Monday, May 25, 2009

Camp Site Beta: COMPROMISED?

Through some clever online detective work, a reader reports that he has found Camp Site Beta - the area of native land in San Diego County where I have been sleeping off and on for almost four months (when I'm not traveling elsewhere). Based on the clues in previous blog entries and photo albums, he found the location of my campsite in a couple of hours of online research. He sent me the lat./long. coordinates, and he is dead-on accurate!

He is worried, however, that if he could find it, others can to:
I do have some concerns, however, about those clues being misused by others reading your blog. It seemed way too easy for me to find your location and I'm sure others, with more experience in wayfinding, topographic maps and navigation, will find it as well. Those others may not be the kind of people you would want wandering around your bedroom under the stars. I have known homeless guys, especially former military, who were very smart and resourceful especially about things like camping and navigation. Some of them were also unstable and could be violent. Anyone searching Google for "homeless" and "San Diego" now will come across your blog and could potentially find your camp site with just a couple of hours of online searching.
Naw, no worries! I realized that I was giving away clues when I published those photos and that someone with enough time and smarts could probably figure it out, but that's a lot different than me directly saying where it is. To begin with, there's those two hours of research someone has to do: That's the first price of admission. Most people simply don't have the time or motivation. Sure, a Special Forces guy could follow the clues and kill me in my sleep, but, Christ!, a Special Forces guy could probably find me and kill me anywhere. The question is, Why would he want to? My known enemy list dropped to zero after my divorce was finalized.

Yes, some homeless people can be violent or untrustworthy. They've got issues. That's why I stay away from all of them. Fortunately, your average homeless guy, even the military vet, is not a big internet user. If he gets a chance to use a computer for a hour at the public library, he's going straight for the porn, not looking me up so he can hunt me down.

I also recognized from the beginning that camping on this land was probably illegal. In an urban area like this, it would have to be. But "legal" or "illegal" doesn't mean a lot in practical terms. We all do illegal things every day, like driving one MPH above the speed limit, but that doesn't necessarily mean we are going to be caught and prosecuted. To attract enforcement, an offense has to rise to the level of a visible public nuisance or public safety issue; otherwise, police have better things to do.

I direct the reader to my earlier entry, Free Sleeping and the Law. What is law anyway? It is a written rule to address some past social problem. There are "No Camping" regulations on the books because at some time in the past there were abuses. If you formally "let" someone camp on community property, they are likely to stay there indefinitely and make a mess of the place. When a problem becomes visible, the law is a tool police can use to address it. That doesn't mean, though, that law enforcement is going to actively search for illegal campers or enforce the law when there isn't a visible problem. It's like driving 1 MPH above the speed limit: No one really cares.

Law always comes down to two components: written law and actual enforcement. One isn't meaningful without the other. Legislators can put anything they want into a written law, but they rarely give law enforcement any addition funds to implement it. It sounds ironic, but no law can force police to enforce the law. They still follow their own selective agenda, and busting invisible campers isn't high on it.

Most people are good citizens, and if you tell them something is illegal or put up a sign to that effect, they will obey. To them, the law is a commandment issued by God, not by buffoons in the legislature. Only miscreants like myself and your average lawyer are going to look beyond the statement of law and ask, "But what does this really mean in practice?"

In practice, a "No camping" law really only mean, "Don't get caught camping." In other words, don't make a nuisance of yourself to the point where someone complains and the police have no choice but step in. Life is like that in a lot of areas. If you stand up and say, "Hey, look at me, I'm breaking the law!" you're going to attract attention, but if you quietly do what you want without making many ripples, you can get away with a lot.

And I don't mean "getting away with" in an irresponsible sense. I am a very responsible camper. I go to Camp Site Beta only after dark, sleep, then leave around dawn. I am light on the land and leave no visible signs of my presence. I carry out all of my trash.

The law is a blunt instrument that can't make accommodations for subtle cases like mine, so as long as enforcement gives me wiggle room, I will make my own choices about right and wrong.

