This is part of a series on how to plan epic trips. I’ve linked to the others at the bottom of this post, and you can also download my free e-book for dozens more trip planning tips on flights, housing, itinerary, and more!
I don’t know how it is for other people, but I approach long-haul flights with a very odd combination of excitement and trepidation. There’s such a buzz boarding a huge plane bound for another country, very different from boarding a normal domestic flight. On the other hand, the prospect of being crammed into a tiny space with my legs and neck at a weird angle makes me fairly anxious.
There are hundreds of “tips for long flights” blog posts out there, and I’m not going to simply re-tread what’s been done, though I’m sure there will be some overlap. But I wanted to share some of the things that consistently work for me on long flights and get me to my destination feeling refreshed. I’ve shared these and tips on many more topics in my Epic Trip Planning 101 e-book, which you can download for free.
(Obviously flying first class would get me there feeling refreshed, but that’s not generally an option…)
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Before you board
- Are you a window or aisle person? Typically when you’re flying international you’ll be able to choose your seat while booking, Decide whether you want a window or an aisle. Generally window might be easier to sleep in, but you risk getting trapped if your seatmates go to sleep. I always find this study about the psychology of window and aisle people entertaining (I’m typically a window person on long flights).
- Hydration is key, so bring a giant bottle of water onto the plane with you. Sometimes getting water while on the flight can be tough outside of mealtimes (looking at you, TAP Portugal!) so bring your own. Hydration is one of the biggest ways to avoid jet lag.
- If you’re a tea drinker, bring a few tea bags that you actually like on the flight. You can always get hot water, and the tea on planes is TERRIBLE. I keep several bags of peppermint tea in my purse at all times, because it helps settle your stomach and reduce air in your tummy as well.
- Always have some snacks in your bag, like KIND bars, nuts, dried fruit, or something similar. They will never fail you. Don’t be a hangry flier.
- Charge up your electronics, and bring a set of headphones you actually like. Yes, they’ll provide them on the plane for many international flights, but they’re usually terrible.
- You can bring some little toiletries that can make things more pleasant. I usually have face wipes, a little Evian spray bottle, and those Colgate wisp things that help you freshen up your mouth, as well as moisturizer. The air in planes is so dry! A bit of hand moisturizer is great as well.
Hand moisturizer comes in handy when you’re flying into super frozen Norway in the dead of winter, like in this pic…
Read next: 10 Things You Have to Do Before Every Trip
You are what you wear
Wear comfy, be comfy. This is one of my key tips for long flights…I look at people wearing jeans (or suits!) on a long flight and wonder if they’re insane. If that works for you, great, but I always go for comfort. That means no constricting fabrics or tight waistlines, and lots of layers.
That doesn’t mean you have to look like a schlub, though, and you’ll feel less conspicuous when you arrive at your destination if you still look nice. I have a pic of my current go-to long flight outfit below, minus the big burgundy wine cardigan I wear (and you can see peeking out of my duffel).
- My standard flight attire is dark leggings (I’ve long been partial to these, but am newly OBSESSED with these), a long (a.k.a. covers-your-butt) soft t-shirt or long-sleeved shirt, and a long, comfy cardigan—layers are key, since temperature varies dramatically!
- Wear non-stinky shoes that have some room in them (for feet swelling) and are comfortable to walk around in. I wear Tieks, because they slip off and on easily but have space and are cushioned for walking in the airport. Any kind of flats or tennis shoes will work well. Rothy’s are another favorite of mine, very breathable and machine washable.
- Bring a nice soft, warm pair of socks in your carry-on, and as soon as you get settled on the plane, slip them on (either inside your shoes or remove your shoes). This will help keep your feet warm and also gives you room for feet swelling during the flight.
- Big, soft scarves are multipurpose. They can be cute, but also be warm and double as a blanket or protect your face from light while you’re sleeping. I recommend a soft, warm one for the flight—I’m currently using a super soft, warm infinity scarf I got on Amazon.
This pic is from that time we were supposed to go to China but were denied boarding because we misunderstood the visa requirements for short visits…so went to Portugal instead. At least I have my comfy travel outfit on.
