Flight

How to Make a Long-Haul Flight Less Horrible

I was inspired by my fellow travel blogger over at Green Lights Ahead to write some tips for surviving a long-haul flight.

If you’ve never been on a long-haul flight, I can tell you with authority that they are quite brutal. There’s really nothing quite like spending 10+ hours in the air, nonstop to drain you of all energy and make you forget that there was ever a time in your life when you weren’t tired and smelly from wearing the same clothes for far too long. Still, for those of us who love to travel, there is really no way around it: at some point we’re just going to be stuck on a soul-sucking long flight.

It doesn’t have to be the worst thing in the world, however. I figure if I can get through the 15 hour nonstop flight between Sydney and Los Angeles, I can pretty much make it anywhere in the world. If you find yourself facing the prospect of a long-haul flight, here are some tips that might just make it a little more comfortable.

Bring Snacks

Yes, long-haul flights will usually feed you, but the food isn’t always that good, and you may get hungry when it’s not mealtime. Here are a few of my go-to in-flight snacks:

GoPicnic Meals: These are great because they have the complete nutritional information available, and they also have gluten free meals for people who, like me, have to worry about that sort of thing. They are mostly just snack foods, but good to have when in a pinch on a plane. You can buy them at Target or online, and I’ve also seen them on sale in some airport convenience stores.

Dried Nuts and Dried Fruit: You can make your own trail mix from healthy nuts and dried fruit before you go. That way it’s mixed exactly to your liking. I like a mixture of almonds, cashews, walnuts, cranberries, and a few chocolate chips because yum! Of course, if you don’t want to deal with making your own mix, they usually sell some sort of trail mix in the airport store, but it’s loaded with sodium so it’s not as healthy as the homemade variety, but it will do in a pinch.

Bring a real, actual meal: I always buy a meal in the airport before a long flight. It helps if you bring a few sandwich bags to the airport with you so you can remove your meal from the large to-go packaging they usually give you and stash it somewhere a little smaller for bringing into your packed area. This works well for pretty much any food that isn’t runny, but is good for grilled chicken, sandwiches, pizza, etc. Another option is to pack some food ahead of time. (For you Americans and people flying out of the U.S.: as of the time of writing this, TSA lets you bring fresh fruit and sandwiches on board. Just make sure you’ve eaten it before you get to your destination, as many countries have strict food importation rules. You can check what is currently allowed and prohibited by TSA here. )

Bring Water

You can’t bring water through security, but you can either bring through an empty water bottle or purchase a bottle of water in the airport. I highly recommend you bring water on the flight. Being in a plane will dehydrate you, which is not only fun, but also makes jet lag worse. They never hand out enough water on a plane, in my opinion, so a water bottle is key. One water bottle I really like for traveling is something like the Vapur Eclipse, that, when not in use can be rolled up and stored in your luggage. Great if you’re trying to save space or pack everything in a carry-on.

On that note, it can be tempting to drink alcohol when on a flight. It’s fun and relaxing. However, I usually avoid alcohol before and during a flight because it can be really dehydrating, especially on a plane. Stick to water and maybe hot tea in-flight and you’ll be in better shape.

Dress Warm and Comfortably

There is something to be said for the nostalgia of flying in bygone eras, where everybody dressed up fashionably for flights. Oh, how glamorous it all was! That being said, if you’re on a long-haul flight, you’re going to want to be comfortable. Most likely you’ll want to get some sleep or at the very least a little bit of rest, and in those tiny, uncomfortable airplane seats it’s hard enough to get comfortable let alone having to deal with restrictive clothes. I like wearing a pair of black cotton pants or leggings and a comfortable shirt with a big sweater. When I get onto the plane, I’ll often take off my shoes and stow them under the seat and stay comfortable in a big pair of woolen socks. I’ll usually wear sandals or loafers that are easy to slip on and off on the plane, so I can slip them on quickly if I need to get up from my seat and make a trip to the restroom.

