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Flying With Broken Wings: Long-distance Travel – Minimizing Your Stress and Maximizing Your Comfort

Post Published: 01 June 2010
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Category: Column, Flying With Broken Wings, Thyroid Symptoms and Effects Column
This post currently has 9 responses. Leave a comment

My first ever long-distance trip was at age 18 when I was studying languages at the University of Bath and selling popcorn at one of the local cinemas, which has since closed down. It was around this time that I was introduced to the fascinations of being able to converse with someone on the other side of the globe by means of chat pages and programs, which were still in their infancy. Back then, I simply couldn’t conceive how this was possible and now so many people are using programs such as Skype to make Internet phone calls. We even have a US Skype phone and a Skype number so that our US friends and relatives can call us at local rates. Such inventions weren’t even on the cards in what must have been around the summer of 1995.

I had been invited to visit two of my chat friends – one in Monterrey, Mexico and another in Nacogdoches, the oldest town in Texas. In hindsight, one was a weirdo and the other was a wanker, but I was so intent on traveling the world back then that against my parents’ wishes I saved up my wages from the cinema job and flew out to spend some time with them. It was a huge risk and I could have ended up raped or killed, but luckily I survived and am here to tell the tale. I always have been inquisitive and interested in experiencing new people and places and that remains the same today, except that I hopefully have a healthier portion of common sense.

What actually inspired me to write this article and share my travel tips with you is the fact that tomorrow we are flying to Ireland, which is not a long flight for us, but we are meeting up with Corey’s cousin Laura and her teenage daughter Cheyenna in Dublin. For them, it is their first ever transatlantic flight (they are flying from Phoenix, AZ) and the first time you fly, I think such tips really come in handy, so essentially this article is dedicated to my friend Laura (who reads my column every week) and her daughter Cheyenna, as well as any first-time flyers.

Let’s start off with booking your flights. As I’m sure you know, it pays to shop around and sites such as Expedia may come in handy when comparing prices, as they present you with a selection of flights from various airlines, saving you the hassle of visiting each of their pages separately. Expedia and similar sites can also come in handy if you want to book rental cars and hotels along with your flights.

If you are packing medicines, make sure you put them in your carry-on/hand luggage in case your luggage is delayed or misplaced (something that does happen, but tends to be temporary) and consider packing extra in case your return trip is delayed. A repeat prescription might also come in handy to show to a local doctor who could then prescribe a local equivalent.

Because illness makes travel so unpredictable for us, as does traffic and tight security regulations, allow yourself plenty of time to get to the airport and pass through security. Corey advises arriving at least one and a half hours before your flight, although stipulations vary for each airline. I have traveled with other airlines that will let you on the plane if you arrive up to 30 minutes before the flight, but experience shows that this is cutting it a bit short.

Once you have booked your flight, don’t forget to select your seat online. Most flights allow you to do this and personally we tend to prefer the exit row seats because they have more legroom, which is a precious commodity if you don’t have the luck or the money to travel business class. Bear in mind, however, that you may be required to help your fellow passengers in the event of an emergency and usually have to be at least age 12 (which should apply to most of us here on Dear Thyroid!) Furthermore, unless you are a frequent flyer, you might not be able to select these seats online. It’s also useful to know that many airlines allow you to check in online, which you might actually have to do in order to select your seats ahead of time.

Talking about frequent flyer programs, it really pays to enroll with them if you travel a lot with a particular airline. When I first met Corey, his job as a technical manager involved tons of travel. Generally he’d be jetting off somewhere new every two weeks – whether the US, South America, Asia or elsewhere in Europe, he was an expert when it came to long-distance travel. His US-based company even kindly allowed him to use the air miles he had collected to pay for personal travel. They even paid for my flights in economy if Corey agreed to fly economy instead of business class because two economy seats save the company money compared to one business class seat. Incidentally, if you are a frequent flyer like Corey (he had platinum cards for many airlines!), you get to use the express check-in and also get the occasional upgrade. That was the first time I flew business class and personally I think it is overrated. They have nice plush leather seats, but the food is still just as shitty. That said, comfy seats and legroom are worth a lot when taking long-distance flights.

