Remember that time you went to London? Amsterdam? Sydney? Beijing? _________? You came home with a ton of stories and bazillion photos. And ever since then at parties you tell stories that start with, “When I went to…”

Just saying those words starts the reminiscing and excitement of the trip all over again, right?

But do you remember …the flights? Those endless, excruciating, and frigid hours contorted into a coach seat, your skull assaulted by the never-ending drone of the engines and that toddler two rows up who just. would. not. settle in?

I thought so.

Is That What They Mean by Airborne?

As a man, I obviously don’t know what it’s like to have a baby, but I have flown internationally. And like a woman who has gone through pangs of labor and rejoiced when it was all done, I have far more happy memories of where I was than the long journey to get there.

My first non-North American excursion was to London for a long weekend as a newly solo traveler (my divorce had finalized the month before). I had no idea what to expect on an international flight so I was like a kid going to Disney for the first time.

Since then I’ve flown to China (30 hours total travel time each way), London again which I think 10 or 12 total each way (don’t remember), and most recently to Uganda (about 28 hours total travel each way).

I’m no globe-trotting travel writer, but I as far as international flying goes, been there, done that, stunk up the socks and t-shirt.

Binging at 35,000 Feet

On the way to or from Uganda (again, don’t remember), I would occasionally look up and see a person two rows ahead of me binge-watching some crude TV show. I have no idea what show it was, but I do remember being shocked that the airline would even allow the content to be visible on the headrest monitors.

And when I would walk the aisle to/from the lavatory I was amazed by row after row of human beings zoned out staring at the headrest display in front of them like it was digital catnip.

A Better Way to Fly (Actually, 5 of ‘Em)

I wasn’t averse to the idea of watching something on TV at some point, but when I started the first leg of my outbound trek I gave myself a strict quota of brain cells I was willing to lose in front of a screen.

Here are some activities I did instead:

Enjoy the Beginning. After all those months you’re finally here! You rushed around like a madman/madwoman at the last minute to pack and double-check your already double-checked details. The stove is off. The iron is unplugged. And, yes, you did give your neighbor your key so she could feed Mr. Whiskers while you’re gone.

You made it through the line at TSA, you found your gate, and you snarfed down your Cinn-a-Bon and latte while you waited patiently for the privilege of being herded en-masse onto the plane with the rest of the waiting cattle who made up Zone 5 with you.

Bravo! Take some time and just enjoy the views out the window or around you (trust me, their newness will wear quickly).

Start Strong. The first leg of your trip is going to be your most productive. This is the time to do your most productive work and set up your travel habits. That thousand page book you brought? Now’s the time start it.

Even if it’s a book you’re not entirely into, challenge yourself to make a good dent in it. Did you promise you would keep a travel journal? Stop admiring its pristine newness and write something in it.

Use those brain cells now because, soon enough, the captain will turn on the overhead light indicating it is time for your brain to turn to oatmeal for the duration of the flight.

Pace Yourself. Give yourself breaks. Switch what you’re reading. Give your eyes a rest. Gaze out the window. Have a conversation. Enjoy the meal service–and remember to write about it in your travel journal!

Rest. We’ve already talked about how you came off a hectic schedule just to get to your seat without a hassle. And who-knows-how-busy you’ll be once you arrive?

So use this time to close your eyes and relax, even if you don’t quite fall asleep.

By the way, be sure to pack an eye mask and ear plugs or nose-cancelling headphones in your carry-on bag. (Last year I invested in a pair of over-the-ear Bose QuietComfort35’s…they’ve more than paid for themselves.)

Watch some…Music? Besides a ton of movies and TV shows, international flight entertainment options include a wide variety of music you can listen to. Sure you have your own, but maybe explore something different.

Right before I left on my trip, I took my mother-in-law to a lecture about Russian Classical composers. Neither of us knew anything about the subject prior to going.

I was fascinated by the story behind Mussorgsky’s Portraits at an Exhibition. At the lecture we only heard a snippet of it. Lo and behold, on my Detroit-to-Amsterdam leg what was one of the featured classical selections?

You got it.

I listened to the whole ten piece suite while I sat there with my eyes closed, daydreaming about what he saw that inspired each piece.

Yes, Zone Out. Overall I did pretty well to and from Uganda. I really only hit a wall from Amsterdam to Atlanta, when we were only half-way through that 10 hour flight and I thought I’d become a drooling idiot by the time we landed (I’d been up for some 24 hours by that point).

I tried to find something to watch but by then nothing appealed to me. So, I wrote a few more entries in my journal. And trust me, they were a lot less legible than their predecessors.

Then I read a thin book a new friend gave me while in-country, and zoned out listening to music and playing solitaire.

Oh, and of course, remember to drink plenty of water. It will serve to keep you hydrated, which will help with the jet lag, and if you drink enough of it, it’ll force you to get up and walk …to the lavatory, but at least you’re up and about.

Bon voyage!

Looking Spry at the Start of My 28-Hour Journey to Uganda.
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