Let’s face it. Long haul flights are never fun. Being stuck upright in a cramped space with hundreds of others for 12 hours plus is the very definition of a nightmare to many. No matter how incredible the destination waiting on the other side is, there’s not a whole lot that makes long distance air travel enjoyable. Not even binge watching Making a Murderer. I’ve flown enough long haul flights back and forth from Europe to Australia over the years since I became an expat in Berlin to know a thing or two about how to survive these trips which can be upwards of 24 hours in length. Here are 25 of my best tips on how to survive a (painfully) long haul flight:
#1 Pick your seat (very) carefully
Not all seats are created equal and landing a crappy seat can seriously make or break your flight. While the back of the plane might mean that you’re seated away from the screaming babies who are usually at the front where the bassinets are attached, you don’t want to be too close to the toilets and have people milling around you the entire flight. Also be aware that some seats have cramped legroom or limited recline. I always input my flight information into SeatGuru before I pick my seats so I know which ones to avoid and which ones to grab! For example, here’s a look at the seat map for my upcoming flight from Melbourne to LA with Qantas. You can hover the mouse over the seats and detailed information will pop up about legroom, recline, seat width and proximity to toilets and the galley. I definitely want to stay away from rows 86-88!
#2 Get on your destination’s timezone before you travel
Jetlag’s a bitch. There’s nothing worse than being wide awake at 3am but then feeling like you want to collapse at 3pm! You can minimise the effects of jetlag my attempting to reset your bodyclock to your destination’s timezone prior to travelling. There’s a really handy website that I use for this, Jet Lag Rooster. You can input information including your flight details, the normal time you wake and when you usually go to sleep and it calculates what adjustments you should make three days before flying to help get your body on your new timezone. Here’s a screenshot of what it recommends for me in order to adjust to LA time:
#3 Allow extra time (for everything!)
I get anxious before I travel and I can’t relax until I’m literally on the plane! One of the worst feelings is rushing to pack, rushing to get to the airport and worrying about not having enough time to clear security and get to the gate. I like to start packing early so that I don’t have to stress about whether I’ve forgotten something (like my passport!) and to take into account traffic jams and delays. There has been more than one occasion when I have almost missed a flight (I was the last person to board and squeezed in just before the gate was closed) because I didn’t leave the house early enough and there were public transport delays. It is seriously one of the most stressful feelings and not something you want to experience before a big flight!
#4 Do some light exercise on your travel day
Let’s face it, you’re going to be confined to your seat for a torturously long time, so it’s best to be active in the 24 hours leading up to your departure. While a heavy weights sessions at the gym is definitely not recommended (aching, recovering muscles and long-distance flying don’t work together so well), I like to do some light exercise on the day of my flight, even if it’s just a brisk walk or a yoga session. This helps with circulation, anxiety and boosts energy levels.
#5 Consider booking a stopover
To break up a long-haul flight, why not book a stopover and have the chance to explore a new city for a few days? Common stopover cities in Asia include Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo and in the Middle East, many travellers stopover in Dubai, Doha or Abu Dhabi. Depending on which airline you fly with, some of them even offer free international stopovers for connecting flights in the hub city, like Emirates in Dubai, Japan Airlines in Tokyo or Osaka, Singapore Air in Singapore, Etihad in Abu Dhabi and many more. While not necessarily a logical stopover point when flying from Berlin to Melbourne, I did take a cheeky detour through Tokyo recently, which still broke up the big journey nicely.
#6 Download white noise or meditation sounds
To help drown out the sounds of the airplane (let’s face it, it’s noisy onboard), white noise apps like White Noise Free Sleep Sounds can help. I haven’t used these since I am usually fine with a good set of ear plugs, but if you want to be extra prepared in case you forget to pack some, these kinds of apps are a good option.
#7 Pack an eye mask
There’s no way that I can get any shut eye if I don’t have my eye mask with me. Sometimes the airline will provide you with one in the onboard travel kit they come around with, but usually the quality isn’t great and they’re not so comfy.
#8 Pack a rich moisturiser
Because the dry air in the plane dehydrates both your body and your skin, you need extra hydration all round. Your everyday, light moisturiser just won’t cut it on a long-haul flight. Pack a rich, thick cream instead that will treat your skin to extra hydration and care.
#9 Bring a squishy travel pillow
There’s no way I can sleep without my travel pillow. To stop your neck from lolling from side to side and jolting you back awake every five seconds, or worse, intruding on your neighbour’s personal space (a big no no in flying etiquette), be sure to board the plane with a travel pillow. You can usually pick them up in the airport for a pretty reasonable price.
#10 Invest in some decent earplugs
They say that silence is golden and when you’re trying to get some sleep, this couldn’t be more spot on. Don’t assume that the earplugs you’ll get onboard will really do much to block out noise. In my experience they haven’t worked at all, so I prefer to bring my own that I know will do the job.
#11 Dress comfortably
You’re not going to get any rest in pants you can’t breath in, a scratchy top or pinching shoes. While you might want to look somewhat stylish both before you board the plane and when you land at your destination, there’s nothing to say you can’t change into a nice pair of comfy, stretchy clothes once you’re up in the air! Settle in, get some rest and then simply change back before landing. Changing out of your ‘plane clothes’ also works wonders to help you feel (somewhat) fresh after that mammoth flight.
