Episode 14: Getting Through a Long-haul Flight
In all honesty, anything over 6ish hours I consider a long-haul flight. If the flight is going to be longer than 2 movies in duration, I will always be uncomfortable, and truthfully, a little pissed. I loathe being crammed in a plane; everything about it is terrible. There’s never enough space, it’s too hot, or too cold, the person next to you is a snorer, the food is not good, your skin feels like it’s being dragged through the desert, and then there’s the germs….all the germs. Germs in the bathroom, germs on your seat-back tray table, germs coming out of that mouth-breather seated next to you, and overall, just enough germs flying around to burst your confidence that you’re going to make it to your vacation without some sort of new virus.
Behold, the dreaded long-haul flight. We just took our incredibly long flight to Thailand, and we did our best to prepare for that. It was 2 flights, with a total of about 22 hours in the air. Needless to say, we were not looking forward to a flight that was about 7-8 movies length in duration. In fact, we were a littttle bit dreading it.
We’ve taken our fair share of long-haul flights (over 10ish) hours, and we’re here to share our best tips + tricks for getting through it.
Comfort + Sleeping
Trying to get comfortable on a plane is difficult for me. Firstly, because I’m fairly short, my feet don’t really touch the ground which means my legs are just dangling for however long the flight is. Secondly, the seats hardly recline enough to actually be comfortable, so I have a hard time sleeping for any substantial amount of time.
Here are a few things we use to help make your seat-prison a tad bit more bearable.
Scarf or w™arm layer
Now, we usually travel to places that we will need a least a light layer for. So we have our favorite scarves we pack as they are cozy and double as blankets on the plane. Additionally, we’re usually bringing a sweatshirt, long-sleeve, or some other warm layer for the trip anyway, so we just use that as our plane outfit to keep us warm. In the interest of packing light and only having a carry-on, this is convenient.
However, on our recent trip to Thailand, we didn’t need to pack any warm layers because it’s was going to be hot as shit there. This is a problem we had not yet encountered, but we came up with a few creative solutions to help keep us warm and comfy for 22 hours in the sky.
1. Bring a layer you don’t care about
We had a few sweatshirts and long-sleeves which we were already planning on bringing to the thrift store to donate. Instead, Audriana chose to bring one of those give-away sweaters to wear on the plane, with the intent of leaving it behind at our hostel once we arrived. Because we only brought small-ish backpacks, we didn’t have extra space to lug around a sweater we weren’t going to wear during the trip!
This works for the way there, and then, because we’re traveling to an inexpensive place, Audriana could just pick up a cheap, warm layer there to wear on the plane, and it’s a bonus souvenir!
2. Get a small travel blanket
This is the route I opted for and I bought a cheap blanket from Walgreens for about $8. It’s the size of a throw blanket, it rolls up small and I was able to just buckle it to my backpack, so it didn’t take up any extra space on the inside of my backpack.
AND, it happened to come in handy on more than just the airplane! A couple of the hostels we stayed in had very basic bedding, so I used my little travel blanket as a pillow and a second layer blanket. It also came in handy on other transportation; I used it during our ferry ride in-between islands, on trains, and shorter inter-country flights. I kept saying I was going to leave it behind in one of our hostels, but that dang blanket kept coming in handy!
You can get a similar one here: Lightweight Travel Blanket
You know what’s great? A nice neck pillow! You know what’s not great? Having to pack around a nice neck pillow that takes up way too much space. I’ve tried nice neck pillows, but couldn’t justify carrying one around for just one days’ use. I’ve tried the inflatable ones, so we could use it and it would be compact-able and easy to fit into our carry-on backpacks and it began deflating in the first hour of using it. I’ve tried just using scarves and clothes as makeshift pillows. And I’ve tried using those stupid headrests that are on the plane seat that you can fold toward your head to hold it semi-upright so you can try to sleep.
And honestly, they all suck! This is always a conundrum for me; I already have a pretty hard time sleeping on an airplane anyway, but I cannot justify bringing a big, nice neck pillow to use for flights and then carry around for a month in-between those flights.
There are tons of kind of gimmicky options. There’s a giant block thing you can inflate and place in-between your legs and lean forward onto. There are special sweatshirts that have inflatable portions around your head so you can lean on them, annnnd I’m sure there’s many more options.
I found something that’s sort of a compromise. It holds my face up so I don’t have a horribly stiff neck from my heading bobbing in and out of consciousness, and it’s also pretty packable. I have a small, meshy and stretchy pocket in the front of my backpack which my neck pillow slides into pretty easily. In all honesty, it’s not the perfect solution and I still don’t sleep very long (but, certainly longer than with anything else I’ve tried), but I think it’s the best solution I’ve come up with.
