You know them when you meet them: those people who always keep their passport on hand, who can pack for an international trip in about twenty minutes flat, who’ve almost never met a travel idea they didn’t like, who would rather take three international trips a year than own a car. They never get tired of exploring.
Scientists might have discovered why some people tend towards wanderlust and others don’t.
One gene in particular, simply known as DRD4, is associated with dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is one of the brain’s natural “feel good” reward chemicals. For example, it’s released when we eat a delicious piece of chocolate cake or when we win at a race after training for months.
A derivative of DRD4, called DRD4-7R, is what’s come to be known as the “wanderlust gene.” In people who have it — only about 20 percent of the population — it shows up with an increased curiosity, restlessness, and desire to explore. And the one thing that almost all people who have DRD4-7R share in common? A history of traveling.
While nailing down the urge to explore and travel to only one piece of DNA might seem a bit simplistic, part of this unique gene mutation might be linked to the fact that the human brain and body are uniquely suited for exploration: unlike other primates, we have legs and hips that are designed to walk long distances; we have hands that can perform incredibly detailed tasks; and our brains are large and are naturally wired for creativity and change. Another source of the 7R gene might be those people groups in human history that experienced mass migration over long distances — they cultivated and passed on a relentless curiosity about new territory because that was what they were doing for generations.
Dr Richard Paul Ebstein, Professor of Psychology at the National University of Singapore, explored the question of the “travel gene” more in depth in the recent article. Regardless of its origin, Ebstein notes that people who possess the 7R mutation are people who exhibit “novelty seeking or extraverted behavior”.
Sound like anyone you know?
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First things first
Let’s face it, it’s expensive to travel to far away places (and totally worth it, trust me!) Compared to most shorter distance, or domestic flights, you may already be experiencing some sticker shock.
But let me suggest a reframe here….
Instead of looking at the total price tag, break it down into cost per travel hour. Let’s compare 24 hours to Sydney at $2,500 vs. 3.5 hours to Vegas for $250. Sydney breaks down to $104/hour and Vegas to $71/hour - it doesn’t look so bad anymore, does it? Now, considering you are going to be spending hours and hours on that plane, it’s worth spending a little extra - per travel hour - to upgrade for more comfort.
Many factors like which airline you choose, how long your connections are, what style aircraft you choose, etc. are all going to affect your comfort and pleasure on a long-distance flight. As your travel agent, I will handle all of these details for you to get you the easiest, comfiest flight possible.
As we are planning your trip, I will recommend optional upgrades to you to make your journey more comfortable.
For business and first class travelers most airlines give you a set of comfy PJ's and a complete toiletries kit so you can "go to bed" in your seat which folds down into a flat bed (and they are yours to keep). (By the way, the complimentary PJ's on Emirates flights are DIVINE, so don’t think you’re just going to get cheap, disposable type pajamas.)
When you're ready to sleep, your flight attendant will prepare your bed for you with soft blankets and full size pillows.
The bathrooms in the business and first class cabins are significantly larger (at least 3X the size), which makes changing, brushing your teeth, and washing your face much easier.
I'm happy to price out business and first class tickets for you in addition to coach and premium economy tickets.
If this is the ONLY reason you choose to work with me as your travel agent, this is worth it. I will research and find you the best upgrade options so that you can actually enjoy your time in transit and arrive at your destination happy, well rested, and ready to enjoy your destination.
Just like with anything in life, preparing your attitude ahead of time is key to success. Why not look at the time you are going to spend on a long-haul flight as a glorious day of rest, a true holiday. No phone calls, no text messages, no social media, no responsibilities. You just get to sit and relax - sleep, read that great book you’ve been wanting to read, binge watch movies guilt-free. You’re going to be stuck on a plane for a long time, you might as well turn it into something you can enjoy.
So now let’s talk about how you can actually do that….
Prepare to be Comfortable
Wear comfortable clothes. Maybe not your pajamas, because let’s face it, most of us feel most comfortable when we feel “presentable” in public. But, do try to avoid clothes that are too tight, that bunch or ride up in funny ways, are made of materials that irritate your skin or are otherwise bothersome in any other way.
Everyone has different things they find comfortable, but consider soft, breathable fabrics like cotton or linen and design features like elastic waist bands.
Wear multiple thin layers so that you can add or remove clothing to help regulate your temperature in transit.
Comfortable shoes are also a must, and vary from person to person. Don’t wear brand new shoes that may still be in that break-in period and could give you blisters. Wear shoes that you already know you can walk all day in without your feet screaming to be set free! Slip-on shoes that you can take off easily are a great idea too - for ease through security as well as comfort once you’re on the plane.
Got long legs, or just like more leg room? Consider an aisle seat or exit row for more leg room, or, upgrade to business or first class.
Don’t carry on too much stuff. Even though you technically can stow a bag under your seat that doesn’t mean you want to. Think about how much leg room that extra large bag might eat up before you decide to carry it on. On the flip side, if you have short legs that don’t take up that much room to begin with, go ahead and stuff your bag under there!
Prepare to be Healthy
Pack plenty of food. You know what you like to eat and how much/often you need to eat. I recommend packing a little more than you think you will need in case of travel delays.
Nutritionists advise smaller meals with a good balance of protein, complex carbohydrates and plant-based foods to stay happy and healthy on long haul flights and to avoid jet leg.
For business and first class travelers most airlines provide you a menu of complimentary gourmet food, and in some cases, it's made to order - VERY different from the food served in economy.
You can alert your flight attendant of food allergies and sensitivities and they will accommodate you.
When you eat can be just as important, or even more important than what you eat. Eating sends important cues to your body to help regulate your circadian rhythm. Careful planning of when you eat before, during and after a long-haul flight can help you sleep better and avoid jet lag.