#12 Pack your toothbrush and toothpaste in your carry-on
No one wants to arrive at their destination to begin their holiday with furry teeth. Remembering to pack your toothbrush and toothpaste to give your teeth a quick brush before you land will work wonders in lifting your energy and helping you feel fresh(er). The deluxe Le Traveleur weekender travel kits contain all the toiletries you’d need for the first couple of days of your trip and is the perfect size to pack in your carry on.
#13 Shop for healthy snacks to eat on board
A few days before your flight, go to the supermarket and buy some healthy snacks like fruit or nuts to snack on during the flight. You won’t get hungry in between meal times this way. Packing your own snacks also comes in handy during layovers when you’re too tired to do the currency conversion in order to work out how much a meal costs in a foreign airport. Some of them are not cheap (I’m looking at you, Switzerland)!
#14 Avoid alcohol and coffee
Even though the complimentary alcohol can be tempting (I’m seriously the last person to ever turn down a glass of wine), I never drink on long haul flights. Alcohol, combined with the pressurised cabin and the air conditioning, is severely dehydrating and you’ll come off the flight feeling a whole lot worse for wear than you would if you didn’t drink. Coffee also has a dehydrating effect and the caffeine also disrupts your normal sleeping pattern. Go for a green or mint tea instead.
#15 Pack an extra jumper
Planes get chilly on board. I don’t know about you, but unless I pack something warm, I freeze and feel uncomfortable the entire flight. It’s also impossible to sleep when you feel cold. I always pack an extra jumper to keep nice and cosy.
#16 Don’t bring too much onboard
While I’m the first one to admit that I LOVE travelling with carry-on only, chances are that if you’re on a long-haul flight, you’re going away for more than a weekend and, consequently, needed to check some luggage. In this case, try and limit what you bring with you onboard to a minimum and only bring what you really need. If there’s no room in the overhead lockers, you may have to store your jacket or smaller bag under the seat in front of you, which means less room for your legs! Not ideal when you’re already feeling cramped…
#17 Pounce on an empty row once boarding is complete
You know the situation. You’re stuck sitting next to someone large and stinky or a guy who has a serious case of manspreading going on, causing you to shrivel up and cower in the corner of your seat. There is an entirely empty row opposite you and then as soon as the pilot announces that boarding is complete, some other undeserving person pounces on it before you’ve realised. Don’t be that sucker. Keep a careful watch around you and move like lightening as soon as you can. The flight will be a million times better.
#18 Don’t mindlessly consume airline food
I hate feeling like I’m not in control of my nutrition when I fly. I scrutinise the nutritional labels of everything I eat and hate it when I don’t know what exactly my airplane meal is made from! I like to know that what I’m putting into my body is healthy and so always bring my own fruit and nuts on board to nourish my body with the good stuff and not some stodgy, calorie-overloaded yet nutritionally vacant ‘meal’.
#19 Bug the flight attendant for water relentlessly
Flight attendants seriously think I’m the most annoying person on the aircraft. I’m forever pressing the call button for a water top up and I don’t care one bit! Some of the better airlines like Qatar, Singapore Airlines and Qantas will actually provide passengers with big water bottles and keep topping them up as needed throughout the flight, which I love, because I don’t have to deal with a parched mouth. Keeping hydrated when flying is so important because it helps your body fight bacteria and viruses that can cause you to fall ill after air travel.
#20 Ice your eyes
It might sound weird (and maybe it is a bit), but wrapping some ice blocks from the drinks cart in a plastic bag or towel and placing it over your eyes for a few minutes really helps to reduce puffiness and helps ease stinging, sore eyes from lack of sleep. This also works wonders for when you land and you want to freshen up!
#21 Move around regularly
On long flights it’s important to keep your circulation going. When we sit for too long in our seats on a long flight, the blood pools in our legs and feet which makes them swell and is generally not good for us! Get up from your seat regularly — try for every hour — and move around the cabin, walking up and down the aisle. This will also help to combat DVT (deep vein thrombosis) which is rare but can cause blood clots. While you’re seated, remember to squeeze your calves and move your feet around, which helps too.
#22 Bring something to keep you occupied
There’s nothing that makes the clock tick slower than boredom. Bring a good book, download all your favourite podcasts before you fly (my favourites are Serial, This American Life, Death, Sex and Money and Radio Lab), or bring your laptop or notebook to get some work done. Actually feeling productive when you fly is one of the best feelings in the world since it’s time you could have easily wasted! There’s also usually some pretty decent movies on the in-flight entertainment systems too.
#23 Request a special meal
In the vast majority of cases, I always seem to feel worse after eating airline food than beforehand. A lot of the time it can be really carb-heavy and not very fresh. By requesting a special meal like the vegetarian meal or the fruit platter, you’re guaranteed to feel a lot less bloated afterwards. You also have the added bonus of receiving your meal before everyone else does. Score!
#24 Don’t eat if you’re not hungry
When you’re trying to adjust to a new timezone, eating mindlessly at the time the meals are being served might actually do more harm than good by disrupting your body clock. If you’re not hungry, don’t eat. You can always request a meal when you do feel hungry later on.
#25 Wear shoes to the toilet
Airplane toilet floors are the most dirty places in the entire plane. You don’t want to be walking around in there without shoes. That’s just downright disgusting.
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