Thursday, 15 May 2014

“£100 of whatever they spend in Sweden…”

It’s been quite a couple of weeks on the travel front. In 14 days I've travelled to Newcastle (I didn’t say the destinations were all glamorous), Toulouse, Biarritz, and Orlando, and at the time of writing this (assuming it'll take me ages to get around to posting it) I'm on my way to Lund in Sweden, via Copenhagen in Denmark. My brain hurts just thinking about that one.

The challenge I find with frequent ‘there and backs’ is that they involve a lot of patience and a lot of early mornings. I also find myself having to adjust my tolerance levels... Of airports, planes, cabin crew, friends, taxi drivers and, importantly as I’ll need it the next day and the next, my alarm clock. I also need a reality check from time to time and a reminder that everything in life, particularly how people feel about certain situations, is relative. I have to remind myself that if I complained about being stressed and tired to my paramedic friend, she’d probably want to punch me in the face.

Newcastle kicked off with a 3.30am start and a drive to Heathrow, then a train back as the returning flights were full, seeing me get in at gone midnight (because my car was still at LHR and obviously the A23 was closed for road works) and then getting up the next morning at 3.45am (I decided to have a lay in) to drive to Gatwick for Toulouse and then a three hour drive to Biarritz the other side, then a meeting, then in bed by midnight and then up at 4am (spoiling myself now) and then a three hour drive back to Toulouse and then a meeting at Gatwick (they come to me there now, apparently) and then I crashed in bed at 4pm, up by 7pm, a few hours’ work and then back to bed ready for an 8am start in the office.

Orlando involved a week away with the family and, with a 7- and 10-year-old nephew and niece in tow, was slightly more exhausting than the above.

The holiday also involved Mickey, of course, whom nobody can be mad at, ever.

Except if he fails to notice that you’ve been waiting in line, aged 8, for over 20 minutes and are too shy to stop the other kids from pushing in front of you so instead you just wait there, becoming sadder by each passing minute and each elbow in the ribs, until your dad takes your photo and it ends up coming out like this…

(Sorry it's a bix pixelated - it was the 80s...)

… But that’s a story for another time.

At present, I find that I’m on a train from Copenhagen airport to Lund in Sweden for my meeting. My first impression of the place is that the people are beautiful. Seriously stunning. Second impression is that the train ticket lady was really helpful, particularly with a bleary-eyed me not entirely sure that I’d landed in the right country. I guess, technically, I hadn’t.

As a fairly frequent flier, I find the below tips helpful and thought you might too:

1.  Roll with the punches: Before you set off, have a mental word with yourself and make a promise to take everything with a smile. You’ll handle the unexpected (road closures, flight cancellations, lost luggage) much better that way and nobody likes being “that” passenger.

2.  One trip at a time: As long as your flights and hotels are booked, I find it less overwhelming if I pack as I go and plan things like where I’ve got to be, once I’m en route. Only do this if you’re sure you’ll be OK with just a Smartphone and can get 3G/4G abroad. And only if you have a vague idea of timings – There’s nothing like landing in a place having given yourself 20 minutes to get somewhere and then realising it’s 3 hours’ away.

3.  Let your phone/camera do the work: If you’re parking at an airport or anywhere else, take a photo of the parking sign so you know where you left your car once you land. I spent 25 minutes in the wrong parking zone last week because I’d been at the airport the day before and thought my car was where it was then. Turned out it was a completely different airport too. If this happens, refer to tip no. 1.

4.  Don’t lose your bed: Do the same with hotel rooms, particularly if you’re given a key card with no room number printed. All hotel corridors seem to look the same after a while so I find it helps to take a photo of the door on the way out.

5.  Pack light: This is laughable from me, as I tend to pack the same amount (shoes, mostly) whether I’m going away for three days or three weeks, but if you can avoid checking your luggage into hold you’ll save precious minutes at the airport.

6.  100mls: Obviously I have 100ml bottled versions of everything wet that I own.


7.  Check your luggage labels: I never did this until last week when I heard an announcement for me at Orlando airport and discovered that there was another passenger with bright blue luggage and fluorescent orange tags.

8.  Give yourself a shot of perspective: Yes, it is relative, but it’s only travel and arguably if you were stuck in an office doing the ‘9-5’ you’d probably go mad then too. If you need a hand, read my post here about the Little Girl in Sri Lanka. She has a 6-hour round trip for school by foot, bike (now that we’ve bought her one) and shonky bus, and she’s only 9. If she can do it, you can do it too.

9.  Drink loads of water: Whenever you can. If you’re dehydrated you’ll get grumpy. If you’re really dehydrated, you’ll die.

10. Coffee Monster: As tempting as it is, don't overload on coffee. I get the shakes if I have a caffeine overdose (and then inevitably a migraine if I’m not careful), which means you’ll be fit for nothing and you’ve no time to hide in a dark corner.

11. Look after your skin: As girly as it sounds, with all that flying your skin will get dehydrated too and if you look rubbish, you’ll feel rubbish.

12. Learn the lingo: I always make a point of knowing how to say hello, goodbye, thank you and sorry in the language of anywhere I’m going to. The locals will appreciate the effort. If, like I found this morning, the only Swedish word you know is “Ikea” and you don’t want to appear borderline racist as soon as you land in a place, ask whomever you’re speaking to if they mind speaking in English. I always choose my words carefully here so that it’s not just assumed that they’re going to have to. If not, just point and shout really loud in English – This approach works particularly well in France. (Not really). 

13. Power doze whenever you can: In reality you’ll probably need all your ‘down’ time to catch up on meeting preparation, follow ups and the day job that would’ve been missed whilst you’re in the air/meetings, but if you can grab 20 minutes here and there, it’ll give you a bit of a boost and you never know, it might total up to an hour over the day, if you’re lucky.

14. Take earplugs with you if flying: With all that up and down, the air pressure makes my ears go mental. I’ve never been able to equalise properly (my dreams of a scuba diving career were thwarted alongside the Mickey Mouse-saga trip) so my ears and neck become very painful when we come into land. I’d been putting up with this for years before I saw an advert for some special ear screw plugs in an inflight magazine once – You can buy them from Boots in most airports. Whack ‘em in when the seat belt signs come on and it’ll be nowhere near as bad. If you forget your earplugs, use in-ear headphones. Bonus: this also helps with any screaming small children on flights (in your ears, not their eyes). 

15. You were a kid once too: Speaking of which, don’t get annoyed if there’s a small child having a tough time on your flight. It pains me when you see parents tearing their hair out whilst being eyeballed by fellow passengers. It’s not their fault and a bad attitude doesn’t help anybody, including your stress levels.

16. Say hello to the crew: This is more relevant for me because I have friends who work for airlines, but the more I travel the more I notice how rude people are to cabin crew. You may think their jobs are pretty easy during the flight, but chances are they’re knackered from their own travels, just want to get home too, and if the shit hits the fan you’ll be crying into their ams like a baby (and will thank their extensive, regular training too).  

17. Let them ‘ave it: However, do feel free to punch people who eat too loudly – Particularly if they’re eating crisps on trains. They deserve it. 

18. Remember your friends and family: You probably haven’t seen them regularly for a while and it’ll do you good to hear about something other than your life so give them a call for a catch up when you’re in the car.

19. Relax and breathe: Have a glass of wine when you’re home and finally finished, and give yourself a pat on the back.

Toodles. x


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