People often ask me how I do it. Traveling so much, I mean. How do I stay healthy and rested on all those flights? The trick is: be well prepared and have the perfect travel kit with you! Here is how.
1. First of all: make a packing list. It sounds over-organized, but it saves a lot of time, mental stress, and reduces the risk of forgetting to pack important stuff. Believe me, I pack my bags at least once a month – so you would think I have a mental picture of the contents of my suitcase by now -, but before I had my packing list I would forget something almost every time! At a quiet time – so not right before a trip – sit down and write down the most important things that come to mind (passport, wallet, phone, printed e-tickets (see tip #2.) etc. Then go stand in front of your closet and make note of the different types of under- and outerwear you have and would bring on any trip (the specifics – the blue woolen sweater, or the white cotton one – will depend on the trip). Let the list sit on your desk, and every time you think of something else (yoga mat! ear plugs!), just add it to your list. When the time comes to pack, you only have to go down your list. Getting ready will be so much easier. So it will leave you time to go take that pre-trip relaxing yoga class after all!
2. Print your e-tickets. I am all about saving trees, and using technology, but unfortunately in practice it doesn’t always work. It happened to me more than once I only had my e-ticket on my iPhone, but I couldn’t use it. I was on Bali, had forgotten to download my emails on my phone before I left the hotel, and when I got to the airport I couldn’t access the ticket that was in my inbox. Also, at some smaller airports in the USA, TSA is not yet equipped with scanners that read your e-ticket of your phone. Being sent back to go print your ticket at a ticket booth when there is a line for security is not that fun, although it is good practice in staying calm and equanimous.
3. Make sure you are well rested prior to your trip. It really makes a difference in how well you can deal with a time change, or simply a long day of traveling, when you are not already tired before even leaving the house. If traveling causes anxiety (and therefore insomnia) meditate instead, or do some nerve-soothing yin yoga postures, like Wide-legged Child Pose and/or lying Butterfly Pose.
Wide-legged Child Pose
Sit on your heels with your knees bent and on the floor. Widen your knees apart as far as is comfortable. Place your hands in front of you, and lower your torso forward until your forehead touches the floor (or a yoga block or book, if the floor is not close enough). Your arms can rest overhead or beside you on the floor. Stay here for 3-5 minutes, just focusing on your breath. To come out, slide your hands under your shoulders and roll your spine up. Head comes up last. Bring your knees together, one at a time, and notice how you feel.
Lying Butterfly Pose
Sit on the floor with your knees bent, opened to the sides, with the soles of your feet together. Have your feet far enough away from your body that your legs make a diamond shape. Place your hands behind you, and slowly lower your upper body to the floor so you are lying on your back. If there is too big of a stretch in your groin, you can place a yoga block, or book, under each thigh. Stay here for 3-5 minutes, just focusing on your breath. To come out, bring your knees together, one at a time, and roll to your right side. Slowly come back to seated and notice how you feel.
4. Leave on time, and plan to get to the airport early. As movie star-ish as it seems to get to the airport at the last minute to hop on a flight – and even if it is just because you do not like to spend more time at the airport than absolutely necessary -, there is nothing glamorous or relaxing about getting stuck in line at security, or to find out that your plane is waiting at the most furthest end of the terminal, and you literally have to run to get on board timely. Other variations on this theme are when you accidently get to the wrong airport, because there are two with an almost equal name (in Mexico). The traffic is stopped dead on the way to the airport because there is a procession going on to honor the fact that it’s Thursday (Bali), or when the airline decides to change your departure to an earlier time without prior notice (United Airlines). I’m not your mom, but just speaking from experience. And hey, it is great practice in non-judgment when you are people watching while you are sitting at the gate!
