si dawson

experiments in self-improvement

Category: life

How To Spot A Sociopath

It’s estimated that sociopaths (or psychopaths as they used to be called) make up anywhere from 1-4% of the population.

They can be INCREDIBLY destructive to your life, and it can take years or decades to recover (in my experience). So, knowing how to spot and avoid them is a damn useful skill.

If you have the misfortune to find a sociopath in your life, they will

  • Happily lie to you to about anything and everything
  • Take everything of value that they want (you time, money, effort, self-esteem)
  • Manipulate you in any way they can
  • Completely destroy your life without a second thought
  • Promise you the world (in the future), in exchange for giving them everything they want now

… all while believing that their behaviour is completely reasonable, and not worrying in the slightest about what they are doing. Once they’ve got everything they possibly can from you, they will drop you by the wayside with no hesitation at all.

I recently read an excellent book on this subject (The Sociopath Next Door), and have since realised that I’ve known several sociopaths very well indeed, both in my professional and personal life.

First, a quick explanation. Put very simply: a sociopath has no conscience.

This means they can do or say ANYTHING, with no regret, no shame and not a care in the world. They’ll lie as easily as breathe. If they get caught in the lie, they’ll double down and lie even further. They’ll take every cent you own and sleep soundly at night. They’ll happily have you working thousands of hours for them, and when it comes time to pay you, they’ll beg off claiming “poverty” or “hardship” (all lies and part-truths, of course). Somehow their needs and wants become the focal point of your time together. Their desires are always the thing you’re working towards – them first, you after. Maybe. (Which of course never quite happens).

I cannot state this strongly enough:


Generally speaking, they’re incredibly charming people (at first) – after all, it’s a key way to get people to do things for them. Once they’ve got what they want, they will just as quickly disappear… until the next time they want something.

Where this all gets tricky is, sociopaths are very good at hiding what they are, at least initially. When you first meet them, they may seem “perfect”, charming, witty, and most commonly of all, nice. They have to be good at this. How can they manipulate you if you see right through them?

The reason they’re good at charming people is, while they have minimal emotional depth themselves, they are highly skilled at understanding other people – their strengths, weaknesses, needs and wants. They succeed in being charming because they know exactly what to say to flatter you or make you feel great about yourself. This is all part of their game. Once they have you convinced that they’re “nice” or “wonderful”, then they can start to manipulate you to their own benefit.

Of course, once you believe they’re “nice”, it’s a natural tendency to try and “explain away” their aberrant behaviour (violence, manipulation, lies). It’s also normal to try and help them improve their situation (after all, this is what they’re manipulating you to do – pour your energy into helping them). However, notice that they only listen to you when it suits them, and otherwise are perfectly happy to ignore (while placating) you completely. That’s because underneath it all they have zero interest in listening to anyone other than themselves.

To a sociopath, you only exist as a way to get them what they want.

So, what are the key characteristics of a sociopath?

  • Very charming
  • Take much more than they ever give
  • Promise the world to get what they want, then somehow fail to follow through later
  • Lack of shame
  • Things are never their fault; blame is always on other people
  • No remorse
  • Minimal emotional depth
  • Near zero empathy
  • Have a very inflated sense of self worth (they’re “obviously” better than everyone else)
  • Strong sense of entitlement
  • Often quite narcissistic
  • Often very intelligent
  • Will hurt anyone in order to achieve their goals
  • Would run over you in a bus if it made them look better
  • Can be needy, wanting you to be there for them whenever they want
  • Know how to make others think they’re the victim while actually being the aggressor
  • Can be very violent
  • Extremely manipulative

These characteristics do differ from sociopath to sociopath. The more boxes that are ticked the more likely someone is to be one.

[Obviously only a trained professional can provide a definitive diagnosis – I’m only telling you this to try and help you to protect yourself.]

That said, there is one key characteristic that every sociopath has: they want you to pity them.

The reason for this is, pity is the strongest emotional state that instinctively compels us to provide assistance. In other words, it gives them the most power over us.

Often this pity will be emphasised in the same breath as bragging about some great achievement of theirs (no shame or empathy, remember?)

Eg, “Oh, this work we’ve (you’ve) done is amazing, but I can’t pay you just yet, because…”

Of course, they won’t want you to pity them all the time. You will see pity come out if you ever want anything from them (as a defence to not give it to you), or if they want something from you (to manipulate you into giving it to them).

