How to avoid getting sick on a Plane

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You wait for your vacation, counting the days, only to spend the first three days sick in bed. Its horrible and you feel like it ruins your entire vacation. There are many things that can make you sick, from the lack of sleep counting down the days to the vacation, to the stress of finishing your work before you go on your trip – sometimes it is only adrenaline keeping the illness at bay. However, one major source of illness that not everyone realizes is the airport and the airplane itself.

Germs are a part of daily life, but most of those you will encounter you will already have developed an immunity against. It is only when a new germ shows up that you get sick, and that’s why (most) people only get sick a handful of times per year. However, people at airports aren’t just bringing their luggage, they also bring their own micro flora of germs to travel with them – and just because they have their own immunity, doesn’t mean you do. Additionally, lots of people are travelling for lengthy periods of times, staying in the same clothes, and not showering for days. This means your chance of getting sick at an airport is significantly increased, and you’d be well advised to take extra precautions.

Assume everything is dirty. Tables, chairs, doors – these have all been touched by people from everywhere. Even if you assume everyone washed their hands after using the washroom (a dubious assumption at best), you can’t assume they didn’t scratch an under arm itch, or touch some other germ ridden area. Their hands then come in contact with things that you later use, and you are open to infection. This is even more true on the airplane, where they have limited time to switch between passengers, and so the cleanup will necessarily be limited. One of the worst offenders is the tray table where they will place your food, people sometimes use that when changing diapers – never let anything that you eat directly touch that tray. Wet wipes can help and are generally allowed on planes.

Since you have to keep your baggage in sight at all times, if you do have to use the washroom at an airport, you’ll have to handle it with your dirty hands from the stall to the sink – everyone else has to do that to (as I said, assume EVERYTHING is dirty). Wash your hands, and if they have the hand sanitizer, rub some on the handles of your bags and belt. Take every opportunity you can to wash your hands, and it is extra important to wash up before eating.

On any intercontinental plane, you will have hundreds of passengers, and, unfortunately, some of them will be sick. You are then jammed into a small area with them, seated like sardines, for many hours, breathing the same recycled air. Your best bet in this case is to turn on the overhead fan at maximum strength, and place it directly over your face – the plane has an internal filter that will help reduce the amount of germs you breathe in. It isn’t a perfect solution, but it helps significantly.

If you can avoid it, don’t use the airplane bathroom. Those are small washrooms, not cleaned regularly between visitors, and turbulence is a thing. Toilets flushing cause enough germs to circulate, I can’t imagine how bad an airplane bathroom is on a plane. If you have to use it, wet wipes are again your friend.

Don’t order ice in your drinks. The ice machine on planes is the low man on the totem pole when it comes to maintenance and cleaning, so, you really don’t want to risk the extra bacteria just so that your pop is a bit colder.

How to Prepare your Phone for Travel

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When travelling to other countries, many people leave their phone at home. This could be because they want to be “off the grid”, are afraid of losing the phone, or simply to avoid roaming charges. However, I would say this is always a mistake. Your phone is your lifeline in another country, it is the best chance you have at responding to an emergency, your best method for remaining safe, and is incredibly useful in your day to day while travelling (presumably you’ll want to use it as a Camera either way). A little bit of preparation ahead of time will allow your phone to be that much more useful when you go travelling:

First, and most importantly, double check the emergency numbers in the place you are visiting, and record them in your phone. In Brazil these numbers are:

  • Police – 190*
  • Ambulance & Fire –  192 or 193.

*Police will generally be able to help with any of the emergencies, but it is faster if you call the right number.

You’ll also want to download a translation app for your phone, and install the offline translation. I am a big fan of Google Translate, but I don’t know its availability for non-android phones. Test the download by putting your phone into airplane mode – it should still be able to translate phrases, including using the camera mode to translate written text. This will be fairly literal translations, but it will allow you to read anything from store signs to menus with relative ease. I don’t find the conversation feature works that well yet, but it still is incredibly useful to help you communicate.

It is a good idea to download the map of the city you are visiting in advance. The downloaded map will allow you to navigate should you get lost, and also to help you plan where you want to visit.  You do not need data to use the gps. Record the hotel you are staying at and the local spots you want to check out, and check the directions to the places at the times (adjusting for the time zones) you want to go – remember, traffic can be extremely bad in some cities (Minha Namorada – My Girlfriend, doesn’t even consider Toronto at rush hour to be bad traffic), and so you’ll want to check out the directions ahead of time to ensure your fifteen kilometre drive won’t take four hours. Be careful with directions though, they may try to send you through a Favela (Google doesn’t have an option to avoid them that I’ve seen), but if you are using Google Maps, you can drive past those areas and your phone will recalculate a new path for you.  Again, test your phones ability to give directions between two local spots at your destination before your trip with your phone in airplane mode to ensure the downloaded map is working correctly.

