flying

How to make flying to Europe in the summer make sense

Some friends of mine asked me the other day about flying to Europe in summer and I realized I’d not yet written anything about that. The short answer is: No. Don’t go. You should not go to Europe in midsummer.  Between June and August, Europe is overrun with tourists, and everything is more crowded, expensive and not as nice The weather can be either drearily wet or annoyingly hot and humid. That’s the sad truth to the thing, but if for some reason you find you have to go then, there are things you can do that will make it a lot easier to deal with.

Graveyard at the Rock of Cashel, Tipperary, Ireland.

 

1. Do not fly into a major hub. The horror. Do not fly directly into Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle or Rome. No. Stop. Go back. Fly into lesser known airports like Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Oslo, Zurich and continue from there.

2 Fly on off-days. If possible, always fly on a Tues, Wed or Friday. Those days are usually much cheaper than weekends and you’ll benefit from having slightly less crazy connections in whatever airport you are flying through.

Russia. St. Petersburg. Tour boat and the Church on Spilled Blood

3. Keep an eye open for Business-class fare sales. Business travel wanes during the summer and there are often really good business-class fare sales that bring down the cost of a business class flight to the same as coach. So you’ll still be spending the money, but enjoying a much more leisurely and enjoyable flight.

4. Take advantage of Iceland Air’s stopover program. For little more than regular coach fare in Economy you can fly via Iceland to almost anywhere in Europe. So on top of whatever you were planning on doing in mainland Europe, you can spend a few days coming or going in Iceland, hiking among waterfalls, viewing glaciers and enjoying some endless twilight evenings.

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5.  Suck it up and pay. You know what? You can’t always get a deal, and that’s okay. Your comfort and sanity is worth more than having a convoluted 2-stop itinerary to France with long layovers and many opportunities for missed connections and luggage gone AWOL. But if you do pay full-fare economy, make it count. From the western US, a round trip economy flight to Europe gets you nearly half way to the 25K miles needed for a round trip domestic economy award flight (make sure the flight code of your flight earns 100% miles, which for full fare economy it probably will), so choose carefully. Fly on an airline for which your home airport is a hub – look into flying their partner airlines and crediting the miles to your main domestic account.  Also, try not to have connections within the US (summer thunderstorms often cause delays). So make your first flight nonstop to Europe and connect within Europe from there. Whatever you do, a 9am flight leaving Saturday is the one flight to NOT take. It will be a zoo.

You’ll notice the one thing I did not suggest here was to use miles. You can, but you have to be clever, persistent and flexible to get that to work. Everyone wants to use their miles to do two things: Europe in summer and Hawaii any time. Don’t fall into the trap of being one of them.

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Packing 101: Make Your Own Amenity Kit

One of the things that people love about flying business or first class, aside from the gigantic seats and free-flowing liquor, is that the airlines fuss over them. Give them freebies. Think of all the little necessities. Like an amenity kit.

Well, you can so this too. A bit of planning, a few minutes in the drugstore, and you can make your own amenity kit that will make flying that little bit easier.

The real benefit these little kits give you, aside from the goodies inside, is a convenient place to put them so you know exactly where to find the thing you need, so that you don’t have to rummage around for 10 minutes trying to find your gum or whatever. I keep mine in my under-seat bag just so I get at anything I want even when we’re trapped in our seats by takeoff or landing.

I use a small orange mesh bag primarily cause the color makes it easy to find inside a larger dark bag, and the mesh makes it easier to find things inside in a potentially dark airplane cabin.

Amenity Kit

Here’s what I take:

– A small pen. Anytime you fly overseas, you’re going to have to fill out a customs form (if not other things) on arrival. If you have a pen handy, you never have to borrow one off your seatmate or worse, wait until you land to fill it out.

– Lip balm. To be honest, the only two things I really need to fly are a book and some lip balm. Flying is dehydrating, so I always end up with chapped lips.