Another thing that’s worth checking out as a business traveler is a membership to the executive lounges. When you are flying every few weeks, as Corey was, such memberships can prove invaluable for recharging your batteries and resting your legs while you are waiting for your next plane. Plus, of course, there is free booze, which can help you get to sleep on the flight, although we sometimes take sleeping pills too. It makes an eight-hour flight go by so much faster.

Another new thing we discovered on our last trip to America is the express beauty lounges that seem to be popping up at certain airports. I had a facial on the way to Mississippi and a massage on the way back. Because they are catering for people passing through the airport who are bound to a certain flight schedule, these treatments really are express and they tend to be rather relaxing – the massage was great!

Talking of relaxation – there are many things that can help you do just this on the plane. First, I’d start off by purchasing one of those flight kits you can get at places such as Brookstone or www.skymall.com – you’ll find their magazines on most US planes, but you can also order online. Such kits usually include an eye mask to block out light on the plane and help you sleep, as well as a neck bolster, a head pillow and a blanket. It’s true that most airlines tend to provide you with one pillow and a blanket, but in our experience these aren’t usually as cozy as the ones you can buy. To save space, you might prefer the deflatable pillows. Furthermore, noise-canceling earphones are very useful for masking the noise around you and, of course, for listening to relaxing tunes on your iPod to help you get to sleep. I do try and sleep on the aircraft so that I arrive at my destination rejuvenated.

When it comes to sleep, avoiding jetlag can be really tough. To be honest, Corey has tried several remedies without much success. One of the main ones seems to be melatonin. This hormone is responsible for telling your body when it is time to sleep because your body produces it when it gets dark. When you are in a different time zone, it takes your body time to adjust – supposedly, one day for each hour of time difference. It helps to make yourself stay up until it is time to go to bed and, when it is bedtime, you might want to consider taking sleeping pills or melatonin for the first few days until your body has adjusted. This is what has helped us the most, although jetlag is always worse for me when returning from the US to Europe.

On the plane itself, it’s important to note that flying puts you at greater risk of deep vein thrombosis. As a result, my doctor advised us to take an Aspirin Protect (100 mg) or a low-dosage aspirin prior to flying to thin our blood and reduce our risk of thrombosis.  Thrombosis occurs when a blood clot forms inside a blood vessel and blocks the blood flow through the circulatory system. I’m pretty sure that people with thyroid disease are at a greater risk of this anyway because hypothyroidism is often associated with circulation problems. Right now my thrombocytes – cells that play a key role in blood clotting – are elevated so I’m taking one Aspirin Protect a day. However, I know that there are also other factors that put us at risk of thrombosis, such as taking the birth control pill, which I am currently doing. Other ways to reduce this risk when flying are to move around whenever possible and to exercise your calf muscles.

Another thing that helps prevent thrombosis is to ensure you are sufficiently hydrated. I would caution against drinking sodas on the plane because these tend to cause bloating and this is something that I have noticed is also a frequent occurrence on long-distance flights. We already know that hypothyroid patients are at a greater risk of this anyway. I tend to drink as much water as possible and it might even be worth considering buying a bottle at the airport. You might also notice that your skin becomes dehydrated, something that can be remedied by applying lotion or a water spray such as Thermal Spring Water by Eau Thermale Avène (http://bit.ly/a8wVh9), which is a very popular spa water range here in Europe that is renowned for soothing sensitive skin. For similar reasons, it might be useful to take lip balm and eye drops with you on the flight and I often apply a moisturizing face mask once I arrive at my destination.

To return to the topic of bloating, this makes it doubly important to dress comfortably. I’d avoid tight trousers or waistbands because I sometimes come off the plane feeling preggers. A cozy pair of socks can also come in handy, as well as a loose pair of shoes that is easy to remove. In the US, at least, you have to remove your shoes every time you go through security and you’ll find that your feet may swell on the plane, so you may want to remove your shoes. However, the air-conditioning may make you want to put on a pair of cozy socks to prevent you from freezing off your tootsies.

