How To Sleep On A Plane

How To Sleep On A Plane


How To Sleep On A Plane

I make a dozen or more overnight flights each year during my frenzied schedule as a travel photographer and I’ve learned a few tricks on how to get the proper rest to maintain the highest physical, mental, and creative energy levels possible. Sleeping at night while traveling can be difficult for a lot of people. Different beds than you’re accustomed to, jet lag, and disruptions to your body’s circadian rhythm are just a few reasons. My advice when traveling internationally is to get your sleep whenever and wherever you can. That includes on the bus, in the car (as long as you’re not driving) and on planes, especially during overnight flights.

The worst way to begin an overseas adventure is tired, fatigued, and with zero energy after a 14-hour flight. Here are some tips on how to avoid that by getting some good sleep on the plane.

My Three Favorite Accessories for Travel Sleep

Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow I’ve tried pillows of every variety in order to perfect the cosmic airplane sleep. The airline pillows are crap. I even never understood the neck pillows that seem uber popular with travelers. They were never comfortable at all to me. The Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow (medium size) is about twice as big as the standard airline pillow, has 3 times the loft, and compresses down to a manageable size for putting in your carry on bags.

Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones Bose products are simply the best. I prefer the noise-cancelling ear buds over the bulky headphones that makes it difficult to get comfortable for sleep. Use these for soft music or use the noise-cancelling feature alone just to cut down on ambient plane noise.

Earth Therapeutics Dream Zone Sleep Mask I’ve tried a half dozen eye shades until I found these. These are silky, soft and so comfortable to wear. When I lay by head back to rest, I don’t even realize I am wearing anything over my eyes.


I don’t try to sleep immediately after takeoff. I’ve learned the routine of the on-board staff so I choose the optimal time to pull down the eye shades and get some shut eye. When the plane climbs to 10,000 feet, there are usually a barrage of announcements and crass commercial promotions you have to endure. Then within the first hour, dinner is usually served. I take a pass on the airline food but I might order a glass of wine at this point to help continue the process of winding down. Some of you might be tempted to drink more than just one glass of wine to help with sleep. This is a bad idea. Drinking excessive alcohol will lead to more bathroom visits and dehydration. As I said, it’s just a bad idea. Don’t do it.

As soon as the dinner service is completed and the lights in the main cabin are turned down, I’ll use the restroom one last time, throw on a sweater to stay warm, grab my pillow, turn on the noise-canceling headphones, and drop the eye shades. My next conscious moment should come about eight hours later with the breakfast service announcement.

The Window Seat

I think we can all agree that the middle seat is the least desirable seat option. But the window is far superior to the aisle seat if you plan on catching some sleep on your long flight. There are several good reasons for this. First, you won’t have passengers or flight attendants bumping into you while strolling down the aisle during the night. Second, you don’t have to worry about fellow passengers in your row waking you to get up to use the restroom. Third, the window seat offers the side of the plane and/or window to rest your head and pillow up against. Window seat. Very important.

Get Comfortable

If you’re using one of the blankets provided to you by the airline, make sure your seatbelt is clearly visible. Otherwise, if the plane encounters turbulence, an airline attendant might wake you to be sure you’re buckled in. That goes for any heavy coats or sweaters as well. It might be difficult to fall asleep again after the interruption.

To Recline Or Not To Recline?

There is a surprisingly heated debate among “travel experts” on whether it’s appropriate to recline your seat on a plane. Many say it’s rude and it should absolutely never be done. But then again, that big round button on the side of the armrest is there for a reason. The closer your body can gain the horizontal, the easier sleep will be. If there is no one sitting in the seat behind me, I will definitely recline. If the person behind me has reclined, I will also recline with no issues. If the passenger in front of me has reclined and there is someone sitting behind me, I will always politely ask if it’s ok before pushing my seat back. No one has ever refused the request.

Travel Essentials: Six Items You Should Never Leave Home Without

Travel Essentials: Six Items You Should Never Leave Home Without

Gear Reviews

Travel Essentials: Six Items You Should Never Leave Home Without

With each trip comes an entirely different packing list. Warm weather versus cold weather, backcountry hiking and camping versus four-star hotels, wildlife shooting versus landscapes or street and urban photography; all of these factors, and more, need to be considered. The type and amount of photo gear can vary greatly from place to place (I can’t take it ALL with me) as does my selection of clothes and footwear. I have four different camera bags in my office, for example, and each has features and benefits that are preferred for a certain types of trips. My MindShift FirstLight 40L Camera Backpack is my standard, go-to camera bag however (I love this bag). As far as luggage, the same principle would apply. Most of the time it’s my Rimowa Classic Aluminum Roller while for other trips a duffle is best.

But there are some non-photography items I would never leave home without – they are just too essential. I traveled to 13 different countries last year and they made my travel easier, my travel gear lighter, and my life on the road much more simple. These six essentials are by no means exclusive and they have nothing to do with photography specifically.

