My plane and simple rules to ensure travel doesn’t bug me
Don’t get me wrong. Over the last two years, as a foreign affairs portfolio holder in the Gillard Government, my work has been rewarding and exciting. It has been easily the best professional experience of my life.
But the extensive travel makes me miss my family… a lot.
In those same two years (and not by choice), airports and aeroplanes have become a lonely home. My aim is to get in and out of them as quickly as possible and mitigate the number of hours they take away from life.
The first rule is never check in luggage. What I can’t fit into carry-on I don’t take. This ensures I get through customs half an hour quicker. And when flights run late and connections are missed there are less moving parts.
In a process where the airline, passport control and security all check you, the idea is to conform. In the case of security this means little things.
I now live in a world of less than 100ml.
As a result I have become an obsessive collector of little toothpastes, shaving creams, and deodorants. I assiduously keep my aeroplane packs, and voraciously raid hotels and flight lounges. With my little toiletries on board, I happily put my case through the x-ray in the satisfying comfort that, without any plastic bags, it will still pass muster.
I have learnt that boarding the earlier flight home always matters. And that when leaving home early in the morning, every extra quarter of an hour sleep counts. Thus I have perfected the art of grooming on the run.
On international flights, when the obligatory two hour wait before boarding is always dead time, I can fill it by falling out of bed, into a tracksuit, into a car and then wake up in the comfort of the Qantas bathrooms. To avoid catching tinea I shower in thongs - a secret I picked up at boarding school.
A plane trip from Los Angeles to Melbourne can last up to 16 hours, so you’d better be comfortable. For me, plane gear is dagging around the house gear. This is fine, except that when I board a plane at the end of a trip I am often dressed in suit and tie.
Of course the solution to this problem is changing on the plane. In the squat quarters of a 737 toilet, I can go from business attire to shorts, t-shirt and thongs in three minutes. All this is done with the ever-present threat of clear air turbulence tossing you around the toilet like a rag doll when the lock on the door is little more than a paper clip. As this thought enters your mind, with all clothes removed, it is hair-raising stuff.
Most airlines offer those who are travelling near the front of the plane a set of pyjamas. They vary in quality. But all of them are long sleeved with long pants. This just makes me hot and uncomfortable at night.
So nowadays I bring my own pyjamas: red shorts and a Geelong premiership t-shirt. Add to this my knee length compression stockings which help to prevent DVT and I am dressed to impress. None of this matters so long as no-one recognises you. But when a constituent happens to be sitting near you (as occurred on one trip to the USA) and strikes up a conversation in the galley as you wait for the loo, the sight of kitsch t-shirt, knee length shorts and knee length stockings suddenly and severely destroys credibility. This ensemble is not a vote winner.
The Mt Everest of plane travel is achieving a good night’s sleep. When travelling through time zones with packed schedules, every minute of shut-eye is gold. This raises the question of sleeping drugs.
Last year, at the foreign ministers dinner at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, a conversation struck up on my table about the merits of sleeping pills when travelling overnight on planes. Amidst as well travelled a cohort as exists on the planet, the issue was more hotly debated than peace in the Middle East.
Personally, I have eschewed artificial sleep induction, preferring instead to go with a couple of glasses of wine over dinner.
Be it sleep, a clean shave, or a well ironed shirt the goal is always to walk off that plane ready for action. As I travel to my work destination, the tribulations of aeroplanes render that goal as untouchable as a hazy mirage. More often than not I arrive looking as ordered as a teenager’s bedroom.
Yet for all the vagaries of the trip which takes me out, they are always compensated by the comfort of the trip which brings me back, to my family, safely home.
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