Tips For Traveling
As the NAMI convention approaches in June, I’ve decided to devote a blog entry to tips for healthy traveling, as well as common etiquette guides for tipping the people who serve to make your travel experience carefree. Lastly, I’ll give you some practical matters to consider.
First, here are “10 Tips for Healthy Traveling,” taken from the SchizophreniaConnection bookmarks I’ll be handing out to conference-goers:
Start the day with whole-grain cereal/oatmeal and a glass of orange juice (OJ helps boost your immune system for crowded flights).
Minimize sodium and alcohol. If you do drink alcohol, make sure you stay hydrated.
Bring a bottle of water with you when you travel. Dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches and irritability and you’re already at risk for all three in a hectic day of traveling.
Don’t eat flight snacks just because you’re bored. Prevent taking in unnecessary calories by waiting until you’re hungry.
Search out healthier food options like sandwiches, salads and yogurt at the airport.
If you opt for a salad, include some kind of protein (chicken, turkey, or eggs).
Cut down on calories by using mustards, no mayo, on your sandwiches and by skipping rolls and dessert that come in a flight’s meal.
Call your airline early to request special meals (some have healthier options).
Don’t depend on high-sodium pretzels and crackers for snacks. Pack trail mix (peanuts, almonds, raisins, other dried fruits).
Yogurt, cheese and crackers with an apple or a Mediterranean selection of olives are health snacks to take on the plane.
What I do when I’m traveling long distances on planes or trains:
My favorite healthful option is to buy power bars for snacks on the days I’m sightseeing or involved in a whirlwind of activities, also for the train or plane ride. Remember, though, not all power bars are created equal. Steer clear of tempting-sounding bars that contain food dyes, sucralose or added or artificial sugars and preservatives. Two winners: Clif bars, which have 5 gm of fiber and 250 mg calcium, and Luna bars, also high in calcium and protein. Even at home, every so often on the weekend I find a Clif bar and a glass of skim milk can stand in for lunch.
What I like to do, when traveling, rather than buy food on board, is to go the night before to a local Starbuck’s and buy a turkey sandwich to store in my carry-on. I refrigerate it overnight and take it out in the morning. A banana is great, too, because it has potassium and a medium banana has 5 gm fiber, which will keep you full and curb your hunger, making it virtually impossible to reach for anything unhealthful later on.
Now, it’s time to talk about traveling guidelines unique to people diagnosed with schizophrenia, as well as any of us who also need reasonable accommodations while in transit. I checked around with some friends who are frequent travelers, and they gave some good suggestions.
Drink plenty of water. Carry your medication in your carry-on bag. Suitcases do get lost. Get up from your seat every hour and walk the aisle, to prevent blood clots. Ask the flight attendant for a cup of water on each walk-through. Take a nap instead of watching the movie, to arrive well-rested. Get enough sleep, because if you stay awake it could trigger a manic or other episode if you’re vulnerable to that.
Take your medications at the times you would normally take them. Flights to Europe often leave at night, so if you take your pills at night and in the morning, take one before you flight, and on the plane just before you arrive in the morning. Place your meds in a 7-day pill box before you leave so you don’t have to fumble with the bottles on a plane, possibly spilling out the pills.
Make sure you have your passport, and renew it early if it’s about to expire. You can download the forms at www. http://www.travel.state.gov/passport/forms/forms_841.html. Don’t travel alone internationally, especially if you have a medical condition.
When making your reservations (on the phone, with the carrier), that’s the time to request reasonable accommodations. He explains he walks with a cane so needs an aisle seat at the bulkhead, the first row in coach so he can stretch his legs out. At that time, he also asks that a wheelchair be made available in the airport when he picks up his tickets. (There is often an extra charge for these services, so that is why you call directly to make the reservations.)
When he receives the e-mail confirmation with his flight information, he prints it up to take to the airport. He arrives early to the ticket counter because it could take twenty minutes for the wheelchair to be sent. It’s a standing order on his ticket, and they usually notice his cane, but if necessary, he reminds the agent to call up for the chair.
An attendant will be paged to bring the wheelchair and wheel him out and through the gate. [He tips the person five dollars.] Usually, if you’re in a chair, and you go through security, you bypass the long lines and go over to a separate place to be let in. They do check your shoes and you go through security; however, it’s not as big a hassle.
