After 16 hours long flight, I just wanted to sleep. Although the midnight had passed, my inner clock was set differently. I just came back from Mexico and my body was accustomed to completely different time zone. It was midnight, I was exhausted, but my body was saying it is not the time to sleep. For me, it was 5 pm. I was rotating in the bed until 5 am, cursing a jet lag.
What is jet lag?
Jet lag is a temporary disorder caused by a rapid change of time zones during the air travel. It is also known as time zone change syndrome or desynchronosis and it may cause insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, confusion, dizziness, headache and other physical and psychological symptoms. The intensity of the symptoms may vary according to person, a number of time zones changed and the way of travel.
For example, I have no problems changing even seven time zones when I travel from east to west, but backward I don’t sleep for days. They say body can adjust to the new time zone at the rate of one or two zones per day. I would agree with it in the case of eastward travel, but when you travel westward you can adjust much faster (in day or two tops).
However, if in the following days you have some important obligations, time zone change can be a real pain in the ass. It is definitely not easy to wake up at 7 am if you couldn’t fall asleep until 5 am. I read lots of advice how to survive the jet lag, but some of them are just not so easy to apply.
For example, they say you should start adjusting your body to the new time zone few days before the travel. Well, most of the people work or study and they cannot stay awake until 2 am just because they are traveling soon. Because I can’t take a vacation before the actual vacation, here are some tips what I do in order to minimize jet lag symptoms when I’m changing more than three time zones.
Tips how to minimize jet lag symptoms
1) Right after I am seated on the plane, I adjust my watch to the destination time. It helps me track how much hours of flight are left and adapt to new time since the beginning of a journey.
2) I drink a lot. I always carry a bottle with me and I fill it up with water after passing the security control at the airport, if the water is drinkable. I also buy some juice, soda or more water at the airport. I know it is ridiculously expensive, but nothing is worse than dehydration after the long flight. I don’t like to depend on the drinks in the plane and I always make sure I have something to drink with me. Do not drink too much coffee or alcohol, though. It will make things worse.
3) Since I started to sleep very light on the plane, I asked my doctor to give me some sleeping pills I can use during the longer travels. Some people may not need it, but I found myself feeling even more terrible after not having almost nothing sleep during the flight.
On my way to Mexico, I took two pills short after the takeoff, completely forgetting the dinner is going to be served. The stewardess was three rows away from my seat with all the foods and drinks and somehow I managed to fall asleep before she reached me. 🙂 So be careful with the pills, you may miss your meal. I also found this pills which are supposed to make jet lag symptoms less present.
4) When I arrive at the destination, I always try to adjust to new time zone as soon as possible. That means staying awake longer while traveling west, or trying to sleep earlier while traveling east. Also, I adjust my meals and I try to eat light food full of proteins in the adequate time.
5) Take power naps. If you are super tired, there is no point in staying awake. Take a nap. I sleep maybe an hour or hour and a half what is enough to get some additional energy and go to bed at a normal time in the evening.
What do you do to avoid jet lag symptoms? Share your best tips and tricks.
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When I came back from Berlin, all I could think about was how I can make it to Mexico within some reasonable time. I started to check the price of the tickets, but all were too expensive. Zagreb, Milano, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich… everything that was somehow close to Lucerne was too pricey. When I saw a price of approximately 600€ from Zurich to Mexico City, I started hyperventilating and few days after the ticket was bought. And what now?
I had almost five months to prepare myself for the trip and to the fact, I am going to see Jaime again. For real! 🙂 I started with reading forums, posts, making notes and list of everything I would like to see. There were so many things to remember, plan, ask Jaime about some local things… and in no time I was sitting in Zurich Airport and waiting for my flight.
Coming to Madrid
Iberia doesn’t serve free meals within Europe, only on long distance flights. However, you can buy it.
Spanish people are terrible with English, even if they work at the airport!
Barajas Madrid Airport is very confusing.
