Let’s face it: flying isn’t the most relaxing part of any journey that involves it. From the long lines at check-in to getting your bag out of the overhead bin, the experience for most people is just something to get over with so they can finally enjoy their vacation. In between are the worst-case scenarios: cramped seating, crying infants, questionable airline meals, and the prospect of not being able to sleep through all of it. Even worse than those? Your phone runs out of juice, so you sit there reading the emergency procedure handout very slowly, rationing the words out like it’s the last book on Earth. Been there, done that.
That said, it’s not like you’re completely helpless in the face of these flying-related woes. As usual, the key to minimizing the hassle of flying is preparation, which is why we’ve compiled a list of long flight tips we’ve gathered over the years. So sit back, relax, and enjoy this list of what to do on a long flight!
Before you board
- Grab that upgrade: Flying in economy class? Cramped seating is one of the main reasons why long flights are so tough. Fortunately, there’s a travel hack for that. Try snagging a flight that you know will be underbooked. It may mean adjusting your travel dates, though, you’re more likely to be given a free upgrade to a higher class. That said, you’ll have to ask the agent (and remember to ask them nicely).
- Take note of your sleep schedule: Keep timing in mind when booking your flight. We recommend overnight flights so that you can use the time to get some shut-eye. After all, you don’t want to spend your waking hours on the plane, only then to sleep as soon as you hit the hotel.
- Choose your seat wisely: It’s the age-old question: aisle or window seat? Unfortunately, there’s no right answer, just a cop-out: it depends. For long flights, we recommend taking the window seat if you don’t want to be disturbed while you’re sleeping or watching in-flight entertainment. If you find yourself needing to use the restroom often, then take an aisle seat for easier access.
- Charge up devices: Dead electronics are just expensive paperweights, so remember to top them off before you leave home. This includes your power bank, which will let you charge your devices again in case they run out of juice during the flight. In terms of capacity, a 10,000 mAh power bank is the sweet spot for a long flight. It’s big enough to charge a Max-sized iPhone twice but small enough that the TSA agent won’t raise their eyebrows.
- Download your favorite podcasts and shows: In-flight Wi-Fi and movies are hit or miss depending on which airline you’re flying with. We recommend downloading your music, shows, and podcasts beforehand so you have your own personalized entertainment. We particularly like podcasts because they don’t take up too much storage space for the amount of entertainment we get out of them.
- Pack noise-cancelling earphones: Of course, to get the most out of podcasts, you’ll need a good pair of headphones or earphones. We go a step further and use ones with active noise cancellation so that we can block off cabin noise and focus on what we’re listening to. Bonus points: wearing a pair of these is a subtle cue for people not to disturb you.
- Play some games: Download some game apps on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop before you take off. However, keep in mind that process-heavy apps can suck a lot of power from your battery. So instead of graphic-intensive games, go for 2D puzzles and simple side-scrollers. They won’t drain your devices as quickly, and they can be just as entertaining if you find the right one.
- Catch up on some reading: Video games not your jam? That’s okay; use this time to binge-read something on your TBR. And no, it doesn’t have to be a super-long novel. Reading up on your destination’s customs, landmarks, and upcoming events is a good way to learn what to do and what not to do once you arrive. After all, you don’t always get the luxury of fully fleshing out your plans (especially if you’re traveling for work).
- Go analog: If your devices run out of juice for one reason or another, it’s always good to have an analog backup—like a good ‘ol deck of cards. If you’re traveling alone, maybe ask your neighbor to play with you. If you’re alone, though, we wouldn’t recommend building a house of cards (for obvious reasons).
- Channel your inner Hemingway and journal: Sometimes simply writing what’s on your mind can result in hours of relaxation. A bit of reflection or expressing what you want to experience on your trip can be an entertaining exercise all on its own. Maybe you can even doodle yourself surfing or sightseeing if you’re feeling a bit artsy on your long flight—it’ll be just as precious as the photos you take.
Keep Gear Close
- Mind your foot space: The kind of personal bag you take with you matters. If you plan on taking something small enough to fit under the seat in front of you, be sure it doesn’t take up the entire space. You’ll want a bit of wiggle room so you can move your feet around, especially if you’re on the tall side.
- Personal item vs. carry-on: It’s quite tempting to pack most of your gear in your carry-on since, as its name suggests, you’ll carry it with you in the cabin. However, you’ll either have to put it in the overhead bin or under your seat—tight spaces that are hard to reach. Decide early on what items you’ll want easy access to and keep them nearby.
- Consider a sling: At the time of this post, you’re allowed to wear a sling during takeoff and landing, which means you can keep your items even closer. Once you’re at cruising altitude, leave it on or hang it from the tray table in front of you.
- Wear casual, comfortable clothing: Can’t decide what to wear on a long flight? Dress casually and save the fancy clothing for later. Casual shirts and comfortable jeans or joggers will let you settle in your seat easier than bulky clothing. You can also pack your PJs in your personal bag and change into them later once you’re in the sky—it just depends on your opinion of pajamas in public.
