How to Survive a Long Haul Flight
Like many people, I moved abroad so I could travel. Then I promptly spent all my vacation time returning home. And while I did get to explore the area around my home in Sydney, I also found myself flying back to California nearly every six months for a wedding or holiday that I just couldn’t miss. The outcome of this experience? I’m a seasoned pro at navigating a long-haul flight. In coach. Without any sleeping aids. Want to know how to do it too? Read on!
How to Survive A Long Haul Flight
The plan is pretty simple: Get yourself comfortable, and get onto your destination’s time zone ASAP. The execution isn’t always so easy. But here’s how to make it happen.
Disclaimer: Some of the links on this post are affiliate links. They cost you nothing, but they help me make a little cash to continue my travels! If you see something you want, consider clicking on one of these links before you buy.
Before You Go
Get everything ready to ‘live’ on the plane like you would if you were at home. The things to think about? The plane will be dry, you won’t be able to move around as much as you could at home, so plan accordingly.
Check Your Destination’s Time Zone
You need to know what time it is where you’re headed when you walk onto the plane. Then, as far as you’re concerned, that is what time is for you. You want to try to get your body clock adjusted to your new time zone ASAP. Is it 10 a.m. at your destination, but 8 p.m. at your departure city? Do everything you can to stay awake for the entire flight, so you can go to sleep without any issues at a (relatively) normal time at your destination. Is it the middle of the night when you board your plane? Try to get some shut eye however you can (ear plugs, a sleep mask, and possibly a sleeping aid could help you with this one).
Take a Shower
You’re going to get a little swampy sitting in the same spot for 10+ hours, no matter what. So get ahead of the game and shower before you head out to the airport. You’ll feel better and your seatmates will thank you.
Use a thicker moisturizing than you normally, and lock in the moisture from your shower. Your skin will dry out on the plane no matter what, but this step can help prevent the worst of it. Smother a thick body butter onto your skin, and use a thick face moisturizer to keep your moneymaker from getting parched.
Chug that Water
You won’t want to do this too much on the plane (or you’ll be up and down constantly going to the restroom), so up your water intake a day or two before your flight to get yourself hydrated from the inside out. That way you won’t feel obligated to chug when you’re on the plane.
What to Bring
The key is to only bring what you need for the time you are on your flight, and check everything else (see “On the Flight” for the rationale on this one). I have a go-to carry-on plan that has served me well for over ten 15-hour flights between Sydney and Los Angeles. Here it is:
Pajamas, Socks and Toiletries
Your body craves routine, and a long-haul flight is a big disruption to a normal nightly bedtime ritual. Reduce the interruption as much as possible by going through the normal motions in the air. Change into sleep clothing in the bathroom, brush your teeth, wash your face. Whatever you normally do at home, replicate an abbreviated version of it in the airplane bathroom (just don’t spend 30 minutes in there!). Your body will pick up the bedtime cues and hopefully make it easier to snooze later on. Also bring comfortable socks! The plane can be chilly, and the blankets are never long enough, so this will help keep your tootsies warm.
I never realized the value of these until my feet swelled up an insane amount after one flight back to LA. With the dangers of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), keeping your blood flowing can be about more than just fitting into your shoes. These will fit under your PJs and comfy socks, and they go a long way to keeping your blood flowing like it would on the ground.
I re-apply facial moisturizer at least twice per long-haul flight, and usually more frequently on my hands and cuticles. One of my favorite things for my lips, cuticles, and hands is Lucas’ Papaw Ointment (an export from Australia). The small tube is easy to transport, meets TSA regulations, and the uses are many! I suffer from mild eczema and love this stuff on my rough, dry patches of skin. I use a thick facial moisturizer like Pond’s for my face whenever it feels a little dried out.
If you aren’t lucky enough to get the window seat, this will be a lifesaver if you’re going to get any shuteye. It prevents the ‘nod-off-and-jerk-awake’ experience that happens when you fall asleep sitting upright, and if you get an inflatable one it will hardly take up any space. Win!