I was flying with Iberia, what meant the layover was in Madrid, one of my dream cities. But it also meant there is not going to be any free food on the short haul flight and I was already so hungry! I did my check in online, found Iberia’s drop off counter to leave my checked baggage and I was ready to go. Flight to Madrid was approximately 2 hours long and we landed around 9 pm Madrid time. I knew two things: first, I needed to find something to eat and second, I had no idea where to go to my next gate.
It was almost 9:30 when I finally found myself walking around the airport; the stores and restaurants were already ready to close and the signs around the airport were extremely confusing. I visited lots of airports, but I can say that Barajas Airport in Madrid is one of the most confusing. I needed to go to 4S terminal and I couldn’t find that sign anywhere. Are the S gates same like 4S terminal? Where do I need to go? Can I come back if there are no open restaurants? There was no map, I didn’t even know on which terminal we landed. I noticed Iberia’s info desk and decided to ask them in English. My previous experience was that Spanish people do not speak English at all and I really wanted to test it on the airport. The lady answered me in English, but in really bad English and to just part of the question so I wasn’t sure if she understood everything. After walking around for more than 30 minutes, I decided just to grab something to eat in McDonald’s and follow the signs to S gates. To get there from terminal 4 you need to take a train and pass a passport control. The whole process takes around 20 minutes, but the passport control can get crowded. For those with short layover time, there is a special fast track counter. There was no much stuff going on at 4S terminal. Everything was already closed, so I found a seat near the charger and watched some movies.
Mexico City from the air
On my way to Mexico
Flight from Madrid to Mexico City is 12 hours long.
You need to fill out the forms for the immigration and customs purposes.
Hurry up for the immigration, otherwise, you will find yourself in a long line.
The boarding was supposed to start an hour before the flight, but it was late for 15 – 20 minutes both times I’ve travelled. Passengers are divided into boarding group in order to avoid overcrowding and that works relatively good. Soon I was on board, ready for 12 hours long flight from Madrid to Mexico City. After the standard procedure, we were in the air. Dinner was served around one hour after take-off and the food weren’t actually that bad. I overslept the whole night, waking up just for a midnight sandwich (lol) and breakfast in the morning. We were close to Mexico. It was 5:30 am Mexico time and in the dark, we saw endless lights. Endless! God, this city is enormous. I was so excited when the wheels hit the ground. My first time in Mexico! And Jaime was waiting for me in the airport after seven months we said goodbye in Madrid!
Arriving in Mexico City
Soon after the take-off, everyone who is not Mexican citizen got forms to fill for the immigration and customs. They ask for your personal data, passport number, flight number, how long are you staying in Mexico and if you are bringing some forbidden goods. When we disembarked, next stop was immigration. Our flight arrived around 6 am so there was no line for the immigration, but if you don’t hurry up, you will find yourself waiting among other 400 – 500 people from your flight. The immigration process took around half an hour with waiting and only a minute in front of the officer. He took my passport and forms, filled it out and let me go without any question. The important thing here is that you need to keep a piece of that form in your passport all the time (like a proof you entered Mexico legally and submit it upon leaving the country).
I picked up my luggage and went right through the customs. There you need to give them the second form and press a red button before you are ready to go. When I visited for the second time, they checked my luggage too. The lady was very nice and we chatted a bit about what I planned to visit in Mexico. I passed through the last door and suddenly, I was surrounded by a chaos of Mexico City. The adventure has begun!
Maja’s first time in Mexico
Written August 2014
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In March 2011, after I already made quite a few miles traveling, I finally went on a trip which included a plane ride. My first flight! I have always been attracted to the airplanes and I wasn’t worried about the flight itself, but the thrill has quickly turned from „yaaay“ to „naaah“ when I realized how much I did not know about flying!
When do I need to get to the airport… and what I should do then?! The more I read the forums and articles, the less I knew and I had more and more questions. The possibility that I will finish on another continent instead of in Rome was increasing. So here are some first time flying tips, I hope they are going to be helpful if you are about to start your flying career.