Another thing to watch for is lying. Remember the rule of threes.

  1. One lie may be a misunderstanding
  2. Two lies may be a serious mistake
  3. Threes lies, get the hell out of there

Oh, and in this context? Broken or endlessly delayed promises are lies.

Do not give your time, affection, money or work to a three time liar. Ever.

What should we do when we spot a sociopath?

  • Get the hell away as quickly and peacefully as you can
  • Do NOT tell them they’re a sociopath. You do NOT want them angry (no conscience, remember? Which means they can and will do ANYTHING in retaliation)
  • Do NOT believe anything they tell you about changing, needing you etc
  • KNOW that they will lie, or try to make you feel sorry for them in order to keep control over you
  • KNOW that they will turn the charm up to 11 if they think it will work
  • Quietly warn others (one reason I’m writing this post)
  • Think for yourself. Sociopaths prey on people who struggle to think for themselves
  • Not all sociopaths are violent but it’s still safest to keep as much distance as possible

Sociopaths are incredibly destructive to everyone around them. Fortunately, very commonly their lives do eventually implode.

In the mean time, all we can do is stay aware, stay safe, and stay the hell away.


    An Odd Thing I Can’t Explain

    I’ve noticed something odd.

    The more I stay in a loving space – particularly when the people around me aren’t – the more douche bags seem to exit my life.

    Let me explain.

    Say someone starts having a go at me online. If I stay in a calm, loving space, most of the time they will simply disappear. Stop talking, block me, whatever.

    A similar kind of thing, often almost as quick, happens in real life.

    Now, on an esoteric level, it could possibly be said that our vibrations don’t match and they find this uncomfortable and so vibrate their way away. You can see a similar thing when shaking sand in a bowl; it will tend to separate out the big chunks from the smaller grains.

    Or maybe they’re just having a shitty time, and they get annoyed that someone won’t assist them in feeling grumpy.

    I’m giving them nothing to push against.

    Maybe it’s a verbal form of Aikido.

    I don’t really know.

    Either way, antagonistic, angry or generally nasty people are continuing to vibrate their way out of my life.

    And I’m definitely noticing that the more of my own crap I let go of, the more wonderful the people I find around me.

    Or maybe they were always that wonderful and I’m only just noticing.


      Can You Love A Paedophile?

      One of my oldest friends just got thrown in jail, after pleading guilty to paedophilia.

      I sat in the court room for three days, and even though I wasn’t specifically involved (I was just there as a character reference), it was still one of the most intense weeks of my life.

      Now, I’ve blathered on here for years about love, specifically, unconditional love.

      I’ve consciously chosen to be as unconditionally loving as I can (which increases the more I heal, wonderfully).

      Yet paedophilia is generally considered to be one of the most morally reprehensible things a person can do.

      Is such a person even deserving of love, or really, should we chuck them in jail and throw away the key?

      Obviously, people have been very seriously hurt here. Innocent children. With long lasting and major consequences.

      I struggled with the choice I had to make for days: Should I stay in contact? Should I write to him and support him while he’s inside?

      Ultimately though I realised there were only two possibilities that covered the entire universe.

      1. He was actually innocent (and pleaded guilty for other reasons – eg, inability to afford to fight the case weighed against likelihood of a worse sentence if he didn’t plead).
      2. He was guilty.

      If he’s innocent and in jail, then yes, of course he deserves love and support.

      If he’s guilty, then he may not deserve it, but he will certainly need it. Society needs it, if there’s to be any hope for his rehabilitation and not simply coming out of prison in an even worse state than he went in (as happens with such a high percentage of ex-cons).

      This definitely felt like the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make, in terms of loving someone. Angry girlfriends or grumpy siblings or even myself are trivial by comparison.

      And yet, as I write this I realise, I didn’t need to make it all so complicated.

      It’s right there in the name; UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.

      My choosing to continue to love him has nothing to do with his actions. If it does then it’s not unconditional, is it?

      However awful his past actions, however many people he’s hurt, however large the damage, I can choose to be loving.

      An important caveat here – me loving him isn’t putting myself in any danger, or hurting me in any way. Being loving doesn’t mean standing in traffic, or otherwise neglecting to love ourselves first.

      Of course, this also doesn’t mean I condone what’s happened. Or that he shouldn’t be in jail (if guilty). But while he’s responsible for his actions (and thus the consequences he’s now living with), I am responsible for mine.

