To some, it seems glamorous to play shows in a different city every night. But most people who have flown with any regularity know what it’s like to feel lonely, tired, or angry in an airport. The stress a long trip takes on your body and mind is real — and so is the maddening amount of bureaucracy and patience it takes to get through border control and security.
Navigating these spaces is much harder for people of color — as illustrated in 2016 by Riz MC’s essay Typecast as a Terrorist, NON Records founder Chino Amobi’s release Airport Music For Black Folk, and Laura Mvula’s account of her experience of being detained and harassed in Miami airport. The constant fear of being stereotyped and detained for any reason only adds more anxiety onto what’s already, for many, a fraught experience.
So how can you stay safe and sane through it all? The FADER spoke to eight frequent flyers to try and figure it out.
1. Drink more water.
“I buy two bottles of water [at the airport], because you get really dehydrated on the plane without even realizing,” said N.Y.C. singer-songwriter Mitski.
2. Choose your seat wisely.
“I always make sure I book an aisle seat,” Mitski added, “because I need to pee a lot.”
Rapper, and Awful Records founder, Father always sits in the aisle seat, too. “I often have issues regulating my body temperature,” he said. “I'll sweat profusely no matter what the actual temperature is, but the window seat is always dumb cold. It's really easy to get sick when you mix that problem with the climate changing from country to country.”
3. Find a bag you love and keep it organized.
Canadian artist Ryan Hemsworth has a North Face bag with a “million” pockets. “There’s a lot of stress in traveling and keeping your life together on the road, so at least there’s solace in keeping your possessions organized,” he explained. “My bag holds laptops, magazines, books, snacks, rain poncho, external hard drives and batteries, notepad and pens, visa documents, health insurance, and stickers.”
4. Don’t rely on drugs or booze to wind down.
“When I first started taking mad trips, I had a bad drug habit,” wrote Father. “I'd religiously take Xanax, hit the bar, chase it with a few shots, and just black out before the plane even took off.” Though these habits helped him pass out, they eventually had the side effect of making flying worse. “The only time I had anxiety flying was when I was withdrawing. I'd stare at the emergency exit door and imagine flinging myself from it. Since being clean off all that shit, I just sit peacefully."
5. Prepare the paperwork you’ll need at your destination.
On his first tour overseas, Ryan Hemsworth was detained in a New Zealand airport, because the promoter hadn't properly filled out his visa. “They said I wasn’t able to enter New Zealand," he remembered. "There was a small room with two beds and I stayed in there all night with a kid from Beijing. We played Super Nintendo ROMs on my laptop for an hour or two." In the morning, he was sent on the next flight back to Australia.
6. Do whatever you have to do to feel safe.
For many flyers, racism and Islamophobia mean the experience of navigating airports is much tougher than it is for others. Himanshu Suri, a.k.a. Swetshop Boys and Das Racist rapper Heems, thinks through every small action when he’s flying. “I pack super neatly so I can repack efficiently after having to take out my belongings in front of people to be searched a second or third time,” he wrote in an email to The FADER. “I often shave before a flight so as not to be profiled, although it rarely makes a difference. I dress comfortable, but in expensive clothes — because what kind of suicide bomber would wear Givenchy? I make sure to speak English if I'm on the phone with my folks, while at the same time feeling ashamed for doing so and worried for those who don't speak English or can't with their families.”
Heems made clear that the small annoyances of flying pale in comparison to the constant fear of being profiled. “Some people get anxious about the act of flying itself, whereas my anxiety is purely about getting to my seat and walking away from it in a single piece. You know what's worse than airplane food? Airport detention center food.”
7. Stay zen no matter what happens.
Soulection DJ Hannah Faith recommended meditating the night before your flight, something she does to "get my mind right for the journey." Mitski advised treating dealing with airport security "as a zen exercise; training for your mind.” Touring DJ Honey Dijon added, “[Staying calm is] more difficult for people of color, because racial profiling is real. But agitation just makes the situation worse.”
Hyperdub’s DJ Taye agrees. “Even when everything is pushing you to go crazy — maybe a TSA worker ripped your passport, maybe an airline worker in a far-off country is just giving you a hard time because they don't like where you came from...It's best to stay positive and think clearly, and kill any racism or negativity with all the positivity you've got.”
8. Get one step ahead of the jet lag.
“Before I set off, I change my timezone to the time of my destination, so I can slowly adjust, and sleep at the right times,” said British pop singer Dua Lipa. “After take-off, depending on the timezone of my destination, it’s melatonin, eye mask, earplugs, and I’m out.”
9. Use the time to catch up on books, movies, and podcasts...
“I bring difficult books that I otherwise might not be motivated to read,” said Mitski. “I read Hamlet, I read Milton's Paradise Lost...But I still can't get through Infinite Jest no matter how long the plane ride. It's like reading someone jacking off.”
Honey Dijon uses plane time to watch classic movies like Purple Rain, and Ryan Hemsworth listens to podcasts (Soundtracking with Edith Bowman, The Nerdist, Fresh Air). Father checks for “New poppin' kids’ movies from Pixar and Disney,” he said. “I like heartfelt shit when I fly.”
10. ...or to catch up with yourself.
“Often I keep a journal on me, which I tend to get lost in,” said Hannah Faith. “My mind races so fast, and I find writing helps soothe the thoughts.”
11. Always pack moisturizer.
“I have to use nasal decongestant so my ears don’t pop so much on the flight,” said Dua Lipa. “I also have my face oil and a rich face cream (different to my every day face cream), something that will leave me feeling hydrated, as I tend to get really dry, tight skin from the air-con on flights.”
12. And when you land, remember to stretch.
Sitting down in a cramped airplane for long hours can be tough on your body. “It’s hard — especially on my lower back,” said Honey Dijon. “So I take yoga to counteract all the sitting.”