06 December 2011

Long Flight Essentials

I still don't think it's completely hit me that tonight I'll be boarding a flight bound for California.  Up until a couple of weeks ago this trip seemed so far off, but now today is the day and in about a days time I will be at my parent's house playing with our puppies, reuniting with family and friends, eating in-n-out and adjusting to a 10 hour time difference.  Although I've now made this flight more times than I can count on two hands, it still amazes me how I can be on one side of the world one day and on the complete other side the next.  Modern technology really is an amazing thing!

If there's one thing I can say about the flight from South Africa to California it's that it's long and slow and painful.  It must ring in as one of the longest flights possible, as it takes just about 24 hours of constant travel, sometimes longer depending on the layovers.  By the time I meet my parents at LAX I look something like a living corpse and it normally takes several days before I feel 100% like myself again. 

Still, having become somewhat of a  frequent flyer on this specific route of death, I've picked up some tips and tricks over the years which help in making long flights more bearable, and today I thought I'd procrastinate on packing share them with you!

My List of Long Flight Essentials

1. IPod - This one doesn't really need an explanation, but in addition to the obvious, I've found that my IPod has come in extremely handy when a) there's a cranky baby nearby and b) when I'm trying to sleep and want to drown out the noise of passengers talking next to me, in-flight announcements, etc.

2. Neck Cushion - I never used to use these until I was once forced to sit in a middle seat on an international flight and wasn't able to doze off due to the fact that I was too scared my head would flop onto one of the poor passengers sitting next to me.  These things are comfortable, pretty easy to travel with {I always just hang them around my carry-on strap or handle when on layovers} and prevent the possibility of waking up with a stiff neck upon arrival at your destination.  Basically, it's a win-win situation.

3. Tylenol PM - This item could quite possibly the most essential item on my list.  Jurgen burst into laughter when he saw it, but timing your sleeping correctly when flying to another time zone could mean the difference between you feeling upbeat and excited and you feeling miserable and jet-lagged over the first few days of your trip.  I'm paranoid about taking sleeping pills, so I normally find that taking one or two Tylenol PM's makes me drowsy enough to get in some good zzz's without making me feel lethargic and groggy when I wake up.  I normally try and time it so that I keep myself awake until it's the equivalent of the evening in California and by that time I'm normally so exhausted that {with the help of tylenol pm} I have no problem getting in several hours of quality sleep in-flight.  The big trick here is just finding ways to keep yourself awake until it's an appropriate sleep time in your destination's time zone. 

4. Healthy, Travel-friendly Snacks - I can't stress this enough, since airplane food really starts to make me feel gross and bloated after awhile.  When you're on a plane for an extended amount of time it's nice to have healthy, travel-friendly snacks on hand.  For me this normally means a bag of carrots and celery and some trail mix, but I know people who also pack themselves sandwiches, etc before getting on a lengthy flight.  It's something that people often don't think of, but something that actually is really easy to do and helps to make your trip that much more bearable.

5. Comfy Poncho or Sweatshirt - When I fly comfort is king.  If I want to look nice when I get off the plane I normally pack a different outfit in my carry-on and change right before landing.  International flights are usually cold and it's the worst when you're trying to get comfortable using that tiny blanket they provide you with and just can't seem to get warm no matter how you situate it.  Jurgen bought me a poncho similar to the one above while in Switzerland recently and I feel like it's going to be my best friend on the upcoming flight :)

6. Skymiles - If you're a frequent long-distance flyer I can't say enough good things about signing up for a frequent flyer or skymiles program with an airline you often like to travel with.  For me that airline ended up being Delta since they fly direct from South Africa to Atlanta to Los Angeles, and over the years I've been able to accrue a pretty decent status which makes travelling way easier than it would be otherwise.  As an example, with Delta's skymile program I'm able to check-in using the first class line {which equals little to no waiting time}, I'm able to check an extra bag at no additional charge, in some airports I get to cut the security line, I get to board the flight in the first group called, I get preference for emergency exit rows on international segments and free first-class upgrades on domestic segments.  All of these things add up to a much more enjoyable and a much less stressful trip and since signing up for a skymiles program is free, it just doesn't make any sense not to if you're a frequent flyer.

7. Comfy Boots or Shoes - I normally wear my comfiest pair of boots when I fly because a) they keep my feet warm in-flight, and b) they save much needed space in my luggage.  Again, comfort is the most important thing for me in preparing for any flight and these seem to always do the trick.