One of the things that drives me crazy about the US is the overuse of air-conditioning. I once read a book by Bill Bryson who mentioned that in the US it is often colder inside than outside. In the peak of summer, I’ll go out for lunch without a jacket or cardigan and it’ll be scorching hot, only for me to freeze my arms off as soon as we enter the restaurant. This air-conditioning has frequently been the cause of me catching cold every time we visit the US, although my body seems to be acclimatizing to it (excuse the pun!) Air-conditioning also abounds on many planes and I’m sure it does a nice job of swirling around people’s germs. Because autoimmune (thyroid) disease gives you the gift of a weakened immune system, you might want to give it a boost by taking Airborne, which was originally invented in the 1990s by an elementary school teacher to boost her immune system and stop her from catching her students’ colds. I know that Walgreen’s also has a knock-off version called Walborne. Like many vitamins I have taken in the past, I have no idea whether this actually works, but I figure it can’t hurt to take it and hope that it does.

Last but not least, choosing your luggage can be like choosing a partner for life because good luggage can withstand the stress of travel and remains reliable no matter what. It also features a lot of useful compartments and I particularly like those 360-degree swivel wheels – luggage is heavy, so good wheels that make it easy to maneuver are truly a godsend. I have also seen some people mark their luggage with stickers or dots to make it easier to find when it comes off the conveyor belt. I have even given our luggage names. Corey bought the Eddie Bauer series from Target, which I have dubbed the Bauer family (I even have a little song for them): as each case comes off the belt, we call it by its name so that we know which ones we are still waiting for (it may seem like a no-brainer but it also helps to keep count of how many items you have in tow): there’s Momma Bauer, Poppa Bauer, Junior Bauer and Baby Bauer, who were later joined by Uncle Bauer. I am a great believer of injecting humor into everyday life.

One last tip: for those of you non-Americans travelling to the USA, make sure you take a copy of your return ticket and dates with you. In my experience, they like you to have this because you will be asked a lot of questions by some of the customs officials, NYC – for obvious reasons – being one of the most rigorous customs stations. I’m quite an expert when it comes to going through Newark Airport.

All that remains is for me to wish you happy travels wherever your destination!  I will be back from Ireland in about two weeks’ time.

Love,

Sarah

References:

1. Traveler’s thrombosis

2. Eau Thermale Avène

3. Airborne supplement to boost your immune system

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9 Responses to “Flying With Broken Wings: Long-distance Travel – Minimizing Your Stress and Maximizing Your Comfort”

  1. Miriam.L says:

    Let me be the 1st to welcome you back Sarah and Dear Thyroid. Just noticed by chance that DT and your column is now back up and running.

    I do agree with a lot of your comments re travelling. You made some wide points worth noting. Travelling takes a lot out of you, especially if your health is not 100% like it is for us Thyroid sufferers. I always find travelling very tiring and stressful, and it doesn’t get any easier as you get older.

    I always find its best to give yourself plenty of time to get through the airports or train or bus stations so you can sit down and relax once you have got through all the formalities and security. I always find it best to pack some items of clothing like change of underwear and a selection of toiletries that are allowed in your hand luggage if the unfortunate happens and your luggage is delayed. Also remember to keep all your medication in your hand luggage and not in your main luggage, and pack extra pills like painkillers in case of emergencies.

    Hope you had a great trip, Sarah. Have been keeping up with your posts on Facebook and looking forward to hearing all about your trip when you get back to Germany.

    Still surfing the new site, but it looks good from what I have read. Once again, love the revamp Dear Thyroid. Well done, it was worth the wait, Katie and all at Dear Thyroid 🙂

  2. Hey Miriam, so good to hear from you. I am writing from Dublin and we have to fly back tomorrow. We had a wonderful albeit exhausting holiday. Wonderful because we got to experience so much, but exhausting because we were constantly on the go.

    Thanks for your valuable input for this column. You reminded me of a few important points to include that I would have otherwise forgotten.

    I agree – the site looks great and I am still surfing it myself to discover all the new goodies in store.

    Talk to you soon!

    Love,

    Sarah

  3. Lori says:

    Sarah – very informative. I love all the tips and I hope I will have the need to refer to this article for a future trip. One tip I really think is a GREAT idea is to bring a repeat prescription. One way to do this is get a copy from your pharmacy to bring with you. It might be easier than obtaining one from the doctor.

