I’ve flown back and forth from London to Thailand quite a few times now, and I’d like to share some of the things that I’ve learnt in my travels that make things cheaper, more comfortable and more relaxing.
I’ve written this as the kind of article I’d like someone else to have written for me before making all those long haul flights.
In the past I’ve travelled short haul a fair amount around Europe and thanks to business colleagues gleaned quite a bit of know-how about hand-luggage only flying, but long haul is a challenge, especially for those on a budget. As a side note, for short haul Ryanair are rubbish I avoid them like the plague, Easyjet are much better for the little extra. What’s said about Ryanair here is true as I’ve been there done that !
SO back to the long haul. Sometimes I travel direct London – Bangkok, sometimes I’ve had a stopover. The best route I’ve found so far is with a stopover is Etihad airlines via Abu Dhabi, they are a great airline and Abu Dhabi is fairly well organised route. If you can avoid Delhi in India for a stopover, the security there is just ridiculous and both times I’ve ended up losing something (a hat and some headphones) and spent far far too long queuing or dealing with morons. Jet airways were great, just Delhi security that’s the problem, far too zealous for travellers on connecting flights. Moscow airport is great for smokers, and I managed to find free wifi there, so could be an option, but I haven’t seen any good priced flights recently.
For direct I’ve been British Airways and Eva. The Eva flight was OK, but the 20kg checked and 7kg hand luggage is a little restrictive. My most recent flight was British Airways, the plane internally looked like it needed a refurb and the staff where generally pleasant, but in comparison with other airlines a bit surly verging on rude. Even though I’m flying “cattle class” I am still a human being and customer service strongly reflects on the airline as a whole.
Water is important !
Annoyingly airport security will only let you take 100ml of liquids through their scanners (unless you’re on a connecting flight or you’re going through Delhi airport). Fair enough I don’t want to be on a plane with a mad extremist who has a 2 litre bottle of nitro-glycerine. But I do want to make sure that I don’t get thirsty, and really I object to paying over the odds at the departures lounge for a bottle of water.
So I try to take a smaller, empty water bottle with me through security, 500ml to 1litre is a good size. Drink the water, keep the empty bottle. Heathrow terminal 3 for instance has a drinking fountain that water bottle can be refilled.
Bangkok airport departures lounge used to have a Boots the chemist that would sell a 1.5litre bottle of water for 10baht, (around 20p UK). Sadly they seem to have gotten wise to the rip-off in the airport over water and put their prices up to the same as the other sellers.
So it’s worth shopping around in the departures lounge, you might find a bargain, or even better a free water fountain.
Also, the last flight I took I rather brazenly got up in the middle of the night and refilled my water bottle in the “Galley” area of the plane. This was after the British airways stewardess had rather rudely told me that the water was in the “Galley” but she would condescend to bring me some anyway. So didn’t really feel all that guilty filling up for free, blessing in disguise I guess.
Four wheels are better than two
Something that it took quite a few exhausting trips to learn was to travel with wheelie bags wherever possible. Two wheeled cases with extendible handle where a million times better than no wheel suitcase. But four wheel cases really are a beautiful thing to travel with.
A four wheel suitcase can be used in the same way as two wheel, but it can also can stand upright and be pushed with minimal effort when for instance standing in a queue to show passport or check-in. The reduction in effort is quite remarkable, and worth the extra money for a four-wheeler.
My current setup is a largish canvas covered four wheeler, and a smaller cabin size hard case four wheeler. I also carry a luggage “bungee” strap to join them together or attach them to a railing for instance on the train.
There’s a discussion here at jaunted.com for four wheels vs two wheels for those that are interested.
I also have a backpack that is specifically made for laptop, which I can carry two laptops and an ipad, chargers, hard drives etc in.
Lighter is obviously better, but be careful as really light bags can start to get flimsy.
Public transport can save you a lot of money
In London I use the Picadilly underground line to get to Heathrow. There is a station near my home, so the trip one way is around £5, rather than having to pay for public transport to get to Paddington for the Heathrow express, which would cost around £25.
