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Travel Tuesday: 10 tips to survive your next long distance flight

Travel Tuesday: 10 tips to survive your next long distance flight

While short distance flights can sometimes feel like really elaborate bus journeys, long distance flights can quite easily seem like an enormous hurdle that you need to overcome. But as long as no one invents a faster way to get from one corner of the globe to another, long distance flights are the best way we have to get around (And frankly, I’d take a 35 hour plane journey over 3 months on a ship any day).

So how do you survive a long haul flight? Here are my 10 tips!

1. Get comfortable

Be forewarned, after about 8 hours, everything ceases to be comfortable (except maybe a First Class seat but I can’t speak from experience here). But, there are huge differences between comfort even in a crammed Economy cabin.

Try to wear something comfortable that you can picture yourself eating and sleeping in for extended periods of time. Since the temperature on planes can vary widely depending on where you’re sitting and how tired you are, bring something warm to wear.

Before your flight, think about what your ideal sleeping position might be, thinking back to any time you might have spent sleeping on a bus or train. Once you’ve figured that out, bring whatever you need to sit in that position for 8-14 hours. These things may or may not include a neck pillow (I’d suggest one that can be blown up so you don’t have to carry it around forever), a regular pillow, or, my favourite, a cheap fleece blanket in a pillow case. Some other handy items to have to increase the likelihood of a good sleep are noise-canceling headphones, ear-plugs and a comfortable eye-mask.

2. Don’t expect to be doing important work on the plane

Some people can work during a flight. But I am certainly not one of them. However, if you can work well on a plane, try to do all the work that might be due right after your flight, before you board the plane anyway. The flight might be long but with the people around you and the constant noise, it’s certainly not the perfect place to get that important presentation or paper out of the way.

3. Watch all the movies

Long haul flights are, however, the perfect place to catch up on all those movies and TV shows you’ve missed over the last couple of months. So bring your good headphones, or use the airline’s headphones, and start watching all the movies that you’ve missed.

4. Bring Plenty of reading material

If you have exhausted all the movie options, you might as well start reading. I have found a Kindle (or other e-reader) to be particularly useful on flights because you can switch between books depending on how well you can concentrate. I might be the only one, but as soon as I board a plane my focus is that of a four-year-old and I can never concentrate on anything for very long. So make sure you have some light reading with you, as well as the next great American novel or complicated 19th-century novel.

5. Stay hydrated

I’m going to use the comparison I’ve read in an article by Independent Traveler here and say: a long haul flight is like lying in the sun for 14 hours. That’s exactly true, you might not feel like you need  to drink anything but remember, you need to drink as much on a 24 hour journey, as you would normally in one and a half days. Since the air con is doing its best to dry out your skin and your body, you will actually have to drink more.

Most airlines now pass through the aisles every hour or so and offer drinks. But even in between and during “night”-time, you can go to the little kitchen areas and get a glass of water or juice. Whenever they do pass through with their trolleys, you can just ask for two drinks (e.g. water and juice) to make sure you really are getting the necessary fluids. I usually pack a small water bottle and have that refilled on the plane because then it’s easier to keep track of how much you actually did drink.

6. Pack Snacks

I have to confess, I hate plane food. Now, I have had really good meals on planes (thank you Emirates and British Airways who have both not paid me for saying this) but I have also had really terrible experiences. So if you aren’t sure how the food on your next long distance flight will be, pack a banana, biscuits or a couple of muesli bars just in case.

A different approach would be to book a meal ahead of time. Especially if you follow a special diet. All the airlines I ever travelled with offered vegetarian, vegan, raw, gluten-free and plenty of other meal options. You can book a specific meal up to 24 hours before your flight.

7. Find the right place to sit

Airlines make it increasingly difficult to choose your own seat because most have discovered that people will pay good money for a seat in an exit row. However, the additional comfort might just be worth the price. Before offering to pay anything though, check when you book your flight whether you can choose a seat then and there. If that’s not possible and if you don’t have the money to book a seat, check in online before your flight. That way, you get to choose a seat ahead of the people who check in at the airport.

A great site for checking out the seating arrangements and noise levels of planes is seatguru. You can look up your specific flight and seatguru will tell you where it’s most quiet and where you have the largest amount of leg-room.

8. Avoid the dreaded Airplane cold

A crowded plane is the perfect place to catch a cold. You’re sleep deprived, possibly anxious and sitting in a big metal cage with at least a handful of people who currently have a cold. Together with the air con that’s drying out your nose and mouth, they impede on your body’s ability to fight off bacteria and viruses. But there are a few ways to stave off an airplane cold:

Bring a paket (or two, depending on how how much of a hypochondriac you are) of disinfectant wipes and clean your seat area (table, arm rests, etc.) when you start your flight. It’s also a good idea to have those at the ready when you come back from the bathrooms. Stay hydrated. And, if you know you react with sore throats or a cold when you spend too much time in air conditioned places, I’d also suggest salt water nasal spray.

I sound like a complete granny here, but I find nothing more annoying than starting a holiday off with a cold.

9. Bring a change of clothes

This might sound weird, and again, I’m being a bit of a granny here, but wearing something else when you step off the plane after 14 hours will do a great deal to help you feel more awake and like yourself. I know that there are people who can board a flight in Germany and step of it in Australia in the same piece of clothing and feel delightful. But I ask you: How many 35 hour periods do you spend in the same pair of underwear? Exactly!

In my experience, changing my underwear and T-Shirt does a lot to help me feel less disgusting after a long flight. After all, you’ve been sleeping in your clothes, running through airports with them (possibly in wildly different climates), and even on the plane you go from feeling really cold to really hot.

10. Keep moving

Anyone who’s ever watched the little exercise videos on long-haul flights will know that walking around and moving your feet is very important. But by the time you hit the sixth hour of you flight, you’ll be happy to get up and move around in any case. Walking up and down the aisles and especially walking around in front of the bathrooms (the A380 offers a lot of space in that area) always saved my life. And if you’re thinking now that you don’t want to make a fool of yourself doing squats and getting up on your toes in front of the bathrooms in the middle of a crowded flight, believe me, everyone else is doing the same. It’s a long flight and no-one can sit for that long.

So how about you? What do you do on long flights? Can you sleep well or are you the pacing up and down type?