Long-haul flights can be the best and worst of times–they mean the excitement of flying to a new place, but also have the ability to instill sheer madness in you at the same time. Having recently spent more than half a day on a flight, I feel pretty experienced in knowing how to survive one (or four).
Flying to Zimbabwe, Africa meant three flights, adding up to a total of 24 hours of travel. And flying home was another 32 hours on top of that. I’ve already mentioned in a previous blog post just how important it is to be able to bring a carry-on with you if you have the opportunity. It makes a world of difference.
As for the flight itself, I’ve compiled 10 of the most valuable tips I wish I would’ve known beforehand or learned along the way.
1. Bring a neck pillow
I used to think people who brought those pillows that wrap around your neck looked kind of ridiculous. But my mom threw hers at me at the last minute, so I clipped it onto my backpack and figured I wouldn’t use it again. Boy, was I wrong! I loved having that head roll for sleeping, supporting my neck, and providing a comfortable and versatile pillow that I could use however I wanted. The ones the airline provided were merely a piece of cloth with a few cotton-balls inside.
2. Prepare for sleep
The night before I left, I stayed up until 2 am (thats the best I could manage) and had to leave my house at 3 am. My sister was throwing a party that night, so the loud music and voices actually might’ve helped me in the long run–thanks sis. I knew I was going to be tired for my long flight, which was exactly what I wanted. I first flew to New York, to arrive at 9 am, and boarded shortly after for my 15-hour flight to Africa. Well, I slept about 10 out of the 15 hours! Although I woke up for meals or because I couldn’t sleep any longer, it was a quick flight and I was thrilled when it was over.
3. Wear comfortable clothes
I’ve seen women wear booties or heels through the airport, and I ask myself “How?!”. It just doesn’t seem comfortable or logical. You are walking long distances from gate to gate, terminal to terminal, concourse to concourse. Why are you hurting your feet any more than you have to? So I wear my best pair of running shoes for those long walks, long hours, and long flights. And I throw on a pair of leggings and a t-shirt and light sweatshirt. I can easily shed clothing if I get too warm and am able to really stretch out for those hours on end stuck in a tiny seat.
4. Book the seat you want (with the airline you want)
I booked my flights over 6 months ago, which for some reason means I got a window seat on all my flights without having to actually pay extra for them. Thank god! Although the aisle is a great place to sit for long flights as well (especially if you need to get up and use the restroom or stretch out), the window provides the best views and the best positions for sleeping. Having that extra wall to support you or work with to find a comfortable sleeping position can really make a difference. I prefer it anyway.
And try to stick to airlines you know you like. For example, South African Airways was amazing in every aspect of my trip. Qatar Airways, on the other hand, made me dread ever having to fly with them again. Its a personal opinion, but something to consider for sure.
5. Bring your essentials in your personal item, not the carry-on
What I mean is, you’ll want a toothbrush after a long-haul flight and eating the airplane food. Not only for your neighbors benefit, but to make you feel like you have some control over your hygiene a mile high in the air. Make sure to have these essentials packed in your personal item that goes under the chair in front of you, not in the overhead compartments. I also would recommend having your chargers on you, a water bottle, a book, and anything else you might want during the flight. This saves the stress of leaving your seat, finding and pulling your baggage down, and sorting through it in a two feet wide aisle with people trying to get by you.
6. Bring some snacks and lots of water
Not only is it comforting to bring your own home-having snacks for your new place, but sometimes it will be a few hours before meals on the plane. I was okay for the most part, but there were times when having my favorite granola bars close by was a great idea. And having a filled up water bottle is something I must do–I drink so much water as it is that I was constantly running out and having to ask for more from the flight attendants. At one point, she just came by and put it on my tray table without my asking haha.
7. Pump your ankles!
Sitting for so long can mess up a lot with your body. I would suggest stretching ever so often, taking a nice walk up and down the aisle, or standing off to the side of the bathrooms if you can manage it. I also suggest pumping your ankles while in your seat if you aren’t able to get up and trying to get blood flowing everywhere in your body. Sometimes the airlines even provide a little stretching guide for you to do while in your seat!
8. Let time happen
Sometimes I just forgot I was on a plane with a strict destination and time limit, and let time happen. Knowing you have a long flight ahead of you can be disheartening, but for me it just meant I had a lot of time to do nothing. It was simple and easy and I was stuck there. So keep yourself busy if it helps pass the time faster, but for me, relaxing and doing nothing made it go faster than if I had planned out every minute.
9. Charge your electronics beforehand
I had been on a long-haul flight before, but that was only 10 hours long, not 15. And when I got onto my first 15 hour flight to realize there was no electronic plug-ins, I felt defeated. But hey, I charged my phone using my laptop (since I had previously downloaded a Netflix season of The Office onto my phone) so I could use it the whole time. I also have a phone charger that gets charged so you can use it anywhere, and this was the perfect time for it! But just in case, I made sure to charge all of my electronics before my flights home.
10. Take sleep-aids
Sleeping pills, Benadryl, alcohol. Do what you have to do! I’ve heard all of these routes being taken in order to get a few hours of sleep in, and I personally went with drinking myself to sleep (they don’t card on international flights people!), but take your pick. One woman a few rows behind me woke up for the first time 13 hours into the flight, and boy was I jealous.
Thats all I have for now–best of luck with your future travels! And what are some ways that you survive long-haul flights?