8. Pepto-Bismol - I never travel without pepto-bismol {or something similar} when I fly just because I know that the odds of my stomach getting out of whack are going to be pretty strong at some point during the trip.  Airplane food coupled with being forced to sit in one tiny space for hours and hours on end coupled with the altitude and pressurised cabin environment just aren't ideal one's body.  In fact Jurgen just told me the other day that he read somewhere that extended flights are harder on your body than a night of binge drinking, and to be honest, I can believe it's true.  So, just as a precaution, I would recommend packing some sort of stomach med in your carry-on, as you may find that it turns out to be a life-saver.

9. Toiletries Bag - As I said at the beginning of this post {after 24 hours of straight travel} by the time I land at my destination I normally look something like a living corpse {and feel like one to}.  But, usually not having seen my parents in almost a year, I want to try and resemble something of a normal person and I've found that carrying a toiletries bag stocked with all of the essentials normally does the trick.  I typically carry a washcloth, face soap, face lotion, a toothbrush and tooth paste, a hair brush, deodorant and a few make-up basics with me.  Right before landing I slip into the bathroom, have time to wash my face, brush my hair and teeth and put on a bit of make-up and then feel a bit more ready to meet my parents {or Jurgen} on the other side.

I'm curious to know, what are your most-needed travel essentials for long flights?
Anything that I missed?

Also, I want to thank all of you who have so generously sent me emails or left me comments offering to donate baby clothes for Enough.  When I posted it, I wasn't sure whether I'd get much of a response, but {as usual} I've been amazed and overwhelmed by bloggers' willingness to help out.  Thank you so much!

If you haven't emailed me yet, but would like to donate it's not too late!  Get more information here.

04 December 2011

All I Want For Christmas: Giving Back Edition

Today I'm linking up with the lovely Joelle who blogs over at Something Charming for her All I Want for Christmas List Link-up.  But, this year, instead of including all of my material Christmas list wishes (which you can find here), I decided to focus on an opportunity to give back in a way which is very near and dear to my heart and which hits quite close to home for me and for many other South Africans.

South Africa is a country full of contrasts and contradiction.

It offers immense beauty against sprawling townships...

 Incredible wealth against dire poverty (with 50% of the country living below the poverty line)...

The birth of one of the greatest democracies against an increasingly corrupt government...

A hopeful and optimistic future against an ugly and difficult past...

{You get the idea}

View of Cape Town's stunning coastline

View of the Khayelitsha Township located about just 10km from the above photo

 So, while I normally try and keep it pretty optimistic around here, those of us who live here also have to confront some pretty scary statistics and realities on a daily basis.

Volunteering at an HIV/AIDS infected and affected programme near Somerset West

Cue, the part of the story that hits especially close to home...

Enough {yes, her name is Enough}, is one of the many people living in South Africa who falls far beneath the poverty line.  A few years ago she and her family fled to South Africa from her home country of Zimbabwe due to the fact that Zimbabwe had {quite literally} run out of food and was also in the middle of a cholera epidemic

Photo of a Grocery Store I took while in Zimbabwe in June 2008

While the move to South Africa filled them with hope of a better life, life here has certainly not been easy for them as work is extremely scarce {the unemployment rate in SA lingers around 30%} and the crime rate in the center of town is higher than anywhere else in the world {South Africa has a higher homicide rate than Colombia}.

Enough has been helping me with things around the flat one to two times a week since I moved here two years ago and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate all that she does.  It makes it that much easier for me to balance work and night classes and I can honestly say that she has become a good friend and someone who I consider to be a member of the family.


Enough is due to have a precious baby boy in January.  However, already having a 6 year-old daughter, as well as having taken in her brother's 9 year-old daughter out of the kindness of her heart, money is extremely tight and she and her husband are currently {barely} surviving on about $175 per month.  Jurgen and I try to assist her where we can with food and clothing {on top of her weekly salary} but, unfortunately, her and her family's needs extends far beyond what the two of can provide.

... Which is why this year for Christmas I will be asking friends and family to donate baby clothing and supplies in lieu of normal gifts, as I know know Enough will need anything which can be spared more than any material item I've had my eyes on.

But then I thought... why just limit it to my immediate friends and family when I have so many amazing blog friends who might be willing to help support this family too?

So, if you'd like to contribute, I will be collecting baby clothes donations up until the 21st of December {when I leave California to head back to South Africa}. 

These clothes can be old or new, store-bought or handmade, anything at all will be more than appreciated. 

If you're interested in contributing please send me an email here or leave me a comment so that I can get in touch with you regarding my address, etc.

Note to my South African blog loves: if you'd like to contribute I can forward you my Johannesburg address or {if you live close enough} arrange to pick up your donation from you.

I'm planning on throwing her a surprise mini baby shower just after Christmas, so I will be sure to take lots of pictures to share with you all :)

For more ideas on how to give back this season see Joelle's post here