I have to make two changes to get to Picadilly line, with a hand luggage bag, a suitcase, a laptop backpack and a plastic bag for my loose bits, it’s just about doable. I wouldn’t recommend if you have an additional bag, time for a taxi !
I used to take taxi to my final destination in Thailand, and was costing me £30-£40 each time. I discovered that there is an airport bus that takes me direct from Bangkok to close to home for 134 thai baht, that’s less than £3 English. The bus is just one level down in Bangkok airport from where I arrive, air conditioned, wide seats, pretty comfortable really for 10% of the cost of taxi. Arrived safely no problems, been both ways now.
So worth shopping around for Public transport options !
Making the most of your luggage
I spend months at a time in Thailand, which is becoming my home gradually. There’s many things that I need to carry back and forward. I always travel with two laptops, an ipad and an iphone and usually a bunch of hard drives.
I’ve found that my laptop fits quite nicely in a Case-Logic backpack, in fact I can get a 17″ and a 12″ in there, along with a bunch of hard drives, chargers, spare batteries, ipad, side pockets I put my bungee straps. It’s very heavy, maybe 15Kg or more, but I’ve never been asked for it to be weighed. The airline’s restrictions normally state that a laptop bag is allowed, but they never specify weight. Obvious don’t be silly with it and just put computer related items in there.
If your laptop is at all flimsy, it’s worth packing it well with perhaps a neoprene sleeve. My Toshiba Portege has a neoprene sleeve and a small laptop bag, because it got damaged on a flight in the past.
Something I want to get is a camera bag. Camera bags are often specified as allowable hand luggage. A decent size camera bag with a farty-little camera could be a great way to make use of extra “free” hand-luggage. I’m looking for one that will accommodate my iPad.
I always carry an Ethiad carrier bag which they gave me with an inflight purchase. It’s thick plastic and I can get a bunch of things in there like sandwiches, bottles of water, painkillers, sweets etc etc. It also looks “presentable” when I go to check in, so I don’t get asked questions about my hand luggage.
The allowable hand luggage bag one has to be a bit careful about. A lot of airlines like Eva specify only 7Kg for this bag, and this gets used up very quickly. It’s very rare that this bag actually gets checked on long-haul, but it’ll be your bag you’ve got to pay £50 / kg for your 10Kg bag if they catch you with overweight bag. So I’d advise caution on this and stay close to the 7Kg or whatever the allowance is for your flight. British airways don’t put a weight restriction on this bag, so pack it full with the heavy stuff!
My inflight purchase on Etihad was a digital hand scale (remember my thick plastic bag). A digital hand scale is a device that allows me to weigh my bags at home, so I can juggle things bag to bag to get them just right. A wise investment for a frequent flyer, mine lives in my hang luggage bag permanently.
When purchasing your flight it’s a good idea to check the baggage allowances before parting with your cash. I use Skyscanner to look for good deals, and you might want to refer to netflights.com baggage allowances. Also each airline has pages on their website for detailed baggage allowance information, see links on netflights.com
Sometimes I’ve found I’m travelling with a virtually empty suitcase and worried about contents or the suitcase itself getting damaged. One solution to this is to pack an empty cardboard box, pillow or something else to pack it out.
You’re allowed to put liquids in your checked baggage – shampoo, toothpaste, balsamic vinegar, etc ! Obviously read the restricted list, things like gasoline, petrol or lighter fluid not a good idea. I’ve taken recently a half full bottle of balsamic vinegar. It’s really annoying to have one of these bottles leak all over your white shirts, so enter cling film. Wrap the bottle in cling film, it it does leak then chances are it will only be inside the cling film !
Cling film has a multitude of uses in packing luggage. It can be used to protect. It compress larger items into smaller ones, might be useful if you’re carrying money. Cling film is a good investment will help you keep organised.
And if all else fails you could get yourself a jacket with lots of pockets. However this solution can make the journey a little uncomfortable.
