The truth about sleeping on a plane and how we got on the Great Wall of China

Experimental Selfie before take off.

Experimental Selfie before take off.

Sleeping on a Plane

I follow @JohnnyJet on Twitter.  He offers travel tips and ways to save money on travel. I have appreciated many of his suggestions, except for a couple on this trip.  He tweeted  his views on how to sleep on a plane.  They made so much sense as I read them.  Bring slippers or cozy socks.  He talked about business travellers changing into pajamas for the flight, then changing back into their suit just before arriving.  He shared his views on using a sleep aid like melatonin as something that might make you too dopey in case of an emergency.  Since we had a 12 hour flight from San Francisco to Beijing that left at 1:30 am, I was so ready to try all of these ideas.

Now I have to say that the suggestion to have noise cancelling headphones was fantastic.  I found some Bose comfort 20 in ear headphones.  They were expensive at $279 but I can use them for everyday music listening and they really did cancel the engine noise on the plane.  This plane still used the double holes for the headphone plug.  Bring an adapter if you have one.

I also brought a neck pillow.  It’s old but it clips onto my day pack and is filled with little beads.  I saw some at the airport that were inflatable that would take up less space, but I haven’t tried them for effectiveness.  A light neck scarf helped me when the temperature fluctuated on the plane.  Air China provided us with a small pillow, that I kept in the small of my back, and a blanket. I had brought a pashmina to use as a blanket or to pad the armrest, and it would do double duty as a wrap in Thailand if I had to sit in air conditioning too long.

The cozy socks were an epic fail.  I did take my shoes off, but once the plane takes off,  you can’t get at your feet to put anything else on.  Maybe passengers in business class can manage it, but I couldn’t.

The thing I would add is to put all of your sleep-on-the- plane items in one mesh or plastic bag.  You can then pull everything out and leave it under your seat while your carry on or day pack goes in the overhead bin. Otherwise, 12 hours is a long time to sit with a big bag stuffed in the little place where your feet are supposed to go.

We sat in a window and middle seat so one could lean against the wall, as recommended, but our aisle seatmate fell asleep at takeoff and awoke 8 hours later.  He didn’t drink a single thing on the plane and never had to get up to use the bathroom.  I hate to wake someone up, but there is no way to get out of an economy row otherwise.  Getting out to change from pajamas to clothes would be right out of the question. We are sitting in the 2 aisle seats in the center section when we return, which should solve that problem.  Even 2 seats together in the center section gives you 2 options to exit for a stretch.

And lastly, take a full water bottle.  Those little cups they serve don’t hold nearly enough to keep you hydrated for your adventures, even if you do have to get up and use the washroom as a result.  I must admit, however, that I did sleep for about 6 hours of the flight.  They served dinner at about 3:30 am but I had a pretty decent nap after that.

Our plane took off for Beijing on time and I was surprised at the flight path.  It followed the coast of North America, crossed over the Aleutian Islands and flew through Russia to China.  I guess it is shorter over the northern part of the globe and this route was reassuring as we were always fairly close to land.

Going to Beijing

I know you have been wondering why we flew to Beijing on our way to Chiang Mai.  It is story on its own, but I have other stories ready that come later so I am combining this one with the flight.  The main idea is that you just never know how things will turn out when you talk to people.

We met Michael and Grace in September in Kicking Horse campground near Field, BC. They were from Beijing and were camping for the first time ever  Their stove and fuel bottle didn’t match so they wanted to cook over the fire.  The problem was wet wood, no ax and no fire building skills.  Grace saw our fire and came to borrow our ax.  The way she picked it up showed definite inexperience so Peter-Bachelor of Phys. Ed. in Outdoor Pursuits- offered to help. Grace had stumbled upon the best fire maker in the campground  They enjoyed the fire but cooked their meal on our back up stove, which we sent with them for the remainder of their trip through the Rockies and all the way to Yellowstone.

They returned the favor by cooking us a Chinese breakfast the next morning.  We had fried eggs with soy/fish sauce, smoky pork sausages, pickled kelp and noodle soup, which isn’t breakfast food usually but it was on this day.  When we explained our plans to travel to Thailand, they invited us to visit if we came to Beijing.

The most suitable flight for us from San Francisco included a 13 hour layover in Beijing, China.  I thought that was enough time to either sleep or go out and do something. You can book tours to the Great Wall from the airport.  I emailed Michael and Grace to see if this was the best use of our time and they offered to pick us up and take us there themselves.  That is how we got a personal tour of the Great Wall of China on our way to Thailand and that is the subject of my next blog.

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