  4. Sarah Downing says:

    Hey Lori. Glad you liked the tips. I agree with your idea of getting a copy of the scrip – doctors aren’t always as accommodating as we might like. To be honest, it was Miriam who gave me the idea of the repeat prescription. Something similar happened to me in Ireland in fact (just got back). I ran out of about four of my T4 pills, although they are only 25 mg each, so it isn’t my main pill anyway. I went to an Irish pharmacy to ask what I’d have to do and it turns out I’d need to see a local doctor, which is a huge hassle just for four pills. One of our travelling companions is also hypothyroid, so she just gave me two of her 100 mg pills and we halved them and I took them on alternate days. I so hate being dependent on meds!

  5. Sandy Wheeler says:

    As a travel agent and an individual with thyroid difficulties, I read your blog with great interest. I take several prescriptions and appreciate the specialized tips on medication. I agree! I tell clients, take more than you need, put your meds in your carry on and get a replacement script from your doctor to take along just in case. Also drinking lots of water will help with a number of conditions and is a great tip!

    Sandy

  6. Sarah Downing says:

    Hey Sandy, glad that you enjoyed my column:-). Welcome back to Dear Thyroid! Drinking lots of water is vital, particularly for those transatlantic flights. I’d like to think (from what I have read) that it might help with bloating too, but sadly nothing helps with my bloating lately. I have some particularly pesky meds I’m on and I look forward to the day where I can stop taking them and say good-bye to such stomach issues. We are certainly more susceptible to certain complaints as those who are blessed with a wonky thyroid. Have a great Sunday!

  7. Lolly says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Great to see you back hope your trip was enjoyable and you got to kiss the blarney stone.

    Great tips BTW I could have done with more leg room on my long haul flight to the Caribbean I managed to move about the plane as much as i could my ankles had swollen by the time we had landed.

    On the way back we had over 2 hours of turbulence so I wasn;t able to move about as freely. I wish I could sleep on journeys but I never do makes it seem so long and drawn out so I like to take my music with me blocks out the sound around or watch a film they put on, if i haven;t already seen it.

    I will be coming to you for tips when I plan to visit the states next year all being well.
    I will be travelling alone so first time for me.

    Love
    Lolly

  8. Sarah Downing says:

    Hey Lolly,

    We had a very enjoyable, but also rather exhausting trip. Now that I’m back and we’re getting back into our normal routine, I’m actually feeling like I have more energy in comparison to what we have just experienced. We did indeed kiss the Blarney Stone! Quite an experience. I was rather nervous, but when I saw that they have the railings to hold on and the railings under you, plus of course an official “holder onner” of whoever has to bend over backwards to kiss it, I felt a bit relieved. I expect you have kissed it too, right? I agree with your comments.

    So far I do prefer the South to the North. I was worried that I might experience some racism seeing as I am English and all, but was pleasantly surprised apart from once when we were driven round by an IRA cabbie who it seemed tried to give me a guilt trip about what “my people” have done to his. I’m only 32, for fecks sakes, which means I am just old enough to rememember the reports of the IRA bombings on the radio. It was very sad to see though and very interesting to see the whole thing from an IRA perspective, even though one might say they can be classed as terrorists. I know that there are many different opinions on this and I don’t really want to get into politics, but it certainly opened my eyes.

    I intend to learn a lot more about Irish history as I know pitifully little. Despite having read and heard stuff, it is so horribly complicated, so we bought a few books and films to watch. Sadly, next to nothing is taught in English schools either, which is incomprehensible considering that this is a huge part of our history.

    I agree with you on the legroom, although it can help to get the exit row seats when it comes to legroom. You have to book them early enough in advance though and on some flights you can’t book them online. I’ve actually listened to aeroplane exercises on one flight, but it makes you wonder how one earth you are supposed to do such exercises in such little space, even if you are supposed to be able to do them from your seat. It helps to walk up and down when you can, but of course that’s not always practical.

    I also like listening to music and I’m a sucker for watching the latest free films that they have available on some flights. The best flights have the films in the back of your seat so that you can control your own monitor, but some of the older ones don’t. It’s potluck really.

    Where are you planning on visiting in the US? You are more than welcome to come to me for tips when the time comes!

    Love,

    Sarah

  9. Hay friend , This is excellent article for my homework from university Do u have twitter account ?? i want to follow your twitt . bye

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