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Preparing for a long flight? We’ve all been there and more often than not I, as a professional travel writer who is a frequent flier as part of my job, go through long-haul flights nearly every month. This is why I wrote this guide where you’ll find plenty of long haul flight tips and insights on how to survive long flights, regardless if this is your first time flying or you hundredth.
We all know that there is nothing more exciting than setting off on an adventure to a completely new country far, far from where we live. Even arriving at the airport gives you thrills. But before you get to your final destination, you first need to get through the long-haul flight – and that is no fun at all.
Not only does it get incredibly boring after a while, but being in the air for so long is not the easiest thing for your body to deal with. However, there are plenty of things you can do in order to make your long-haul flight as stress-free and pleasant as possible.
To help you survive that flight, check out these handy long haul flight tips.
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 Comfort on long flights: Reserve a good seat
- 2 Pack your cabin bag well
- 3 Wear comfortable clothes
- 4 Drink plenty of water
- 5 Use moisturizer and lip balm – and do not wear make-up
- 6 What to do on a long flight: How to keep yourself entertained
- 7 Take your own snacks
- 8 Do not forget to move about
- 9 Sleep
- 10 Freshen up when you wake up
Comfort on long flights: Reserve a good seat
Anyone who has been squished between two people in the middle seat knows that selecting the perfect place to sit is a key aspect of surviving a long-haul flight. The best way of getting the seat you want is by checking in online as soon as it opens – this will vary depending on the airline, so make sure you know exactly when it is.
For me, this is usually any window seat since I like to sleep or relax during long flights, while for some of my friends it is the aisle seat near the back of the plane as they like to get up and move around during a flight.
The point is that it’s critical for you to think about your best case scenario and getting it! Note: Some airlines now, for a fee, allow you to select your seat at the time of purchase. This is one way to guarantee getting what you need.
Personally, I also prefer not to be near children, so sometimes a seat towards the back tends to be a better solution (the front of the plane is usually where you will find special provisions for those traveling with babies on international flights).
If you are tall or want more legroom, go for one of the exit rows.
PRO TIP: I usually use Skyscanner to check the best flight options. They have tons of deals.
You might also like: Experiencing the Premium Cabin on the Norwegian Air 787 Dreamliner
Pack your cabin bag well
After your seat location, this is the most important thing you need to do when you are taking a long-haul flight – make sure that everything you will need during your flight is in your cabin bag (carry on bag).
It really is annoying when you go to grab something out of your daypack only to discover that you’ve actually packed it in your check-in baggage.
While exactly what’s important enough for you to have near you will be an individual decision, there are a few things I suggest that everyone should have, in their cabin bag, if they are taking a long-haul flight. Here is a quick checklist that you can use:
- Passport and any other essential travel documents such as visas and boarding passes (I recommend for you to get a travel wallet)
- A change of outfit
- Mini toiletries such as toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant and face wash (be mindful of the liquid allowance). Personally I love this toiletry set for women and this one for men.
- Disinfecting wipes for the airplane
- Antibacterial wipes for the face and hands
- Lip balm
- Phone and earphones
- Power bank
- Neck pillow
- Reading materials and your kindle or e-reader
- Large scarf or blanket
- Travel towel
- Compression socks
- International portable wifi device
Find other hand picked items you should have while traveling on our travel shop
But packing well is not just about what you pack, it is about how you pack. Make sure that you pack your cabin bag in such a way that anything you think you will need during the flight can be easily reached. This way, you are not hunting through your bag for ages to find that one thing you desperately need.
Most airlines allow for you to have a personal bag along with your carry-on. Your bag that you plan to put under the seat in front of you should contain essentials for the flight (headphones, reading materials, chargers, sanitizer, etc.) all within easy reach.
While your carry-on is usually in the overhead compartment so you can have a change of clothes in there to be accessed after the flight, to freshen up in an airport restroom or lounge.
If you think you are just going to need a couple of items from your cabin bag during your flight, you may want to consider putting them into a smaller bag (like a packing cube) inside your cabin bag so that they are easily accessible together in one place.
Check out one of my favorite carry-on bags
Wear comfortable clothes
While you may have thoughts of stepping off the plane looking well-groomed and like an A-list Hollywood star, the reality is that almost everyone looks terrible when they get off a long-haul plane, regardless of what they are wearing.
