No one enjoys a long-haul flight: the sleeplessness, bad food, freezing air temperatures, germ sharing and jetlag all contribute to a less than pleasant experience. It’s really the last way you want to start and end a vacation. Living in the U.S. and travelling home to Australia once a year means I’m a long haul flight regular. So, I combined forces with a few frequent flying buddies to find out their secrets to making long-haul flights more bearable. The following are our best survival tips and techniques.
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It’s unlikely that your long-haul flight is direct, so take advantage of any stops along the way and turn them into extended layovers. Spend a day or two exploring your stopover destination and getting some rest so you don’t have to stress about sleeping on the plane.
Select the best seat
The perfect seat is different for everyone, but there are some strategies to keep in mind:
- If you want more legroom, exit rows are your friend.
- Steer clear of crying children by staying away from the front of the plane where international flights usually have special provisions for babies.
- If you like to move around during your flight or have easy access to the restroom, select an aisle seat.
- Does turbulence bother you? Select a seat over the wings of the plane and avoid the rear of the craft which is most dramatically affected.
Pack a great book in your carry-on or load up your chosen device with music, podcasts and even movies to keep your mind occupied during waking hours. Make sure you have your favourite headphones. If you can, splash out on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and you will never go back to those uncomfortable earbuds again.
Recommended: Bose QuietComfort 35 Bluetooth Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones – these are cheaper if you buy them factory renewed from Bose outlets. My husband and I bought both our factory renewed pairs at the same time and got an additional discount for the multiple purchase.
You’ve worked hard, saved money, planned, booked and finally you’re off on what should be a fabulous trip…and then it hits. Most people have experienced the “let-down effect,” getting sick when you finally relax after a period of stress. Yes, it has a name! For me, this usually means getting sick in the first 48hours of my vacation, and a long-haul flight is the perfect germ breeding ground to catch a vacation-spoiler.
After much reading on the topic (note, I am not a doctor and cannot offer medical advice), these are some of my health practices for surviving a long haul flight:
- Use a saline nasal spray every couple of hours to keep nasal hairs moist. Nose hairs dry out and become less effective in the dry air of a plane. A spray will keep them moist and catching the germy particles their supposed to. I use this Flo Travel Spray, but ask your doctor/pharmacist to recommend a product for you.
- Use hand sanitizer after every bathroom visit (even though you’ve washed your hands) and before touching any food/drink. There are huge amounts of bacteria on flush buttons, restroom door handles, tray tables, seatbelts etc.
- Open the air vent to increase the flow of filtered air around you.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition that occurs when blood clots form in deep veins, commonly in your legs. A clot can break free and travel to your lungs causing a pulmonary embolism. Talk about a joy-kill! Long flights provide the right conditions for developing DVT because of the dry air which can thicken the blood, along with low cabin pressure and small seats preventing mobility which causes blood to collect in the legs. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to prevent DVT such as staying hydrated, compression stockings and gentle exercises regularly throughout your flight. Even if you can’t pace the aisle, try some seated exercises.
In the 24hours leading up to your long-haul flight and while onboard, drink water consistently to keep yourself hydrated. Pack your own water bottle, so you can drink whenever you feel like it and aren’t being rationed one tiny plastic cup at a time. Also, request an aisle seat at check-in for unhindered restroom access. I recently switched to packing an insulated hot/cold travel mug because I can buy a decent cup of tea/coffee before getting on the plane and the sealable mug keeps it warm for a few hours. Then I use it as a water container for the rest of the flight.
Recommended: Zojirushi Stainless Steel Travel Mug, 12-Ounce/0.36-Liter or 16-Ounce/0.48-Liter
Plane food is awful at the best of times and not particularly healthy. Bring your own protein bars, pre-peeled hard-boiled eggs, nuts and dried fruit to snack on or substitute when you just can’t face another tray of mush. If you are a tea connoisseur like myself, pack a handful of your favourite tea bags. The stuff most airlines serve is horrendous and you don’t want to know where that hot water has been – or maybe you do!?
NOTE: Despite reading that other people take dips like hummus on board, mine was taken off me by security because they considered it a liquid/gel. Obviously, this will depend on the security personnel involved, but if you don’t want to risk it being thrown out, bring something solid.
Divide and conquer
Divide up the block of time into more bearable chunks. Usually, meals are served at the beginning and end of long-haul flights, therefore start with a movie or two while meal service takes place. Once the lights are lowered, try to get a few hours of sleep. After as much shut-eye as you can muster, turn on that entertainment system again and distract yourself until landing.
Take basic toiletries
I take a basic set of carry-on sized toiletries on long-haul flights because it’s amazing how much better you feel with a minty-fresh mouth and clean face. My kit includes a toothbrush and toothpaste, face wash with a small washcloth and moisturizer.
Recommended: Humangear GoToob, 3-Pack for carry-on size toiletries that won’t leak
Keep warm and cozy
Dress in comfortable layers and pack a pair of fluffy socks to keep you warm. Don’t go barefoot – remember aeroplanes are playgrounds for infection-causing microorganisms. Wear breathable fabrics and a good deodorant because you could be in the same clothes for more than 24-hours. Loose-fitting clothes in soft fabrics with elasticised waists are your best bet.
Bring your favourite scarf to wrap yourself in and a travel pillow of your preference. Avoid airline supplied blankets and pillows which have had questionable levels of cleaning. Personally, I don’t trust the cleanliness of airline supplied pillows for my head, but I do use them as additional lumbar support to make my seat more comfortable.
Get out of there ASAP
Before you leave home, know how you are getting from the airport to your accommodation. When you arrive, you will likely be disorientated and exhausted. Reduce the need to make decisions or find your way by having it planned in advance. Book a transfer or know your public transport options.
Alternatively, research the system for catching cabs so you don’t end up in an unauthorized vehicle that will give you the run-around. Uber can be great, but if you don’t have a credit card with the local currency attached to your account you are going to be charged conversion fees. Not to mention if you don’t have a local SIM/phone number it can be difficult to contact your driver if the pickup location is unclear.
Survive your next long-haul flight like a frequent flyer, with these tips and tricks crowdsourced from a group of savvy travellers. If you have anything to add to the above, please let me know in the comments below.
Peace, love & inspiring travels,