For me, preparation for a long haul flight always starts two days before takeoff. In high school, my coaches always told me that what you put into your body two days before has the biggest impact on your game time performance. On the field, this meant carbo-loading and lots of hydrating. While a pre-match pasta feast may not be super relevant to travel prep (or my rapidly declining metabolism), eating the right meal before your flight absolutely is, and hydrating remains a must for both travel and sport.
Two night before a long haul flight I begin pumping fluids, a process that continues straight through the flight. While hydrating during the flight is great, hydrating well before takeoff is crucial. Planes cabin air is so dehydrating, and if you’re relying on a couple glasses of water in-flight, your skin is already playing an impossible game of catch up.
I make sure I eat healthily (or as healthily as I can) for the two days leading up to my flight as well. Eating heavy foods that are hard to digest has the potential to start you off feeling bloated or worse, with an upset stomach, before you even have altitude swelling and motion sickness to contend with. Of course, on the return leg of your journey this may be less feasible, as depending on how long your trip is, you probably don’t want to spend your last two days abstaining from the local cuisine (and libations). However doing it on the outbound leg really can make a difference as to how you feel when you land and are ready to hit the ground running.
With your 48 pre-boarding preparations taken care of, it’s now time for the day of your flight. I NEVER travel in sweats or pajamas, and I’m not one to change into pajamas mid-way through the flight. I dress nicely (or at least not terribly) for flights for several reasons.
- Dressing in sweats is a dead giveaway of the stereotypical American tourist. You may as well throw an American flag morph suit on and call it a day. My accent and my…errr, occasional voice volume modulation challenges, already make me stand out, so I like to at least try to not stick out like a sore thumb with my appearance.
- I don’t like looking like a schlub in public.
- Looking slobby makes me feel more slobby and grungy than I already am after a long haul flight, and the aim is to feel as refreshed and pulled together as possible!
However, comfort is important. You don’t have to wear sweatpants to be comfortable, but I also want make to sure that I’m not adding to the discomfort of the experience by wearing tight or scratchy clothes for the sake of looking polished. Happy medium, people. For me, this usually involves jeans, a nice t-shirt/top, a blazer that is amenable to being balled up into a pillow without turning into a giant wrinkly mess, and a scarf.
On that note, layers are also important. Airplane cabins tend to be cold. Even in summer. I’m a cold person in general, so the flimsy little blankets often aren’t enough to keep me warm in the cabin temperature. Nothing is going to make your flight more miserable than shivering and aching for nine hours straight. I’ll often bring a big warm scarf that doubles as an extra blanket layer.
I’ve thought of something worse than shivering, and that something is vomiting for nine hours straight. If you need to take motion sickness tablets, make sure you take those puppies. And as I said earlier, do not use your final meal before heading to the airport as an opportunity to try the most daring thing on the menu. Your bowels and your fellow travelers will thank you.
Bring along one of those little airplane packs that has socks, an eye mask, ear plugs, tooth brush and toothpaste, lip balm, etc. Airlines are getting stingier and stingier so I wouldn’t trust them to provide you with one anymore, like they did in the good old days. I have one from Turkish Airlines that came in a nice tin that I’ve been holding on to and use, but you can also buy one fairly cheaply. The socks allow you to take off your shoes and wander around the cabin freely. They’re also super comfy and usually have a bit of compression to keep the swelling in your ankles down. The eye mask is amazing for when your neighbor is burning their overhead light in your face while you’re trying to sleep, and the ear plugs are critical for when there’s a screaming baby within earshot, aka for when there’s a baby on the aircraft.
Make sure you have a snack or a meal (ideally that you made and brought with you to avoid outrageous airport prices!) This allows you to eat when you want to, not be ravenous and praying the stewardess brings you a packet of pretzels, and to ride out an epic nap rather than feel compelled to wake up for the meal service (which might not be that tasty anyways).
Get up every couple hours or so (ideally more) to stretch your legs, and keep the circulation going and cramping at bay. Even a little stroll through the aisle will help. This is why I always choose the aisle seat.
Controversy alert: drink ONLY water. That’s right, no free booze. Some people swear by getting a bit buzzed and passing out, but alcohol dehydrates you and can lead to a in-flight hangover, and no one likes a drunk seat mate. We’re trying to stay hydrated, not speed the dehydration process along. Sodas are a diuretic, so avoid that as well. If you simply must have an alcoholic beverage or a soda, keep it to one, and one with a low alcohol content. Seriously though, your body will thank you later. I mainline water the entire flight (another reason I sit on the aisle, paranoid about needing to pee and getting caged in to the window seat by a sleeping aisle passenger). If you give the steward your refillable water bottle at the beginning of the flight, they’ll fill it up for you, so you don’t have to ask for a million refills of your tiny plastic cup.
In lieu of boozing myself to sleep on the flight, I take a Tylenol PM. It makes me drowsy enough to sleep, without the negative affects of using alcohol as your relaxant.
Bring a pot of lip balm and lotion for your face and skin. Even if you’re chugging water the whole time, your skin will still dry out and need a little extra TLC.
Before the plane begins its final descent and you have to get back to your seat, head to the bathroom to refresh yourself a bit. Wash your face with a disposable face wipe, moisturize, reapply your makeup, brush your teeth, reapply deodorant, dry shampoo, brush your hair, and become a real person again. I guarantee you will feel a thousand times better.
What are your top tips for surviving a long-haul flight?