      And, for better or worse, I choose unconditional love, and yes I will be writing to him.

      It never ceases to amaze me how much judgement messes things up for us, in terms of leading a better, more loving life.

      [Sorry, I have been specifically requested not to publicly discuss any of the aspects of the case. Thank you for respecting this]


        Celebrate The Small Victories

        I recently flew from London to New Zealand.

        To say it was a disaster is an understatement. Although to be fair, I did get home safely, on time and with all my bags.

        I booked this particular flight a year ago. It comprised of two legs, from London to Sydney, then from Sydney to Wellington.

        Less than 24 hours before I flew I discovered (completely by accident) that not one but both legs had been cancelled.

        The Sydney->Wellington leg I’d been shovelled onto a later flight, which meant 11 hours sitting in Sydney airport (instead of an hour and a half).

        The London->Sydney leg was even worse. That had been changed to London->Hong Kong, with no connection between Hong Kong and Sydney.

        That’s right: if I hadn’t rung the airline, I would have been unceremoniously dumped in Hong Kong and left there. No, really.

        Ok, so, I managed to get those two issues sorted. After I waited 45 minutes for the airline to answer the phone (my 5th airline related call in two days) – and a one hour twenty minute call in total.

        When I got to the airport, I went to the wrong gate. There were two flights leaving for Hong Kong at the same time, from different ends of the airport.

        So, I had to sprint to the correct gate as they were already boarding.

        Finally, when I was on the plane the TV screen was broken (plus the one in the next empty seat), so I had 12 hours with only my thoughts for company (Argh! The Horror!). Ok ok, so I have a soft spot for watching movies on long haul flights. Oh, and I couldn’t easily move seats because I’d ordered a special meal.

        The second leg (from Hong Kong->Sydney) the screen was working (yay!) but as a consolation prize the flight attendant tipped a cup of coffee into both sleeves of my shirt (yes, quite some achievement).

        Oh, and of course there was a screaming kid most of the way too.

        Then I had to get a boarding pass in Sydney, which involved asking for directions multiple times (“Just go down the escalator – you can’t miss it!”), and walking around the entire airport twice, only to discover that the night before the down escalator had been removed, and there were no signs. At all.

        The flight to Wellington I sat next a large South African couple who alternated between complaining about everything (including things I would never have thought possible – the accent of the flight attendant?!?) and nudging me. Non stop. For two hours. I was utterly exhausted and had hoped to sleep.

        When I finally arrived, my sister was coming to pick me up. She wasn’t answering her phone and was nowhere to be found.

        To call the whole journey a cluster fuck wouldn’t be too far from the truth.

        The interesting thing though? My reactions:

        • Hearing about the 11 hour layover: a bit gobsmacked, but no real emotion there
        • Waiting on hold for 45 minutes: relaxed and happy I’d decided to get this all sorted before I went to the airport
        • Sprinting for the gate: amused at myself, since I’d been so careful not to sweat before getting on a 30 (now 40) hour flight
        • The TV screen being broken? I took the time to sleep and meditate. Very productive
        • Having coffee dumped down both sleeves of my shirt? Hilarious actually. Apologised profusely, since the attendant felt so bad (for no reason – it was both of us, really, not paying sufficient attention. Just a silly accident)
        • The screaming kid: just sent them love and forgot about it (whereupon they immediately calmed)
        • Walking around the airport twice: a bit sweaty, confused, but otherwise amused
        • The actual layover: cool actually. I decided it would be great (somehow) and it was. Got chatting to a lovely US Marine about the research paper he was writing (discussing the effects of exponential technological advancement on historical warfare theory. Fascinating stuff). He later ended up inviting me out for cocktails
        • The couple keeping me awake was hard, I admit. I was exhausted and struggling to maintain my equanimity. Eventually I got on top of it though and let my aggravation go. I looked over and realised the guy wasn’t intentionally nudging me. He was just so fat he couldn’t help it (even with me scrunched up so far over I was almost falling in the aisle). Unsurprisingly, as soon as I let it go, they stopped complaining.
        • With my sister there was a little aggravation, but really very minor. Not to the point of swearing.

        Now, I have no idea why all these things happened. To have this many things “go wrong” is very unusual for me. In fact, I can’t think of any other time in my life when anything even vaguely close to this has occurred. I do find it interesting that nothing serious happened (lost baggage, delayed connections, plane crash).