5. Travel with the ultimate carry-on-the-plane travel kit, especially on flights longer than 3 hours. After a lot of experimenting, this is what mine contains: inflatable travel pillow, earplugs, eye mask, sleeping aids, Nasya oil, Thieves oil, nose spray, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes, hand cream, facial wipes, moisturizer for face, deodorant. Some of these items are self-explanatory (and if not: please know that airplanes are not the cleanest space to hang out in, and sanitizing your hands as well as your seat belt, TV screen and tray table are not only for people with germaphobia!)
- Inflatable travel pillow: not necessarily to put behind your neck, but to place in your lumbar curve. Airplane seats were apparently designed with robots in mind, and are not conducive for sitting in a healthy posture. With a little support in your lower back (don’t inflate the pillow all the way, just one third will usually do it) your pelvis can tilt slightly forward so there be less compression on the lower vertebrae. Note that the pillow should be inflatable so it isn’t too thick and fits easily in your carry-on bag.
- Earplugs: even when you don’t intend to sleep, blocking out (some of) the noise the airplane makes really reduces the amount of stress you may not be aware of is put on your nervous system, and will therefore make you less tired.
- Eye mask: if you intend to sleep, an eye mask will help block out light. Your system produces more melatonin – which induces sleep – when your eyes perceive complete darkness. (And you won’t be woken up abruptly when the flight attendants turn on the light when they think it’s time for breakfast.)
- Sleeping aids: I am not an advocate of taking sleeping aids (melatonin) whenever you can’t sleep, but when on a long flight and you have trouble falling asleep because your body is not lying flat, or because there is too much noise, it makes a world of difference if you can help your system dozing off for a couple of hours. Don’t use these pills when you have less than 5 hours to sleep, because it will then only leave you feeling drowsy.
- Nasya oil: this oil with Ayurvedic herbs is great to lubricate your nasal passages during a long flight, and keeps away germs. Just a few drops in each nostril will prevent your nose from feeling dried out and uncomfortable.
- Thieves oil: this blend of essential oil (Young Living makes a good one) smells of cloves and keeps away germs and promotes a healthy respiratory system. (It is also a great shield against any unpleasant odors coming from fellow passengers…) Put a few drops on the soles of your feet and on each wrist.
6. Do some stretching during the flight. If the sleeping aids haven’t knocked you out completely, getting up once in a while to do some stretching is a must. There is always some little space in the lavatory or galley area, where you can lean against the wall with your legs and hang forward with your head towards the floor. Circling your ankles, and alternating knee lifts are great to get the blood and energy flowing in your legs. Most important is to do some back bends to counteract the sitting and the compression in lower back and hips. I like to stretch my arms out against the overhead compartments and just let my chest come forward while arching my back. Who cares what other people think; at least you will feel better!
7. Adjust to the time zone where you are traveling to immediately, but don’t focus on what time it actually is during the flight. I have noticed that when your mind and body don’t know what time it is, is doesn’t matter so much whether you are on a 5 or 12 hour flight. Just enjoy the timelessness of travel, the fact that there is no phone, email and Facebook, and only look at your watch by the time you get to your destination. Do your best to abide to a sleeping pattern that is accustomed to the current time zone. When you really can’t keep your eyes open, don’t nap longer than 2 hours.
8. The saying goes: “The Soul travels on horseback”. To allow your mind and body to ground and get in tune with your new surroundings, do some gentle yoga and meditation. The two Yin Yoga postures described under # 3 are ideal. Or you can practice along with this 5-minute yoga video, and/or download a practice from my website.
Last but not least: wear a big shawl that upgrades your outfit (When you look good, you will feel good. I love cashmere!) and that can double as a head pillow or a blanket, drink a lot of water (take an empty bottle on board and ask a flight attendant to fill it) and bring your yoga mat! If your mat doesn’t fit in your bag, make sure you have a nice looking yoga mat bag and take it as an extra carry-on (if you happen to have 3 pieces of carry-on luggage because of your mat, and the gate agent doesn’t let you on board with it, just wear your mat as a skirt. I’ve done it once. It works great and makes for good conversation on board!)