Add this to the fact that you will have been sitting in the same clothes for a number of hours, and you can probably understand why it is far better to dress for comfort, when traveling for extended periods, rather than style.
I usually opt for loose-fitting or stretchy pants, such as yoga pants (tracksuit bottoms and leggings are also excellent options) as they are easy to move around in, paired up with a top which is also quite loose – or at least not super tight-fitting – and I’m good to go.
When it comes to shoes, you should be able to slip them on and off easily, and you may also want to consider wearing compression socks to stop your legs and ankles from swelling up during the flight.
One important tip: If you are seeing someone special or running into a business meeting right after the long flight, make sure to start getting ready at least 30-45 minutes before landing. You can change your clothes and freshen up or, if you are a woman, redo your make-up before arriving. This is what I usually do to look fab enough immediately after a long-haul flight. I like to feel ready to handle whatever comes next!
Check out some of my favorite essentials to travel comfortable and in style!
Drink plenty of water
Everyone knows that flying at altitude is terrible for your body. It is incredibly dehydrating and is one of the reasons why a lot of people feel awful after such a long journey.
This is why it is so important to be drinking water regularly throughout the entire flight.
Even if you get free water and other drinks on the flight (usually small portions), it is a good idea to buy a bottle or two from the duty free shop at the airport before you board the flight; sometimes airline staff can get really busy and are not be able to bring you a drink immediately, especially if they are in the process of serving the in-flight meal or snacks.
Or maybe lights are out and there are no airline staff to be seen. If you have your own bottles of water on hand, this means you won’t become dehydrated and can at least have something to sip on until the staff is available to bring you exactly what you want.
On a similar note, while you are in the air you should try and stay away from the alcohol beverages. While it is really common for many people to start drinking before they even get on the plane, alcohol is not the best option for long haul flights.
Apart from the obvious potential hangover, if you drink too much, alcohol has a different effect on the body when at altitude. Regardless of how much consume, because you have a lower level of oxygen in your blood, the higher up you fly the faster and stronger are the effects of alcohol.
You will feel it much more quickly when drinking on a plane, which will, in turn, lead to further dehydration.
If you do feel the need to imbibe, make sure to also drink plenty of water. or another soft drink, in between alcoholic ones. Remember, your usual limit on the ground might be quite different when flying.
Use moisturizer and lip balm – and do not wear make-up
While drinking water is the most important thing when it comes to preventing dehydration, you should also consider that dehydration affects the skin as well as your insides.
To stop your skin and lips from completely drying out, regularly during your flight it is a good idea to moisturize and apply lip balm.
Also, do not bother with make-up while you are on the flight. Not only does your skin have enough to deal with, between the altitude and the dry plane air, but to keep your make-up looking good, you would just have to keep reapplying it.
OK, so this might give you something to do during the flight, but you won’t be doing your skin any favors. Do yourself a real favor and give the make-up a miss.
You can always make yourself up before exiting the plane. Stick to the bare minimum until after you land. Your skin will thank you!
What to do on a long flight: How to keep yourself entertained
No matter how thrilled you are about arriving at your destination, that level of excitement cannot be sustained for a significant number of hours. At some point, boredom is going to set in and you will find yourself more agitated than excited.
Like with any long journey, it is vital that you bring stuff to keep yourself entertained while on board. Yes, there may be onboard entertainment in the form of movies and games, but it’s better to be prepared for any eventualities.
Sometimes, even when I’m on a flight with an entertainment system, I have found that there is nothing that I want to particularly watch, read or play, even if the choice is massive – yes, I am that picky.
I have also been on flights when the entertainment system has gone down, so no one was able to access anything. This is why you should always bring your own form of entertainment or just something to keep you busy.
Note: We all generally carry items such as smartphones, laptops, tablets and other kinds of electronic devices, so make sure they are fully charged so that you can use them during the flight (and make sure they’re in flight mode before you take off).
Other ways of keeping yourself busy include work or study materials, writing in a journal, or do something artsy like an adult coloring book. If your neighbors are friendly, you could always try to strike up a conversation.
Whatever you do, make sure that it’s something relaxing too. It will make the time pass faster and your overall experience more enjoyable.