Something people often forget is that even if you are traveling to and from warm destinations, it gets really cold on board a plane. Make sure you’re comfortable, and make sure you’re warm enough! My husband made the mistake of wearing shorts on our flight from Sydney to Los Angeles and he said it got pretty uncomfortable at times.

Bring a Large Scarf

Part of being warm and comfortable, in my opinion, is bringing a large scarf with you on board. I like one that can be wrapped around my neck for warmth, balled up and used as a pillow, or spread out and used as a tiny blanket.

Entertainment

If you’re going to be stuck in a plane for a long time, entertainment is key. Sure, most long-haul flights have entertainment on the seat backs, but I was once stuck on a long flight where mine was broken. I watched jealously as all my neighbors enjoyed movies while I thumbed through the same magazine over and over. Don’t be like me…bring some entertainment. These days, most of us have smart phones, tablets, and laptops. Spend a little time before you go loading them up with music, downloaded movies, games, e-books, audiobooks, etc. that you will enjoy. I’m a big fan of audiobooks for a long overnight flight. They always turn off the lights, so it’s hard to see anyway, and it’s nice to be able to close your eyes and rest a little while you listen to a story.

That being said, some form of non-electronic entertainment is always good as well. A magazine or paper book will never run out of batteries, so you’re guaranteed to have something to do no matter what.

Extra Charge for Your Electronics

Your phone battery will probably run out after hours of listening to music and playing games. Don’t let that happen! Bring a portable charger and you’re all set. This has saved me on long-haul fligths. Not only was I able to keep enjoying my entertainment, but I also had a battery when I arrived so I could make calls and use the internet to help me figure out things at my destination. I don’t have a specific recommendation for a portable charger. The one I have is a little old and I’m in the market for a new one, but if you Google “portable charger” you’ll get a lot of hits. This is an essential travel item for our modern lifestyles.

Get Up and Move Around

When you’re crammed like a sardine in economy class for 10+ hours, you’re going to need to get up and walk around. It’s essential to stretch every now and then. Not only can it be really uncomfortable, but there can also be health problems like blood clots or deep vein thrombosis. Make sure you get up and move around as much as possible, stretch as much as possible, and drink plenty of water to help mitigate this problem.

Book an Aisle Seat

Sure, the window seat is fun because you can see out. However, on a long-haul flight, most of what you’ll see will be either water, or generic land or cloud scenes. If you have an aisle seat, you can get up as much as you like without having to climb over your seatmates, which can be especially problematic if they happen to be asleep.

Personal Care Products

One thing that’s essential for me on a long flight is a packet of personal care products. Since you can bring a small amount of liquid on a plane, I usually bring a small bottle of lotion, which helps hydrate my skin. It gets really dehydrated in a pressurized cabin. I also like to bring a package of cleansing wipes to remove any makeup and also to clean up a little bit in the morning when I’m feeling a bit greasy. I also like to bring either some Brush ups or teeth wipes on board so I can freshen my teeth after napping (they sell a lot of different varieties on Amazon). Last, a small travel-size deodorant stick is nice for freshening up in the morning. Sometimes I even like to pack a little change of clothing in my carry-on that I can change into in the morning before we land. It always feels nice to be clean and fresh in the plane.

Pillow

If you like the traditional ‘neck pillow’ many travelers use, these can be great. However, I find that they are bulky, don’t really suit my needs, and because economy class is so cramped, there’s nowhere to stash it when I don’t want to use it. Instead, I bring an extra sweatshirt on board that I can either put on if I am cold, or fold up as a makeshift pillow.

If You Can’t Sleep, Try to Rest

I’m horrible at sleeping on planes. The tight, upright position isn’t exactly optimal for catching shut-eye. That being said, if you’re unable to fully go to sleep on a plane, it’s still really nice to get a little rest. Try closing your eyes and just resting a little. I sometimes even load up some meditation music onto my phone and play that when I want to drown out the plane noises and relax a little. It helps.

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