I’m currently coordinating my travel plans for the rest of the year. It’s all very exciting having the opportunity to travel the world, seeing loads of new places, but one of the down-sides to living in our wonderful wide, brown land is the fact that it takes so long to get anywhere else. The dreaded long-haul flight is what faces Australians who want to go exploring in the rest of the world. There is something of an art to getting to your destination after a 12 or 14 hour flight, plus several hours of connection time, in any sort of respectable and sociable condition. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to get to ride in the pointy end of the plane, but more often than not I’m down in cattle-class and it’s there that these tips are aimed at. There’s no rocket science involved in these hints but a little forethought and preparedness is really going to make that 12 hours seem like just that, instead of feeling like half of your life.
1. Book your seat online as soon as possible to stand a fighting chance of getting the seating arrangement that suits you best. If you are one of the lucky ones who intends to sleep for most of the flight, make sure you get a window seat – this way you avoid being woken every time the restless traveler next you want to get up for a stroll. If you prefer to have a little freedom, and at least one shoulder free from your next-seat-neighbour’s dribbling face then an aisle seat is what you’ll be looking for. The bulk-head seats are popular for those who want to actually be able to move their legs but beware – this is also often where families look to be seated so they have more room for their children. If you are travelling in pairs, try to book the aisle and the window in a row of three. You might get lucky and have an empty seat between you but, if not, just ask the person in the middle if they will swap.
2. Wear comfortable, loose clothing and dress in layers. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how many people seem to get on a long-haul flight dressed as if they are heading for a fashion shoot. There will be tears before bedtime if you try sitting for 14 hours in a pair of skin-tight jeans and six inch heels, believe me. Also keep in mind that the climate control in planes can also be a little erratic and those blankets they give you are often nowhere near warm enough. I always carry warm socks and a pashmina or similar big, scarf-like item. They are light, roll up to be very small in your luggage, come in useful at most destinations and can double as a light rug while flying.
3. Give some thought to how you pack your hand luggage & what you take. You don’t want to clutter up the area around your feet with unnecessary bags and backpacks so place what you will need on the flight in a smaller bag which will take up as little room as possible. Besides the afore-mentioned scarf or pashmina, I carry my ereader or tablet, but also make sure I have a book or magazine as well, for the 20 or so minutes at take-off and landing when you are unable to have electronic devices on. Other absolute must-haves are headphones, lip balm, water, some basic make-up essentials, snacks (veggie sticks, dried fruit & nuts are perfect), deflated neck pillow (see below) and a pack of sanitary wipes.
4. Some, like a dear friend of mine, are blessed with the ability to sleep on a plane. I am not and have developed two vital techniques to make sure I get at least 4-5 hours on a long flight. The first is an inflatable neck pillow. These little gems take up no room in my bag and make the difference between sleeping and not, prevent me from the undesirable intimacy of lolling my head on the stranger next to me and from waking up with a stiff neck – all gold, in my book. The second trick is (prescribed) sleeping pills. I can’t believe it took me so long to resign myself to these. Your doctor can prescribe light sleeping medication which has a short life of 4-5 hours and leaves no hangover. Of course, you will need to avoid the booze at dinner time, but when weighing up the merits of a glass of wine or four hours sleep, I know which I prefer.
5. Arrive healthy. A recent report disclosed horrific amounts of bacteria (of the worst possible kind) on airline seat belts, arm rests, tray tables and seat pockets so give the whole lot a quick wipe down with your sanitary wipes. Take them with you to the bathroom so that you can give the door handle a good wipe, too.
Of course there are also the obvious tips such as keeping well hydrated, limiting your alcohol intake and making sure to get up and move around regularly, all of which are important. Basically, 14 hours in a plane is a challenge, but if you plan ahead and look after yourself on the flight you can usually arrive feeling less than shattered and ready to enjoy your destination.[mc4wp_form id="16750"]
Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella
I have a routine and it usually helps me get to the other end ok. Interesting tip about taking wipes and wiping everything. I used to always wonder if they changed those cloths on the headrest.
Great advice! It sure is a challenge spending that long locked up with strangers- I don’t even like bus trips 🙂
Thanks for the tip on sanitary wipes, I never do that. I do take a perscriped sleeping pill called Ambien during the flight and for jet lag. I prefer the aisle seat because I can stretch my legs into the aisle . I also take socks, a scarf , earplugs and eye masks. I’m staying in Germany with my mom but my poor husband is doing a long haul in two days back to California ( not as long as yours) .
Maureen | Orgasmic Chef
Back when we’d travel around the world at the drop of a hat, I had my routine down pat. I always brought that water spray stuff, the wipey things, a small fan and pyjamas/sweatpants. I like all your tips.
I took a sleeping tablet once coming back to Adelaide from Singapore but woke up after only 2 1/2 hours and felt shocking for the next couple of hours, till it wore off. In Sept we are visiting the US for the first time and we have a 13h 15 m stint with a 3 hour stopover in Dubai, then a second stint of 13h 55m to Boston. I don’t even want to think about it! Thanks for your tips, I think I’ll need them.
Your ideas for long haul travel survival are great. I also use the alcohol wipes to clean up my seat area. I don’t dare sleep too much though. DVT affects more of us as we age and especially post-illness or operations.
My tips are:
1. Break your journey on any long haul flight if you can. If possible stop off for one or two nights along the way in each direction. Use this break to get some sunlight in order to start re-adjusting your time clock. At the same time you can experience another city or culture and have some fun before the serious travelling (work or holiday) begins.
2. Protect yourself from DVT on the flight. Talk to your doctor about DVT prevention. Walk, walk, walk on the flight. Don’t sleep for hours without moving. Stretch. Exercise your legs when sitting down. Don’t worry about annoying other people. Two friends of mine had serious problems this year with DVT from long haul travel in cramped conditions because they slept and did not exercise enough.
3. Travel with just Carry-On luggage if you can, even if you place it in the hold for your flight. This is important, especially if you will be travelling on trains when you are away, as you will be less reliant on others to assist you.
Anna @ shenANNAgans
That is such great advice about bringing some wipes for everything, I wouldnt have thought to do that, now feeling rather gross that I havent done that in the past. Next long haul Im trying medication to make me sleep. Awesome post, makes me excited about my next big adventure overseas. 🙂
Dianne Bortoletto Travelletto
Great article. Sleeping tablets are essential! I also carry mints, toothbrush and paste, ear plugs and a sleep mask – on the last long haul I did on Qantas just two weeks ago from Dubai to Melb we didn’t get sleep masks. Bose noise cancelling headphones have changed my life and if you fly often, really are worth the investment. Moisturiser I carry too – my face and hands often get very dry when flying. Cheers