Take your own snacks
If you are lucky, you may get one or two in-flight meals and a couple of snacks to stave off any hunger pangs during your flight. However, with more and more major airlines deciding that these things are additional extras that should be paid for separately from the ticket, in many cases it is becoming necessary to buy your own food on the plane.
Of course, when it comes to full meals it is better to purchase these on board, but for snacks (especially healthy snacks), it is better to either bring these with you from home or buy them at the duty-free.
Even if you do get food on the plane as part of your ticket, it is still a good idea to have some of your own snacks in reserve; after all, there is no guarantee that we will like the snacks we get on the plane, so we might as well bring something we like with us, just in case.
Do not forget to move about
Sitting in one place for extended periods of time can make you feel very stiff. Although it may be really tempting to sit back and relax throughout your whole journey, it is important that you get up and walkabout.
Every hour or two, take a lap around the cabin – obviously, only when the seatbelt sign is switched off – and also rotate your ankles every so often while you are in your seat.
As well as preventing you from getting achy muscles, it will also help your blood circulation and prevent serious medical issues such as deep vein thrombosis.
Another Favorite: How to deal with Jet Lag
Fortunately, I am one of those lucky people who has no problem falling asleep on planes but, unfortunately, my partner has massive issues when it comes to trying to get some shut-eye when in the air, and I know that he is not alone. Many share this same problem.
While sleeping on a flight can seem like an impossible task for many, there are things you can do to help you nod off – and they start before you actually get on the plane.
On the day of your flight, try not to drink too much caffeine. As we all know, caffeine keeps us awake, so if you are drinking lots of coffee in the airport lounge, you are going to find it difficult to get to sleep once you do get on the plane.
For my partner, there are two things which, stop him from getting to sleep easily on a flight. The first is the background noise; even if it is just a quiet murmuring of voices, if he is trying to sleep he still finds it annoying. This is why earplugs are an essential item for him when he travels (not just for planes, but also for accommodation).
If you are sensitive to light, you may also want to consider taking an eye mask with you, or at least something that you can use to block out the light from the cabin.
The second thing which affects his sleep and honestly mine too, even though I can usually sleep on planes, is the temperature. I do not know if this is just the planes that we have been on, but the airline staff always seem to crank up the air conditioning, meaning the plane is absolutely freezing.
You should get a blanket and pillow on your flight, but we usually find that the blanket is not big enough; this is why I listed a large scarf or blanket as part of your essentials in the first section of this article. Being warm will help you sleep more easily, so having an adequate blanket is a must. I personally like to have neck pillows, so you may want to take one with you.
If you know that you have major issues sleeping on planes due to either external factors or nerves about flying, you may want to think about using a sleep aid during the flight.
Depending on where you live, there are over-the-counter remedies available, but it is still important that you speak to your doctor before taking anything – it is always better to be safe than sorry.
If you do decide to go down the medication route, you should give it a test-drive a few days before you fly to make sure you have no adverse reactions; like all medications, these remedies can have side effects and some people may even be allergic, so it is absolutely imperative you do not take it for the first time on a flight.
Tip: Melatonin works for my partner and it is a great alternative, natural remedy which helps you relax and more easily fall sleep. It is listed on my favorite In-Flight Relaxation Methods & Essentials seen below.
Here are some of my favorite In-Flight Relaxation Methods& Essentials
Freshen up when you wake up
This is possibly the worst thing about taking a long-haul flight – not having the opportunity to take a shower and feeling really icky after wearing the same clothes for way too long. This is where the miniature toiletries in your cabin bag come in handy.
Antibacterial wipes are great for making your skin feel fresher as soon as you wake up, then you can take your other toiletries, such as toothbrush and toothpaste, to the bathroom and sort yourself out.
If you have particularly oily hair which needs washing every day, and you happen to be on a super long flight, you should carry some dry shampoo with you. This will keep your hair in good condition until you can wash it properly. If you have taken a spare set of clothes – which is highly recommended – this will also help you feel that little bit better.
Sitting on a plane for hours on end might seem like a huge chore, and it certainly is not the best way to start any vacation, but it is a necessary thing to do to get to your destination.
And if you follow these tips, then you will be more than ready to start your holiday off on the right foot, usually avoiding jet lag and anything else that might delay your fun! Enjoy!
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