I’m one of those rare cases where, as an adult, I still get giddy every time I go to the airport. For me, the ritual of bag check-ins, security belts and an ample 2 hr pre-flight wait amidst travelers and cappuccinos is nothing short of magical. Some days more than others, of course. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a morning person, the fact that people watching really lights my fire. But maybe it’s really because I’ve got a system down pat for long haul flights, so I have no stress going into those 12-20 hour journeys with nothing between me and the clouds, but a slab of metal and plush neck pillow.
I wasn’t always like this, believe me. I took this turn only a few years ago when I learned that preparation is everything, and so is mindset. I could have taken the “Best Lead” prize home every year for the Nervous Flier Oscar Awards. After all, trust should be earned and when the RyanAir crew claps immediately after touchdown as if it’s a surprise or miracle that we’ve actually arrived alive, it seriously messes with your psychological juju.
So here are my best tips for surviving long haul flights:
1 | Book early to snag a window seat
There’s nothing worse than trying to get comfortable when you’re smushed between strangers or when you’re on the aisle, risking a foot injury with every passing beverage cart. Window seats are a no-brainer when you think about the fact you’ll have a natural surface to rest your head against. Not to mention, you won’t have to get up to use the restroom or stretch your legs for anyone but yourself. You’ll also want to avoid bulkhead seats as these don’t always have a screen for in-flight entertainment, and you won’t have “under-the-seat” baggage storage. Everything will have to go in the bins…
2 | Dress comfortably and wear layers
You can still don a stylish travel outfit! Just make sure it’s cozy, dynamic and easy to move around in. You’ll want to have layers that are easy to change in your seat (think scarf or thick cardigan) depending on the temperature, as well as closed toed shoes. That AC gets UNBEARABLE sometimes, and your scarf or cardigan can double as the perfect blanket. See a few of my favorites from Anthro’s newest collection here, here and here!
3 | Take an evening departure
I’ve found that my flights from the US to Europe are best taken at night. Not only is my body a little more prepared for sleep a few hours into my flight, I’ll arrive in the morning, ready to start the day! That being said, the best way to combat jet lag is to stay awake as long as you can that first day so you can acclimate to the new schedule. Download the Starbucks app now 😉
4 | Have a game plan for sleep
You gotta be prepared for the oncoming jet lag, which often requires you to sleep on the plane. My best advice is to not let yourself get too carried away with the in-flight movies or complimentary wine. Free is not always free – you’ll pay for these choices later! So set boundaries for yourself, bring a neck pillow, sport a comfy eye mask, put in some earplugs or noise cancelling headphones and get lots of rest.
Photo by Sarah Humphries Agency
5 | Bring melatonin
Screaming children and chatty passengers are by no means conducive to a good night’s sleep. Trust me when I say that melatonin will be your new best friend for getting some shut-eye a little earlier (and a little less comfortably) than what you’re used to.
6 | Exercise the day before or the day of your flight
You’ll be sitting in a metal tube for far longer than you can mentally prepare yourself for, so to make sure you aren’t feeling too cramped or swollen, schedule in an intense exercise the day before or morning of your flight. It’ll improve your overall heart health and circulation, plus it’ll probably make it a lot easier for you to fall asleep too.
7 | Pack smart
Getting to your departure gate has just as much effect on your flight experience than those airbound hours themselves. That means packing smart with your carry-ons. Research your airlines restrictions ahead of time and pack only the necessities. I always try to pack my laptop, chargers, an extra outfit, dry shampoo and makeup in my carry-on just in case my checked bag were to be lost or routed to the wrong airport. (It’s not a bad idea to pack some extra cash in your destination’s currency as well – in a secure area.) I can’t say enough good things about my carry-on luggage from Away. Not only is it smooth + easy to roll, the compartments make it so easy for me going through security AND it has a built-in USB port so I can charge my phone without an outlet. Not to mention it has a TSA-approved lock so no one is getting in my bag but me. This bag has undoubtedly been a key factor in making my travel experiences awesome!
8 | Bring your own snacks
Airline food is, well, the worst. And that’s not me being a food snob! That’s me trying every time, every variety, cold food, hot food…. it makes me feel queezy without fail. And that’s probably because meals are harder for your body to digest during a flight. This could totally be personal preference, but I’ve always found it better to eat an airport dinner before my evening flight and bring some snacks with me on the plane so I can eat at my own pace and know exactly what I’m getting.
Photo by Spencer Henson
9 | Stay hydrated
Nothing is worse than getting dehydrated on a flight, so bring your own bottle of water and listen to your body. Make sure you’re drinking slowly and regularly, and you’ll be set.
10 | Move around the cabin
Don’t be afraid to ask your neighbors to get up from time to time. Everyone will need to stretch their legs and use the restroom at some point, so don’t be afraid to linger in standing position before you return to your seat. Your body will thank you.
11 | Listen to podcasts
If it’s a flight I need to stay awake for, nothing helps me more than a steady stream of interesting podcasts. Especially educational ones that are about a topic I’m passionate about (cue Creative Empire or The Goal Digger Podcast for social media marketing) or brainstretching ones that live in a series (cue Serial).
12 | Bring a variety of entertainment options
That being said, it never hurts to bring a whole slew of entertainment options! A Nook, Kindle or iPad mini will be so worth the investment for the sheer amount of books you can bring on for a fraction of the weight. Or a notebook to pencil in some thoughts about a passion project or simply to free write. I always write about my travel experiences during my flights home because that’s when it’s freshest in my mind. You can also bring mind games like Sudoku or crosswords. And of course, you’ll have a whole library of recent movie releases to choose from for your in-flight entertainment.
And that’s the gist! There’s no exact science to it, and everyone is different. But these are a few of the things I’ve discovered for optimal long haul flight experiences through the years. I would love to hear yours in the comments too (and obviously where you’ve been!)