Guide: How to Survive Intercontinental Travel

Thirty-hour rides to the outermost regions of the earth? Don't sweat it. Entrapment is your friend.
RedBull Decades
The Islands © RedBull
By Derek Rielly

It's a kink of the worst kind. You're back in coach, on a budget airline, folded like the pretzels served in foil packs by the grouchy flight attendants.

But the long intercontinental flight is part of the mosaic that makes up surf travel. You take the good with the bad. And to get to those distant reef waves where the only element of crowding is provided by floating coconuts or curious locals in dug-out canoes, well, you have to fly, and fly long.

A little while back, I was commuting France to Australia, a dozen times or so a year. This is a three-leg flight that takes you on a Fokker from Biarittz to Paris (one hour), a 777 from Paris to Singapore (13 hours) and then a 747 from Singapore to Sydney (seven hours). With layovers, it's a 25-hour flight. And it can steal the wind from your wings if you're not prepared. It's the same when you're flying from the east coast of the US to the farthest reaches of Indonesia, Aceh or Nias, say.

But all that confinement inside a pressurised aluminium tube doesn't have to be a drag. Plan ahead, give into a little of that buddhist resignation, and it can even be fun. Here are five tips on short-term living inside the belly of a bird:

1. The headphones. You don't want to go into a long haul relying on the cheap speakers that come in the plastic bags. Three hundred bucks isn't cheap but a pair of high-end noise-cancelling headphones will become your best friend and your most important travel companion. Squeeze over your head, shift the noise-cancelling slider to on, and you won't hear even the roar of a regional airline's ancient Rolls Royces.

2. Order a special meal. Airline food isn't as bad as everyone makes out. But, after five consecutive meals, your stomach will be doing cartwheels. You may not be a vegetarian but order a vegetarian meal. It's healthy, it's light and you won't be a bathroom habitué by the time you reach your destination. As an added bonus, your meal is served first.

3. The legroom problem. We all travel coach unless we're rich or have a buddy pass and so we are dealt the rottenest of hands. Three choices. Upgrade using points if you've got 'em. Pay for an exit row. Book an aisle seat.

4. Travel with four movies you've always wanted to see. I tell my pals that I'm into French New Wave cinema. But do you think I've actually watched any Truffaut or Godard? Well, yeah. On a long-haul to London I took it on. What else was I going to do? I exited the bird wiser and less of a fraud.

5. It's the greatest ride in the world. Turn off the entertainment unit. Look out the window. You're 35,000 thousand feet above the earth. All around you, at varying altitudes, are thousands of other travellers. Marvel at the curvature of the earth, of the plane chasing a setting sun, of exiting a drab city and flying above clouds into dazzling sunlight, of the technology that places you in the sky, safely, with 300 other people, of the two men up there in the front whose sole job is to get you and your fellow passengers to your destination safely. Look at it that way, and who needs theme parks?


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