Let’s face it: unless you really like flying, long flights are nothing to look forward to. The cramped to non-existent leg room, the questionable food and entertainment options, and the chance you’ll end up next to a chatty or smelly seat mate – the list goes on. However, long flights are inevitable if you intend to do any kind of exotic or round-the-world traveling, and they can actually be quite pleasant, if you prepare appropriately.
By preparing for some of the uncomfortable issues that can arise during and after a flight, you can ensure a more positive journey for yourself and avoid days of recovering from jet lag and the harrowing flying experience.
Before You Book Your Flight
The default option for most people is to fly economy, but if you’re really dreading that 15-hour trip, consider upgrading to business class. Yes, it will likely cost you more money, but the extra leg room will be worth it. Service is often better in business class and depending on what airline you’re flying, you may enjoy other perks, such as additional baggage allowances and access to the airport lounge.
If given the opportunity, choose your seat in advance, even if it costs a little extra. If you know you need some extra leg space or will have to use the bathroom frequently, an aisle is the way to go. On the other hand, if you want to peer out at the clouds below during those many hours, make sure you’re booked into a window seat so you have that much more to look forward to.
Another consideration to make when booking your flight is jet lag. If you can schedule your flight so that your departure and arrival times line up – leave in the evening and arrive during the morning, for example – you may have an easier time adjusting your body’s clock than if you settle for the first available, or cheapest, flight.
What to Wear
Comfort is key on a long flight, and if you’re fashion-conscious, there are plenty of ways to look attractive while being practical. Gym shorts or worn-in jeans and a hoodie are good choices for men, while yoga pants and a comfy sweater are good options for women. Wear slip-on shoes if possible, for convenience when going through security and so you can slip them off when you get comfortable at your seat. It’s a good idea to bring a pair of socks along, as it can get chilly on the plane and you don’t want to be walking around the cabin in bare feet.
Layering is also a good way to go – wear a hooded sweatshirt or zip-up over a t-shirt so you can adjust according to the temperature on the plane. There’s nothing worse than being too hot or too cold while on a flight around the world. You can usually request a blanket from the flight attendant, but it’s still best to do your own preparations.
What to Pack
This is perhaps the most important thing to consider before you leave for the airport. What you bring in your carry-on dictates whether your flight is pleasant or a total drag. Load up your laptop or external hard drive with movies and episodes of your favorite television shows in case the in-flight entertainment turns out to be a dud. Create a playlist on your iPod that is just for this trip; it will give you something to look forward to after take-off and get you pumped for your travels. If you have a Kindle or other e-reader device, purchase a new book or two to get lost in while you fly, or load a few games you enjoy onto your iPad. If you’re not big on electronics, be sure to have a paperback, crosswords or magazines handy.
Once you’ve covered entertainment options, it’s time to focus on snacks. Airplane food can be surprisingly delicious or genuinely terrible, so it’s wise to bring a few of your own snacks along. Aim for something that won’t leak, spill or melt and that doesn’t have a pungent odor (out of courtesy to your seat mates). Crackers or cookies, chopped vegetables and candies such as Twizzlers, Lifesavers or Werther’s Original are all good plane snacks. They don’t take up too much room in your bag and will be a welcome treat if the pre-packaged dinner turns out less than savory.
If you struggle to fall asleep or relax on long flights, consider asking your doctor or pharmacist to recommend sleeping pills or anti-anxiety medications. Having some Tylenol or Advil on hand is also useful, as painkillers always come in handy.
Other things worth considering bringing: a neck pillow, small blanket or comfort item such as a small stuffed animal or photo to bring you a little reassurance if you’re afraid of flying.
How to Prevent Jet Lag
Nothing throws a wrench into your initial days in a new place like jet lag. If possible, plan a light schedule for those days, allowing your body time to adjust. There are other steps you can take, however, that should help combat the feeling that you’re dragging.
Several days before your flight, begin eating and sleeping on a schedule that would be appropriate in your destination city. This will make it easier to get into a regular groove on arrival. Fodor’s recommends choosing your beverages on the flight wisely as well: too much caffeine or alcohol could ultimately make you more sluggish and draw out your jet lag recovery time. Consider taking melatonin pills for a few days after arrival, which can help regulate your sleep schedule in a new place.
Long flights don’t have to be a drag. In fact, with the right preparation, they can actually be productive and enjoyable. Those long hours in the air give you a chance to catch up on some reading or writing you may have been putting off and allow you free time to unwind and de-stress before your vacation begins. And with a little additional planning to avoid or at least minimize jet lag, you can start your travels off on a rather positive note indeed.