the packing that will be discussed in a future post. Here, I’m going to focus on the personal carry-0n.

  • I use a backpack with a laptop sleeve, and then fill it with my comfort, entertainment, and sleep items (in addition to the laptop).
  • TSA Pre-check. If you are planning on traveling domestically (exclusively) than doing the Pre-Check alone is a great option. TSA PreCheck is a government-sponsored program that grants approved passengers on domestic flights—and some international—expedited screening. Unlike the regular security line, PreCheck passengers don’t need to remove their shoes, laptops, liquids, belts, and light jackets, which means less time in line (Pre-Check passengers spend on average less than 5 minutes in line). Submit an online application here, and then schedule an appointment at any of more than 380 enrollment centers across the country. At your in-person appointment, you’ll have to give your fingerprints and undergo a brief background check. (Appointments usually take around ten minutes.) Applicants will typically receive written notification within two to three weeks after the in-person appointment; however, some individuals are approved mere days after completing the in-person appointment. If you plan on traveling internationally, than get Pre-check AND Global Entry (below). This expedites departure and arrival.

Third: comfort, entertainment and sleep.

  • While it is written elsewhere, and many, many times…hydrate! For all my adventures – the mundane and exciting – I bring a water bottle. Mine is a Sigg because I don’t like plastic bottles anymore. I keep it empty until getting through security and then fill it up on the other side. Even better, recently, airlines have added water bottle filling stations on the airplanes, so you can keep hydrated without being dependent on the small glasses of water you may be offered during the flight.
  • Healthy (or somewhat healthy) snacks, like nuts or coconut (I get mine at Costco) are great to keep you belly full without indulging in an in-flight meal.
  • Noise cancelling headphones. If you don’t have these already, they will revolutionize your life, especially if you travel on turbo-prop (i.e. small) airplanes. I first used the Bose Noise Canceling headphones in 2002 on my first second to Antarctica. In 2001, we traveled on an C-130 for 4 hours to Antarctica and then got boomeranged back (another 4 hours!) to New Zealand because of bad weather in McMurdo. The amplitude of the sound was so high and the time so long that I was pretty unhappy, which was only remedied when I got to McMurdo! My next season, I took the advice of some seasoned veterans and got some noise-canceling headphones. They made such a difference, I haven’t flown anywhere without them since. There are other brands, but Bose has an excellent reputation and warranty (they have fully replaced a set once in 15 years at no charge).
  • Toiletries. Nothing makes you feel like its the end of the day more than washing your face and brushing your teeth. I carry a small toiletry bag with face & mouth essentials while on the plane (wash, brush, moisturize) and a few items (lip gloss, etc) so I look fresh coming out of customs !
  • iPad, iPhone, or other touch-screen/entertainment device. Recently, the airlines have started switching to in-flight entertainment through WiFi, which means having an iPad or Windows Surface Pro (or equivalent). I prefer the iPad mini because it gives me space on the tray for a snack, but others may prefer something larger. You should also keep a charger handy – there are USB charging ports in many planes now.
  • Sleep aids. Generally, while I love to watch some entertaining movies, a better use of flight time is to sleep; an eye cover plus being covered by a fleece or sweater (see above) provides the right setting, even if you end up in the middle seat! Sometimes, I’ll take a magnesium supplement to help get to sleep.

Fourth: arrival. There are a couple of items that will make your life easier when you arrive; the right documents will make passport and customs be smooth and fast.

  • Passport, easily accessible and with the correct visa. Check with your tour operator that you have the correct visa for your vacation destination.
  • Global Entry. Global Entry is a program of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection service that allows pre-approved, low-risk travelers to receive expedited clearance upon arrival into the United States. Practically, what does this mean? With Global Entry, it takes me < 5 minutes to get through passport control (on a computer instead of with a person), you don’t have to fill out those blue forms (searching for a pen, awkwardly trying to write on the tray), and you also get the fast track line through customs. Even better? TSA Pre-check is included in your interview and fee. To enroll in Global Entry, applicants must first file an application with Customs and Border Protection, and then submit to an interview and background check. The interview has to take place at one of their main offices, which is great if you live near a major international airport (Detroit, New York, LAX), if not make plans for a mini vacation to such a location. They are very strict with the interview time and don’t mess around, so make sure you have all of the required documentation and take their questions seriously.
  • Toiletries, clothing, and coffee. Upon arrival, there are three things that make me feel like a fully functioning human. If there is an opportunity before customs (i.e. baggage claim), I’ll stop at a bathroom and change into my real clothes (which are in my carry-on and depend on destination activities), brush my teeth, wash my face, moisturize, etc. And, as soon as I am able, I will follow it up with some coffee.


Five, ready for adventure. Properly hydrated, rested and without airport stress, I’m ready to take on the world, how about you?