Flights can get delayed, and sometimes airline food I just don’t like. Also with a two hour train ride to the airport, arrive two hours before departure, then a 7 hour flight, a three hour stopover, another 7 hour flight, another hour to get through immigration and collect my bag, wait for an hour for the bus and then two hours on the bus, one can get a little peckish.
Best budget option is making your own sandwiches and pack in a lightwight plastic container so they don’t get squashed. At worst make sure they are in some sandwich bags or cling film. If you don’t have time to make your own then you can buy some locally which is usually cheaper than the departures area at the airport. Maybe some crisps or snacks. Some chocolates or sweets. I’ve even taken left over pasta before in a plastic container, no problems at security. Another thing I like to take is a sachet of hot chocolate and ask for hot water on the plane.
Long haul flights generally have meals provided, and I have found often as a vegetarian that my food comes first. So if you want your food before everyone else, then put a special dietary requirement on your reservation !
Extra legroom isn’t always better
A recent flight with Jet Airways highlighted why extra legroom isn’t always better. The check-in clerk at Heathrow went to great lengths to accommodate my request for extra legroom. On the plane after negotiating with the couple in the the other two seats I ended up in the aisle, my favoured position as it give me a little more elbow room.
Great so now I can stretch my legs out. The first compromise I had to make is that because there was no seat in front of me, my dinner tray and tv had been cleverly built into the armrests, however this meant that my bum was wedged tightly in there, so slightly uncomfortable.
So I throw my blanket over me, kick off my shoes and try and get some rest. Then my second compromise arrives. Because I’m close to the bathroom, and there’s an exit door in front of me, and I’m on the aisle, the people waiting to use the bathroom seemed to think it’s a good idea to use MY legroom as their waiting area. After having had my toes trod on several times by morons, I concluded that extra legroom isn’t necessarily better, and probably would have been more comfortable elsewhere in an aisle seat.
I’ve sat next to all kind of people on aeroplanes. The rudest are Russians, who’ll knock you over whilst your outstretched putting your hand luggage away, to get there seats, and always have faces like their entire family just been brutally murdered. Anyway, generally most people are polite and all-right, there’s give and take and everything’s cool.
However there are a few that I’ve sat next to who reckon they own both arm rests. I’m not a huge massive fat guy, neither am I a skinny little rake, I have quite broad shoulders. Sitting next to one of these arm rest hoggers, being polite and crossing my arms and eating my dinner like I’ve just inherited a gay gene, is just down right annoying and uncomfortable, nevermind rude of the person who’s hogging the arm rests and having a fine old time in comfort whilst I’m getting cramps.
So one such flight, I thought I’d try an experiment. Most people don’t actually feel all that comfortable if someone they don’t know starts holding hands or arm in arm with them. This includes the armrest hoggers. So after stupidly moving my arm to reach for the inflight magazine I lost the armrest, I thought well why not, I just laid my arm on top of theirs as if it was nothing at all. Interestingly the armrest hogger was at first reluctant to move his arm as he knew he would have to concede his recently won comfort, but must have become increasingly uncomfortable with me “holding hands” with him and relinquished control of the armrest to me for the rest of the flight. Way to go Don Charisma !
It’s quite strange because I never ever seem to have armrest fights anymore. Perhaps the other person picks up on the fact that they won’t win the armrest wars, or perhaps I’m just more confident, I don’t really know.
Get to the airport early
On the face of it this seems like a really stupid idea, get to the airport and sit around for an extra hour waiting. Well that’s fairly much what I though the last time I got to Bangkok airport and realised I was two hours too early, five hours before my flight. Was probably a bit too much time in hindsight. But I did learn something from this experience.
Getting there early, means you’re first in the queue checking-in. If you’re first in the queue, the airline haven’t allocated all the seats on the plane yet, so you are much more likely to get your preferred seat. For me I like to sit in the aisle, as it’s extra elbow room and easier to get out if I want to stretch my legs or use the bathroom.
Another advantage is that you have a chance to scope out the airport, find out how the check-in area of departures is laid out, where any shops and amenities are, cheap food maybe. This is massive for your next visit to the same airport, can save you time if you happen to be late. Also I had plenty of time to check out the departures lounge. I found out that they have little shopping trolleys for your hand luggage, could save some messing about. I also had a chance to have a good look around all the shops and find out where everything is.