Download and install Uber (note: referral link). If you get stranded in Brazil, you don’t know who is driving that random taxi you flag down, if you can even find one. Most places have Wifi, and an Uber will have reviews from hundreds/thousands of previous riders. It is generally viewed as much safer. While hotel-associated cabs are probably your best bet, that may not always be an option. Check the driver’s rating, and check the driver’s number of rides. It will probably be safer and cheaper for you to take an Uber.

Download and install WhatsApp. If you don’t know what it is, WhatsApp is basically a text/voice/video messaging program, that runs over data rather than through standard telephone lines. WhatsApp is incredibly popular in Brazil, with most bigger businesses advertising that you can call them regularly, or on WhatsApp.

Finally, and this is the least important, install the app for your airline company. A lot of companies are phasing out in-seat entertainment for use on your phone/tablet. If you don’t have the app downloaded ahead of time, you might be stuck on the plane with no way to use the entertainment system.

If you have an unlocked phone, consider buying a prepaid Sim Card for your phone. These are very inexpensive, and are available at countless places. This will give you a Brazilian telephone number, but more importantly, it will give you a limited amount of data for use in a pinch.  Then you won’t have to keep your phone in airplane mode the entire time.andreas-haslinger-iD6mmn89YX4-unsplash.jpg

Flights to Brazil – the basics.

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One of the biggest impediments to travel is, of course, the cost. Flying will likely be your highest expense on the trip, as prices in Brazil are very low after the exchange rate (currently, the Brazilian Real is trading just under 3:1 with the Canadian dollar).

However, finding the right flights can be a very difficult proposition. Luckily (unluckily), Canadians are used to searching for cheap flights because local travel is so expensive as well, and most of the same tricks work well for booking travel to Brazil. I, myself, am still finding new methods for securing the best flight, but here are some basic tricks I’ve found so far:

1. Clear your browser history before starting your search – travel websites can significantly increase the prices if you have searched for flights before, or if their algorithms think you have. I actually have a dedicated browser that I use just for booking travel.

2. Check out yyzdeals.com or yycdeals.com or any of the cheap flight websites from Chris Myden – Chris keeps a blog of pricing mistakes by airlines, and sends out alerts. His websites are great for finding deals when you don’t care where/when you are flying, and Brazil is sometimes one of the destinations he finds – three days ago he posted flights for $561 (taxes included) Round-trip from Toronto to Rio de Janeiro, so it is well worth your time to check out his website.

3. Create travel alerts using Google Flights – Google flights has tended to be the cheapest way to find flights for me when I book travel. It will also show you the prices for days surrounding your specific flight date, and you can set it up to email you when prices change. Even once you find a good price this way, still search around, as the prices across various websites tend to drop at the same time. Statistics generally show that flights will be cheapest six weeks before your trip, but you’ll want to create a travel alert ahead of time, just in case.

4. When selecting a flight, make sure that the layover is long enough to get through customs. If you are travelling through Pearson airport in Toronto, then there is pre-clearance in Canada for any US layover, but coming back a layover of 90 minutes isn’t very long to get through customs, security, and to your next flight. Airlines are rarely forgiving of missed connections. This is even more true if you book the tickets separately (which is sometimes recommended by Google as the cheapest option). If you do end up with a long customs line and a short connection, flag down airport staff to help you.

5. Make sure you don’t have to change airports in a foreign city. Changing just the terminal in an airport can sometimes be a worrisome experience involving shuttle-bus travel, unclear instructions in another language, and feeling like you have left the airport. But in those cases at least airport staff are generally recognizable, are the most likely to speak English, and will almost always be available throughout your trip between terminals to help. However, some flights suggested by google might include changing airports, which can be expensive, and lead to lengthy delays, and create unexpected headaches. I would never recommend those.

