How to Survive a Long Flight
After traipsing across the ocean numerous times, I’ve added to my arsenal of how to survive those super long flights. Many of my trips have been multiple long legs, with stopovers, resulting in 25 -33 hours to get to my destination. My items have served to entertain me, stay as physically comfortable as possible, and get some much-needed sleep.
Your carry-on is of course super important. Keep it as light and small as possible, so you can fit everything you need within reach under the seat in front of you and still have room to stretch your legs beside it. I always pack a small empty water bottle (thanks to security and not being allowed liquids), then once past security I fill it up at the water fountain. No bottled water for this eco-conscious gal! Staying hydrated is absolutely key and I find the flight attendants don’t come around often enough with the liquids.
To entertain me I carry a book for in-depth reading and a magazine when I just want to do some flipping or read short articles. I’ll admit it. I buy “Woman’s World” for this purpose. It’s super thin thanks to no advertising, and has a crossword at the back with just enough to get me thinking but not frustrate me into giving up. For really long flights I usually throw in another little book of crosswords.
I’m too cheap to have bought an iPod (yet!) but I’m getting to the point where I think I’ll have to break down and get one. I listen to the airline’s music tracks but the pickings are often slim and then when I get to the 2nd or 3rd time of hearing the same songs, it’s time to get with the times and purchase something to listen to where I can load it up with my favourites.
Snacks are great if you get the munchies, or if you’re hungry from a meal you didn’t like. Easy carry-ons are granola bars, nuts (unsalted is best when flying), and dried fruit.
Comfort and Sleep
For comfort, always wear pants that either have a drawstring or are elasticized at the top. Nothing’s worse than trying to get comfortable with pants that don’t ‘give’. Also, wear layers because airplanes are notoriously too hot or too cold.
Airplanes are so incredibly dry that having a tiny bottle of moisturizer is a necessity. For some, lip balm as well. If you really hate the dryness, even carry a little spritzer that feels so good sprayed on the face.
Now to sleep but I’ll warn you – do this only if you’re okay looking like a total geek. For me, I gave up on vanity some time ago when flying and go for comfort now. First, I blow up my neck pillow which has immensely helped with comfort and reduced the neck cramps I’ve endured. Instead of around my neck, sometimes I just lean on it, like a pillow.
Then I blow up a foot pillow. You may not have heard of this one because they’re rare indeed and I have yet to see another traveler use one but I tell you, it is absolutely amazing how much they help with comfort. I have long legs and yet I didn’t realize until I got one how much more comfortable it is when I prop my legs up to sleep. My foot pillow is a cylinder so I can also use it to roll back and forth to do a bit of foot and leg exercises. I’ve only ever seen it for sale in one airport travel shop – I think it was in London. There are, however, some rectangular ones for sale at Magellans and Amazon.
Take off your shoes since feet tend to swell when flying. Some flights I’ve been on have a pair of socks in their goodie bag (and yes, this is in economy class!). Just in case they don’t, carry a pair of thick socks or little slippers.
Next come out the ear plugs, which are the soft kind that form to the inside of the ears. They should be comfortable enough that within a few minutes you don’t feel them. If I have a headset then I can put that over top to listen to some soft music coming through, which also masks more of the airplane noise. Unfortunately it’s tough to use ear buds with ear plugs!
Next comes the blanket to cozy up in. They’re quite thin so don’t give a lot of warmth but there’s something about having a blanket that makes my body and mind realize it’s time to relax and hopefully sleep.
Finally the eye shades come out. It not only blocks out light but also gives a signal to those around that you want to sleep. Hopefully this motivates them to keep noise down.
Of course all the recommendations are no coffee or alcohol when flying but I will admit, I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. Wine makes me incredibly sleepy so I find it helps me drift off. The key is moderation.
When you are awake, it’s best to walk around as much as possible. This not only keeps the stiffness and cramps to a minimum, but helps against deep vein thrombosis (DVT) too. For those prone to DVT, compression stockings are also a good idea.
Now I have to give mention to dealing with seatmates. I usually travel solo so have frequently ended up in conversations with strangers. A couple of times I’ve made the mistake of starting to talk as soon as we sat down in the plane. It’s ended up in 8-hour conversations (I’m not kidding – the whole 8 hours!) while I heard about their entire lives. One time it was especially bad and I got so tired of listening – not to mention my neck hurting from looking to the side – so I tried pulling out a book (he kept talking). Then I said I’d try to sleep and put on all my gear, only to have them serve a meal as soon as I got comfortable. I gave up! Now I use prevention: say hello, then immediately turn to a book or magazine. Normally I don’t engage in conversations now until at least a couple of hours have passed. This way if I end up with a talker, it won’t be for the whole 8 or more hours!
Walking around the plane has so many plusses. First, it’s exercise. Second, it’s a way to pass the time. Third, long hauls always have a tray of water and juices out somewhere so I can go get re-hydrated. Fourth, I’ve had some great short conversations with other travelers doing the same thing and often flight attendants join in too.
If you are prone to motion sickness, I’ve got the perfect solution! I don’t travel without wristbands with pressure points to stop feeling nauseous. They work instantly and no side effects associated with medications. You can get them at pretty much any travel shop, or at Amazon’s – http://www.amazon.com/Travel-Wristbands-Motion-Sickness-Pair/dp/B000RH1RV2 In a pinch, I’ve pressed on the wrist location with my fingers but it’s hard to do on both wrists on one’s own. Here’s a photo of them and instructions of where to press: http://travelband.com/about-travelband.htm
Another natural solution is a small vial of peppermint oil that I sniff when I’m starting to feel nauseous. An added bonus is that you can sniff it if some smells are making you sick.
I think one of the big questions is where is the best place to sit in the plane? Should I take a window seat or aisle seat? As to location in the plane, over the wing is always best for stability since you’ll feel turbulence the least here. As to window or aisle, I used to always take window but now I always take aisle. Window is really great for not being disturbed and being able to lean to get comfortable napping, as well as looking outside. However, on long haul flights I start feeling claustrophobic, especially if I want to walk around or go to the bathroom, and my seatmate(s) is sleeping. Knowing how hard it is to sleep on a plane I don’t want to wake them, but then I feel cornered in.
The aisle makes it so much easier to move around, which is increasingly important to me. The downside is of course not having something to lean against (unless you have someone you know next to you, or want to know that someone next to you!). Also, I find people often bump me walking by so please people, walk carefully down plane aisles and go sideways if you need to.
Exit rows are of course in demand due to the extra leg room. The worst seats are right by the bathroom and in some planes, the back row doesn’t have reclining seats. To find out the best seats for the airplane you’ll be on, check out Seat Guru.
Probably one of the most important suggestions I can make, is to pick a night flight if you have a long trip to make. I find it impossible to sleep in the daytime so by flying at night, I have a chance of sleeping. Also, the airline turns the lights low, people are quieter, and interruptions fewer to help passengers get that much needed nap.
I hope these suggestions help you to have a more comfortable and enjoyable long flight. I’d love to hear more tips so please add yours in the comments.