Here is the travel pillow I bring with me now on every flight: Turtl Pillow
We always pack melatonin for long-haul flights; it doesn’t really help KEEP you asleep, but it definitely helps you fall asleep initially. Especially when you are so drastically switching timezones, it’s hard to get yourself to fall asleep when you should be sleeping on the airplane.
For example, we try to stick to a sleeping schedule (more on that later) to try to minimize the jet-lag and get us more used to the time change. For example, sometimes we’re trying to go to sleep for the night on the plane when it’s only 4PM our time, because it’s the middle of the night where we are going, and we’re trying to even out that massive change. When we do this, we always take melatonin and try to knock ourselves for a least a little bit!
You can get melatonin at pretty much every store; we use the 5mg ones.
Not everyone likes these and we hardly ever use them, but I reckon it doesn’t hurt to recommend things that can help create a better environment to sleep in. You never know when the people next to you are going to have their reading light on, and I always find other peoples’ screens distracting and start watching whatever the seat in front of me is watching…even though I can’t hear the audio….I don’t know why I do that?
So, by all means, bring your own eye mask. The airlines don’t always provide one!
Here’s the one I got from Amazon which was nice and silky , but I’ll have to repurchase it since I lent it to my mother who left it in seat on the way to London.
From Amazon: Silk Eye Mask
In-flight toiletry bag
We always pack a little toiletry bag with travel-sized products so we can easily access things while we’re in that metal tube in the sky. Whatever you think you’ll need, bring that. We bring a fold-up travel toothbrush, some toothpaste, face wash, lotion, nasal spray, hand sanitizer (all those germs I talked about earlier, you know), an eye mask, warm socks, face and butt wipes, contact solution, and chapstick.
Basically just all those things that help make you feel clean and those items you use when you get ready for bed.
God, my mother has preached bringing nasal spray on flights for so long. But you know when your mom swears by something, and she wants you to do it, but now it’s the last thing on earth you want to do because your mother told you to do it?
That’s nasal spray for me. Your nose will feel SO goddam dry on that plane, you’ll forget what it feels like to have normal feeling nostrils. Now, you don’t have to use nasal spray while you’re sitting in your seat (please refrain from doing that), so pack some in your little in-flight toiletry bag and do that shit in the bathroom, please.
God forbid you forget headphones. I’ve done it on multiple occasions and was pissed off at myself. There goes the majority of your entertainment; forget listening to your audio book, or soothing music while you try to drown out the snorer next to you to try to get some shut-eye, or that new movie the plane has that you actually are interested in seeing!
If you’re lucky, the airlines will at least provide you with those shitty over the ear ones, or the earbud type ones, but they’re never that great! If you can finagle bringing some noise-cancelling ones, that’s even better.
But, headphones are an essential for getting through a long-haul flight!
Warm socks/compression socks
Some people swear by compression socks on flights, we have never used them. Because your blood can have a harder time circulating to your extremities when sitting for long periods of time, compression socks help circulate your blood a little better. Sometimes your ankles and feet swell up during long flights, these socks will also help to keep the swelling down!
We’ll probably start using these in the future, so we’ll come back and update this if we find any we reallllly love!
We always just bring some really cozy, fluffy socks because sometimes your feet get really cold because your blood is clotting in your veins and it doesn’t circulate to your feet very well and all that….so bring some warm airplane socks.
Remember earlier in this post where I said I was pretty short, so my feet don’t really touch the floor? It has been a pain in my ass since we started flying regularly. Especially since your blood circulation is already reduced from sitting still for so long, it definitely doesn’t help that I cannot put my feet on the floor and relieve some of the pressure of gravity pulling my thighs into the chair.
Enter: a foot rest!
I shit you not, I just brought one of these with me on our 22 hour flight to Thailand and I will never travel without it again. It doesn’t take up that much space, and for the benefit I get from it, it’s totally worth packing it.
There are, of course, many different types of these foot rests. After extensive research, reading loads of reviews and, of course, an epic trial run from San Francisco to Thailand and back, here is my well-vetted recommendation: Sleepy Ride Airplane Footrest
And truly, if you’re short like me (I’m 5’3’’) it will be a game changer for all your future long-haul flights!
A sleeping schedule
We just made one of these for this long-haul flight to Thailand where we lived the same day twice because of the time difference. Literally, the same Saturday happened twice; we left Bangkok at 6PM on Saturday and arrived in San Francisco at 5PM on that same Saturday…figure that one out.