Keeping Hydrated – Water in Brazil

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Everyone knows keeping hydrated is important, but it is easily missed in Brazil (and other tropical areas). This can easily ruin a day or two of your trip, and given the low amount of vacation days Canadians get, you don’t want to lose any of them to easily avoidable situations.
On the left is what you think of when you order water at a restaurant, but on the right is what you get.
Now, to be clear, tap water in Brazil (in most places) is perfectly safe to drink. I know a lot of Canadians think all tropical places have unsafe drinking water, but this isn’t true. In addition, not everywhere in the USA has safe drinking water (for example – Flint, Michigan). Brazil actually has great water purification systems in place in urban areas, and you don’t need to worry. That said, everywhere you drink water, you’ll find it comes in bottles. Tap water is never drank, even in homes, partly because of prior times when it was not as healthy, and partly because their method for purification leaves an odd taste that some people don’t like. Always stop at a grocery or convenience store to buy water if you are staying in a hotel – the hotel will charge more than double the price for half the water, and there is no point in wasting money on water. Feel free to brush your teeth or rinse with the tap water, but the taste is bad enough that you won’t want to drink it straight.
The main problem with tap water not being served is that, like in Canada, restaurants and bars always charge for bottled water. This, combined with the cheap beer/drinks makes it easy to forget to drink water. I have often caught myself dismissing ordering water, because I think “well, if have to pay either way, I might as well buy beer”, and this is even easier do when sometimes (although rare) the beer is cheaper than the water. However, you’d be wrong to do this. As everyone who has ever had a hangover will tell you, drink water is essential. This is even more true in hot tropical climates where you will spend all day sweating. Drink water, and drink it often. I try to make sure to drink water at least one in four drinks, if not more.
Also, it isn’t expensive to buy water even at bars, as the exchange rate works heavily in your favour, but the price is close enough to Canadian prices it will trick you – three Brazilian Reals for Water sounds expensive, until you remember that is only one Canadian dollar. If I told you you could get a beer and a glass of water for four dollars Canadian at a bar, people would be lined up out the door. You need to view the price of buying the occasional water as part of the price of the beer you drink. But if you really can’t get yourself over the knee-jerk reaction of refusing to pay for water, buy it at a grocery store earlier in the day. Water at a grocery store isn’t even expensive in Canada, and it’s much cheaper in Brazil. For a dollar, you can get a large bottle of water to take on your travels. Drinking from it regularly throughout your day will go a long way to keeping you hydrated. Ideally, if you really want to avoid a hangover, you would do both.
That being said, if you do get a bad hangover, or fear one coming, I personally find a water and a Gatorade right before you go to sleep, and another right after you wake up is a good home remedy to keep the hangover to a minimum.
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How to dress for Travel

When I dress for travel, I throw aesthetics out the window right away – no matter how good you look at the beginning of your trip, you will never look good after 24 hours of transiting, so I don’t waste effort on that.* Your loved ones will be happy to see you no matter what, and you’ll have a better trip, and be ready to go faster, if you traveled comfortably. So, keeping that in mind, here are my travel suggestions on what to wear:

1. A baggy T-shirt

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Think the type of T-shirt that you would wear as pajamas. You want a T-shirt that doesn’t have buttons that can dig into you. You don’t want to wear anything lighter than a T- shirt, because they don’t exactly have a long time between passengers on planes, and you never know who/what was there before you – thus, its best to minimize contact with the plane seat as much as possible. But, since you can’t control the plane temperature, you may need to strip down to just the shirt to avoid excessive sweating. The T-Shirt being a little bit big also helps it breath.

2. A hoodie with a zipper front

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Again, since you can’t control the temperature it may get a bit cold – the hoodie helps with that. While I try to avoid zippers as much as possible while flying, you won’t know if your plane is too hot or too cold until you are a little bit into your flight, and its awkward to get up, disturbing your seat-mates to remove a pullover, but the T-shirt underneath should help protect the zipper from digging into you in any event. Ideally, the the hoodie will have pockets to hold onto those items you need immediate access to (that you don’t keep in your backpack), and can double as a pillow/blanket if you want to sleep. The pillow they give you on the plane is meant for your lower back to make the seat more comfortable, not for your face.

3. Running tights and compression socks.

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Tights are useful, but can be a bit revealing without more
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Compression socks, also known as diabetic socks, can be found at almost any pharmacy

For long flights, there can be a risk of blood clots or other issues when you sit too long. If you are young/not diabetic, you likely don’t need to be too concerned, but running tights and compression socks still help avoid the muscle ache in your legs that comes from sitting for too long – I’m not saying there will be none, just less. The tights and, especially the compression socks, are specifically designed to encourage blood flow. If you are diabetic, these are a must, since circulation becomes more of an issue, and flying halfway around the world can test anyone’s limits.

4. Sweatpants

Tights look a bit too revealing without anything to cover them, but jeans/slacks have strong zippers, and buttons that can dig into you when you sit in a cramped seat for long flights. Sweat pants breath and help regulate your body temperature, but most importantly are designed with comfort in mind. Ideally, you’ll want ones with pockets again (like your hoodie), but it is not necessary, because your backpack is for items needed on the plane. Storing items in your pockets just makes your clothing less comfortable, hoodie pockets are better for that anyways.

