If you don’t have the luxury of flying first class, being stuck on a long-haul flight can be a serious disaster. I’m 6’1”, so for me, cramming my legs into that confined space, knees pressing into the seat in front, and elbow rubbing with the stranger beside me can be enough to deter me from trips that require long flights. Even if you don’t have long legs, most economy class tickets get you an extremely uncomfortable seat, sub-par and often repulsive meals, and a sore bum. It’s far too easy to begin your trip miserable after 8-16 hours spent crammed into your airplane seat.
Believe me, I get it.
I feel like I was minutes away from a nervous breakdown on my 16-hour flight to Sydney in 2015. I was sandwiched between two large men who had both taken several ambiens. Cue the claustrophobia.
I cried on my 19-hour flight to Denpasar, Indonesia, because I was dehydrated and ended up with a calf cramp as we passed through turbulence and I couldn’t stand up to stretch it out.
Do you feel my struggle? If so, read on and let me help you.
Enough was enough. I wasn’t willing to give up traveling, but I also wasn’t willing to suffer for hours on end every time I wanted to go abroad. I began to study, I brainstormed, I tested. This may seem like excessive effort to simply get through a flight, but believe me, it was well worth it.
I first learned how to survive a long flight. The first steps in this guide will help you find comfort, peace, and health throughout the duration of your flight. This is what I consider flight survival.
The steps that follow go beyond flight survival. These are the steps that will enable you to take advantage of your time in the air; I consider this thriving during your long flights.
If you want to learn how to not only survive but thrive during long-haul flights, then read on and follow this guide on mastering air travel.
Pick Your Own Neck Pillow
A very rare, select group of travelers were born with the incredible gift of passing out at any time, in any state, and in any position imaginable. Most of us, however, were not so fortunate. For the rest of us, if we’re hoping to catch some Z’s on our flight, we’re left with three options:
Option 1: We can go with the standard airplane sleep position, sitting straight up with your head back against the seat. This will feel ok until your neck muscles grow tired from bracing your head and you’ll have to focus on remaining upright instead of falling asleep. This is not optimal if you plan on sleeping for more than 20 minutes. You’ll also have to battle for arm rests as these are crucial for keeping you upright in this position.
Option 2: The meal tray is also a popular choice, but it’s not a position that I’d recommend. This is where you hunch over and rest your face on your palm or fist. It does a toll on the back and again is only suitable for naps of up to around 20 minutes. I’m almost sad to admit that the meal tray used to be my go to. It was only for lack of a better option, and it became pretty clear pretty quick that I was in need of a better alternative.
Option 3: GET A NECK PILLOW! I can’t stress enough how handy it is to have a neck pillow with you onboard your flight. While not the most stylish accessory, it can definitely help provide you with some much-needed neck support. For individuals prone to back pain, it’s also smart to bring a blanket to wedge behind your lower back. Oddly enough, airplane seats are designed into a C-curve, which is awful for the posture. Giving your neck and back some lumbar support, however, will significantly increase your comfort level and chances of getting proper shut-eye during your flight. There are actually some pretty unique and effective plane pillows out there, so shop around and find the pillow that suits you best.
Pick Up A Travel Wallet
Travel is already stressful enough without the added worry about keeping track of your most important belongings like your passport and wallet (although there are now vacation options available that afford you the luxury of leaving your wallet at home). Keep tabs on all of your travel documents at once with a travel wallet that comes with an easy-access boarding pass flap, wrist strap, and zippered coin pouch to ensure you travel smart and stress-free.
Bring Your Own Entertainment
In-flight entertainment systems aren’t always a sure thing so it’s wise to stock up your tablet with your favorite movies and tv shows prior to your flight. And don’t forget to bring a book or magazine to occupy you in the hour during takeoff and landing when electronics aren’t allowed. I’ve had a blast with adult coloring books on my last few flights.
Choose A Window Seat
We’ve experienced enough travel in an aisle seat to know the importance of a window seat. A window seat not only gives you a beautiful outside view, it provides you with a solid wall to rest your head on for sleep. It also ensures you won’t be bothered by fellow passengers or flight staff trying to squeeze by on the way to the bathroom or with a drink cart. Quite often you can change your seat prior to a flight, pay a small fee, and land a window seat if you don’t already have one. Well worth it!
Bring A Portable Charger
This may seem obvious but check (and then double check!) to see if you have your portable charger with you before leaving for the airport. Trust me, there is nothing worse than watching your tablet or phone die midway through your 10-hour flight. Nothing. This is sure to come in handy for the rest of your trip as well.