In practical terms, I am also protected by all the thousands of visible mentally ill homeless people in San Diego County. These are the ones who make the huge messes wherever they camp. Before any authority is going to hunt me down in my secret camping spot, a stiff quarter-mile climb up a hillside, they first have to address the homeless in plain view camped on virtually every block of vacant land between here and downtown. But the law can't touch them! You can't fine someone who has no money, and you can't throw the homeless in jail unless you want your jails to become your prohibitively expensive homeless shelters. So the enforcement component of the law just leaves them alone. That means that as long as I watch my manners and remain invisible, they will leave me alone, too.

But what if this blog catches on and inspires thousands to abandon their homes and follow the glorious Free Sleeping lifestyle? And what if they all decide to live at Camp Site Beta? Won't that attract enforcement and spoil the site for me and everyone else?

That's the age-old argument used by mothers everywhere: "What if everyone decided to do what you're doing? Where would we be then?" The fact is, if you live life by your own rules, the chances of colliding with someone else doing the same thing are depressingly low, even with an audience of millions.

In past lives, I have had a lot of experience with publicity, and I find there's a huge attenuation effect between consuming a media product and actually taking action in the real world. For example, I recently appeared in a TV documentary about Area 51. Six million people saw the show, but only a few hundred hit my related website because of it. At most, I got only about 1000 fleeting hits on my website from those 6,000,000 dimwit viewers. Of those 1000, maybe 2 people actively contacted me as a direct result of the show.

So I have no great fear that this blog, which gets a relatively trivial number of hits each day, is ever going to take off to the point where it changes the actual homeless dynamic in this country, let alone at Camp Site Beta. Only Oprah could give me those kind of numbers, and Oprah isn't returning my calls.

©2009, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173.
Released from a secret undisclosed location.
You are welcome to comment on this entry below.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Speaking the Local Language: Not Required

I hardly speak a word of German, but this in no way hindered my visit to Frankfurt. Since English has Germanic roots, I can decode some written German and most of the critical instructions on signs. In a pinch, I could probably produce a few simple words like "ja" und "nein", but I rarely attempt to use them. Why not? It creates too much confusion. The local speaker's English is almost always better than my German/French/Italian/Spanish, so I want to make it immediately clear what language I'm best at.

The key to language survival in Europe: Speak English! Just clear, slow, simple English. You should attempt the foreign language only if English doesn't work. Don't believe that bullshit from your French teacher that locals appreciate you trying to speak their language even if you do it poorly. What people appreciate most of all is lack of ambiguity.

It may be embarrassing to stumble along in a foreign language, but here's something that's even more embarrassing: You stumble along in a foreign language, wasting everyone's time, only to find that your listener speaks perfect English anyway.

In my new on-line language course (coming as soon as I can find funding), I will teach you how to order things in any foreign country and usually get what you want. For example, here is how to order a Big Mac™ in Paris: "Could I have a Big Mac please." Chances are, your order taker will speak enough English or universal sign language to guide you through the process.

Although I do speak a little French, I have often been tripped up by trying to order food or ask questions in that language. The order taker assumes I speak perfect French, rattles off options faster than I can process them, and the encounter quickly degenerates into chaos. That rarely happens when I try English first.

Not knowing the local language is rarely a burden when traveling on well-worn tourist trails. English is spoken by nearly everyone who deals with the traveling public, and nearly every citizen has had some English in school. Remember that all the worldwide pop stars sing in English, so some of it ought to have filtered through.

In polyglot Europe, most critical signage is in universal pictograph form: male and female figures for restrooms, etc. It also helps to have done your research and to know where you are going, so you don't need to ask for directions.

When you pass someone in the street, say "Hello," and when you have to squeeze by them on the train, say "Excuse me," even if you know the local phrases. It's just a way of making your identity clear.

If you encounter a situation where you are unable to make your wishes known using English, you can try some local words, but at least then it's clear that you're a novice, and your listener will probably slow down to your pace.

