Cross country plane travel might seem daunting or unappealing at first thought. I’m here to tell you - it isn't as bad as you might think! I have been flying back and forth consistently a couple of times a year between the east and west coasts for the last five years, and have to say that with good planning, one can take advantage of the time difference and distance to plan an awesome trip. Read on below to see my recommendations and tricks!
Hacks for cross country travel:
1. Book your flights as far in advance as possible. I often buy tickets 3-5 months out. The cost of tickets is pretty consistent within this timeline, and doesn't seem to really get better the closer to the date until you luck out with a special sale.
2. Book direct flights. Direct flights are often cheaper and more pleasant than non-direct for the major airports like in DC, New York, and Boston. Of course, if you have to get to a smaller city, you will have to fly non-direct, but at least the longest leg can be all on one plane.
3. Book red eyes when going west to east. Some people may disagree with me, but in my opinion there is nothing worse than wasting a day away on an airplane, and unless you fly red eyes that’s what happens. Otherwise, you leave the west coast in the morning and it is already night when you land, even if the flight is only 5 hours.
4. Fly at night when going east to west - this way you can maximize on the time difference by enjoying a full day on the east coast, leaving in the evening, and then landing on the west coast while it is still the evening! Flights east to west are usually about an hour longer due to the lack of tailwind, so when you get to the west coast you will be nice and tired. Go to bed right away, so you can wake up all squared away in the right time zone.
Redeye tips - tried and true
Most red eyes leave between 9pm and 11pm pacific. This means you can get a full day of work (or sight-seeing if you are a tourist) in. I recommend trying to workout or do a lot of walking before getting to the airport. Then, have a light meal and a glass of wine (or beer) to help relax you and get your body ready to sleep in a chair. Finally, as you are boarding, take a sleep aid. I recommend this one as it is over the counter with a natural, melatonin base:
I don't recommend prescription sleep aids since with only about 5 hours of sleep available, you could wake up with “hangover effect” on these stronger drugs (this is also why I try and take Remfresh while boarding so it sets in by the time I am in my seat).
Make sure you book a window seat, and that you have the following:
With these 4 things, you should be able to get nice and cozy before take off and get 4-5 hours of sleep between the flight and taxi/takeoff. Don’t bother with the free movies and TV - it will mess up your sleep plan!
I am usually still a bit tired when landing, so a routine I recommend is to: take a shower, eat a little food, and take a 2-3 hour nap (any more than that and you’ll never get up). Most redeyes land before 8am, when there is not much good to be done besides sleep anyway! Obviously this is hard to do if you don’t have a home and/or hotel to rest in. In those cases, power through with some coffee and go to bed early! Congratulate yourself on having another entire day to enjoy on your trip, courtesy of the magic of time zones.
At the end of the day, bicoastal travel is certainly harder than short 1-2 hour flights between cities on the same coast or in the same time zone. However, there are ways to make the experience much more pleasant, creating no excuse to see more of the U.S. despite how far it might be from your home!