You might also like: How To Pick The Best Hotel or Rental Every Single Time
This is your home for the next several hours and you should get settled right away.
- The first thing I do is figure out what I need with me, and what can go in the overhead bin. I’ve usually packed my favorite cross-body purse full of the things I need (Kindle, blackout mask, scarf, headphones, etc.), so just pull it out of my carry-on and stow the rest above. I go ahead and slip my socks on while I still have elbow room, before my seatmates are settled.
- If it seems like pretty much everyone has boarded and you see an open row or couple of seats that would give you more space, jump over there! You can always get your seat back if you need it, but I’ve hesitated a few times as boarding finished up and really regretted it because someone else jumped on the open seat opportunity while I was second-guessing myself.
- As I mentioned above, hydrate!! Hopefully you’ve brought your giant bottle of water with you, but anytime the flight attendants offer water, or when you go back to the bathroom, ask the flight attendants for more water.
- Stay active, and get up to stretch from time to time. This is easier if you’re in an aisle seat, but it’s important for everyone to stretch periodically. If you get up to go to the bathroom, take a few minutes before returning to your seat to do some different stretches and limber up.
- Always have an entertainment backup. Sometimes bad luck strikes and you won’t have a functioning screen (it has happened to me SO many times!). I’m a Kindle girl so I’m all set, but having movies on your phone, a book, music, whatever is key.
- Unless your phone (or all other electronics) is at 100% charge, use the time in the air to get fully charged up so you’re ready once you arrive at your destination.
I think the “in crowd” term for this is “Y class lie-flat”…a.k.a. you have the whole row to yourself 🙂
Have a sleep strategy to avoid jet lag
If you’re flying from the U.S. eastward, there’s a good chance your flight will be overnight, and one of the keys to beating jet lag is getting some sleep on the plane. I am a TERRIBLE sleeper even under the best circumstances, but have had to figure out how to make sure I catch at least 3-4 hours on an overnight flight. Here’s what usually works for me.
- Do the time zone math. Try to sleep as soon as they pick up the dinner service, to get your body on the new time zone and get as much sleep as possible. Assuming it’s an 8-hour flight, you’ll only get around 4 hours. If you’re on a 13+ hour flight, then mostly figure out what “normal” sleeping time would be at your destination and plan around that.
- Find a travel pillow that works for you. I’ve tried them all (inflatable, foam, side-sleeping) and now use the TRTL, which is weird but by far the best thing for my kind of sleeping. I’ve also written a whole post about the best travel pillows for different types of sleepers.
- Have a routine. For me, I take an Ambien at the end of dinner (make sure it doesn’t make you weird), then put on my blackout mask (I swear by this one, it is the BEST), put in my earplugs (or headphones if you prefer; I bring my own), and cover up with blankets.
- You can even take that a step further and eat before you get on the plane, then go to sleep immediately after takeoff. I could never sleep with the light and noise of dinner service, but if you can do that, go for it! An added benefit is that you’ll probably eat better and healthier.
- If you suffer terribly from jet lag and have the time to spare, you could consider taking a morning flight eastward instead, not sleep, and then when you arrive it will be nearly bedtime, just go to bed at a normal time in your destination.
- LASTLY—if you’re on a flight that arrives in the morning or early afternoon, you might be tempted to catch a nap when you arrive. But this is a trap! It’s the surest way to get jet lagged. Hold out (taking a walk and getting some fresh air helps), have an early dinner, and then get to bed around 8:00 or 9:00pm and you should be good to go the next morning!
Enoc does not look comfortable here…I recommend a good travel pillow 🙂
So there you have it—some of my go-to tips for long flights, the ones I use on every single long-haul trip. Hopefully there were some nuggets of wisdom in there that even the most seasoned traveler can make use of. I’d love to hear your best tips too, so drop me a note in the comments!
Other tips to make your long flight awesome:
- How to Find the Right Flight…Every Single Time
- How to Pick the Perfect Hotel or Rental…Every Single Time
- 10 Things To Do Before Every Trip
- The Ultimate Gift Guide for the Traveler in Your Life
- 10 of the Best Romance & Urban Fantasy Series/Books for Airplane Reading
- The Best Travel Pillows for Different Types of Sleepers
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