Kindle or E-Reader
If you’re like me, reading will help you drop off to sleep (especially when paired with a glass of wine). But hauling around a book (or two, or three) is heavy and bulky. The goal is keep everything as streamlined as possible, and a Kindle or other e-reader (or tablet, if that’s what you have) will do this. I personally prefer a Kindle over a tablet because the white light shining into my eyes can keep me awake (I don’t even use a back light on my Kindle!), but if doesn’t bother you, feel free to fire up that iPad.
If you’re traveling with a laptop, tablet, high-end camera, etc.. include it in your carry on luggage. Even if you don’t plan to use it, if your luggage gets lost there are usually irreplaceable photos and documents saved on these devices, so either back it up or don’t risk it. Same goes for jewelry, designer clothes, or anything that you would be devastated to lose. When I travel, I use a Chromebook… it’s cheap, lightweight, and everything is automatically backed up to my Google Account. This means if it gets stolen, all I need to do is shell out $150 and I get everything back, immediately! It’s not amazing for photo and video editing, but if you have an Android phone it works with your mobile phone photos like a dream.
On The Flight
Check Your Bags
You want as little as possible cloggjng up your personal space when you’re flying. The chances of your bag getting lost are slim, and clothing can be easily replaced if the worst does happen (usually on the airline’s dime, too). Most foreign long-haul carriers have a free baggage policy for the first two checked bags, so it may not cost you anything but a few minutes at the airport when you arrive. The trade-off is so worth it!
Go for the Window Seat
If you’re in economy and struggle to sleep sitting up, being able to lean against the window will be a lifesaver for getting a few hours of sleep. However, if you have a small bladder and need to use the restroom frequently, flip this advice on it’s head and make sure you get an aisle seat. Because when those lights go down and your aisle seat buddy settles in for the night, you’ll be trapped.
When you do get up to use the bathroom, take advantage of the space outside the exit door to do a little bit of stretching. I really like to stretch my legs, and in the big Boeings and Airbuses there is enough space to do lunges, forward-folds, and hamstring stretches without getting all up in someone’s personal space. So who cares if you look ridiculous! Your muscles will thank you when you land, so go for it.
Eat the Last Meal Served
I usually take advantage of all the meals, because it helps my body adjust through a fast-forwarded version of a day. But if you just can’t fit any food in or despise airplane food (though on foreign airlines, it’s not half bad), at least eat the last one. This meal will signal to your body that it’s breakfast or dinner time, and should help you adjust when you land. Avoiding meals can lead to big stomach upsets when you land (I found this out the hard way when I flew direct to Spain and didn’t touch the food… I almost got sick in a museum in Madrid!).
When You Land
Do NOT, I Repeat, Do NOT NAP!
As per the earlier advice, what time is it? 2 p.m.? Don’t you dare lay your head down on that pillow! This is the number one way to ensure you will have horrible jet lag for your entire vacation. Even if you didn’t get a wink of sleep on your flight, do whatever you can to make it to 8 p.m. local time. Walking outside in the sunshine makes this a lot easier, but do whatever works for you. I always like to schedule something after I land to help resist them temptation to nap. Sure, I might be a zombie through dinner, but the next day I’ll be refreshed and happy I made the sacrifice on day 1 to have a great trip.
Force Yourself to Wake Up in the A.M.
Yes, you’re on vacation. But you need to actually explore the place you’re visiting! So set your alarm for 10 a.m., and force yourself out of bed by then, no matter how much you want to stay in bed. Get out into the sunshine as soon as you can, it will help immensely. Whenever I returned to Sydney, my flights would arrive around 7 a.m. local time. So I would drop off my bags and go straight to the office! Why sit at home and run the risk of falling asleep when I could jump straight back into my routine (and save the vacation day)? One rough day at work was worth surviving the rest of the week.
Follow Local Mealtimes
This doesn’t mean to starve yourself if you’re truly hungry, but have a snack and wait to chow down until local lunch or dinner time. If you followed my meal advice from the plane, this should be relatively easy to do. The sooner you can get your body adjusted to different mealtimes, the sooner it will stop trying to get you to sleep in the mid-afternoon!
That should do it! If you follow this advice, you should find it relatively easy to adjust to your local time zone. I’ve crossed the international date line multiple times, and it can definitely through me for a loop. But by following these tips, I’m able to get adjusted quickly, and you should too! Happy travels!