When should I be at the airport and what do I need to do next?!
COME ON TIME
The time required to complete all the formalities at the airport depends on the size of the airport and the country where it’s located. It is recommended to come at least two hours earlier, but in Zagreb, even an hour and a half would be enough (especially if you don’t have a morning flight).
In the other hand, if you depart from the airport in the United States or some other very big airport, you should definitely come three hours earlier due to more comprehensive security control and larger distances within the airport.
DO THE CHECK IN & PASS THE SECURITY
Before going to the plane, you need to check-in to the flight (or do it earlier online and just drop off your baggage), go through security check and wait for your boarding time to get into the plane. All this can be done in 15 minutes, but also can last longer than an hour.
Larger airports are more likely to be crowded, so adjust your arrival time according to that. For example, security check in London Heathrow can take more than 30 minutes (on a good day), while I usually need less than 5 minutes to pass the same control in Zagreb.
If you are running late or have a short connection, some airports do have fast track lines where you can skip the wait. If not, you can always kindly ask the fellow travelers to allow you to go in front.
Read more: 6 websites you should know about when flying
How my plane ticket looks like and what is a “check-in”?
Today’s plane tickets are generally electronic so you can come to the check-in counter with the printed purchase confirmation, or even without it. Upon the arrival to the airport, you need to go to the check-in counters and find the right one (look for it on the screens above the counters and search by the airline’s name or the destination). Check-in usually starts 120 minutes before the flight, for an international flight. The domestic flights often start a bit later.
In most of the cases, it is enough to hand over your documents to the counter person and place the luggage on a track. After the luggage is weighted, it receives the tags and it is taken away by the conveyor belt so the airport personnel can put it into the plane bunker. The counter person issues the boarding pass and checks you into the flight. The boarding pass contains your personal information and flight data and usually states the gate number, boarding time and seat number.
Read more: How to pack for your first flight
If you do the check in online, you will need to print out the boarding pass on your own. To do so, you just need to follow the instructions on a web check-in section of your airline. When you come to the airport, you can go directly to the baggage drop counter (which are usually less crowded) – if you have any luggage to drop, or go straight through the security to your gate.
What happens at the security check?
The security check consists of passenger and baggage control. Passing through the security check can be quick and painless if you follow the next tips.
- While waiting in a queue please remove your watches, belts and all the metal you are wearing. Do not do that when is your turn because you are creating a crowd unnecessarily.
- Jewelry usually doesn’t need to be removed, but if you are not 100% sure should you remove it, ask the staff.
- If you have any metal on (piercing) or inside you (metal plates, etc.) be prepared to show it to the officers or bring your medical records.
- Wear clean and untorn socks. Sometimes you will need to take off your shoes, especially if you are wearing the boots a lot of metal on them or if you fly from the U.S. People are ashamed very often.
- Before passing through a metal detector empty all your pockets.
- All the items you need to put in the plastic containers, but do not overcrowd them.
- The laptops need to be removed from the bags and put into a separate box, with no other items in it. Lately, they ask to take out other electronic devices too, like iPad, Kindle and cameras.
- If you are dressed in layers (for example a shirt, a sweater and a jacket), you need to take off the sweater and the jacket. You shall not wear thick layers of clothing when passing through the detector.
- You cannot have more than one liter of liquid when passing through the control. All the liquids must be in packages up to 100 ml and placed in one one-liter plastic bag with zipper. Do not forget to take out that bottle of water from the bag.
After you put all the things in the containers, your stuff passes through the scanner and you go through the detector. If everything is okay, you can take your items and get dressed. If the officers notice something suspicious or the detector sounds, they could ask for a more detailed luggage or personal examination and ask you to open the backpack. Show them without the complaint.
Read more: Useful tips how to minimize jet lag symptoms
What can I do at the airport after security control?
Everything! You can have a coffee, pour water into an empty bottle that you had in your backpack (the best advice ever, trust me), read the newspaper, eat, surf, shop at the duty free store (you can buy even liquids, everything you buy there will be packed in welded bag which you are not allowed open until you land!).
