Oftentimes when I am talking with someone about our trips, a topic that comes up is the long flights to and from our destination.
A lot of people don’t like to fly and the idea of spending five or six or 10 or more hours cooped up is one that keeps some people from visiting more far-flung locations. There’s no question that travel can be exhausting and difficult, but it’s the price to pay in order to see amazing places here in the U.S. and around the world.
Our longest / most arduous flights thus far have been to Australia, New Zealand, and Bali, with the longest travel legs ranging from 12-15 hours (or 72, depending on how you count those things). With all of our trips, I have a learned a thing or two or ten about long haul travel and thought I’d share a few of my coping strategies for many hours spent cramped at 30,000 feet.
How Jen deals with flights — any and all flights, regardless of length — and doesn’t lose her ever lovin’ mind:
- Water: We have rolling water bottles that go with us everywhere. We stash them in our carry-on bags, then fill them after we’ve gone through security. That alone won’t be enough to keep you hydrated on a long flight, but if you also accept water whenever a flight attendant offers it to you, you’ll get through the flight without dehydrating to the consistency of a dried corn husk.
- Food: I don’t eat airline food unless I am absolutely desperate and even then I pause and consider my levels of desperation. Airline food is salty and high in fat and always, always, always makes me feel like shit, regardless of what I consume. So I always pack my own food — fruits (grapes, apples) and vegetables (carrots, cucumbers), raw nuts, Larabars (only a few ingredients in each), and a small quantity of good chocolate. For longer flights, after we go through airport security, I’ll pick up a meal, such as a chef salad for lunch or dinner. I find that the combination of vegetables and protein is just perfect for me. And I also find that I recover more quickly from jet lag if I have eaten simple, healthy foods on the plane. On the other hand, when I have succumbed and eaten airplane food, I have felt utterly terrible for at least two days afterward.
- Clothes: The internet is full of ideas for how to dress for travel. I know some people are all about the comfort, while others are all about looking very nice, and I try to find a balance somewhere in the middle. Depending on the time of year and climate where we’re going, I generally skew toward cotton knits that won’t wrinkle and in black to hide my inevitable stains and messes. I always have a cardigan for when I get cold (always). For shoes, I wear boots or slip-on shoes — NO LACES. For socks, always, always, always, some style of SmartWool.
- Scarf: Regardless of weather, I always have some sort of scarf that I can use as a blanket on the plane. My favorite one has been all over the world with me and matches pretty much everything in my closet.
- Tablet and charging pack: Entertainment — books, games, videos, etc. — and back up power, in case there’s no place to charge on the place.
- iPod: To block out noise around you, whether you’re trying to sleep or just ignore an overly exuberant / tired toddler.
- Toiletries: Lotion and lip balm to help counter the effects of the dry air and dehydration. Toothbrush and toothpaste to help your mouth feel minty fresh. Deodorant for the obvious reasons.
- Travel pillow: I like this one, as it’s adjustable, plus I can also use it for lumbar support. Also, it rolls up to a small bundle and doesn’t take up much space.
- Eye mask: To cover your eyes when you’re trying to sleep.
- Melatonin: I can sleep just about anywhere, but I have a very hard time sleeping on airplanes, regardless of how tired I am. I don’t want to take drugs, because I’ll feel like death warmed over when I land, so I take a little melatonin with my doctor’s blessing.
What do I haul all this in? A small urban backpack. I’ve tried a variety of bags — messenger bags, tote bags, oversized purses — but this one is really working well for me. It’s big enough, but not too big. I can wear it on my back or one shoulder, carry it by the top handle, or attach it to my small rolling suitcase. Mine is gray, which hides dirt.
So that’s how I cope with long flights, in terms of gear. Mentally, I just try to keep my mind occupied with books, games, or music. Sometimes I watch a movie or TV show, but not always. I try not to focus too much on the time or how long I’ve been cooped up.
Physically, the one other thing I do is get up and walk around a little every couple of hours. It keeps the blood flowing and helps me not get too stiff. You can find articles online about easy yoga stretches to do in your seat and I’ve found that to be helpful too.
Beyond all that, you just need to stay patient. Find your zen. A remember that you’re on an adventure.
How do you cope with long flights?