The Pro’s and Con’s of Frequent Flying

I’m taking a quick break from my usual business themed posts to discuss something that is close to my heart: frequent flying.

Due to my hands-on approach to sales in our company, I have to fly a lot to meet customers or join partner tours all over the USA, as well as internationally. The fact that our company has a head office in Cape Town, South Africa, makes things even more interesting. As a result, I end up flying a lot.

I worked out that in a typical month, I could easily spend 100 hours on planes and in airports. That’s a lot of mileage, and a lot of waiting around. I try not to even think about the dozens and dozens of nights spent in hotels, away from home.

Eventually, you learn to take it all in your stride and live with it, but I still can’t understand why people think the “jet setter” lifestyle is glamourous. It’s not as though business travelers are jetting off to Ibiza or Macau to party every two weeks.

There are some perks though. Here’s a summary of the pro’s and con’s of frequent travel as I see it.

Con’s

1. Waking up before the crack of dawn to catch a 6:30am flight. This happens more often than you would think. Particularly in the USA, where you are going to be routed through a major hub like Chicago, where you will wait for 2 hours before getting your connecting flight.

2. Security lines. Usually, this involves rapidly taking off half your clothes and ripping apart your carry-on bag, while often stuck behind impossibly slow vacation travelers, or worse- families.

3. Flight delays. A constant irritant in America and Europe’s crowded skies. Especially when you are delayed for hours while sitting on the tarmac after boarding a 6am flight, which is often the case at New York’s La Guardia airport.

4. Wasting time in between things. There is a lot of “filler time” that needs to be spent while traveling. Checking in, passing security, moving between gates, checking on flight statuses, waiting around while delayed, etc. This can be mildly improved by answering email or reading a little, but it’s still pretty much unproductive.

5. Screaming babies on planes. I don’t really need to explain this one.

6. Jumping time zones. You eventually learn to deal with jet lag effectively, but it can scramble your body clock somewhat, causing sleepiness during an important meeting, or ravenous hunger in the middle of the night, which isn’t exactly ideal.

With the con’s now out of the way, let’s move on to the better stuff.

Pro’s

1. Priority access. With good airline status, you get faster check-in, security line skipping, lounge access and priority boarding. For the frequent traveler, these things are absolutely essential, and make a world of difference. I’m not sure if this is just making the best out of a bad situation, but I know that I truly appreciate it when I have it and painfully miss it when flying on the wrong airline.

2. Time to think. Aside from the waiting around in airports, the actual time spent on a plane can often be a peaceful time to read or think. Not surprisingly, I get most of my blogging done on flights.

3. Hotels (if you like hotels). There is a definite point when checking out new hotels produces diminishing returns (no matter how swanky), but occasionally (and especially when my schedule isn’t jam packed), they can be pretty cool.

4. Visiting new cities. Much like the previous point, this really improves when my schedule isn’t insane, but either way, there is the chance to grab a business dinner or drive through town on the way to a meeting. I never get to see the sights on business trips, but at least I can say that I’ve visited a lot of places, sampled the food, and checked them out a little.

5. The camaraderie among regular travelers. Whether they are new acquaintances or old buddies from “the road”, frequent travelers tend to get each other, regardless of age. We can swap stories (good and bad) for hours. The quality of this experience is amplified to great effect when salespeople get together.

That’s it for now. What are your likes and pet peeves about frequent flying?

Why International Flights Are Good for Mental Health

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In recent months, I’ve been taking more and more trips between Cape Town and San Francisco. Now, this a long flight. It generally consists of two legs, one to the Middle East or Europe then the second to the USA. Total time in the air: around 24 hours.

When it hasn’t been done in a while, long distance travel is exciting, but it quickly becomes a chore. Crossing 12 time zones, sleeping in airports and sitting on planes forever certainly exact a wicked toll on the body. Lately however, I’ve grown to appreciate what all that lonely time in the air does for my mind.

Let me explain. If you’re reading this blog, you are probably a technophile who spends a ridiculous amount of time in front of their laptop and generally enjoys working more than the average person (just like me). In my case, I fell that The problem with this behaviour is that I rarely give myself the chance to unplug- I thrive on being hyper connected all the time- so constant email, task management, Twitter and RSS are what I thrive on. Even if you can live like this without experiencing fatigue or productivity losses, I find that a key element of mental balance can easily be crowded out and forgotten: introspection.