Anyway, we created a sleep schedule to try to get ourselves on the right time, and to minimize the jet-lag. We wanted to hit the ground running in Bangkok and not have any wasted days because we were groggy from flying.
I swear to you, we arrived in Bangkok just a regular amount of tired from a loooong travel day, but feeling pretty good. We checked into our hostel, found some dinner, grabbed drinks at our hostel bar and dragged our butts to a Muay Thai fight. By 9PM we were struggling to stay awake, so we went back, fell asleep and woke up the next morning at 8AM feeling perfectly fine. That is THE BEST we have ever done at pretty much avoiding jet-lag completely!
I’ve inserted a picture of our sleeping schedule from San Francisco to Bangkok below so you can get an idea. But it’s essentially just keeping yourself awake when you should be sleeping (on your home time zone) and trying to get some sleep during the hours you would normally be awake (on your home time zone).
If you’re like us and you fly in economy class and sometimes do budget airlines, having seat back entertainment is not always a guarantee. In fact, even if you know there will be televisions on your flight, you should still bring some other things to do.
Do not do what I did on a 12 hour flight to Paris and not remember that there aren’t television and ALSO not prepare any other forms of entertainment for yourself. It was excruciatingly boring.
Book, kindle, ipad
If you’ll be bringing a Kindle or iPad, make sure that shit is fully charged before you get on that plane. In addition to being fully charged, bring a battery bank (also fully charged) so you can keep that book or movie going!
We also make sure we download TV shows, movies and music at our homes where the wifi runs strong. I made the mistake of trying to download The Godfather on the airport wifi in Iceland and it downloaded abouuutttt 10 minutes of the movie in the hour of time I had. Make sure you’re entertainment is ready to go before you leave for the airport.
If you have Amazon Prime, you can download TV shows, movies and music and then you don’t need wifi to view or listen to any of those. If you’re not an Amazon Prime member…find someone in your family who is and borrow their log-in info for your trip, or do a free 30-day trial and get your trials-worth!
Audriana is great at journaling; I always bring a journal and forget to do it. If you have several hours in the sky, this is a great time to journal!
Whether you are doing it as a travel journal specifically, or just a regular old journal, this is a great way to pass the time and preserve your memories!
Deck of cards
Sometimes we bring a deck of cards. They’re small, easily packable and can provide some entertainment for awhile. You can play Solitaire, War, or have a very long game of Gin Rummy — your choice!
A coloring book
I brought coloring pages and a few markers on our most recent trip, and I must say, it did keep me busy for quite some time. It was nice to put on music and just color for a half an hour here and there, when I didn’t feel like watching something or reading.
And it hardly took up any space in my carry-on as I just ripped out 10 or so pages from the book, folded them up and stuck them in my backpack!
food & drinks
Unless you’re riding in First Class, or another upgraded seat class, the airplane food has a reputation of being….so-so. Don’t get me wrong, we have been pleasantly surprised with meals, snacks and drinks provided and we’re happy to have them. There are other times when the dinner option looks and tastes like something you don’t want near your face, and you either eat it, or you skip dinner.
We always go to the grocery store before a long-haul flight to get some snacks and easy to eat meals. Sometimes we’ll pick up bagels, snack bars, fruits…you know, just small things to hold you over should you not want to eat the plane food. Heck, we’ve brought on burritos and sandwiches for a few flights and were feeling #blessed to have them when our mushy plane food came out.
Always, always, always bring something with you! And try not to buy it at the airport, because we all know it’s about 5x more expensive there and they hardly ever have what you realllly want.
Refillable water bottle
For some reason, not every airline thinks their passengers need more than 3 ounces of water in 12 hours. You’ll either have to keep asking the stewardess for shots of water for hours on end, or have to buy a water bottle for like, a gold bar, to stay hydrated. Plus, you feel extra dried out during flights anyway — it’s just something about that lovely pressurized air that makes your skin and throat weep for moisture.
So, bring a reusable water bottle. Fill it up in the airport, after you’ve gone through security and right before you board the plane so you have some to get you through the first few hours. After that, head back to the galley area where the flight attendants are hanging out and ask them nicely if they’ll fill up your bottle for you. Problem solved. And your Sahara-like throat will thank you as well.
Here’s the water bottles we always bring with us. They fold up nice and small and have a carabiner clip on them that has come in handy more times than I can count!
From Amazon: Vapur Foldable Water Bottle
And that’s it! Those are the essentials we bring on every long-haul flight. You can listen to the full podcast episode above to hear a few more of our tips + tricks.
Do you have any other tips that help get you through those pesky long-haul flights? Share ‘em with us in the comments below!
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