Travelling Matt

Posted by on Aug 24, 2010 in tips, travel | No Comments

No, not that Travelling Matt. Me. For sometime before the year’s out, I have to do some international travel.


I’ve never enjoyed flying. Well, actually, no, I have no problem with flying per se. I enjoy gliders and light aircraft — I was even in the Air Training Corps for a brief period when I was a kid. But the whole experience of moving between countries on a commercial airline dispirits me quite intensely.

It may be the the sheer horrible plastic-ness of airports. Or the occasional need to rely on British trains to get me to the airport. Or just the awful user experience of airline booking websites.

Whatever it is, I need to find some way of making it better next time, otherwise I will probably, once more, emerge blinking from Heathrow Airport at the end of my holiday all stressed out and in need of a holiday. Avoiding travel isn’t much of an option, either, seeing as my immediate family lives in Greece…

Much as it would be therapeutic just to rant about travel for an entire blog entry, I figured it would probably be more sensible to try to improve my travel experience. So, of course, I turned to Twitter. I asked:

Who has some tips about how to survive international travel? #airports #hatehatehate

And here I’m going to summarise the replies, curating them as best I can:


There was definitely a sock theme. The first advice came from Mike Ellis:

@m1ke_ellis: “@gothick best advice ever for long haul: take some big and comfortable walking socks and take your shoes off as soon as you get on the plane”

Matthew Roach independently chimed in with similar advice. And he’s clearly travelled a bit, what with being from the other side of the planet…

@matthew_roach: @gothick Remove shoes on plane Wash your feet & replace socks w/clean at every opp. It’s surprising how refreshed clean feet make you feel.

And sock confirmation came from Sarah:

@Dichohecho: @matthew_roach @gothick Definitely agree. Changing my socks on DofE expeditions made me feel so much better!

So, I’ll definitely be packing a couple more pairs of warm fluffy socks in my hand luggage. Who knew they had such power?


Predictably, the mature adult way to deal with international travel seems to involve drinking as much booze as possible.

@Swishrelic: @gothick  — drink :)

@andybeebristol: @gothick Easy, it’s called the bar :)

@benjohnbarnes: @gothick Avoid #RyanAir. Leave far too much time. Take things to absorb the excess time enjoyably over a relaxing drink.

Sadly, I don’t drink. Though if drugs were an option, I could always take Tom’s advice:

@DrHairbear: @gothick do the Mr T thing. Get drugged by the rest of your A‑Team.


Speaking of drugs, caffeine is one that I was already pondering before I asked for advice. I tend to default to drinking far too much coffee when I’m travelling, washing a muffin down with a large latte any time I happen to be near a coffee shop. And you’re never that far from a coffee shop these days, are you? Especially in an airport.

But, like I thought, it’s probably a bad idea:

@Dichohecho: @gothick Then go decaf pre-flight. Caffeine makes you even more dehydrated when flying apparently.

@KellyJanner: @gothick avoid caffiene the day you fly (if going East). Set watch to time at destination as soon as you get on the plane & sleep asap.

…although apparently caffeine can help in the other direction:

@KellyJanner: @gothick westbound. Reset watch & brain at takeoff. Caffeine is your friend. Try and stay awake until local bedtime at your destination.

Mind you, for my next trip (and many others, bearing in mind my Dad lives in Crete) I’ll be travelling mostly south, but I think avoiding the caffeine is probably the best advice to take. Risking hyperactivity while dealing with less legroom than there is in the back of my Mini is probably foolhardy, no matter how attractive the smell of coffee in the departure lounge gets…


My main reason to avoid caffeine would be so I don’t feel quite so restless on a plane. Going further, with her caffeine-avoidance advice above, Kelly suggested I sleep as soon as possible. Sadly, I’ve never been able to sleep on a plane. But I’ll be trying these two tips just in case there’s a chance they can help me:

@KellyJanner: @gothick start telling yourself (& others) now “I sleep on planes”. It’s a self talk sort of thing that may work (it did for me).

@Squonk: @gothick my own lack of sleep on long flights was solved by removing my shoes. Worth a go if you’ve not tried it.

…notice we’re back to footwear again? Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m in with much of a chance at sleeping. While I was taking Alexander Technique lessons, I tried to address the odd problem I have that I can’t sleep on my back. I tried for months, literally months, to try to get to sleep on my back, and never managed it. And I tend to have the same experience sitting in an airline seat — no matter how tired I am, I can never nod off.

Still, I’ll try the power of positive thinking, affirmations, and the shoe trick. You never know. It would be lovely just to wake up with no memory of the four-hour flight to Athens, nice and refreshed. That’s probably the holy grail of travel, isn’t it?

Hurrying and Calming

As well as Tim’s suggestion of soothing music on the iPod, I liked Dru’s idea of a sketch book and a volume of poetry. Although this may work better if you have Dru’s skteching skills rather than mine.

Benjohn and Sarah both touched on the importance of relaxing and not being in a hurry. I like Benjohn’s suggestion that you should specifically be in such a lack of hurry that you have time to be nice to airport staff:

@Dru_Marland: @gothick sketch book and slim vol poetry

@talkie_tim: @gothick soothing music on ipod, going west is easier than going east, put _everything_ from trouser pockets and watch in jacket pockets…

@benjohnbarnes: @gothick Be relaxed enough and in such a lack of hurry that you can watch other people and be nice to the staff.

@Dichohecho: @gothick You’ll queue whenever you arrive, but arrive early anyway. Don’t get stuck behind a family or a hen/stag party.

Alternative Strategies and Disaster Aversion

Interestingly, along with his reminder that some airports can have strong reactions to idle talk on Twitter, Tim’s major radical suggestion for surviving air travel is, erm, not to travel by air:

@talkie_tim: @gothick Never threaten the airport you will be flying from for delaying your flight, on twitter.

@talkie_tim: @gothick Ooh, and #1 international travel trip: take the train! much less stress and hassle than flying (NB: only true for Europe.)

…which, as we worked out after checking the timetable, isn’t really that practical for Crete, sadly — it’ll take 24 hours to get to Athens, and then you’d still need to get the ferry from Piraeus… That would make quite a dent in a week’s holiday, sadly.

In Conclusion

I’m going to try quite a lot of the above advice, though I’ll probably stop short of a Mr. T impression. I’m also going to try, for a change, to travel light, which will, ironically, probably require a lot more planning and thought than travelling heavy. Hmm.

Anyway. Later this year, we’ll see how well I survive the whole experience. I’ll do a Travelling Matt update afterwards, and let you know how I got on…

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