I had long dreamed of visiting Jordan—of smearing black mud on my face and bobbing 1,410 feet below sea level in the Dead Sea, riding through sun-worn sandstone and rose-hued dunes in Wadi Rum and experiencing the awe-inducing hidden city of Petra. But, last April, between me and my dream sat a 13-hour nightmare of a flight.
Luckily, it wasn’t my first rodeo. In the past two years alone I’ve logged more than 100 flight hours—nearly all in five-plus-hour chunks. And if you’ve spent as much time trapped in an airplane as I have, you know the more you prepare, the better the flight. Here’s what I’ve learned after years of long-distance plane travel.
You know what they say about prior proper planning, right? (It prevents piss poor performance.) Set yourself up for success before you ever step on the jet bridge by booking flights with shorter, more convenient layovers and carefully chosen seats. (I’m an aisle kind of person since I hate waking strangers up to go to the bathroom.) I’ve spent my fair share of cold, sleepless nights on the sticky floors of darkened, empty airports—including two nights of horror in London Gatwick listening to the hum of floor cleaners and hunting for working power outlets—all to save $100. Was it worth it? No.
Charge Your Devices
While more and more airlines are investing in inflight Wi-Fi and seatback screens, what will you do on your cross-Atlantic flight if the TV doesn’t work and your phone isn’t charged? For this tech-obsessed millennial, the thought is almost too terrible to contemplate. Before I board, I double- and triple-check my tech bag to make sure I have the right dongles for each device (including the correct adapters, as they can be very expensive abroad), and throw in an external battery for good measure. I actually like having two: a small battery in my hip pack that can charge my phone at least once while I’m on the go and another larger bank that lives in my luggage and can charge my phone up to four times in case I can’t find an outlet for a few days.
Take a Travel Pillow
I scoffed at travel pillows for years, thinking they were for travelers less hardened than I. Then I received one as a gift and discovered that they’re a gift from the god of travel Hermes himself. While some travelers opt for comfortable, full-plush models like this fleece-lined one from Eagle Creek, I prefer less comfy but more packable inflatable options like the Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Traveller Pillow. That way, at the end of my flight, I can simply deflate it, pack it in my carry-on and painlessly strut down the aisle.
I believe that comfort is the only thing worth thinking about when picking a flight outfit. Stretch, breathability, softness—these are the hallmarks of smart airplane apparel. On my last flight to Los Angeles, I sported lightweight, moisture-wicking black pants; a basic, odor-resistant white tee; stain-resistant, wrinkle-free hoodie; and an oversized, neutral, cozy cotton scarf. I also chose slip-on shoes to more easily move through TSA.
Once you have those basics down, you can level up by investing in an eco-friendly, wicking, wrinkle-resistant capsule wardrobe—an edited collection of clothes that are easy to mix and match to create multiple outfits. My capsule allows me to dress for weeks out of nothing more than a carry-on. Need more inspiration? Here’s how I fit two weeks worth of clothes into an 18-liter daypack.
Grab Earplugs and Noise-Canceling Headphones
Heavy breathers, clapping kids and bumping beats all necessitate noise mitigation. I’m a huge fan of noise-canceling headphones, which are useful at the office, on the bus and even next to my partner who won’t stop watching dog howling compilations. (Don’t ask.) But their importance for long flights is not to be understated. They can even help protect you from hearing loss since you won’t have to crank up your music to drown out the engine noise. I also always have a pack of earplugs in my bag for when I just need a break from all forms of noise. And if you have a kid onboard, having some earplugs to hand out to your neighbors is a great way to gain some compassion.
Sleep Aids Are Key
I’m the kind of person who can sleep anywhere, anytime. Under my desk at work? Yes. On a raft floating the Delaware? Yep. On a horse? Of course. But while I usually don’t need sleep aids, I bring them when I fly anyway because you never know when insomnia can strike. And I refuse to endure a whole international red-eye awake. There are plenty of natural methods and over-the-counter options. Just make sure you try it out before you fly. Sleep aids affect everyone differently, and a multi-hour flight isn’t the best place to potentially discover negative side effects or that the one you grabbed simply doesn’t work for you.
While hydration is important in general (even mild dehydration can increase feelings of anxiety and fatigue and reduce physical performance in athletes), it can be especially important while flying. Filtered cabin air is usually cool and dry, and it can help pull moisture right out of you. One study showed passenger’s skin hydration decreased by up to 37 percent on long-distance flights. Plus, if you’re drinking regularly, you also have a little extra motivation for moving in the direction of the bathroom from time to time, which will help stave off the risk of deep vein thrombosis. Just remember to bring your reusable water bottle and to top if off before you board.
In the United States, we like to be two to three feet away from strangers. But while flying, you’re lucky to have a few inches of space between you and the next person. And just as I’d rather not smell them, they shouldn’t have to smell me. For that reason, I keep a little kit of toiletries in the small bag I tuck under my seat. In it lives a tiny toothbrush and tube of paste, deodorant and face wipes. I also make sure to leave room for my napkin-size towel, duct tape and my nail clippers, which are allowed on flights. (Just don’t clip in public, please.)
Food makes pretty much everything better. If we’re all honest with ourselves, though, we can agree that the food available on planes is pretty terrible. Thinking back to my last in-flight meal, I remember a bland mush more than any distinct food groups. It was snacks got me through that trip. I look for options that aren’t very messy, smelly or noisy and that bring a mix of sweet and savory because I’m never quite sure what I’ll be in the mood for. I usually pop by a local REI and grab some butter blends and gummy bears, which actually makes for a strange, but delicious combo. Ginger chews are a must too, in case of tummy troubles. You can also save some money by making your own snack at home.