Getting to the airport early can make this or the next trip more enjoyable and less stressful, as you can find out where everything is, you may even save money if you’re shopping around for things.
Dealing with customs
There are people with guns and rubber gloves in airports. Personally I want to have as little to do with such people as humanly possible. Be polite, smile, be “helpful”, but mainly just ignore them and be relaxed.
In my younger days I tried going over my allowance for cigarettes coming back from Canary Islands. One guilty look from me to the customs officer and my bag searched and my cigarettes confiscated, expensive mistake but one lives and learns.
These days I check very carefully what and what not I am allowed to bring with me. If you’re bringing something that could be questioned in any way shape or form, then have a good explanation and do your research before carrying it. For instance I heard of one guy who took a spear fishing gun with him through Bangkok airport. When he got stopped with it and asked what it was he said it was a “gun”. Not a good idea, alarm bells started ringing with the officials. He thought quickly and changed his explanation to “fishing rod” and amazingly was allowed through with it. If you’re a vegetarian and carry supplement, vitamins and powdered protein, then perhaps “medicines”. Obviously please don’t break the law, but think about what you’re carrying, what your explanation for having it and what the potential problems you might face are.
Moral of the story and what I’ve learned many times through customs, is to be relaxed as I possibly can going through an airport. Especially when it comes to customs. Follow these rules and you should hopefully never have to deal with a customs officer with a rubber glove or a man with an automatic weapon.
1. Be relaxed but awake, walk at a steady pace no faster than the others around you. If you’re on your own then walk like you’re bored killing time at a shopping mall. There is no rush (even if there actually is !).
2. Never make eye contact with customs officials, but don’t look like you’re avoiding eye contact either. Just look straight ahead as if you’re somewhere else, absorbed in your own relaxed thoughts, obviously be careful to look where you’re going. If you have to make eye contact a gentle smile wouldn’t hurt.
3. Don’t do anything that makes you stand out. So wear ordinary clothes, buy your suitcases black or grey and don’t adorn them with dayglo yellow luggage straps. Just be ordinary, boring, nothing standing out.
4. Smokers – see section for smokers.
5. Once you think you’ve passed customs area, don’t slow down or stop, just keep walking same pace until you reach an obvious place to stop – customs official can pull you after you’ve passed customs. But the further you are away from customs the more hassle it is for them.
6. Personally I prefer to put my headphones in and listen to some music that I enjoy, focus on the music not the customs.
Hopefully if you’ve followed these rules and you’re sensible about what you’re carrying with you, you’ll never see a rubber glove or your stuff confiscated from your luggage. I don’t advocate breaking the law, that’s just stupid, don’t do it, people have lost their liberty and regretted it, Thai jails are not a nice place to visit.
I’ve experimented with various different aids for my nicotine addiction when flying and best solution has been nicotine patches and smoking as many cigarettes as I possibly can outside departures and in the smoking lounge in my stopover. The recent budget nicotine patches I bought didn’t stick very well, so I’ve had secure them with 3M micropore tape from pharmacy. The best ones I’ve had are clear or translucent in colour and kind of flexed with my skin, sorry don’t remember the brand.
Making sure I’m all nicotine’ed up helps ensure I’m relaxed and pass through customs unphased.
Nicotine gum is OK, but it’s a pain in the neck to have to keep on chewing and taking out of my mouth every time I want to eat or drink.
I’ve been travelling with Senheiser MM 30i headphones for my iPhone for a long time now. You need to make sure that the rubber pieces that fit in your ear are the right size (I ended up with the largest ones). But the headphones are great for two reasons, first the clarity of the sound is great and second they act as earplugs for flight noise and screaming babies. Highly recommended !
This post is a lot longer than I expected. I am a lot more comfortable travelling now the thousands of miles from London to Thailand, and use this knowledge every time I fly, hopefully some of you will find it useful too.
Safe travels, wherever you’re going to:)