My Six Travel Essentials

JW Hulme Overnight Briefcase – No, its not cheap but it’s one of the best-made briefcases you can buy anywhere. There’s ample space for my laptop, books, phone, passport, wallet, extra underwear and socks, and still plenty of room to spare. It’s all leather with real brass hardware and zippers with a lifetime warranty from a company making leather goods since 1905. Mine has been all over the world and the older it gets, the better it looks. More info at Amazon: JW Hulme Overnight Briefcase

Think Tank Photo Cable Management 30 V2.0 – I need to keep my computer power cord, iPhone and iPad charging cables, power adapters, and other cords and accessories neatly organized and stowed safely away in my briefcase for when I need them. I know myself all too well. If I don’t stay organized while on the road, I’ll lose stuff. This little organizer has been priceless to me. More info at Amazon: Think Tank Photo Cable Management 30 V2.0

Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones – Noise cancelling technology is essential for long flights. Airplane noise, loud talkers, and the wail of crying babies will disappear with this device while your sanity is restored. But unlike bulky headphones, these earbuds fit into a nifty little carrying case just slightly larger than a deck of cards. More info at Amazon: Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxers –  Why is this man sharing his underwear with us? Look, I pack just 2 or 3 pairs of these boxers on a trip of any length and they’re all I need. I can wash them in the sink and they dry in 2 or 3 hours. They’re also extremely light and comfortable to wear while sitting for hours on a plane or hiking in the hot desert. More info at Amazon: ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxers

The North Face Paramount Convertible Pants – These lightweight, fast-drying pants can easily be washed in the hotel room’s sink if necessary and the legs unzip to produce instant shorts. The belt and clasping mechanism are built into the pants and they’re made of cloth and plastic so no issues during airport security. Take three pairs, roll them up tightly, and fit them into a corner of your suitcase. Neat and efficient. More info at Amazon: The North Face Paramount Convertible Pants

Buff Original Headwear 12-in-1 Headband – I never go on any photography trip without at least one of my Buffs! This featherweight (less than 3 ounces) microfiber headband can be used as cover for sun protection, around the neck and collar like a scarf to keep warm in cold weather, and as a drying towel in a pinch. Buff claims there are 12 different uses for one and I guess it just depends how creative you want to be to find all 12. More info at Amazon: Buff Original Headwear 12-in-1 Headband

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People and Faces of Gujarat

People and Faces of Gujarat


I just returned from the state of Gujarat in northwest India where I was a guest of Gujarat Tourism for 10 days while completing an assignment for a major media client here in the United States. And while I photographed many captivating landscapes, city scenes, and festive events during the Navratri season, it was the people who made the most indelible impression on me. Their warmth, friendliness, and hospitality will stay with me until my next visit to India, which I am planning for 2017 or 2018. Please enjoy a few sampled images of the beautiful people and faces of Gujarat!


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Five Reasons To Love Iceland in the Winter

Five Reasons To Love Iceland in the Winter

Bucket List

Five Reasons To Love Iceland in the Winter

Iceland Winter: Is The Weather Really That Bad?

Iceland is a true four-season photographic destination. As I wrote in a 2013 Popular Photography feature article, the country has often been mistakenly characterized in the past as cold, barren, and probably hostile to visitors. And with a name like Iceland, one can be forgiven for thinking of this small, northern Atlantic island country in such a way. But with tourism on the rise, the perception is quickly changing. It would be harder to find a more comfortable, less barren, and more welcoming country than Iceland anywhere on the planet. It’s also beautiful beyond words, which happens to be a boon to those of us like me who make a living making photos. But even to those who know and love Iceland dearly, the idea of visiting in winter might be a bit too much to bear. But Icelandic winters, for the most part, are no colder than those in New York, London, or Paris. In fact, there are some pretty compelling reasons to visit and photograph Iceland in winter – yes, even on purpose.

1. Fewer Tourists and Photographers

Iceland is becoming more and more popular with every passing year and people are discovering that winter is a great time to see and experience Iceland. But there are still much fewer tourists and photographers during this “off season” than there are during the summer months. Want fewer crowds at the popular Icelandic photography hotspots? Try winter.

2. The Aurora Borealis

Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see and photograph the aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights in the northern hemisphere. Iceland falls at exactly the right latitude in the aurora belt (yes it is possible to go too far north to see the northern lights) so as long as the sky is dark and clear, there’s a high probability that you will see it. During the most popular times to visit Iceland, May through August, the sky never gets dark enough at night to see the aurora. Winter nights in Iceland are long and dark, perfect for aurora photography and watching.

3. Surreal Snowy Landscapes

If you like minimalist landscape and nature images, Iceland in the winter is a target rich environment, particularly after a fresh snowfall. White-on-white scenes with the ubiquitous pewter winter skies can be the perfect canvas for creating some stunning winter landscapes. No color or epic sunrise and sunset lighting needed here. Just throw in some iconic Icelandic horses and you have winter’s understated beauty at its best.

4. Ice Caves

Ice caves are created by rivers and streams carving tunnels under the glaciers during the warm summer months. There are very few experiences as surreal and magical as exploring these sapphire blue caves with a camera and an experienced guide. During the winter season – from approximately November through March – the water freezes and the caves become safe to enter. This is one bucket list experience you do not want to miss.

5. Changing Light

The light in Iceland is phenomenal. In the winter, the sun never rises very high above the horizon so the low-angled light is always soft and warm – the type of light photographers dream about. But even when the weather is bad (and yes, it can be bad) it never seems to last very long. There’s always a break in the clouds somewhere which gives the intrepid photographer hope of something good on the way. Of course, it also makes you appreciate the good weather when you have it. As I said, it’s changeable and highly changebale light is what gives landscape photographers those truly magical moments.

What to Bring?

Bring a warm coat or parka, worn over layers of fleece or wool and warm ski cap; gloves for warm hands comfort but often awkward when doing photography. I like Sealskinz Waterproof, Windproof, and Breathable gloves for Iceland; water and windproof ski or snow pants; waterproof boots are more important than insulated. I prefer Arctic Sport Muck Boots with 2 pairs of wool socks; slip-on micro spikes for the inevitable ice are essential. I use Kahtoola Microspikes.

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer is the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.