- Avoid bulky footwear: Leg room is precious real estate when flying, so you don’t want to waste it on excess rubber and leather. Sneakers are generally less bulky than trainers, so that’s what we prefer. You can also pack some flip-flops and slip into them before you go through airport security. You won’t be asked to take them off, and they’re much more comfortable than their closed travel shoes.
- Use your toiletries: Long flights mean plenty of time for odor and dirt to build up, so pack a few toiletries in your personal bag. Wet wipes are particularly handy for keeping yourself clean without having to get up from your seat. Then again, there’s nothing quite like a splash of water to keep yourself freshened up, so don’t be shy if you want to use the restroom. There you can rinse your mouth, wash your hands, do your ones and twos, and get a good look at yourself in the mirror.
- Be polite to flight attendants: This should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: be polite to the staff. It’s going to be a long flight, so you’ll want to establish a good, albeit temporary, relationship with the flight attendants who will be assisting you throughout the flight (and that includes emergencies). A simple raise of the hand here, a smile there, and a once-in-a-while “thank you” will go a long way to making their job easier and, thus, the journey smoother.
- Be considerate to your neighbors: This politeness and courteousness should also extend to your neighbors next to you and in the nearby rows. Put your phone on silent (apps and alarms might still ping you even if you’re in airplane mode) and ensure that your earphones aren’t bleeding too much noise. Watch your elbow too. As a rule, we like to keep elbows within the armrests to make sure they’re not disturbing anyone else.
Find Your Quiet Place
- Set your clocks: Hold up! We don’t mean setting up your alarm; that’s a terrible idea unless you want all eyes on you. Instead, set your clock to your destination’s time zone. This way, you’ll be able to keep track of when you should take naps during the flight to minimize jet lag. Better yet, see if your smartphone has a dual clock option (most do) so you can also keep track of time at home. The more in tune you are with your time zone, the easier it’ll be to anticipate your tiredness.
- Use a pillow: Catching Z’s during a long flight is tricky for a multitude of reasons, but one specific side effect we all want to avoid is muscle pain. The solution? Travel pillows. These come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from your usual toilet seat-shaped cushions all the way to inflatable ones. The latter takes up less space than the former, so that’s our usual go-to whenever we travel. Alternatively, you can bunch up a long scarf or use a packable jacket to rest your head.
- Keep warm: You never know how cold the plane’s cabin is going to get, so it’s a good idea to pack a blanket. A lot of long haul flights will include one, though there’s no guarantee, and you likely won’t know until you actually board. There are travel blankets that are designed to be thin but good at insulating, so we suggest checking one out. However, we find bringing a few extra clothing layers just in case does the trick.
- Sleep with earplugs: While noise-canceling earphones do an awesome job at blocking noises, they’re not necessarily designed to stay in your ears while you sleep and are at risk of falling out mid-nap That’s where earplugs come in. There are tons of different kinds out there, so find a comfortable pair and get some shut-eye.
- Block out bright lights: Unlike the lightbulb in your room, the lights in an airplane cabin sit pretty close to your eyes and can be hard to ignore. Sure, you can turn off those at your seat, but probably not the nearby rows. Fortunately, an eye mask will block off any incoming light that’s going to stop you from falling asleep, regardless of where it’s coming from. However, make sure to use one that doesn’t fit too tightly. Otherwise, you’ll wake up with the back of your ears irritated. Pro tip: We find that a neck gaiter works just as well and is more functional once you reach your destination.
- Don’t forget to stretch: After you take a nap or come out of REM sleep, it’s always a good idea to stretch out your muscles. As counterintuitive as it sounds, sitting around all day can be just as tiring as standing. Stretching will help keep the blood in your muscles flowing and relieve pressure or swelling in sensitive areas of the body.
Stay Powered Up
- Have snacks at the ready: Airline food is relatively expensive, especially the snacks like chips and chocolates. Skip those entirely (as tempting as they are) and instead pack your own snacks like granola bars, nuts, dried fruits, and trail mix. They’re our go-to travel snacks because they’re quick sources of energy and aren’t too messy to eat. The only thing you have to worry about them is the crumbs they leave, so you better get every bite in your tummy. Also, keep in mind that your seatmate may have allergies, so be courteous if they ask you to put your food away.
- Drink plenty of water: The other thing to keep in mind about certain snacks is how thirst-inducing they are. However, like snacks, beverages can be expensive and come in disposable PET bottles. Instead, bring your own insulated bottle that you can infinitely reuse during the trip, and just top up on water at the airport drinking fountain.
So, did you get all of that? Awesome! Now you’re a bit more prepared for your next long flight. Hey, maybe these long flight tips even made you look forward to flying. It doesn’t have to be a taxing experience from start to finish. With a bit of preparation and good spirits, you’re bound to make hours just fly by!