I'm leaving for vacation on Friday night, where I will spend a week in London seeing family and friends, plus two days in Paris eating my weight in bread and cheese. You might think I'm joking about that second part, but I have spent the last ten days abstaining from both so that when I fall off the wagon in Paris---and I will inevitably fall off the wagon in Paris, I mean come on: it's Paris---the transgression will be that much sweeter. Hey, if you're going to fail, might as well fail big, right? Baguettes, I'm coming for you first! Cheesemongers of France, lock up your wheels of brie!
The flight from San Francisco to London is a cheery eleven hours, and while sitting bolt upright and weeping my way through The Time Traveler's Wife while having a passive-agressive armrest fight with the mouthbreathing stranger two inches to my left is not, perhaps, my favorite way to spend eleven hours---my favorite way to spend eleven hours is ASLEEP---I have taken enough two-day flights to other parts of the world (cough Singapore cough) that eleven hours seems, by comparison, to be a walk in the park. (Or a piece of piss, as my English compatriots might say. Have to brush up on my English idioms before I get on that plane on Friday, so I don't stand out too badly when I get there. Let's hope no-one asks me to pronounce "basil" at passport control or my head might explode.)
Flying is never particularly fun---well, the part where you sit back and read a whole bunch of magazines while people bring you free diet coke is kind of fun, but that gets old after a while---and yet there are things you can do to make it more bearable, believe it or not, and in the process of learning this, I have developed a kind of flying "code." If you are interested, the rules are as follows:
* Have a flying outfit. I have a flying outfit and it is this: a pair of loose and flowy black pants, a pair of ballet flats (gold, though yours certainly don't have to be), a crewneck t-shirt, a zip-up hoodie or cozy cardigan, and a pashmina. I have worn some variation of this outfit on pretty much every flight I have taken, and it has not failed me yet. It is comfortable, but you do not look as though you are wearing your pajamas. It accounts for every level of warmness and chilliness you will experience on the plane. And most of all, if you hide the hoodie in your bag while you check in, it gives you some semblance of being the sort of passenger deserving of an upgrade to Business Class.
* Look, you are probably not going to get an upgrade to Business Class. You are probably not, it's true. But hell, it doesn't hurt to try, particularly on an international flight. I take a three-pronged approach to the "try": I endeavor not to look as though I have just rolled out of bed (see above), I smile a lot and am very, very polite, and sometimes, if I'm getting the right sort of vibe from the check-in person, I just ask. You have to do it cheekily, of course----"Is the flight very full? Oh, it is? No chance you're looking to upgrade anyone, are you? Because I'm willing and able!"---but I kid you not, it has worked for me in the past. I have received several surprise upgrades using this technique, as has my brother, and---randomly---my grandma. There's, like, a 0.1% of it happening, of course, but hey, trying is free. Business Class tickets aren't, however, so don't be surprised when it falls flat. (It often falls flat.)
* Remember that pashmina? That's important. You might not be a pashmina person in your everyday life and that is fine; in that case, you will just need to buy a pashmina and designate it your Flying Pashmina, because a pashmina, my friends, is probably the most important thing you can bring onto a plane. Well, okay, after your ticket. And your passport. And some good reading material. And---okay, whatever, it is up there is what I'm saying, and this is why: it makes an excellent blanket. It makes an excellent pillow. It makes an excellent thing to breathe into when it turns out your neighbor to the right has chronic B.O. It makes an excellent shawl to give you an extra layer of warmth, and it also just gives you that nice sort of comfortable, homey feel that's rather lacking on an airplane, which sounds sort of stupid, but when I am 30,000 feet up in the air and possibly a little anxious, I like that my pashmina is soft and cozy and smells like a familiar mix of my perfume and my apartment. Hmm, apparently my pashmina is actually my security blanket. That's a little awkward.
* Make yourself a little amenity kit so you can at least pretend you're in Business Class. So I have this kit that I bring on every airplane ride ever, though it is particularly helpful on the kind of airplane rides where you're going to try and sleep, whether these are international flights or just long-distance red-eyes. "Kit" is actually pushing it a bit, since it's basically just a gallon-size ziploc bag---though I have been known to fancy it up and use an old toiletries bag or makeup case from time to time---but I always keep it within easy reach and it always contains the following: lip balm (airplane air is notoriously dry), a tiny little tub of moisturizer (ditto), an eye mask for sleeping, a pair of warm socks for if my feet get cold, gum and/or a mini toothbrush and toothpaste to freshen my mouth, Advil in case I get a headache, Advil PM to help me sleep, and, if I can swing it, one of those tiny little cans of Evian spray that you can mist ineffectively at your face to try and help you wake up. You look like a bit of a tool spritzing your face with one of those, though, so maybe take that one to the bathroom.
* Tune in, turn on, drop out. The key to getting any sort of shut-eye on a plane is to trick your senses into thinking that you're....well, not on a plane. Push your seat back as far as it will go, of course, slip off your shoes and slip on your warm socks, wrap yourself in your pashmina, and then do two things: make it so that you can't hear anything or see anything. Trust me on this. For the former, I used to bring along headphones and my excellent white noise machine---which normally sits by my bedside table but is small and portable enough fo travel---until I discovered that I could just download a free white noise app on my iPhone (I've got this one), which is just as good and way more convenient. For the latter, I recommend this sleep mask, which my brother Tom gave me for Christmas, and which has, quite literally, changed my life (my bedroom is very light: this mask is like your own personal set of blackout shades.)
* You will need food. Maybe you are fine with airplane food---whether it's the free meal you get on international flights or the sandwiches you pay for on domestic ones---but I have always, always brought my own food onto the plane, and I am here to tell you that the best possible sandwich you can make and pack for a flight is salami on a baguette (well, unless you're a vegetarian, I guess, in which case...yeah, I dunno.) Salami is great because it is tasty, it doesn't smell weird, for some reason I don't worry about it going bad like I'd worry with ham or turkey, and you don't need all that much of it; a baguette is great because it is very hardy and won't get squashed in your bag. I have learned the hard way that you shouldn't try and add tomatoes, lettuce, or cucumber to this---soggy central!---but it's fair to say that a little bit of arugula, if you've got it, sure doesn't hurt. (I also use only mustard, no mayo, because I worry about the mayo holding up for a long time.) Another great meal for the plane, if you're not a sandwich sort of person, is some variation on this orzo salad (leave out the chicken if you want), packaged into a little tupperware---it's great cold, will last a long time and fill you up, and isn't super messy to eat. As far as snacks for the plane go, I'm a big fan of almonds, Luna bars, Goldfish crackers, and dried apricots. I also always buy a tube of mint Mentos, but this is more some weird holdover from childhood---my mum used to always pack mint Mentos into her carryon bag and dole them out if our ears started hurting on takeoff or landing---so, you know, don't feel compelled at all to do that.
So that's it, I guess: a few quick ways to make flying---particularly long-distance flying----a tiny little bit more bearable. Anything I'm missing? Any questions? Anything you want to add?