Vagabond Tales: Nobody plans to visit a hospital in Uruguay

About the last thing that anyone wants to have happen on their vacation is to end up in the hospital. This much nearly all travelers can agree upon.

What’s even more fun is ending up in a hospital in a country that speaks a foreign language, realizing your vocabulary doesn’t yet include the translations for words such as “syringe”, “infection”, and “spinal tap”.

Luckily for me I found myself in a hospital in a country where I actually do speak the language (Spanish) and I didn’t need any of the aforementioned words listed above. Also, perhaps even luckier is that I wasn’t actually hurt, but instead was simply in search of some prescription drugs.

Allow me to explain.

Punta del Este, Uruguay is a South American beach oasis that’s part South Beach and part Las Vegas. Furthermore, it’s safe to say it’s one of the premier party spots for global jet-setters who may be interested in obtaining some prescription drugs for a big night out.

It also just so happened to be the beach town that my wife and I found ourselves in on our honeymoon when we realized the Xanax she had been packing for the trip home was actually long-expired and completely ineffective, and we had 21 hours of flying coming up before we were safely back home in Hawaii.

It’s been well documented here on Gadling that many people frequently cope with a fear of flying in their own personal ways, and the seriousness of this situation was not to be taken lightly. With the issue of the expired Xanax making itself known, we were really reduced to only two options: buying a used car in Buenos Aires and driving back to California without being kidnapped by FARC rebels in Panama’s Darien Gap, or finding the nearest hospital and getting another prescription whipped up and bottled with our name on it. Stat.Which is how I ended up in the waiting lounge of a Punta del Este hospital attempting to convince the receptionist that two twenty-something year old foreigners who hadn’t even checked into a hotel yet and held no travel insurance really did in fact need some prescription drugs and could only pay in cash.

Yeah. Right.

To be fair, I knew that extracting drugs out of a foreign hospital with no prescription in a second language was going to be a little tricky in the first place, which is why the hospital wasn’t the first place we tried.

Prior to aiming our rental vehicle for the skeptical confines of the Punta del Este hospital we had actually done our best to terrify everyone in an upper-class residential neighborhood on the tip of the doorman at our hotel. Informing him of our immediate need for Xanax, he gave us some rudimentary directions to what was essentially “the house of a guy he knew who could hook us up.” He said the guy was a doctor and ran a home practice, but it was sketchy at best.

Some people go to Punta del Este and lay on the beach or gamble at the casino, while others apparently creep out amongst manicured lawns and spend their day on a mystical hunt for a home-practice doctor who’s mentioned only in hushes and whispers. After having lurked around at least 6 or 7 different yards with the glazed determination of international drug fiends we finally settled upon the hospital as our best bet.

Finally planted in the backroom of the beehive that all hospital’s the world over seem to be modeled after, we actually received a doctor who was very understanding and forthcoming with the goods. No English, but at least forthcoming.

He said he could recognize the genuine nature of my wife’s distress, but we must understand that the number of people who go into doctor’s offices complaining of anxiety to get their hands on some Xanax had taken a disastrous turn in the past few years.

Counting out some little blue pills and securing them in a sterile clear baggie he finally handed over what was literally our ticket back home.

Come to find out later the dosage of drugs such as Xanax in Uruguay is apparently much higher than the legal dosage allowed in the US, which is why to this day my wife on airplane flights can usually be found spilling her drink into my lap with either her chin or eye socket.

Is the hospital in Punta del Este the best way you could plan to spend part of your honeymoon? Absolutely not. But it beats losing all of your money at the casino.

Read more of the Vagabond Tales here

Virgin Atlantic releases innovative mobile Jetlag Fighter app

Virgin Atlantic just released their newest mobile application – Jetlag Fighter. Last year, we took a look at the Virgin Atlantic “Fear of Flying” app, and the airline continues the trend of well designed applications with this newest application.

In Jetlag Fighter, you are offered an impressive array of tools to help battle jetlag, and anyone who has suffered through the symptoms knows that you need all the help you can get.

The first portion of the application is educational – and offers spoken articles on Jetlag and sleep in general. The information in this section comes from Professor Chris Idzikowski, director of the Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service – an expert in sleep and jetlag.

In the profile section, you provide some basic personal information about your sleep pattern, age, health and sex. This information is then used in the trip section to provide a personalized jetlag battle plan.

Once you enter your flight information, the app calculates the best way to get rid of your jetlag, including when to go to sleep, when to wake up and when to exercise.

The app takes some work to master – and you’ll need to go through the one-time step of creating an account, but if you already have an account created in the Virgin Atlantic Fear of Flying app, you’ll be able to use it in this app.

The Virgin Atlantic Jetlag Fighter costs $1.99 and is available in the App store through this link.