So how are you going to learn the language if you don't try to speak it. My theory is that you should start with the written language and listening to other people speak. When you can both read a newspaper and understand most of what is being said on TV, you are ready to start speaking. I know it's a pretty high threshold to cross, and you might never get there. The fact is, it is pretty hard to learn a foreign language when you're not exposed to it on a regular basis. If you live in Detroit and are struggling to speak Swedish, at a certain point you have to ask yourself, "Is this really worth the effort?" If, on the other hand, you live in a multicultural neighborhood where half the kids speak Spanish, you are probably going to pick it up fairly quickly.

I have no confidence in any class or software package to teach you a foreign language. The one thing these programs can't provide is motivation. If you're in Detroit trying to learn Swedish via Rosetta Stone™, you're probably still going to give it up eventually. No software package is going to help you when learning the language doesn't make much sense to begin with.

Personally, I am constantly studying foreign languages, but not to speak. I find that the greatest benefit of foreign language exposure is what it teaches me about my own. I feel that my own writing in English has been enhanced by my study of French and other languages. It makes me see that other sentence structures are possible, and it sometimes gives me access to English words and phrases that I might not otherwise use. My pride, however, still lies in English--in thoroughly understanding my own language not someone else's.

If you had a 1000 years to live, you might learn every language on the planet, but you don't, so you have to focus on your native talents and on what is important to learn in your limited time left.

If you are truly fluent in a language, by all means speak it, but if you aren't, don't try to fake it. Just be yourself!

©2009, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173.
Released from Wilson, North Carolina.
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Friday, May 15, 2009

Free Sleeping in Frankfurt, Germany

After I got kicked out of Bermuda, I flew back to my hub airport and picked a destination pretty much at random off the Big Board: Frankfurt, Germany. I had never been there before, and the taxes I would pay were relatively low ($58 round-trip). The overnight flight wasn't leaving for about 3 hours, so I had a little time to do some on-line research.

There were no hostel beds in Frankfurt at the time (and only two hostels listed on HostelWorld™), but Frankfurt had several critical amenities to make up for it: (1) the airport was surrounded by the Frankfurt City Forest (Wikipedia), a vast tract of primeval land where I knew I could camp undetected; (2) the weather forecast was good (with only a hint of rain), and (3) The train from the airport to the city was relatively cheap: €3.70 (about $5). I still had my tent and sleeping bag from my aborted Bermuda trip, so I was ready for anything. Furthermore, I knew that I could get into Germany with hardly a raised eyebrow. No one was going to interrogate me about about my sleeping plans or whether I expected to leave vast amounts of money behind in their country. Germany was a real country, not a wimpy little girlie-man country like certain others.

The 8-hour flight was uneventful. Although the plane was nearly full, I used my airplane sleeping superpowers to get about five hours of sleep. Euro-customs, as anticipated, was a breeze. My passport was scanned and stamped without a single question asked. Less than a half hour after I landed, just before noon local time, I was out on the street in front of the terminal

Outside the terminal, my first order of business was to find a place to cache my bag with my tent and sleeping bag. I couldn't do much sightseeing while hauling it around, so I had to hide it somewhere. Most European airports have lockers or left-luggage offices where you can leave your bags for a fee, but the cost can be high and I'm so cheap that I never use them. Instead, I will just walk away from the airport until I find some dense bushes and hide my bags there. I cache only things that I can afford to lose (All of my valuable electronics and documentation remain on my back.) but the chance of anyone stumbling upon my bags is extremely low, especially in the generally human-free zones around airports.

In Frankfurt, I intended to head for the forest, but I was cut off from it by a freeway--like the Great Wall of China--that I couldn't initially find a way through. Instead, I left my bag in some bushes beside the freeway. This little strip of overgrown land was itself secure enough that I could camp here at night if I needed to. I still intended to find a more comfortable campsite in the evening, but my bag was safe for now.

I went back to the airport to find the train into the city. Along the way, I discovered a full-service supermarket in the bowels of the airport (Tegut™), near the regional train station. Not only was there every kind of high-quality grocery you might need (milk, fruit, fresh baked bread), but the prices were much lower than I would ever expect in Europe, let alone at an airport. (E.g. a liter of milk for €0.99--cheaper than the U.S.!) This supermarket could be a key to my survival should I ever decide to stay for an extended period. Since I can camp for as long as I want in the forest (with discretion), the supermarket means I could eat cheaply. The only other essentials I would need are WiFi™ and eventually a shower.

