My Top Tips for Transatlantic Travel

There can be something romantic and magical about taking the night flight from the US to Europe — I associate arriving in Europe with an unearthly, dreamy feeling that only a mixture excitement and jetlag can produce.

A more pessimistic view of international travel? How’s this:  after a listless night of pretending to sleep while sitting up, you arrive, exhausted with grimy teeth, two-day old clothing and feel generally like you’ve been run over by a bus.  Somewhere in the back of your head you feel the dull pain of a migraine —  you’ve taken advantage of several (free) alcoholic units and dehydrated yourself in the process.

I’ve devised my own set of tips for overnight travel that gets me on the ground running the next morning, which I humbly share with you here:

  1. Book the latest flight possible from the US.  Your main goal during the flight is not to watch as many movies as possible, nor is it to drink as many free mini bottles as possible, but to sleep.  Skip the 6pm departures in favor for 10pm flights, which more closely align with your natural bedtime.
  2. Eat before you get on the plane.  Airlines will serve you a meal on transatlantic flights, but here’s a sad but very true fact: the food is gross, and the meal service eats up a very valuable hour of sleep.
  3. Buy a massive bottle of water before getting on the plane and make it your goal to drink all of it during the flight.  Using the restroom on planes is terrible, but not as terrible as arriving at your destination dehydrated.  (Plus…did you really think you could get away with holding it that long?)
  4. I like keeping an excellent, thick travel-sized hand lotion in my pocket, as well as lip balm, otherwise I get painfully chapped during the flight.
  5. Use your airline pillow as a lumbar pillow.  When trying to fly sitting up, the pillow really does nothing for my head.  I find it much more comfortable to put the pillow at the small of my back.
  6. Take the window seat.  It’s helpful to be able to lean your head against the window or wall of the aircraft.  Remember to be kind to the person in the middle seat and don’t steal his armrest.  His life is rough enough.
  7. Fill out landing cards and change your watch as soon as you get on the plane.  Get the administrative stuff over with so you won’t have to remember to do this and scramble on arrival.  Also — the sooner you can pretend it’s the next day, the better.   There is definitely a mental component to jet lag.
  8. Stay awake for the first drink service — perhaps a token wine to help you sleep, then hit the hay.  Stay away from sleeping pills if you have never taken them before.
  9. Sleep.  Try really hard. I find that I still feel more rested after a flight if I close my eyes and pretend to sleep for a few hours than if I give up and switch on a movie. But nothing beats the real thing.
  10. Upon arrival in Europe,  stay awake until at least 8PM.  This will give you some hope of kicking jetlag completely after Day 1.  If you nap, all is done for and it will take you several days or even a week to adjust to the time difference.

Bon voyage!

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4 thoughts on “My Top Tips for Transatlantic Travel

  1. What about airlines? Are you staying loyal to one for the miles/upgrades? Or is there one that is better than others for the trip to London?

    • Since I will almost always want to fly into Boston from London, I’m limited to the 4 airlines that have direct flights from Boston: British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American and Delta. In the past, I remained faithful to United, since they have a generous rewards program. For now, I’m flying BA, which has a much less valuable reward program (it takes tons of flights to build any status at all). Nonetheless, it has the greatest number of flights per day from Boston, its fleet seems newer and more comfortable than other options. Generally, I give the following considerations for choosing an airline rewards program: (1) availability of convenient and direct flights to desired designations (2) cost of flights (3) useful airline partners (4) generosity of rewards programs.

  2. I might amend #10 account for time of arrival. If one arrives very early (say 6am), I find a 1-2 nap, if it is taken before 10am, can be helpful. Waking up from the nap will not be fun but it gives you enough energy go make it through to 8pm. If you don’t nap at all on an early arrival then you’re up for a very long time before turning in for the night.

    My personal rule of thumb is absolutely no naps in the afternoon but I allow for a 1-2 hour nap in the morning if arriving early.

    • Yes, that seems fair. A power nap can make a world of difference, but you’re right…the trick is making sure that you get up after an hour or so! Best to set a few alarms, or ensure someone can wake you!

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