Depending on the size and equipment of the airport, the time before the flight can be shortened by the various activities. With its numerous restaurants, shops, and awesome waiting rooms airports can be an oasis of entertainment. Some of them even have a casino and mailboxes.
When the boarding starts and how does it look like?
Boarding usually begins 30 – 45 minutes prior to the flight (for long haul flights even 60 minutes before). The time is usually stated on boarding pass and departure screens at the airport. Sometimes the gate and boarding time have not been assigned yet at the moment of issuing the boarding pass, in that case, you can find all the information on screens.
The boarding is announced by ground staff at the gate assigned to this flight. At the gate, the staff will check your documents and boarding pass so don’t put them in the deepest part of your backpack right after the security control. Sometimes they will check the dimensions and (or) hand luggage weight. This usually happens when traveling with low-cost airlines, but even the “regular” companies sometimes check that you are not traveling with more pieces of luggage than allowed.
Read more: I am a terrible packer! My luggage is always overweight.
Depending on the airport, you go to the plane on foot or by bus. At Zagreb’s airport, there is an airport bus in front of the gate which takes passengers to the plane. Then you climb the stairs to enter the plane. My favorites are those cases where you can get to the plane by the big tunnel which connects gate with the plane.
Upon entering the plane cabin staff will greet you and, if necessary, help you to find your seat. If you have the assigned seat, you must sit right there and place the hand luggage in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you. During the takeoff and landing, you are not allowed to have anything in your lap (like purse or laptop).
There is a reason why you shouldn’t spend too much time taking pictures in front of the plane, even though it’s the first time you will enter it. If the plane is small and the flight is full, there probably won’t be enough space for all hand luggage. So if you have a larger piece of luggage and if you don’t want to spend few hours with a suitcase below your legs, hurry up to the plane and take place for luggage. Otherwise, it could happen that you are sitting in the fourth row and your luggage is placed in the compartment above the 30th row. Long story short, you would need to wait for all people exit the plane before you could reach it. In the event of a lackage of space for carry-on luggage, larger pieces are sent free of charge to aircraft bunker.
Once you’ve placed the luggage, tie yourself and listen carefully what the cabin crew will have to say. The pilot’s greeting contains some basic information such as the duration of the flight and weather conditions in a destination and the flight attendants are going to give you safety instructions. Listen to them carefully so you know what to do in case of an accident and where are the emergency exits.
If I forgot something, you can ask in the comments…
Did you ever have any problems at the airport?
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From year to year airport controls are becoming more rigorous; more and more items are on the “forbidden items” list and the airlines are changing the way of business so the flights are becoming more expensive, the services offered during the flight are being charged more often and there are more luggage restrictions.
No matter which airline you have chosen, your first flight can be quite stressful. Before you get on the plane, you need to be very well informed. There is lots of “little things” that are of a great importance and you need to know them all before heading to the airport. More about the procedure on the airport you can read HERE, and below you can find few useful first time flying tips and learn how to pack for your first flight.
What MUST I take on a trip?
There are only two things you should never forget: the identity card or passport (depending on where are you traveling to) and money and/or bank cards. You can survive without all the other things. Those are the main two items you should be especially taking care of while traveling. The lost document brings problems both in the destination and your native country and money… well, you know. Among the other things you need to bring, there are the camera, cell phone, and earplugs. Earplugs can be very useful if you are going to sleep in hostels, airplane or any noisier place.
How much luggage am I allowed to take on board?
Each plane ticket clearly states the quantity and weight of luggage you may bring with you on a board. Economy class passengers are allowed to carry one piece of hand baggage (some companies allow you to also bring a laptop bag, ladies handbag or some other small bag, while some are strictly limited to that one piece) and one piece of checked baggage without a surcharge. Please note, if you are flying with a low-cost airline company, you will need to pay for anything bigger than hand luggage.