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the Frankfurt city center taking pictures. Frankfurt was more interesting than I expected. There were plenty of sterile new skyscrapers but also some older neighborhoods with a bit of character. My anchor points were the railway station and the river Main, a tributary of the Rhine. From the Hauptbahnhof, I wandered along the banks of the Main until I got to the older touristy parts of the city, then I walked back to the train station through downtown.

I headed back to the airport at around 6pm, but thanks to the long summer daylight, I still had plenty of time to find a campsite. (In the latitudes above 45 degrees, the sun seems to never goes down in the summer. You go to sleep in daylight and wake up in daylight.) After studying some maps at the train station, I figured out how to get through the Great Wall freeway to the forest: Take the Sky Line airport tram to Terminal 2, then walk straight out from the terminal and under the freeway. As soon as you are past the freeway, there is plenty of wooded land. In fact, I had to go only a few hundred yards beyond the freeway to find the secure and private camping spot shown above.

BTW: My tent and sleeping bag both came out of this single average-size duffel bag...

Although I have sometimes managed without it, the tent is desirable for protection from insects, rain, heavy dew at night and wind. Although these northern regions are nearly devoid of life in the winter, in the summer they turn into jungles. I didn't technically camp in the forest but on what looked like some rehabilitated industrial land. Here I could pitch my tent on grass, which gave me some natural padding. Once I had the tent set up at about 8pm, I still had plenty of light to explore some of the actual forest further from the airport, then I came back and slept a solid 9 hours in the tent (going to sleep in daylight, waking up in daylight).

Since this was only a 24 hour visit, I didn't have time to do much the next morning. I awoke at my leisure (not feeling the necessity to break camp before dawn), broke camp, cached my bag, then took the local train to Wiesbaden for a half-hour visit. Then I went back to my campsite for my cached bag and checked in for my flight in the nick of time.

On the flight back, I met the same cabin crew I saw on the flight out. It always amazes them when I say I stayed for only one day (since all they usually see is the hotel), but I find that you get the most from a new place within the first few hours. After that, if you don't have a specific purpose, the touring can get draining and repetitive. 24 hours makes a nice little recon mission, so when I come back later I can do it much more efficiently.

©2009, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173.
Released from Hometown Buffet™, Woodbridge, Virginia.
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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Free Sleeping in Bermuda -- ABORTED!

I have just been kicked out of my first country ever: Bermuda. (I was previously banned from Canada between 1995 and 2005 but never knew it at the time and was never actually ejected, but that's another story.)

Heard of it? Bermuda is a little quasi-country (a British territory) in the Atlantic Ocean about 2 hours east of South Carolina. Population: 65,000. It's not really a Caribbean Island, being too far north, but it has all the character of one.

Or so I understand. I spent only about two hours there today and never left the airport. I must say, Bermuda has some of the friendliest customs agents anywhere, but we both realized that the relationship wouldn't work out, so I got back on the same plane I flew in on and came back to the U.S.

I don't need Bermuda, and Bermuda doesn't need me. It was an amicable parting.

Turns out, Bermuda doesn't let foreigners enter their country without a confirmed hotel reservation. Hotel rooms start at about $150 a night plus tax—and that's the hard-to-get budget alternative. Given that my flight cost me only $55 r/t (as a furloughed airline employee) and $150 is more than I normally spend in a week for food and lodging, I chose to decline the offer and leave their country.

I knew the rules but planned to evade them. I never intended to pay for lodging in Bermuda. I was going to Free Sleep, but I got caught.

I had it all worked out. I had done my Google™ Earthing and had identified some wooded areas where I could probably camp undetected. I had studied the local transportation system and knew I could go anywhere on the island on a transit pass for about $12 a day. I knew there were people—approaching 65,000 of them—who managed to live in Bermuda for less than $150/day, so I planned to quietly join them for two nights. In my checked luggage, I had a backpackers tent and a light sleeping bag —which proved my undoing.