Make Sure To Move Around
It’s important to stretch your legs and walk around the cabin whenever you can, especially on long-haul flights. There is a multitude of benefits to be had from getting active while airborne. It may seem silly but airplane yoga has been incredible for me on long flights. Try to stretch every hour, even if it’s only in your seat. Make an effort to elevate your feet and keep your thighs clear of the edge of your seat in order to reduce the chance of cramping, swelling and developing Deep Vein Thrombosis.
We cannot stress enough how important it is to stay properly hydrated when flying. Drinking water regularly throughout your flight will help decrease the chance of DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) from occurring and also helps keep you mentally alert. Experts recommend drinking more water than you normally would when traveling, which is not surprising considering how dehydrating air travel can be.
Bring Your Own Snacks
Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t much in the way of food you can’t bring on a flight. I always chuckle when I hear passengers grumbling about how hungry they are and how expensive the onboard food is. It’s typically at that point that I elect to bring out my sandwich or fresh fruit that I picked up after security. I’m not sure why more people don’t take advantage of this. Don’t underestimate the length of your flight; there’s always an extra hour or so of tarmac wait time… You will get hungry. It’s smart to pack ahead since many flights don’t offer much in the way of fresh meals or snacks. To save on overpriced bottled water, bring an empty water bottle with you to fill up after security whenever you like!
Take Some Supplements
Even though I consider myself a master of air travel, I still find flying to be draining. Travel days are long and stressful. You likely aren’t able to eat as healthy as you’d like and you’re crammed into a germ infested tube for long periods of time. To avoid feeling completely worn out and catching some kind of a sickness during your flight, I recommend taking a few simple flight supplements to keep you energized and healthy.
Melatonin: taking a melatonin capsule before a long red-eye flight can help with falling asleep and warding off jet lag, and is especially useful for individuals who have trouble falling asleep in the first place. Crossing time zones can majorly affect our circadian rhythm, which is why experts recommend taking melatonin supplements three nights in a row after a person lands at their new destination to help ease jet lag.
Vitamin C: chances are, someone sitting beside, in front, or behind you has some kind of cold or flu. If not, there’s a good chance the passengers who sat there before you did. Regardless, there are germs surrounding you on your plane, and it’s all too easy to pick up some kind of a sickness when you’re worn out and tired in that setting. The last thing you want is to start or end your trip with a cold or flu. Do yourself a favor and pick up a Vitamin C supplement and take it before, during, and after your flight.
Try To Stay Productive
At this point, we’re surviving our long haul flights. But if you really want to take advantage of your time spent up in the air, keep on reading.
The following activities are productive and designed to be beneficial to your trip and to your life; all can be done without an internet connection:
Goal Setting: I absolutely love taking an hour or two on a plane ride to either create or assess goals that I have for myself. Once you’re comfortable in your seat, the plane is actually a great setting with minimal distractions to engage in some self-reflection and set up the next few weeks or months of your life. It’s hard to ever feel 100% prepared when you take a trip or vacation, and leaving a busy schedule or heavy workload behind can lead to some travel anxiety or homesickness. Taking some time to organize yourself and set goals can eliminate this and get the wheels turning for an amazing trip.
Photo / Video Editing: Now, not everyone is a professional photographer or videographer. But travel photography, vlogging, and blogging, and short vacation video edits are growing in popularity. If you’re a frequent traveler, you likely have some degree of experience with photo editing. If not, it may be something worth looking into. Editing short videos is extremely fun and editing your photos can really up the wow factor you receive when it comes time to share with family or post to social media. A laptop or tablet is required, but an internet connection is not. You’ll be amazed at how fast time flies by when you’re letting your creative juices flow.
Itinerary Prep: Getting travel information from a book may seem archaic when there’s so much quality travel information available online. But when it comes to planning your itinerary, a city or country guide can be an amazing tool. It’s a good idea to have your first week planned in advance so that you don’t get stuck without accommodation or a method of transporting yourself to your next location. Beyond that, it can be extremely exciting to be spontaneous and plan as you go. Spend some time on your flight flipping through your guide book and get an idea of the type of cuisines you want to try, attractions to visit, and nice places to stay. This is a sure-fire way to amp you up for your trip and you can avoid downtime once you land by having a plan of what you want to do.
So that’s it!
Your all-inclusive guide to being cozy, healthy, entertained, and productive on your long-haul plane rides! A bit of trial and error and preparation is really all it takes to become a master of air travel. Before long you’ll look forward to the 8-16 hours of free time that awaits each time you book a trip. Happy travels!
About the Author
Lauren Martineau is a professional freelance blogger & writer, storyteller & adventuress. When Lauren’s not typing 80 wpm, she’s traveling and staying fit. You can keep up with her writing on Twitter.