We love a one-way flight, and many of these are shorter jaunts that only last a couple of hours or less. But when your adventure takes place on the other side of an ocean, long flights simply can’t be avoided.
The best way to relax and enjoy those 10- or 15-hour flights is, of course, to fly first class. But how do you make it from one continent to the next if you’re traveling on a budget?
These are our top seven tips for surviving long flights:
1. Pack your own snacks. A hungry traveler is an irritable traveler. (Hangry, anyone?) While some international airlines feed you a seemingly continuous stream of meals and snacks, others barely feed you at all. And with changing time zones, even generous meals may not be served at the time your body is ready to refuel. If you’re departing from home, raid your pantry for high-protein foods you can pack in snack bags and enjoy whenever you’d like. Our favorites include wasabi peas, beef jerky, and dark chocolate, all of which offer a lot of flavor, since altitude affects your taste buds. Coming straight from home to the airport I also like to bring cheese and crackers, which generally make it through security just fine, as do apples and baby carrots. You can grab these or similar snacks at any local grocery worldwide, but you’ll have to eat them before you land and go through customs. Airport purchases work well, too, although they’re more expensive.
2. Stay hydrated. Altitude dehydrates you, which makes you achy, restless, and tired. Exactly how you don’t want to feel when you’re traveling. Our Grand Canyon rafting guide gave us another tell-tale sign of dehydration: crankiness. Anytime you’re feeling a bit testy, start with a long drink of water. I bring my own foldable water bottle that I can fill at airport water fountains, which gets me through the early part of flights before galley service begins. Mike loves diet Coke, and after he’s enjoyed one purchased from an airport provisions shop, he rinses the bottle out and fills it at a water fountain, too. Once a long flight is underway, we often walk to the galley and request extra cups of water between service. If you’re in the middle or window seat on a long flight with sleeping neighbors you don’t want to disturb, don’t hesitate to push the call button and ask a flight attendant for more water. It’s important.
3. Plan for quiet rest. Resting on long flights is just as important as staying hydrated. While it’s tempting to binge-watch all the free movies, make some time to sleep. Even the flight attendants and pilots are doing it in the air. It helps you avoid jet lag and means you’ll be ready to hit the ground running when you reach your destination. Have a hard time tuning out all the distractions? Create your own bubble of peace. Use a soft eye mask, noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs, a neck pillow, and a shawl or large scarf as a light (and clean) blanket. Add some melatonin or other sleep aid, and you have sweet dreams headed your way.
4. Keep essentials at easy access. Don’t put what you need during the flight in your overhead bag. If you do, you’re inevitably that person who has to unpack in the middle of the aisle. If you don’t have a separate underseat bag where you can keep all of your in-flight essentials handy, then pack a separate pouch or travel cube in your suitcase that you can grab before the flight takes off and keep at your seat.
5. Happy feet aren’t just for penguins. Speaking of that person, hopefully you aren’t walking around the plane in your bare feet or even stockinged feet. (Have you ever noticed the floors of airplane bathrooms? Nobody wants that wet mess touching their skin.) We like to wear our favorite socks in flight, which happen to be Japanese split-toe Tabi socks. They are inexplicably comfortable, and it’s easy to slip on a pair of lightweight flip-flops or foldable travel flats over them for your trips up and down the aisle.
6. Stretch and move. They say sitting is the new smoking, and sitting for long periods is even worse for you at altitude. While deep vein thrombosis is scary in and of itself, its nickname is even scarier: economy class syndrome. Let that sink in for a second, fellow budget travelers. To combat this, use simple chair exercises to keep your blood flowing. On a recent China East flight, they played a chair yoga video on cabin monitors so everyone on board could wake up with the sunrise. If you feel silly exercising at your seat (even with the rest of your fellow passengers), here’s my favorite trick: drink a ton of water. Not only will you stay hydrated, but you’ll need to make at least a couple of trips to the restroom, which will keep you moving.
7. A fresh traveler is a happy traveler. As your long flight is coming to an end, take a few minutes to freshen up in the lavatory. We travel with a supply of disposable wipes (my favorite and Mike’s favorite) and these amazing disposable washcloths for washing your face (not to mention serving as toilet paper when none is available). Most importantly, brush your teeth. After 15 hours in the air, nothing makes me feel like a human being again more than a minty fresh mouth.
Do you have any tried-and-true tips for surviving long flights? We’d love to hear them!