A lot of times, rather than wheel him to a faraway gate, once he gets past the security check, there’s invariably carts-like golf carts they drive around-and he’ll be picked up along with other passengers. [Again, a five dollar tip for the cart driver is customary.]
He orders up a town car at the airport to avoid the long lines for a cab. It’s more expensive, but the drivers will handle your bags and be attentive if you’re a regular customer.
George tends to be a big tipper because, “It’s the safest thing to do in New York, and the smartest thing.”
On that note, let’s talk about tipping the people who make your travel a comfortable, memorable and enjoyable experience.
Taxi or limousine driver: 15-20% of the total fare.
Wait staff: 15-20% of the bill, excluding tax.
For many years, I didn’t realize until it was pointed out to me that you calculate the tip based on the figure on the check before the tax was added. My friend and I, veteran travelers, simply take the total bill and multiple it by 20 percent. In all my times dining out, either at home or away, I’m never experienced such poor or rude service that I gave anything less. Those guys and gals work hard for their money.
Porter/Doorman: $1 to $2 per bag they help you with, and more if it is very heavy. Tip the same if the doorman hails you a cab when you’re coming and going.
Room Service: Most hotels include a gratuity of 12-15% in the price of your order (check the menu).
Tipping extra is OK, though, if the person delivering the order sets up the meal and gives extraordinary service. Room service tips are generally “pooled,” that is, shared between everyone. If you tip your delivery person extra, he or she can keep it for him or herself.
Maids/Housekeeping Staff: $1-$5 per night.
It takes five minutes to get this right. I suggest bringing a supply of envelopes equal to the number of nights you’re staying at the hotel, in case the reception area doesn’t provide hotel envelopes. Mark your tip clearly, such as “Chambermaid,” and leave it where it will be seen, on the television, a pillow or on the bathroom counter.
One thing I did not know: tip every morning, not at the end of your stay, as you might not get the same maid every time. A caveat: it’s recommended not to tip for poor service; however, this has to be one of the worst jobs in the world (cleaning up after people in hotels), so consider leaving a tip but reducing it if you’re not satisfied with the service the maid is providing.
Suggestions: Leave a tip in cash, don’t give spare change. If you don’t have an envelope, use the hotel stationery or a blank piece of paper, wrap the money in it, and label it appropriately. Leaving cash out in the open won’t do the trick, as the hotel maid has to be very careful about taking anything from your room.
At all times, remember the purpose of the acronym TIP: To Insure Promptness.
Lastly, some practical considerations before I’ll send you on your merry way:
Buy batteries and disposable cameras at home, because at tourist traps such necessities have a high markup. I remember wanting to photograph the flamingos-beautiful flamingos-at the San Diego Zoo last year. A strategic camera stand right next to the flamingos sold disposables. The catch? Each one cost twenty bucks. Better yet, bring a digital camera if you have one.
Travel with a cell phone, and if you don’t have one, borrow it from someone who trusts you not to abuse the privilege. I ordinarily use my mother’s cell phone, and call her as soon as I arrive at the hotel to let her know I’m okay. Give someone your itinerary, flight or train numbers, and name and phone number of the hotel so your loved ones are aware of your whereabouts.
Having a cell phone can come in handy if your flight is canceled or delayed. Because everyone else’s instinct will be to head to the ticket booth to reschedule, if you have your carrier’s phone number programmed into your cell, you can call up to reschedule and avoid the long lines. When my friend Merry did this, she got a flight the next morning, as opposed to the people who were shut out.
Download classical or other soothing music to your iPod or MP3 player to listen to in transit, if that’s your cup of tea, or other favorite tunes to relax by. Use a portable iPod charger so you can charge it in your hotel room and have enough song power for the return trip.
Be aware of your surroundings in an unfamiliar city. Research the local subway and buses, museums and restaurants on the Internet before you go, and print up the information to take with you. There’s a tendency to be friendlier when one is traveling.
Again, be safe. Keep your personal information private.
If you withdraw money from an ATM, place it in your wallet and secure your wallet on your person before you turn to leave the ATM. Banks like Citibank have a WorldWallet service that can convert U.S. dollars into the major local currencies before you arrive at your destination. You simply pick up the new money at the bank in advance of your departure.
Budget in for a tee shirt or other souvenir.
Have fun and enjoy your trip
Christina Bruni wrote about schizophrenia for HealthCentral as a Patient Expert. She is a mental health activist and freelance journalist.