        The super interesting thing is – none of them threw me, particularly.

        Historically? This is very unusual. Typically, even a few of these things happening would have made me irritable, angry and generally aggressively petulant. Ask any of my ex-girlfriends from years back *blush*.

        So, maybe the lesson is just this: To stop and enjoy progress that is being made. That even if some things in my life don’t appear to be shifting, in general things are improving. I need to celebrate the small victories. To appreciate the journey thus far, to stop every so often (as a friend once told me) and eat the flowers.


          How to Fly Long Distance

          I’ve done a LOT of long distance flying.

          I’ve spent a chunk of my life in Europe, with family mostly in New Zealand. For the uninitiated this is typically a 26-36 hour flight (depending on the route and stop overs involved). I’ve had it take over 40 hours (that ONE time I wasn’t paying attention when booking flights).

          I’ve typically done this trip at least a couple of times a year. Except for that one time I flew to NZ, spent four days there, then back in time for work the following week.

          There’s something about sitting in one seat for 12+ hours, often, that gives you a lot of time to think about how the experience could be improved.

          Here are some things I’ve found that make it better.


          Before the flight


          Get everything critical laid out the day before

          This enables you to easily and visually check the obvious stuff (tickets, passport, itinerary), and make sure you don’t forget anything, but also to question “do I really need that.” If you’re flying, weight matters.

          Put deodorant in your carry on

          You might not need it, but if you do you’ll be super grateful. Also, if your bags get lost (it does happen) you won’t have to feel/smell like death until you can find a chemist.

          Tie a fancy ribbon on your hold luggage

          Around the handle is fine. Just something that makes your generic black bag look slightly different from every other generic black bag on the carousel. The only thing more tedious than having to lift your bags off yourself is having to lift many bags off because you keep accidentally grabbing ones that aren’t yours.

          Duct tape makes everything look old

          If you have expensive stuff, putting duct tape on it will make it look old and crappy. A sneaky trick I learned from an international travel photographer. It’s odd, but works.

          Put everything of value in your carry on

          As awful as it is, you have to assume that baggage handlers don’t care, and that everything in your hold luggage will be rifled through and possibly stolen. If your expensive gear is with you at all times, you can keep an eye on it. Otherwise? Good luck.

          Order a special meal

          If you order any non-standard meal (so, vegan, vegetarian, gluten free – whatever) then you get fed first. When it’s mealtime, they always bring out the special meals before they start serving the general population. Why is this good? It means you can eat then immediately go to sleep, rather than having to wait anywhere up to an hour after they start serving, as they slowly work their way down the plane.

          Always keep your passport and tickets in the same place

          Don’t do what I did once – madly rip my entire suitcase apart in front of check in, looking for a lost passport – only to realise ten minutes later that it was in my right jacket pocket instead of my left. Oops.

          Always dress up for the airport

          Of course, “additional screening is random.” And if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you. I’ve travelled a LOT. The only times I’ve been really hassled at security was when I had surreal hair and was dressed for a festival. When I’m tidy? (usually black dress shoes, jeans, collared shirt, jacket). I get waved through. In fact, some of the times they’ve actually waved me AROUND security. Yes, so I didn’t get scanned at all. Go figure.

          Oh, as a bonus? Jackets have pockets. Always helpful.

          Get to the airport early

          Usual check in for international flights is an hour and a half. If I’m travelling by myself, I’ll typically aim for 2-2 1/2 hours (depending on how I’m getting there) or 4+ hours if I’m travelling with someone else (depending on the person).

          I’ve been on the way to an airport, with two 30+ kg suitcases and three hand carries, only to have a train we were depending on get cancelled. The next available train was half an hour. Fortunately, I’d planned to get there 4 hours early, so we had plenty of time and could relax and laugh about the whole thing.

          Travel can be stressful enough, and there’s nothing worse than getting on a long haul flight dripping in sweat because you’ve had to sprint somewhere carrying a giant suitcase. Get there early, be chilled, let everything be easy.

          Be super nice when checking in

          You may not have noticed, but often the person who checks you in will also be on the flight. It’s one of the ways that airlines save money. They don’t hire extra desk staff, it’s just one more job for flight attendants. What this means is they’ll remember if you’re a dick to them (or grumpy) when you’re checking in. The other thing here is – these people have HUGE power. Baggage allowance, which seats you get, how much they look after you on the actual flight, oh and yes, if you’re even ON that flight.

