Your first thought on seeing this post is probably: Really? The first photo she posts from this magnificent journey into her Southeast Asian past is a pair of freaking SOCKS?!

To which I must respond: Why, yes. Yes, it is. Because if a journey begins with a single step, then truly that first step should be sheathed in Compression Socks; Upper-Case Compression Socks.

Let me be clear: do not get on a plane without these socks! Or their functional equivalent; I don’t have a dog in this fight.

On a long-haul flight (or even short ones, if you have un-coöperative feet like mine), your blood tends to pool in your lower legs’ veins. This can result in a most uncomfortable case of Elevation-Induced Elephantiasis. (No, no, no, don’t bother looking it up. I totally just made that up—and on one cup of coffee, thank you very much!)

The result is cankles, wherein the delineation between your calves and your ankles is obliterated by retained water—also known as edema. If you’re lucky like me, you can even feel your ankles swishing. And if don’t plan ahead, you’re liable to de-plane barefooted because your bloody shoes no longer fit.

Yeah, it’s like that. Joy.

I tend to travel a lot for my practice. A few years ago, tired of landing with swishing cankles, I bought a cheap pair of support socks. They did nothing to reduce the cankle effect, and I resigned myself to flying only in go-aheads so that I could at least leave the plane with a modicum of dignity, swishing cankles notwithstanding.

On this trip I learned that the hype about Compression Socks is deserved.

I bought these socks at REI for $49.95. My mom was with me and was convinced I had gone over the deep end. I assured her that I had done my research and was convinced that there was enough evidence to support my buying Compression Socks, price be damned. [If you want to do your own research, try this as a start, then look at the right-hand column for some related citations.]

Now: do you see what I just did there? Hah!! (with only one cup of coffee in me, I tend to crack myself up. It keeps me sane-ish.)

You see, my previous mistake was confusing lower-case support socks with Upper-Case Compression Socks.

I have no idea what lower-case support socks do. They certainly don’t reduce/prevent cankles. Upper-Case Compression Socks do. Or at least these Upper-Case Compression Socks did.

I landed in Taipei after 10+ hours in the air with (relatively) perfectly-shaped calves and distinguishable ankles. I could tell that my row-mate was envious, as he kept glancing at me in horror as I struggled through some rather interesting contortions to get the Upper-Case Compression Socks off. He could tell, I’m sure, that even though these devices (for so I think of them) maintain a vice-like grip on your calves, meaning you will have to hurt things and possibly other people to get them on and off, I had avoided the dread Elevation-Induced Elephantiasis.

Heh—that’ll teach him to ignore his lower extremities next time! I am, however, nothing if not magnanimous, and offered to let him inspect the Upper-Case Compression Socks more carefully. We must have had some sort of language gap, though (my Chinese is a tad rusty), as he couldn’t seem to get the attention of the flight attendant he was desperately trying to wave down to translate for him.

Hopefully, he’ll remember the brand name.

Deep-vein thrombosis. Cankles can be uncomfortable for a few hours or even days, and by themselves aren’t necessarily anything to worry about. There are more serious issues to deal with on long flights, particularly deep-vein thrombosis (DVT). The incidence of DVT resulting from long flights is hard to pin down, but apparently the rate increases with better respiratory health. No, that’s not a typo: well-conditioned athletes (yo, golfers: this is not necessarily you!) are more prone to DVT than, say, me.

Upper-Case Compression Socks have been shown to decrease this incidence. Look it up through the above link to PubMed—I’m on vacation here!

Note that the benefits of these socks seem to apply even to shorter flights. After a restful night at the Novatel in Taipei, I awoke to still nicely shaped ankles and calves, thank you very much. I was feeling so cocky about having avoided Elevation-Induced Elephantiasis, that I decided I just didn’t need them for the shorter, two-hour flight from Taipei to Manila.

In the immortal words of Julia Roberts: Big mistake. Big. HUGE!


A few hours after arriving in Manila, I felt that tell-tale swish in my ankles. Looking down, I discovered to my horror that I had ballooned like a …. I don’t know, I’m out of metaphors—I had ballooned like a very large bag full of big ballooned things.

So: either Upper-Case Compression Socks are the Cat’s Meow, the Bees Knees, the solution to world peace and happier feet, or my lower extremities, in a pique of indignation at being encased in an elasticized vice for ten hours, had saved up their vengeance for later. In which event, ignore everything you’ve just read.