I knew that Bermuda didn't allow camping by foreigners and that a hotel reservation was required for admission. This is standard for most Caribbean islands. They want only rich visitors who waste lots of money, not poor ones like me who will take only photos and leave only footprints. I intended to evade these rules by pretending to have a reservation. On my customs entry form, I listed my lodging in Bermuda as one of those overwrought resorts I couldn't afford to stay at (and would never want to even if I could).

All would have gone perfectly to plan had I not made one fatal error: On the same customs form, it asked, among other things, whether I had any food with me. I checked "yes" because I did—some crackers and dried meat—figuring I might as well be honest about everything else apart from the hotel. Big mistake! Having answered "yes" to any of the questions on the form automatically subjected me to a full customs search. The tent and sleeping bag were revealed in my luggage, and I was gently questioned about my plans and the hotel I was staying at.

I readily admitted not having a reservation and that the hotel I had put on the form was "speculative". The customs officers, as I said, were unfailingly polite, and they were willing to work with me to obtain a room "within my budget." Unfortunately, that was $180/night at best, and my ticket had me staying for two nights. The agents asked if I had any credit cards, and I said yes, but that didn't mean I was going to pay $360+ for lodging. I politely asked to be placed back on the same plane I came off of.

Note: If something like this were to happen to you, the airline has to take you back where you came if you are rejected by customs. This sort of thing happens all the time. Things would have got interesting if the flight had been full, but it wasn't. An airline employee escorted me from the customs office back to the plane, which had a two-hour layover.

I want to point out that I, too, was unfailingly polite. I didn't tell the customs officers where to shove their piddling little "country." Nor did I tell them I could get a get a far better deal at a "real" country in Europe. I didn't shout: "I paid fifty-five fricking dollars for this trip and now you expect me to pay more?!"

Instead, I meekly departed, took the two hour flight stateside and selected another destination: Frankfurt, Germany. I know nothing about Frankfurt, and don't speak the language. I pretty much picked it off the schedule board at random. I'm about to board that flight now. The price for me is about the same: $58 round trip. I'll have only 24 hours there (since I have to get back to the U.S. for a work assignment), but I find that's plenty of time to get introduced to a new place.

Like Bermuda, Frankfurt has no hostels (unusual for a European city), and lodging rates are astronomical, but I still have my tent and sleeping bag with me. My online research reveals plenty of potential camping spots near the airport. Quite illegal, I'm sure, but since I camp only invisibly at night, I know I'll get away with it. Since I'm there for only 24 hours, I'll be fine with just a few hours of sleep. (As soon as I get off the plane, I'll find a spot, hide my bag, then come back after dark.) There's apparently a little rain in the air but looks like nothing I can't handle.

And I know they'll let me in. No place to stay? The issue won't even come up at customs.

Take that, Bermuda!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

How to Sleep on an Plane

By Glenn Campbell (updated Sept. 22, 2014)

For many travelers, the most dreaded part of traveling overseas is the overnight flight to get there. Sitting upright 8-20 hours crammed together with strangers is no one's idea of a good time. How do you sleep under conditions like this? For that matter, how do you sleep in a regular domestic overnight flight—the infamous red-eye?

I've had a lot of experience doing it, and I have it down to the science. If I am determined to sleep on a flight, I can almost always do it. It just requires some preparation and practice.

Below is my advice for making the best of a bad situation. My advice comes in sections:
  1. Seat Selection
  2. Equipment
  3. In-Flight Technique.
Seat Selection

You can greatly improve your red-eye experience by choosing a good sleeping seat. Although seating may not always be within your control, it is worth the effort to try.

The dumb and easy way to tackle an overnight flight is to fly First Class. The seats are bigger up there; they usually recline more, and they often have footrests. Sometimes they even stretch out into flat beds. But how much more are you willing to pay for these modest amenities? $500? $3000? If you have the money and that's how you want to spend it, be my guest, but that's a lot to shell out for what might be only a marginal improvement in comfort. Furthermore, if the plane isn't full, a First Class seat might not be the most comfortable sleeping accommodations on the plane. I have been on many flights where First Class has been packed full while coach has been wide open, meaning that the suckers up front have paid heavily for the privilege of worse seats.