          All that aside, they have a hell of a job. Twelve plus hours, standing most of the time, required to smile and be super polite to often demanding, rude, inconsiderate people. Make a point of making their lives a little easier. It’s good karma.

          So, before you walk up, put ALL your internal crap to one side. Imagine you’re meeting an old friend, and do all you can to smile, connect, be loving, supportive and warm. And yes, this is someone who is “there to serve you”. Just do it, you’ll thank me, plus it’ll make you feel better – being loving always does.

          Ask at check in to be seated as close to the front as possible

          Generally they fill the windows first, front to back, then the aisles. If you don’t mind sitting in an aisle seat, then being in front of 50 or 60 sets of seats will make a huge difference to how quickly you’ll be able to get off the plane. Which in turn makes a huge difference to how quickly you can get through immigration (often the slowest bit of the post-plane exit). Also, forward of the engines is noticeably quieter than behind.

          If you can check in with a machine, do that

          It’s always faster than standing in a queue. Also, you can then choose a seat super far forward.

          Be nice to the security people

          Much like checkin staff, they have the power to make your life miserable (up to and including jail, let alone missing your flight). Sure, they can be thieving, under trained, unhappy people, but hey, they need love too. Also? In all likelihood they hate their job as much as you hate them doing it. They’re not all bad. They’re in a crappy position (if nothing awful happens, they’re “adequate”; if anything does, it’s their fault – there’s simply no win condition for them). Have some empathy.

          No matter how stupid the modern “security theatre” is (hint: very), you can suck it up for five minutes. Smile, be polite, do NOT joke – about anything, be loving. Then run away as quickly as you can. No, don’t run; walk briskly.

          When going through the xray, put everything from your pockets into your jacket

          First, it’s much faster than putting it all into the plastic tray. Once you’re through you can walk away, and empty your jacket pockets as you go. Secondly, it keeps your stuff safer. Much harder for someone to surreptitiously grab your wallet if it’s hidden. I’ve never seen (or heard) of anything like this happening, but often (say) if you’re pulled aside for secondary screening, all your valuables will be left in the open, without you being anywhere close to them. Might as well play it safe.

          Going through security, queue behind single business people

          They’ve done this a thousand times, they’ll have it down to a fine art. Try to avoid families (kids make everything slower) and old people (who generally move slower anyway).

          Charging devices in airports

          If you look around, you can usually find outlets to charge phones, ipads, laptops etc. They have to plug vacuum cleaners in somewhere. Be wary of officially provided phone charging stations. They’re probably fine, but these can be trivially hacked.

          Do not get onto the flight hungover (or worse, drunk)

          For a start, nobody working in an airport likes drunk people. However, even hangovers are bad. We get hungover partly because we’ve just filled our brain with neurotoxins and hammered the hell out of our liver and kidneys. A big part of it though is simple dehydration. If you’re dehydrated getting onto a plane, 12 hours of aggressive air conditioning is going to dry you out like crazy – which will leave you with jet lag from hell.

          Use the bathroom right before you get on

          Usually you end up sitting around for a while at the gate. Good time for a bathroom break. Particularly on shorter haul flights, if you’re stuck next to (say) an oversized couple, getting out of your seat may be simply impractical. If you don’t need the bathroom at least then you’ll be able to relax.


          On the flight


          Take a scarf 

          Air con on most flights is brutal. All that cold air swishing around goes right down your neck. Plus a scarf can double as a mini pillow if you’re trying to scrunch up into a corner and need more bolstering.

          Take ear plugs

          I can’t stress this enough. That background roar of the engines is deceptively loud. Good ear plugs make a HUGE difference in terms of quality of sleep. Plus, bonus, it damps down screaming kids, people who insist on talking while the lights are out, or, heaven forbid, those over-loud page turners (yes yes, fellow readers, I’m joking).

          Noise cancelling headphones

          These are more comfortable than ear plugs, and work better. Not a terrible idea to have your own headphones anyway, if you prefer your own music. Just make sure you have enough battery power to last the distance (plus layovers).

          Wear an eye mask

          Most (but not all) long distance carriers provide these, but it’s worth collecting them from previous flights, as this gives you a choice of the best one available. Or, if you’re fancy, go buy one of your own. Never underestimate the benefits of being able to control ambient light when trying to sleep (particularly if people have reading lights on, or the plane lights come on 20 minutes before you’re really ready to wake up)

          A neck pillow

          I’ve never used one, but I scrunch up pretty small. I know people who swear by them in order to support your neck while you sleep.