Stay hydrated. Air travel is dehydrating. That coffee you drink to stay awake is dehydrating. That wine you drink to relax is dehydrating. Dehydration exacerbates jet-lag, so in order to stay healthy you need to counteract all this with plenty of water. Make sure your water bottle never runs dry and sip on during your entire flight.
Pro Tip: peanuts and peanut butter are a great source of protein for many people, however if there is someone on your flight with a peanut allergy you may be asked not to bring these out - and why put someone at risk? I recommend choosing snacks without peanuts in them (don’t forget check your granola and energy bars too and choose flavors sans peanuts).
Prepare to be Entertained
Pack something to watch. Most flights will have in-flight movies, but your choices will be limited. You might want to bring your own tablet, or laptop loaded with a few movies that you know you will enjoy. Movies that you love and want to watch again or new movies that you have been dying to see - or both.
Pack something to read. Here again is where a tablet, or even your phone or laptop, shines! Make sure you have downloaded some books to read. I recommend more than one book, just in case you get bored of one, or finish it!
Pack something to listen to. If popping in your noise-cancelling headphones and zoning out to your favorite music is your thing, make sure you have all your favorite tunes loaded on your device. Maybe even some new songs to keep things interesting.
Podcasts are another great option for audio entertainment. There is a podcast for every single interest out there. You can be entertained, or educated or both. And bonus - podcasts take up less space and use less battery than movies - so load ‘em up!
Pro Tip: Your device can also help relieve anxiety and help you get to sleep. Try downloading a meditation app (like Headspace or Calm). This article provides more info on the benefits of meditating while traveling, and some how-to tips.
Prepare to be Rested
In order to rest, most people need to be able to block out light and noise. A good eye mask and a pair of noise-cancelling headphones or simple ear plugs are a must. Most airlines provide these sorts of amenities on overnight and long flights, but why chance it. Especially if you are picky about the style, I recommend packing your own.
You also might want to bring your own travel pillow. Travel pillows have come a long way since the only option U-shaped inflatable neck pillow. From luxury down jackets that convert to neck pillows to scarves that hold your head up while you sleep, there is an option for everyone.
Prepare to Have Happy Kids
Traveling with young children adds an entire additional layer of complication to your travel plans. But, with a little extra preparation the entire family can still enjoy the journey of getting there.
You might want to seriously consider breaking up a long haul flight with a 2-3 day rest and recover stay somewhere. Shorter travel days mean kids (and parents) aren’t likely to get as exhausted, making everyone more susceptible to melt-downs and even sickness.
Also, adding another destination adds more excitement and adventure to your trip.
Consider kid-friendly versions of all the preparations we have already covered, in addition to a few extra tips and tricks for keeping them healthy and happy.
In addition to bringing a few of their favorite things that you are certain they find entertaining, it’s always a good idea to bring a few new surprises to entertain the kids on a plane. Even the act of opening new gifts itself is entertainment! Think engaging toys - such as new coloring books and art supplies, new games, new books, etc. A mix of things you can enjoy with them, and that they can do alone for when you need a break.
Checklist for happy kids (and parents):
Check your stroller at the gate. If your flight happens to be delayed, your child(ren) will have a comfortable (and confined) place to rest.
Pack plenty of your child’s favorite (healthy) foods. There are few things worse than a hungry child, besides one that is amped up on sugar, or coming down off a sugar high. Think protein and complex carbohydrates to keep their bellies full and their mood calm.
Make sure they get the wiggles out before they get on the plane. Take advantage of all the space in the airport and run around. Kids need to move their bodies to burn off energy, and hopefully they will be ready to sleep when you get in the air.
Be prepared to combat the change in air pressure on takeoff and landing with a bottle (or breast) for babies and chewing gum or hard candy for those old enough for it.
I know, I know, all the experts tell us to avoid too much screen time for our children, but having a few movies or electronic games available on your tablet can mean the difference between misery and joy on a long-haul flight. Go ahead and make an exception here and indulge in some electronic baby-sitting for a few hours.
Pack a clean outfit (or two) in your carry-on, as well as plenty of wipes to clean up all the messes kids (and adults) often make.
Consider bringing their car seat on the plane. Kids are used to sitting still in them, it will help rein them in and may provide some comfort since it’s something familiar.
And lastly remember: this too shall pass. An unpleasant, uncomfortable long-haul flight might seem like a never-ending nightmare, but it will be over at some point, and the rewards of an amazing trip with be well-worth the relatively short time spent on the plane to get there.
Ultimate Long-Haul Flight Packing List
Food (we covered this in detail already)
Tea bags if you have a favorite tea, or other drink mix
Refillable water bottle
Small toiletry kit with travel versions of everything you need to feel (and smell) fresh
Facial wipes or cleanser
Toothbrush, toothpaste and floss
Hand and body lotion (you can save space by choosing something that works on your face too)
Eye drops (if you’re prone to dry eyes)
Small comb or brush
Tablet or e-reader
Book or magazine if you prefer a physical version
Cards or other small games
Small notepad or pen
Battery charger and cords - for your phones, tablets and even laptop
Ear plugs or noise canceling headphones
Socks (compression if you’re prone to feet/ankle swelling)
Slip-on shoes (or just wear these the whole time)
Motion sickness remedies
Baby aspirin, if recommended by your doctor
OTC pain medication in case your back hurts from hauling heavy luggage or your neck
hurts form the awkward sleeping position
Any prescription medication you need - please make sure any medications you rely on
are in your carry-on luggage and not your checked bag
An extra change of clothes (in case of spills or lost checked luggage)
Pajamas or just super-comfy clothes if you need to change to sleep
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