What are the best sleeping seats? Three seats to yourself in coach! That's Heaven if you can get it. With three seats, you can raise the arm rests, stretch out almost full length and sleep almost as soundly as a hotel bed. No one in traditional First Class can do that!

If you can't get three seats, the next best thing is two seats to yourself or an empty middle seat between you and the next passenger. On wide-body aircraft (like the Boeing 767 or Airbus 330) there are two seats alone against the windows. If you are limber (as I am), you might be able to curl up in the fetal position on those two seats and sleep as soundly as on three seats.

Granted, two or three seats to yourself may be like seeing a unicorn—a mythical beast you might not encounter in a lifetime. Still, you want to keep an eye on the current seating map of your flight to see if this might be possible. You can also try to choose a half-empty plane when you make your reservation, but that may be unrealistic. Major airlines let you check the seat map before buying a ticket, but if you buy your ticket in advance, you don't really know how full the place will be at the time of departure. In general, transatlantic flights tend to run very full, while transcontinental flight are more variable.

If you are traveling alone on a full flight, your best seat for sleeping is usually a window, so always choose one when you can. A window seat gives you a wall to lean against and a semi-enclosed nook all to yourself, with no one stumbling over you to use the restroom. You might also try for a window seat in the back of the aircraft, since the seats in the back tend to be a little less full than those in the front.

If you are a couple traveling together, you might want to choose a window seat and an aisle seat, leaving the middle seat open between you. Middle seats are always the last ones filled, so that seat may remain empty. If someone else ends up there, they would probably be willing to trade with one of you, so splitting up is usually a no-lose gamble.

You always want a seat that reclines. Nowadays, the recline in coach isn't much--maybe 6 inches or less, but this small angle can mean a big difference in comfort, keeping your head from falling forward when you sleep. The row immediately in front of an emergency exit may not recline, so you should avoid those seats.

The best seat in coach is usually an exit row seat that reclines, which would happen if there is no emergency exit behind you. In an exit row, you usually have plenty of leg room.

If you can't get a window, an aisle seat is best, so at least you can get up whenever you want and you have some empty space to one side of you.

If you find yourself with a dreaded middle seat, you always want to confirm with the gate agent that no other seats are available. Middle seats are bad news, but you can survive them if you have to.

If you can, you should check the online seat maps the day before your flight. You can also ask the gate agent how full the flight is when you check in for the flight. If you are aware of the seating configuration of the plane, you can always try to negotiate for a better seat before you get on. If you are stuck with a non-window seat, you should check with the gate agent less than 60 minutes before boarding (or 30 minutes domestically) to see if any passengers failed to check in.

Whether the aircraft is full will affect how you board the aircraft. If it's full, there's no sense in fighting your seating assignment: Just board whenever your assigned boarding group is called. However, if the plane has lots of unsold seats (or if you don't know how full it is), you should always try to be the last passenger to board. If you know you're the last, you can look around for empty seats that are better than the one you have. If you see such a seat, just take it, and if no one complains, it's yours!


Certain things you can bring with you will vastly improve your in-flight sleeping experience. They are given here from the most important to the least.

1) Warm clothing! This is by far the most important equipment, because if you are cold you won't be able to sleep. Regardless of the tropical destination you may be flying to, always travel in long pants, socks and a thick shirt with shoulders covered. You should also have a sweater or sweatshirt with you should you need it, and possibly a knit winter cap, since most heat is lost through your head (especially if one is hairless up there).

2) A light blanket. Some airlines now charge for blankets on domestic flights, but blankets are still provided free of change on long international flights. You may want to bring one with you to be sure. A thin airline-style blanket is usually sufficient, but without it you may be too cold to sleep.

3) Ear plugs. Foam ear plugs can be extremely useful to mute the safety announcements, engine noise and chatter of your fellow passengers. They work best when you stick them deep into your ear canal so they are barely visible. (It takes some practice.) I put them in at the beginning of the flight and don't take them out until the end (unless I am talking to someone).