          Compression socks

          Haven’t used them myself, but they’re reported to both make the flight much more comfortable AND help reduce the likelihood of DVTs – although since the risk factors are still a bit in question, that may be hokum.

          Take an aspirin

          This only really applies if you have one of the dozens of possible “risk factors for DVT” – but it’s not a terrible idea to take one as a preventive measure. Aspirin just thins the blood very slightly, making it less likely to coagulate (glue together) and thus kill you (by having that glued up lump travelling up into your heart).

          Use the airline socks

          These aren’t always provided, but when they are, change into them ASAP (ie, before take off). Keep them on until the plane is taxiing towards the terminal at your destination. Why? A couple of reasons. First, feet sweat a lot, and having clean socks to wear when you land is always nice. Secondly, because you’re sitting still and at high altitude, blood pools in your feet, making them swell up. Shoes will get super uncomfortable (plus cut off blood flow). Letting your feet readjust to normal altitude first is a lot more comfortable.

          Move seats as soon as you can

          Once you’re damn sure there isn’t going to be any more passengers, that is the time to nab the middle row, shift rows, or generally just grab more space for yourself. You may not have paid for four seats to lie down in, but if you sit in one of the middle two of an empty four, you can be reasonably sure no-one will grab either aisle seat and voila – instant bed. But you have to be fast. Elderly Asian gentlemen can be surprisingly nimble at this game.

          Drink lots of water

          For a start, water is great. We’re 70% water, which means we’re less like a solid body with liquid, and more like a rather thick aquarium. Secondly, aggressive air conditioning (filtering 12 hours of 400 people farting) means air travel is VERY dehydrating. Dehydration is a killer. It also makes jet lag much worse (since your body needs water to work, so without it, it can’t help you heal as quickly). Lastly, drinking lots means you’ll have to get up and go to the loo. Hello? Exercise is better than sitting on your arse for 12 hours.

          I used to take a 2L bottle of water for each 12 hour leg – which worked great. Unfortunately these days, security theatre means it’s harder (and more expensive) to do this. In lieu of that, just drink as much water as you can and don’t be afraid to go to the steward stations and ask for more – they’ll be happy to give it to you.

          Avoid caffeine and booze

          As fun as it is to just get roaring drunk, your primary enemy on long distance flights is dehydration. Both caffeine and alcohol are diuretics – which means they absorb water out of your body. Plus, the coffee on planes is usually pretty awful anyway, so you’re not REALLY missing out.

          My absolute all time worst jet lag has occurred on those long hauls where I’ve merrily guzzled coffee and wine at every opportunity. Not. Very. Smart.

          Open sealed packets facing away from you

          Due to the difference in air pressure between ground level and 30,000 feet in the air, any kind of pressure sealed packet (juice, yoghurt etc) will often fill with expanded air. This air then rushes out when the seal is broken, often carrying the contents with it. In normal language? You’ll spray yoghurt all over yourself. Be smart, aim at your neighbour. I joke, I joke. Just aim it away from yourself.


          See: dehydration. Your skin will thank you.


          Regularly rotate your ankles, knees, shoulders. Just wiggle them all about as much as you can. Get up and walk about if possible. It’s important to keep blood flowing. This is why in hospitals, long term sedentary patients are regularly turned over by nurses. You don’t want to start getting the early precursors to bed sores just from sitting still too long.

          Be nice to the flight attendants

          It’s very simple. They have a hell of a tough job. Be loving. Be kind.

          Wet wipes

          Wet wipes are awesome. Basically, you can use them to “wash” any part of yourself that sweats. So, feet, groin, behind the knees, armpits, back of the neck, face. Anything that would otherwise be sticky and uncomfortable. Unless you’re able to smuggle a portable shower on with you, this is your best option.

          Two hours before landing, wash

          This sounds odd, but a couple of hours before landing, going to the bathroom and washing anything and everything (wet wipes!) makes a huge difference. Any later than that can be tricky as they’re often serving a last meal, or insisting you sit down for landing. Plus the queues get large as everyone tries to go to the bathroom at once.

          Airline travel can be pretty awful – airport dirt, all that sitting down sweating etc, but getting off the plane feeling even moderately clean can feel like heaven by comparison.