5. Wear a hat

A hat is useful in case you want to sleep and its still bright out. Even if you have a window, there is a good chance someone else’s window will be open and the light will keep you awake. Or, what if your seatmate isn’t able to sleep, so decides to read a book, and turns on the overhead light. Your best solution is to have a hat that will at least dim things for you.

Common mistakes

6. Don’t bring a coat

Depending on your dropoff/pickup you can just have someone bring your coat (that is how Minha Namorada and I handle it). With trains/taxis/ubers you will probably only have a couple minutes of extra cold weather in the worst scenarios. Coats take up lots of luggage space, and believe me, you’ll regret wearing it on the plane, especially once you get anywhere south of Canada.

7. Comfortable shoes don’t matter

You won’t be standing, you won’t be walking. So, it doesn’t matter if they are your most comfortable shoes. Save space in your luggage by wearing the shoes that take up the most amount of space – for me, that’s usually my dress shoes.

8. Use your backpack unless you immediately need an item

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Backpacks can be a lifesaver on long journeys

When you are waiting in line at the airport, then it makes sense to use the pockets (to hold your wallet, tickets, passport etc.) but after the transaction, return the item to your backpack. It helps you remember not to lose things (since you put them away immediately), but it also avoids you getting jabbed by something in your pocket. Otherwise, follow good backpack practice.

* Minha Namorada (my girlfriend) thinks you can look good and travel, but I would rather the extra 1% of comfort.

Cabin Baggage for the Professional Traveler

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The most important part of flying comfortably is to pack correctly – you want to have one carry on bag, that is almost exclusively used for items you will/may need on the plane itself. I say almost exclusively because lost luggage does happen, and its good to have clothes for your first day with you, so that you can still go out before they get your bag returned. You’ll want the following items:

1. Paperwork – Passport, Visa, any other paperwork you need at any point in your flight shouldn’t ever leave your side. The same is true for your travel insurance paperwork, which could be needed at any point in your travels.

2. Cellphone – download the airline’s app, as well as a few shows on Netflix/other streaming service, and music/podcasts. You can’t always download these when in flight, and the airport’s WiFi is always a bit tricky. Bring charging cables with USB end, and an adapter for USB/North American (most airplanes have both outlets, but my experience has been that one is always out of order). Ideally you’d also bring a Brazilian/North American adapter, but those are expensive in Canada, and are better purchased in Brazil.

3. Cellphone Charging block – this is your backup in case both outlets are broken. Most I find can’t keep up with the battery drain from heavy use, but even so, it will significantly extend your battery.

4. Cell phone stand – a lot of airlines have gone to providing in-flight entertainment through personal cellphones. It makes sense, because they don’t have to pay to maintain the hardware, but it can be uncomfortable for long flights. You want a dedicated cellphone stand, that raises your phone up slightly – this way you don’t have to have your neck bent down at an extreme angle for the whole flight. You don’t want it too high, as that risks the phone falling and breaking, but a small distance makes a world of difference.

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This is the cell phone stand I use

4a. Laptop – personally I find that a laptop is a bit cumbersome on the plane, and I actually prefer to watch shows on my cellphone with the stand, because the seats put you so close to the laptop, but to each their own.

5. Headphones – ideally, you’ll have two sets. One earbud style, which is useful for those airlines that only allow this style during takeoff and landing. The other ones you want are Active Noise Cancelling, Over-Ear style. These can be found for less than $100 on Amazon, and are well worth the money. Its a risky purchase online, because youtube videos don’t do them justice, but the trick is to search for 3 star reviews where the complaint isn’t something that bothers you. You don’t need the expensive ones that cancel out all noise, as long as the low-beat of the airplane engines is drowned out, you’ll be able to actually enjoy in-flight entertainment, and sleep much better. These have completely revolutionized flying for me.

6. Candy – If you have trouble sleeping on the flight, a big sugar rush right after the in-flight meal will lead to a sugar crash and may help you nod off to sleep. Having a beer before/on the flight helps with this too.

7. Cash/Card – not everywhere will take card, and not everywhere will take cash – bring both, so you can buy something if you need.

8. Gum – if you have problems with the takeoff and landing, gum can help, although I prefer to just hold my nose and swallow to equalize pressure to avoid the headaches.

9. Medicines – if you need to take them, obviously bring them with you.

10. Wet Wipes – everything is dirty on a plane, and you don’t want to get sick.

You don’t want to bring much more than this with you on the flight, because if the flight is packed, you might have to put your bag under the seat in front of you, and a full bag will take away the precious little leg space you have. Additionally, you’ll want space in your bag for Duty Free purchases.