I’ve just booked a monster travel plan for next year and it features a 13h flight to Singapore followed by a 7h flight to Sydney and another 5h flight to Apia, Samoa (with the inherent layovers it’s a staggering 35h spent travelling!).
All, of course, served up with the always delightful inevitability of severe jet lag waiting for me at the end.
So I started researching on ways to handle long flights.
1. Book your tickets early
This should go without saying. The earlier you book, the better your chances of scoring your favorite seat—it’s that simple. (DONE)
2. Sit in the back
Just in case you don’t have a favorite seat (or the ones in the front with all the legroom are taken), go for the back. It’ll be noisier, sure, but if everybody else is scrambling for the front, you’ve got a far better chance of ending up with an empty seat or two beside you.
3. Shell out for Premium Economy
Because, sadly, we don’t always have the miles. A step up from regular economy class, Premium Economy might be slightly more expensive, but the benefits—priority check-in, extra legroom, seats that actually accommodate a grown human’s body—far outweigh the cost. (NOT DONE. Being a cheap-ass Romanian at heart, I refuse to top up my already expensive flight that goes over £1k to anything more. I might eat my words.)
4. Prepare for jet lag
There are several things you can do before your flight to help avoid jet lag, or at least mitigate it. Spend the days before your flight adjusting your sleeping patterns (a few 4 a.m. or 7 p.m. bedtimes should do it, depending on what time of day you’ll be flying), book your flight so that it arrives during the day, make the most of your stopovers, and, most importantly, be well rested before you fly. Trust us, staying awake for the 24 hours before the trip because you’re sure it’ll balance out once you arrive just doesn’t work.
5. Check in early
The last thing you need before your pan-global flight is to be panicking your way through a busy airport. Or to miss your flight. (My check in is at 5AM so I’ll have to be in the airport by 3AM)
Non-Essentials but nice to have’s
1. De-stress before you arrive
Have a nice breakfast. Go to the gym. Read a book. Go to the gym again. (You’ll be sitting for the next day and a half, so work off that king-sized box of Toblerones you plan to eat on the plane now.)
2. Don’t overdo the carry-ons
You’ll need more for a long-haul flight than you would for a short one, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to bring three backpacks full of duty-free booze, electronics, and half-read Dean Koontz novels.
3. But do bring your own pillow
A small pillow is a staple carry-on item for all long-distance travelers. Every airport on the planet will sell travel pillows, and looking faintly ridiculous is a small price to pay for not destroying your neck.
4. Noise-cancelling headphones are your new best friend
If you can’t afford them, some high-quality earplugs will do just fine.
5. Dress right
Keep it loose and comfortable—you’re not here to impress anyone. Remember to bring layers for when it gets cold, and don’t rule out packing pajamas.
6. Try to relax
Do whatever it takes—meditate, listen to some calming music, do some breathing exercises—not only will it help you sleep more easily, but it’s also pretty good for your psyche in general. And if all else fails, there’s always Valium.
7. Travel blankets exist for a reason
Don’t bring anything too thick (remember, it has to fit in your carry-on) but make sure it’s enough to keep you warm when the plane’s air conditioning is going full blast. Cashmere is probably the way forward. Alternatively, buy a lightweight poncho-style blanket designed for travel online, or at the airport before take-off.
8. Stick some back-up movies onto your tablet
In-flight entertainment systems are not always reliable. They sometimes fail, and when they do you’ll be glad to have something to do in reserve.
9. Bring a charger!
Because the absolute last thing you need is for your iPad to run out of juice halfway through the season finale of Game Of Thrones, one hour into an eleven-hour flight. Especially if your in-flight entertainment system isn’t working.
Sitting in a cramped metal tube for the better part of a day (or more) is not good for you. Fight off dehydration and deep-vein thrombosis—your two biggest enemies in the sky—by regularly drinking water, stretching, and walking around the cabin.
You have to keep a watch on personal hygiene. This is for everybody else’s sake as much as your own. Bring toiletries in your carry-on and make sure to brush your teeth, throw on some deodorant, or even change your clothes. Just make sure you do it in the bathroom, please.
Bring a notebook, a sketchpad, or whatever else you need to give the right-hand side of your brain a workout.
If you’ve got your laptop with you, this might be your best chance to catch up on any busywork that needs doing. Bonus: everyone else on your flight will think you’re a sophisticated international jet-setting businessperson, right up until they notice that Netflix tab you’ve got open.
1. Pack extra snacks
Airline food is not usually plentiful, even on long-haul flights, and it’s important to stay well-nourished. No need to overdo it, of course, but no one was ever sorry to find a couple pieces of fruit or granola bars in their carry-on.
As far as plane-situated recreational activities go, drinking is a pretty good one. Alcohol is usually free on long-haul flights, and, if nothing else, it’ll make the whole affair much more interesting.
3. Don’t drink
That said, don’t treat booze as a way to cope with your flight. You’ll end up using those horrible bathrooms far more frequently, plus alcohol is dehydrating and will mess up your sleeping pattern. And that’s to say nothing for the hangover. Keep it sensible.