          Empty the seat pocket WELL before you land

          It’s too easy to get distracted by people pushing past, saying goodbye to a seat buddy, etc, and forget something you love (I’m so sorry gorgeous blue scarf, you will be forever Korean).

          Sleep as much as humanly possible

          I know there’s a lot of talk about circadian rhythms, syncing with the place you’re going to, etc etc, but trust me. Just sleep as much as you can. Once you land is a whole different story, but if you’re tired, it won’t help.

          I generally make a point of just generally burning the candle at both ends before a long flight. Then once I’m on I watch a silly movie and sleep for ten hours. It works super well.

          Don’t read a book

          Magazines are fine, since you can dip into them, but feeling like you have to power through a book will keep you awake much more, limiting your sleep. Movies are fine, since you can usually tune them out or sleep through them, but books force wakefulness. You NEED sleep.

          Sit with your legs apart

          A bit gross, but it stops you sweating as much “down there.”

          Going to the bathroom at night

          It can be tricky to spot which is your seat in the dark. So, leave something bright (your scarf or a magazine you brought with you) on the seat. Makes it all a ton simpler.

          Send screaming kids love

          Nobody likes kids that scream on a plane – least of all their parents, who have to deal with all the glaring. The trouble is, below a certain age, you can’t tell a kid how to avoid their ears popping on landing. Additionally, if they have any kind of ear infection (very common) then air travel can be incredibly painful. Help the parents out, help the plane out. Send the kid unconditional love. It can only help, plus it’ll make you feel better.


          When you land


          Unless you know the airport, always allow more than two hours on layovers

          I know it’s annoying sitting in an airport waiting for your next flight, but hear me out.

          First, some airports make you go out through security then back in again (LAX!), whereas some just sit you in transfer zones (Seoul). So, it could be a 15 minute journey through a single layer of security, or you may have to go through immigration as well. Ie, it’s impossible to predict how slow it could be. On top of that, often the simple walk between gates can be 20+ minutes, in a larger airport.

          Secondly, and more importantly, global warming is affecting air travel. It’s common and becoming more so for strong winds to affect travel times, meaning your incoming flight could be an hour late. If you’ve only allowed an hour to connect to your next flight, you’re going to be STRESSED. Stretching your legs in the terminal (or getting a beer) is a hell of a lot more relaxing than having to sprint from plane A to plane B.

          Once you’re off the plane, walk as quickly as you possibly can to immigration

          Immigration queues can be HUGE, and walking past the entire rest of the plane means you’ve jumped a couple of hundred places up the queue. If you’re super lucky, you might even be able to walk past an entire other plane that’s landed at the same time.

          Do NOT go to the loo before immigration unless it’s life-and-death. My lil bro did this once when we were travelling together. I sat and waited for him while the entire plane shuffled slowly past us *facepalm*

          When you’re going through customs, walk slowly and look tired

          This may be easy if you’ve just jumped off a 20+ hour flight, but it’s always helpful to walk tiredly and slowly through customs. They’re watching for suspicious behaviour. If they see you, say, excited and looking forward to seeing your friends waiting for you, they may easily misinterpret that as you being excited and looking forward to handing your drugs off to the dealers waiting for you.

          The only times I’ve ever been stopped is when I walked at my usual brisk pace, keen to get the hell out of the airport. Walk at grandma pace, it’ll take an extra 30 seconds, but possibly save you twenty minutes of nonsense.

          Ditch your airline baggage tags as soon as possible

          If you’re travelling on public transport it’ll be obvious you’ve got a lot of stuff with you, but you don’t need to advertise that you’ve brought it all from overseas (and thus it might include duty free booze and electronics, rather than just dirty washing for the nearest laundry).

          Stay awake until your normal sleep time

          Even if you arrive at 4:45am and you’re exhausted, try to stay awake until your normal sleep time. It’ll help your body get in sync faster, thus reducing jet lag. One tired day is much better than a week falling asleep in meetings and staying up all night. Even if you can’t make it right until evening, every hour you can stay up will help your body adjust enormously.

          Have a shower as soon as you can

          Get rid of all that travel dirt. You’ll feel a million times better, trust me.


          There’s a lot of things about air travel that are tiresome and stressful. However, it’s also quite exciting. Airports are full of people off to distance places. They’re like a nexus for adventure. A few relatively minor changes can make the whole thing fun, and certainly a lot less hassle.