Introspection occurs when we spend long periods alone, and delve into our mind to remember what’s important to us, what kind of people we want to be, and ask ourselves how things are going. It’s a surprisingly elusive state if you have constant access to Wifi or an iPhone with 3G in your hand. I love it. It’s a form of meditation. A session of proper introspection leaves me feeling more centered, relaxed, motivated and in control. It is highly recommended.

Of course, I could do this at home (or in a hotel) once in a while, and I should. But somehow, I always manage to get busy and stay that way. I’ll work on improving. For now though, I’ll keep appreciating the silver linings of these long distance travel clouds. And why doesn’t this apply to domestic travel, you may ask? Because one can usually get onboard Wifi on local flights of course!

—This post written 11,500m somewhere above the Atlantic. Image credit: Shutterstock.

10 Things To Take On Board The Plane To Revolutionize Your Air Travel

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Flying between Cape Town and San Francisco is no joke. Whether you connect via London, Zurich, New York or Atlanta, there is no way to escape the multiple stops, 9 time zones and 24+ hour journey. And if you’re an entrepreneur who’s company is backed venture investors and hasn’t yet made a mega exit for them, you’re sitting at the back of the plane. Yes, that’s me.

As I sit here on the plane writing this blog post, I am mindful of the things I’ve learned to bring on board with me to make the journey easier. Here is my list of 10 key items for long haul flying in economy class:

1. Water bottle (a full one).
The number one reason people suffer from jet lag and generally feel like crap after long flights is severe dehydration. Draining those tiny plastic cups every time an air hostess offers you one is nowhere near enough- take a water bottle and sip on it throughout the flight. 2. Neck pillow.
The lousy pillow that you are provided isn’t going to help you sleep, and in any case there is no room to lie down comfortably on it. A neck pillow makes it easy to support your head while sitting up, dramatically improving your quality of sleep on the plane.

3. Ear plugs.
Airplane cabins are filled with a loud “din” that is a bit too uncomfortable to be considered white noise. Ear plugs drown that sound right out and make things a lot quieter and easier to concentrate, or get some sleep. As I write this a baby is crying in front of me and I can barely hear it ;-) 4. Protein bars.
Do you find yourself eating more junk food (e.g. chocolate cake, croissants) on long flights than is normal for you, and feeling bloated and unhealthy afterward? This tends to happen because (a) they do feed you more junk on the plane and (b) you hungry so you eat it. Instead, skip the junk and bring along tasty, nutritious protein bars than you can snack on or eat along with some of your airplane food- you will feel more satisfied and healthier as a result.  

5. Sweater.
I have no idea how draughts appear in a pressurized cabin but they do. The blanket you are provided is a good start but not enough to keep your arms and chest warm throughout the flight, so bring a comfortable sweater and bask in your warmth as everyone around you tries in vain to cover their entire bodies with that slim airplane blanket. 6. Books/Kindle
Flights give you access to long periods of uninterrupted attention, making them ideal for reading books. Perhaps due to the cramped, less comfortable environment on the plane I find it easier to read flowing prose that isn’t extremely dense (e.g. Freakonomics over Socrates).  

7. iPod.
A lot of time gets wasted when queuing at the boarding gate, preparing for take off and landing as well as getting off the plane. Keeping an iPod handy would make these idle periods much more pleasurable if you listen to some good music, or in my case, audiobooks. 8. Pen and paper.
Sitting on your own for 11 hours at a time is sure to give birth to some interesting ideas, so write them down! At the very least, having a pen will ensure you fill out your international arrival and customs forms en route.

9. Anti-jet lag pills.
Crossing 9 time zones in one day can really mess with your body’s internal rhythms. Taking an anti-jet lag remedy from your local pharmacy (in my case a tablet every 2 hours during the flight) might make a big improvement to those whose systems are wrecked after a long flight. (Side note: I actually forgot my anti-jet lag pills for this trip, so I’m hoping that they were just placebos anyway). 10. iPad.
If you have one, the iPad is a must to take on flights. It allows you to easily read documents and ebooks, and get plenty of writing and note taking done. This entire blog post was written on my iPad. The long battery life (your laptop battery will die after 2 hours) and small form factor (your laptop is uncomfortable to use in such cramped quarters) make the iPad ideal for air travel. Check back to the photo at the top of this post.

I hope that this list gives you some ideas for your next long distance flight. It will improve the experience, promise.
What do you think of this list? What do you take on board the plane that makes your flight better?