I’m an ambivalent flyer. There, I said it. My love of travel, and of seeing the beauty of the world, is offset by my dislike of many of the things that come with flying, especially long haul flight. I’m not great on confinement. I’m not very fond of noise, unless it’s intentional noise, like being at a gig. And while surfing above those beautiful clouds is a fine thing, the sense of being processed as part of the experience is not. For others, I know that fear of flying, claustrophobia and other issues can make flying challenging.
So you’re due to spend rather more hours than you’d wish in an aluminium tube with rather a lot of strangers? Here are my travel tips for surviving a long haul flight, so you can arrive happy, if not entirely fresh as a daisy, at your destination. Let’s try for less endurance, more enjoyment.
Some of the travel tips and hacks here demand action upfront, so consider scheduling them into your preparation for the trip. So before you stow your tray table in the upright position and fasten your seat belt, have a think about what will make your next long haul journey better.
What You and I might want from a long haul flight
Taking it at its most basic level, firstly I’d like to be comfortable. Being realistic, I’d like to arrive without too many additional aches and pains, and only slightly rigid from having sat so long. I’d like to have eaten something fairly normal, and at sensible intervals. As it’s a long flight, I’d like to have used the time wisely, and not ranting at my confinement. That means that I’d like to have been entertained, and to have achieved something productive. And I’d like to have been prepared. So let’s get started.
1. Be Prepared
I’m not just talking about the delights of a packing list here, although that will help. I’m thinking more about readying yourself for the experience. If you’ve flown long haul before, you probably know what are your pain points in the journey. Do you hate the inactivity? Do you find you can’t sleep on a red eye? Are you bored and antsy?
Now’s the time to go through those issues, and think how best to deal with them. Plan what you can do through those hours in the air. If you’re going to be awake, what would make you happier in those quiet times when it seems everyone else is asleep? What would keep boredom at bay?
2. Be Comfortable
In Your Clothes
Even if you fear you’ll be stepping off the plane to a crowd of paparazzi, there is no reason to endure incredibly uncomfortable clothing on long haul. I promise we won’t tell if you bring out your yoga pants, a soft and gentle t shirt and your fluffy socks. A hoodie or a scarf can let you snuggle in solitude among the crowd if needed. And don’t forget an eye mask, ear plugs or noise-cancelling headphones if they help your comfort.
In Your Mind
Believe me, I spent many trips wasting the first day or two because I was simply exhausted. I’d skidded into the airport on a mental handbrake turn, still shedding post-its, voicemail, and last minute instructions for colleagues.
Vow to leave that behind, and in good enough time to make your flight easier. If you arrive at the plane still mentally dealing with everything you’re leaving behind, trust me that those hours in the air will be unpleasant. I found a mental backbone of steel that forced me to deal with those issues before I shut down my laptop on the last day of work. It makes a vast difference.
In Your Acceptance
That sounds a bit woo, but this is what I mean. Accept before you get on the flight that you are going to be constrained by the situation. Acknowledge that, and think how you are going to make the best of the time.
For years, I used to hate the first four hours of every long haul flight. At that point, I’d claim that my spirit was broken, and I’d get over myself and perk up a bit. Now I try to begin with the attitude that it will pass, and I can do my best to enjoy it as much as possible. Surrender to the experience, and I promise that will make it easier.
Make the Choices that Assure your Comfort
If you need a special meal to deal with allergies or for religious reasons, make sure you’ve booked it. If you have particular seat preferences, whether window or aisle, try and have them sorted upfront. Go into the flight as rested as is possible, and with a quiet mind having parked daily life. Be proactive in doing what you can to help the flight work for you.
3. Be Nourished
I’ve mentioned ordering special meals if they are needed. Whether or not that’s necessary, you might want to consider bringing some (security friendly) healthy snacks. As someone with food allergies, I’d sooner travel with some picnic options in case the specials didn’t get loaded. Often my husband will snaffle some of my picnic because it’s preferable to the meal offered.
We all know about the need to stay hydrated. Even if you’re in the window seat, don’t stint on your fluid intake; it can make you feel awful later. Although altitude can make salad and fruit taste less than interesting, your body will thank you for them later.
On a related note, don’t forget that your outer self will dry out too. So this is the time to slap on some lip balm or moisturiser. Wipes and antibac can help your comfort levels, as can a toothbrush and paste.
4. Be productive
This might seem a strange one. If you’re heading on a work trip, you may resent the thought of working on the way there. If you’re going on holiday, then your mindset may not be attuned to working. But if you’re looking to use up some time, this is the ideal situation to purge that email inbox that’s been lurking forever. Or maybe organise your photos and delete any horrors. The feeling of achievement will increase your happies, and you’ll have cracked a useful but possibly boring task.
There are lots of pleasurable productive options too. You could sew, crochet or even knit (I understand you can still get needles through security. But maybe not too much vigorous arm action, eh?) If you write or journal, a long haul flight can be a brilliant time to catch up. Or go over your itinerary for the trip ahead. I’ve spent a lot of flights home buried in my travel journal.
5. Be entertained
I have to confess that I’ve never been much enamoured with in-flight entertainment on long haul flights. But I do dutifully look through the options to see what I might like to listen to or watch. I try to plan anything that I will want to concentrate on for the middle portion of the flight when it’s quieter and there are less interruptions.
Around that, there are plenty of alternatives. You can download all the content you love beforehand. I’ve usually got both my Kindle and a paperback to hand, and often magazines too on my outbound flight.
Before you go
If you want to be the happiest person stepping off that long haul aluminium tube, here’s my list of what to do beforehand.
- Book the things that need to be booked, such as a preferred seat, and special meal options, in good time.
- Create your packing list. Include in that, and separate out, the items you’ll need on board.
- Park your work at least 12 hours before you fly. Put it away. Don’t think about it. Let your mind be at rest.
- Same goes for any home-based issues. Let it go before you leave.
- Keep your carry on bag organised. If you have a larger carry on bag to stow in the overheads, keep the things you’ll need for the trip in a separate small bag that you can stow under the seat in front. Know where you’ve put things, so if needed you can find them in the darkened cabin without a commotion.
When you board
- When you find your seat, settle in. I mean mentally, as well as physically. Pop your bag of in-flight tricks under the seat in front, and try to relax. Run through in your mind all the things that are going to occupy you for the next eight or more hours long haul.
- Be prepared to bin those plans if something better presents itself. If you’re fascinated by some spectacular scenery (thank you Greenland – you are beautiful) or have an eloquent and interesting seat mate, that’s a great bonus.
- If you find yourself becoming irritated or annoyed by things outside your control, try to find some distraction. Can you, depending on timing, nip down the back for a diversionary chat with the crew? Can you plug your earphones in and drown noise out? Can you zone out to a happier place in your head?
- And when you arrive, don’t forget to ask yourself how was it for you? Because that will improve the next long-haul you take, which presumably won’t be that far ahead.