4) Sleep mask. A sleep mask blocks out the ambient light and, more importantly, the annoying movies or TV shows playing around you. A sleep mask is available in the pharmacy section at Walmart for about $3, or you can pay $10 at the airport. If you don't have one, you try using something else, like a knit cap pulled down over your eyes. Although technically your eyelids should work, I find that an eye mask works a lot better to block out distractions to sleep.

5) A neck pillow or homemade equivalent. The standard square pillows provided by airlines are almost useless when sitting up, since they fall away when you sleep. Those "airline pillows" that wrap around your neck can sometimes be helpful. The aim is to prevent your head from falling over as you sleep. Not all wraparound pillows are created equal, however. Most of those sold in airports (probably including the one shown here) are simply too fat and bulky, especially behind your neck, where you don't want any padding. (You only need it between your head and shoulders. You probably want a relatively thin bean-bag or blow-up model, but you'll have to experiment to find out what works for you. One thing that sometime works for me: my own patented Knotted-Blanket-Pillow™: Hang an airline blanket around your neck like a scarf (or your jacket if you have one) then tie it in a big double knot against your neck. You use the knot as a pillow between your head and one of your shoulders. It looks funny, but it works!

6) Footrest. Whatever bag you put under the seat in front of you, it should be usable as a footrest. If you can raise your feet just a few inches, it can improve your comfort and reduce pooling of blood in your legs. (You want to make sure you don't have anything delicate in the bag that could be crushed.)

7) Aspirin. I always take two aspirin at the start of every long flight. Aspirin does two things: (1) It helps prevent muscular aches and pains due to the unusual sleep position, and (2) it prevents clotting in the legs when blood pools there (at least in theory). The main role of aspirin here is not as a pain-killer but as an antiinflammatory, helping to reduce mechanical problems before they happen.

In-Flight Technique

The main difficulty of sleeping in the sitting position is that blood tends to pool in your legs, which can be very uncomfortable after a couple of hours. There is some suggestion in the press that this increases the risk of a blood clots in the legs, but the aspirin should reduce this risk. It probably isn't healthy for your cardiovascular system to sleep sitting upright on a regular basis, but one night probably won't hurt you. The optimal sleep position is to raise your legs to almost the same level as your head, but if you can't do this you'll have to make do. At least recline your seat and raise your feet as far as possible.

Take your shoes off! It's much more comfortable, especially since your legs and feet tend to swell after a period of sitting up.

When the safety instructions tell you to fasten your seat belt "low and tight around your waist," defy them! You should instead make it as loose as possible, extending the belt as far as it will go. (Flight attendants will check that the belt is fastened, but they rarely check how tight it is.)

To sleep better, you should avoid caffeine and alcohol on the flight, and remember to pee before you sleep so you don't have to get up again. Remember: The less you drink, the less you have to pee.

Use your ear plugs and eye mask to block out the world. Position your neck pillow so your head can go limp, then get down to the business of snoozing. If you're lucky, snooze will turn to real sleep, and the time will fly by. (Imagine going to sleep in New York and waking up in Europe. It sometimes happens!)

If you happen to have three seats to yourself, lucky you! You should be able to just lie down and sleep all the way to your destination. You aren't supposed to lie down during takeoff and landing, but in practice you can do it as soon as the flight attendants take their seats. You may want to keep the middle-seat belt fastened around you and visible to the flight attendants so they don't have to wake you to verify it when the seat belt light is on. (Or you can arrange the seat belt so it appears to be fastened.)

Once you decide to sleep, you should ignore all entertainment and beverage services. A few hours sleep is usually worth far more than free food, drink and movies.

The only other advice I can offer is that sleeping on a plane usually gets easier each time you do it. The first time may be hell, but the second is a little less so. It's just a matter of both your body and mind getting used to it. (Think of it as an Olympic sport that requires some conditioning.) After years of doing it, I can now sleep on virtually any flight, even in a middle seat hemmed in by two oversize passengers. It's not the perfect sleep, but its better than nothing.

Also see: How to Sleep in an Airport

©2009, Glenn Campbell,
This entry was begun in Boston and released from Las Vegas.
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