Now, it's fair to assume that you're reading this guide before the actual day you take off, so here's something to do in the days before you leave:
Screw up your sleep schedule as much as you can while you're still at home.
The closer to nocturnal you are, the better off you'll be. If you can manage to stay up until 6:00 or 7:00 AM (US time), you'll be in good shape to fit with the Japanese clock as soon as you hit the ground.
Now, once your actual flight day arrives, there are lots tricks that will make your life easier in the airport and on the plane. We'll start with the airport, where there are three potential hazards:
- Security. Your goal is to get through security like a mouse running through a house: quietly and sticking out as little as possible. You'll have an easier time if you follow the packing guide, because one bag packed properly is really easy to get through security without undoing and redoing all your careful work. For more details on making security easy, read Wired Magazine's how-to guide.
- Expensive food. I suck it up and pay out the ear for food, and it's for psychological reasons. It's a good way to pass time while you're waiting, and a satisfied you will be in a better mental state for the long flight ahead. Eat things that you know won't cause trouble for your stomach. Also, grab some extra snacks, like bananas and cookies, and take them on the plane. Don't rely on airplane food.
- Delays. Delays can happen, and sometimes they get extreme. If strange things happen, don't cancel your trip and go home. A delay may be a rare thing for you, but it's everyday business for the airline. Let the airline work out its problems, but don't be afraid to speak up if you're about to be stranded. FlyerTalk has a vague guide to help you manage your expectations. Just relax and try to enjoy the downtime.
Made it this far? Congratulations, your plane is on its way! Time to begin your journey into Airplane Yoga.
The truth is, a 10-hour-plus flight in coach is actually a war between you and insanity. So, we're going to clear your mind with Airplane Yoga. It has five major principles:
- Stretch your legs every hour. It wouldn't be Yoga without stretching, right? Sitting still for several hours will leave your legs very twitchy. Every hour, find some space and stretch your hamstrings and your quads. If you annoy your seatmates, too bad for them. You're a pro traveler, and with that comes the responsibility to stay loose.
- Don't drink alcohol. It's tempting to be able to get loopy off of one or two drinks, but abstain. Alcohol exhausts your body, and your body is already under lots of stress from an uncomfortable seat, the weird pressurized cabin, lack of nutrition from airplane food, and tons of germs.
- Don't drink caffeine. At all. For the same reasons that you shouldn't drink alcohol, you should avoid all caffeine, even tea or soda. If one or two drinks can make you tipsy, one soda can leave you tweeked out on caffeine, which means you won't be able to sit still, which will make you much more twitchy and uncomfortable for what will feel like a very long time.
- Drink orange juice. Your stressed-out body needs nutrients, and OJ encourages you to go to the bathroom, which means you can get up and stretch.
- Focus on remaining calm. If ever you begin to think "I can't sit here like this anymore!" you should try to cancel that thought from your mind. Distractions like in-flight movies and sleep are good for keeping your mind clear and achieving coach-class nirvana.
There is one shortcut in Airplane Yoga: noise-canceling headphones. Airplane engines are very loud, and the constant noise is tiring for your brain. A good pair of noise-canceling headphones, the kind that cost $200 or more, do work as advertised. That's why airlines offer them for free in Business Class. I use Bose QuietComfort headphones. They've let me relax on every flight I've been on, and I've often stepped off of international flights feeling just fine.
The flight is over! You've landed in Japan, and your adventure can truly begin. We'll start with a couple things to do before you leave the airport.