-Face cleaner.  Flying long haul always makes me feel grubby. I used to bring along a tiny bottle of regular face cleaner, but that has the added complication of being a dreaded liquid, as well as then requiring water and then drying your face on stiff rough hand towels. So I recently came across small face cleaner wipes and they really do a good job of cleaning your face without leaving you feeling sticky.

 

Face cleaner

-Antibacterial gel – you saw that report that came out about how dirty seat back pockets are. Eeeeuw. Get a tiny bottle. I usually just leave it in this main bag without separating it with my other liquids; they’ve yet to catch me and seize it but your mileage may vary.

-Toothbrush/toothpaste. You can buy cheap foldable toothbrushes online which I like cause they fit in a small bag (and protect the bristles from getting stuff caught in them). I bought about 6 of these the last time I stocked up. For toothpaste, I always have a few “almost finished” mini-tubes from prior trips that I bring along in my amenity kit so that I’m not carrying the whole thing and then can toss it when done.

-Ear plugs. Ear plugs. Ear plugs. Do not travel with out them. Several of them in fact, so that if you lose a pair or two you’re still okay. From the roar of a jet engine to that baby that won’t stop screaming to that unexpected all-night wedding party happening outside your Indian hotel…. you get the idea. Just buy them in bulk. Ever since I found the incredibly garish hot pink ones, those are the one’s I’ve bought. They’re much easier to locate in the folds of the sheets when they’ve popped out of your ears.

-Eye mask. The first time I went to very northern Europe in midsummer I just happened to bring along a thin, cheap eyemask that I had gotten in an amenity kit from a previous trip to Asia. It was a lifesaver. I used it every night and would have been lost with out it. It was hard enough to buy headache medicine in Russia, I cannot imagine trying to mime “eye mask” to the lady at the chemists. My favorite style is the kind that has a bumped-out eye area that makes it so that you can comfortably open your eyes with it on. I usually keep it in a pocket on the carrying case for my noise-cancelling headphones intead of in the mesh bag itself. A little container of lotion oozed out a bit once and got all over it; that was not pretty.

Eye mask

-Medicines: depending on where you’re going this could just be a few Advil; on a longer flight where you want to get some sleep this could include Benadryl (my secret weapon sleeping pill), real sleeping pills, immodium, pepto bismol, heartburn medicine, migraine medicine, etc. Just a couple pills of each in a small pill box can be a lifesaver.

-Face moisturizer: I usually pack whatever free sample I have so sometimes decant something into a smaller screw-top container.

-Sunscreen: If you’re landing somewhere especially sunny, it’s a good idea to pack some so that you can apply it after your pre-arrival face washing is done. I often use free samples for this too — any SPF 20 will do, you just need to get something on there.

– Hand cream: Usually the richer the better, my hands get so dry and messed up when I fly that it’s always a relief to get some lotion on there.

-Emery board: For whatever reason every single time I fly I manage to tear an edge of a nail, or get it caught on something, then spend the next 10 hours getting more and more irritated by that little snag. Solution? An emery board (or part of one). At some hotel recently they had a package of cotton balls and such that included a little miniature one. Perfect for flying.

Other things to consider adding: Gum if you have air pressure issues in your ears. Mints. An energy bar. A tiny bottle of hot sauce (if you need to spice up that airline meal), floss (get the dentist to give you those tiny disks of Glide the next time you get your teeth cleaned).

Once you have this kit put together, all you need to do when packing is figure out what needs to be replaced or refilled. It’s always there in your little mesh bag, ready to go.

Bonus carry on items:

Water bottle: Airports are increasingly likely to have stations where you can fill up your own water bottle with filtered water on the other side of security. This is great if you don’t want to spend $3.50 on a bottle of water.

Noise-canceling headphones: I’m somewhat torn on these. I have the large over-ear ones, and while you can’t really sleep in them, they do a good job of blocking out some of the white noise engine roar and make it a lot easier to understand the conversation happening in the inflight movies (I’m also somewhat hard of hearing, so normally miss a lot of this with all the background noise on the plane).

Do you have any must-have carry on items you always bring on long flights?