Plane Answers: Announcements from the captain and Denver turbulence

Rich asks:

Hi Kent, I love your blog and it has really helped me to relax when flying. When I was a kid and used to fly it seemed as though the flight deck would regularly update passengers about what was going on with the trip, the plane, etc. Now it seems as though most of the time I hardly hear anything. It would be nice to know if there is some turbulence coming up or something like that. The best flight recently was an “Express” flight where the pilot told us on the ground that we would be having turbulence the first 30 minutes and then at about the hour and a half mark. It really helped us relax.

Hi Rich,

I once sat in the back of a United plane flying from Denver to Miami when the passenger next to me grabbed my arm during what I would consider light turbulence. As her fingernails dug into my skin, she explained to me how she’d feel so much more comfortable “if the pilot would just say something!”

It left an impression on me. At my airline those announcements are entirely up to the captain, although we’re highly encouraged to keep the passengers informed without being a nuisance. As a copilot, I’m limited to a subtle reminder every now and then about a possible PA, since it would be a bit out of line for me to start talking on behalf of the captain.

We’re given a flight plan before the flight that depicts the reported turbulence at each waypoint along the route of flight, and we could easily incorporate that into our pre-departure PA. Of course, we run the risk when getting specific about the ride to be completely wrong-I’ve run across many flights that were advertised as smooth, only to find light or moderate chop many times during the flight.

Based on the number of fear of flying questions we get, I’m convinced that at least 20% of the population is afraid to fly and I would love to make them more relaxed. A quick PA detailing the forecasted ride conditions along the route is a great idea and I may just do that when I upgrade to captain. It’s already part of our standard briefing to the flight attendants.

Recently we had a nervous passenger on board who really wasn’t interested in coming up to the cockpit. So, while still on the ground, I took the flight plan back to him and showed him the turbulence reports for our flight down to Aruba from Boston. His eyes immediately fixed on our first waypoint, Nantucket.

“Nantucket?” He said. “That’s near where JFK junior went down!”

So I’m not sure if I was able to help calm him much. But the advertised smooth ride proved accurate and he seemed happy upon deplaning in Aruba.

Rich goes on to ask another question:

Second, why does every landing and approach into Denver seem very sketchy? Every time I fly into that airport we seem to make a lot of turns and it feels as though we are either getting pushed out of the sky or the turbulence is so bad that it seems as though the plane would be hard to control. Is it the altitude or the mountains? Thanks again!

Good question. Since the wind typically goes from west to east across the country, when it hits the Rocky Mountains, it will create rough air on the east side of the range. Imagine a large rock in a river. The upstream portion of the water flowing over the rock is usually smooth, while downstream the flow of the water over the rock is disrupted.

Pilots and meteorologists call this turbulence wave action, and it can extend for hundreds of miles ‘downstream’ of a mountain range. In addition, closer toward the mountains, dangerous ‘rotors’ can form that are curving curls of airflow that pack a significant punch. Denver is far enough away to miss this kind of turbulence, but it still sees a good share of rough air.

On nearly every transcontinental flight, you’ll notice this same ‘wave action’ generated turbulence even up at the higher altitudes. It’s the most challenging area to find a smooth ride.

As far as the airplane being more difficult to control, it’s similar to driving on a gusty day. The hydraulically actuated flight controls make it easy to react to some of the gusts, but it’s still going to be bumpy. Next time you fly, notice how it usually gets smoother just before touchdown.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for the next Plane Answer’s Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work.

Bad behavior at the airport, Hollywood style and how to tips for keeping your cool

When passengers show bad behavior at the airport, everyone notices. Bad airport behavior is one place Hollywood gets it right, even when scenes are a bit outlandish.

Here are two scenes that show just what can happen when a passenger is vexed beyond sanity–either due to traveling with a family member or the actions of another passenger coupled with airline staff reactions.

Perhaps you’ll see an element of yourself or someone you know in one of these scenerios. If you happen to have one of these moments when traveling for the holidays, try to keep a sense of humor. It can help.

Along with a sense of humor, there are a few tips to keep in mind to help you not go bonkers. If you do go bonkers, check in with Gadling, we’d love to tell your tale. Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!

First up: Rain Man. Here’s what happens when two family members have a different notion of travel. Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman may be brothers, but their travel preferences don’t match.

To keep from having your own Rain Man situation, particularly when traveling with children, talk over the trip beforehand. Explain what will happen at the airport before you get there. Go over the various steps like waiting in line, going through TSA and boarding the plane. One resource that’s helpful for traveling with children is Shae By Air, a DVD made for children about taking an airplane trip.

For adults who have a fear of flying, there are resources aimed for you. Scott previewed Flying without Fear. Also, in one of his Plane Answers posts, Gadling’s own pilot extraordinaire, Kent Wien presents other tips for those afraid to fly.