Read more: 21 packing mistakes to avoid before you head to the airport
The weight allowance differs from company to company, but usually weight limits are from 8 (up to 10) kg (from 17.5 to 22 lbs) for the carry-on baggage and up to 23 kg (51 lbs) for the checked baggage. Any excess weight is properly charged, so it is cheaper to bring less baggage or, if you really need it, check-in the additional bag. Prices for the extra bags differ from airline to airline, but usually they vary from €50 to €100 (or $) per bag (for example, Delta charges $100, Croatia Airlines and Lufthansa €75). Some airlines, like Emirates or Qatar, allow you to bring 30 kg free of charge. However, you cannot check in additional luggage but only pay for extra kilograms – which can be extremely expensive.
Always check luggage restrictions of your company and do test packing to make sure you will not spend few more hundreds just because you needed ten pairs of shoes. The key question is how you will know how heavy is your luggage? Online you can find lots of different and cheap luggage scales that can be of enormous help while traveling. I got mine for around $5 and it was the best traveling investment so far.
Read more: Useful tips how to minimize jet lag symptoms
Luggage is also limited by the size. The total sum of hand luggage dimensions is limited to 115 cm (45’’) and checked baggage to 158 cm (62’’).
Suitcase sizes – photo credit: Amazon
What can I put in the carry-on luggage? How to pack?
Hand baggage packing can be a real challenge, especially if that’s all the luggage you are traveling with. There are precise rules what you can pack into a carry-on and what is strictly forbidden.
Firstly, put all the electronic devices in the hand luggage. Airport workers will throw around your checked luggage and nobody will care if your laptop arrives at the destination with a cracked screen. So – all the electronic goes to the carry-on luggage. Cash and other valuable items also (money, keys, documents, glasses etc.).
The number of liquids you can bring to the cabin is strictly limited to 1 liter (33 oz) and every individual liquid must be in the container not bigger than 100 ml (3.3 oz). So, in hand luggage, you can pack up to ten liquids which must be placed in a clear plastic bag with zipper (similar to those for freezing food, just make sure that it has the zipper). The bags can be taken of bought at the airport. Term “liquids” includes things like lipsticks, mascara, toothpaste and some other items that we might forget when packing so they can make problems during the security check. The “liquids rule” does not apply to the fluids bought at the airport after passing the security control, so you can buy water, wine or some other liquid in the duty-free shop.
The hand baggage must not contain any sharp object (like knives, scissors, metal nail file, corkscrew…), weapons and weapon-looking toys and other potentially dangerous items. Such things can be transported in checked baggage only.
Read more: No, I do not travel with a carry-on. And I’m proud of it!
Am I allowed to use electronics during the flight?
The electronics may be used during the flight, only not during the takeoff and landing, or when the cabin lit sign prohibits the use of electronic devices. So yes – you can listen to music, take pictures, use a laptop or even a mobile phone (last two only in the airplane mode).
Read more: First time flying tips – From airport to airplane guide
Where do I collect my checked baggage?
Checked baggage needs to be collected at the destination airport. If you have the connecting flights (for example Zagreb – Zurich – New York City), the luggage is almost always collected in the final destination, in this case in New York City. Please take note, if you are flying to the USA, you will need to collect your luggage in first US destination, no matter is it final or not. Before landing, the cabin crew usually tell at which conveyor belt you would be able to find the luggage from your flight. Also, you can always check it on the screens located near the conveyor belts. The room where they are located can easily be found by following the direction of “baggage claim” signs after getting off the plane.
In order to easily find your luggage, buy some easily recognizable bag or put some sign on it. Usually, all the bags are black, blue or red. Yes, red. So buy yourself a different one, or put something bright on it (scarf, sticker…). It will make your life easier.
Before the flight, always check what rules apply to your airline because some things can differ from company to company.
Have a safe flight!
Ps. If you are an experienced traveler, all of this may seem like a piece of cake. But remember how confused you were before your first flight! Do you have some other tips & trick how to pack for the first flight?
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