Second up: Honeymoon in Vegas. If there was ever an example of passenger rage, this is it. Nicolas Cage perfectly nails the emotions. Here’s what happens when a customer service agent is overly solicitous to one very irritating customer. Tom warned about this in his post about the problem with travel professionals going that extra mile.

When another passenger is driving you nuts, try to stay calm by realizing you’re about to reach your limit. If you are in a hurry because you may miss your flight, calmly ask if you can please cut because you are about to miss your plane. I’ve seen people do this before and it works. At all costs, don’t raise your voice and start spewing spittle. It just won’t help at all.

Third up: Meet the Parents. Ben Stiller doesn’t go nuts when he’s dealing with this gate attendant’s power hungry nonsense, but her behavior does add fuel to his going bonkers behavior once he’s on the plane. Let’s call this priming the pump. The video embedding function is disabled, thus I couldn’t put it in this post but it’s an hysterical scene that’s so worth the watch.

For another example of airline personnel’s bad behavior check out these videos. This is one flight attendant who needs a chill pill.

–And, once again, Happy Thanksgiving!

Gadling app review – Virgin Atlantic Flying Without Fear (iPhone/iPod Touch)

Several days ago, Katie mentioned a new application from Virgin Atlantic called “Flying Without Fear”. I’m always on the lookout for new and innovative travel apps, so I took this one for a spin.

The first thing you notice in the application is how well it is designed – the colors are all in the familiar Virgin tints (red and purple) and navigation is a breeze. The best place to start is with the introduction video.

Richard Branson himself welcomes you to the application, and lets you know he’d love to meet you “up there” some day. Part two of the course is an explanation of the in-flight experience. This 11 minute video clip walks you though the various stages of flight.
Inflight experience video

The video is presented by a Virgin Atlantic pilot, so he knows a thing or two about the plane. During the video, you’ll be taken from the preflight portion of the flight to the final stages. He explains all about the noises you’ll hear on the ground and why you see pilots walking around the plane on the ground. The clip is very entertaining, but also quite detailed – down to the noises you’ll hear when flaps are positioned on the ground. And finally in the preflight portion, the pilot even explains what those dings are you’ll hear right before takeoff.

The takeoff portion is equally detailed – describing the exact procedure, and what all the bangs and when you can expect the engines to power down a little. The video also shows the flaps retracting, and what to expect once at cruising altitude.

In the “cruising” portion, the pilot explains the one part of flying that most people hate the most – turbulence. He explains that aircraft are designed to deal with turbulence, and that it is normal for wings to flex.

The descent and landing part once again describes the various engine noises you can expect , and what slats and flaps are doing. Especially if you are sitting near a wing, learning what these things do is quite helpful. Landing gear deployment is described, and the final approach is explained in great detail, down to the speed at which you’ll be hitting the ground.

And finally, the video explains a go-around, or an aborted landing. I’ve been through quite a few of these, and I can see where they’d be pretty scary for people with a fear of flight.

Common questions answered

Part three of the course answers all the common questions many people have when flying. It is split into various portions (engines, landing, pilots, sounds, takeoff, weather and wings). Audio clips answer almost 25 different topics, from in-flight medical emergencies to why a water landing is safe.

Each answer is very comprehensive, and once again, a Virgin Atlantic pilot answers the questions.


Once you have followed the course, you can begin on the exercises. Think of these as a kind of hypnosis. A very soothing voice leads you through the entire stage of flight.

From booking the trip to arriving at your destination. The voice is amazing, and I can really see people being relaxed listening to him. Ten different stages are offered, and you can start listening to them before you even consider taking a flight, just to get a good idea what to expect.

Fear Attack

The same soothing voice as in the exercises also helps you get through a fear attack. Part one is a breathing exercise, designed to calm you down and get your mind off the flight. This portion also provides some basic tips, like talking to your seatmate or getting up to walk around.

Managing your fears

In the final portion of the application, you can “rate” your air travel fears. After you select which portions of a flight you are the most scared of, you add the date of your flight. Then, on the day you fly, the application will send push reminders with alerts and schedule reminders.

Final thoughts

There is no denying it – this is one amazingly well designed application. I’m really impressed at how personal they made it – instead of just a couple of screens showing how to deal with your fear of flying, the app almost holds your hand and guides you through each step. The pilot video is fantastic, even for someone who does not fear flying.

The pilot narrated audio guides are also great. So many topics are covered, and the various portions create a very good resource for learning about flying. And finally, the exercises are just plain brilliant – I love the voice used to narrate these, it is so soothing and reassuring.

All the content is stored on your device, so you do not need to be connected to the Internet to take advantage of it. This means you can sit back, plug in your headphones and listen to the course whenever you want.

Of course, everyone has a different way they deal with their fear of flying, and I’m by no means able to claim this application will cure all your fears, but at $4.99, it really is worth trying. You’ll find the Virgin Atlantic Flying Without Fear application in the App store (iTunes link).