How to Survive a Long Flight

Sometimes the world can feel like an incredibly small place. We have technology that connects us across the globe, worldwide news at our fingertips, translation software that breaks down language barriers. But, that smallness is just an illusion, and nothing brings that illusion crashing down quite like having to survive a long flight.

Yes, the world is vast.

Traveling reminds you of that and keeps you humble, which is all well and good until you’re trapped in a metal cylinder with 500 strangers and no escape for the next 15 hours. Fortunately, there are a few ways to make those 15 hours less unpleasant.

I’ve split this guide to surviving a long flight into two sections: a packing guide and a best practices guide.

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Tips to survive a long flight
© Sourav Mishra

Long Haul Flight Essentials

Disclaimer: If you’re looking for an exhaustive, item-by-item, does-everything-except-actually-pack-the-suitcase-for-you list, this isn’t it. These are merely my favorite things to make a long flight a little comfier.

Read some of our other packing lists for more in-depth guides depending on your type of travel, destination, etc.

What to Wear to Survive a Long Flight

1. Comfortable Clothes: While this might seem obvious, it bears mentioning. To survive a long flight, loose-fitting garments with soft, stretchy fabric are the way to go. Basically, think as close to pajamas as you can get away with in public. Or just actually wear pajamas. Oh, and ladies – if you have to wear a bra, pick something without an underwire or metal clasps in the back. Low-impact sports bras and cotton bralettes are perfect.

2. Layers: I tend to get cold on airplanes, but there are always exceptions to the rule. Dressing in layers allows you to roll with whatever conditions you find in the airport, aboard the plane, and at your final destination. I recommend a big comfy scarf to double as a layer or an extra pillow.

3. Easily-Removable Shoes: Long-haul flights are one of the few times when taking your shoes off in a crowded space isn’t a faux pas. Consider wearing slip-on shoes, so you can easily remove them after take-off and put them back on if you need to get up and stretch your legs or use the restroom. Slip-on shoes also make passing through security easier. A note about going shoe-less for your flight, though: keep your socks on. It’s polite and besides, airplanes are kind of gross.

4. Compression Socks: When your feet are under you for hours, they tend to swell. I avoid this by wearing compression socks on the plane. If you do this, just be aware that you aren’t supposed to wear these for extended periods of time, so bring an extra pair of socks to wear in the airport and change into these for the flight.

Related: Best Travel Shoes According to the Experts

What to Bring to Survive a Long Flight

Creature Comforts

1. ChapStick: Chapped lips go hand-in-hand with air travel, and that goes double for long, overnight flights. However, you can combat cracked, dry lips by tucking some lip balm into your bag. My favorite is Burt’s Bee’s or Aquaphor, but use whatever works best for you.

2. Earplugs: Airplanes are noisy: the loud humming of the plane itself, babies crying, and, of course, snoring. It’s unavoidable on a packed plane. Bring a set of earplugs to drown all that out. You can even pack a spare set for your seatmate in case you’re the one generating a little extra noise (hey, snoring happens; especially with that recycled air drying out your nasal passages).

3. Eye-mask: While the flight attendants do dim the lights on overnight flights, sometimes it’s still bright enough to keep you awake. Phone screens, in-flight entertainment, etc. Slip on an eye-mask and all of that disappears. Bonus: you get to feel like a glamorous, Silver Screen starlet, just trying to get her beauty sleep. We recommend this eye mask for travelers.

Woman wearing a Sleep Mask
Get much needed rest with the help of an eye-mask. © Shopify Partners from Burst

4. Medications: In addition to any prescription medications you might take, consider bringing anti-nausea meds, sleep-aids, and pain-killers like Ibuprofen or Tylenol.

Related: 3 Things to Help you Sleep on the Road

5. Reusable Water Bottle: It’s easy to get dehydrated on long flights. Armed with a reusable water bottle, you can stay hydrated on your own terms, i.e., if you miss the drink cart, it’s not the end of the world. You’ll have to make sure it’s empty before going through security, but once you’re through, fill it up at any of the water fountains in your terminal. Many airports have specific water bottle refill stations, too.

Entertainment

6. Headphones: Staying asleep for the entirety of a long-haul flight is nearly impossible. I usually get five or six hours of real sleep total. And that’s if I’m lucky. Make the most of those waking hours by packing a pair of headphones. You can watch in-flight movies, listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks, or just put on relaxing sleep sounds and zen out. Remember that if you want to enjoy in-flight entertainment, you’ll need a regular pair of 3.5mm headphones in addition to your bluetooth headphones or fancy new iPhone headphones. The more comfortable fit on your ears, the better.

7. Reading Material: Magazines, books, an e-reader; you can only watch so many episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, so bring something else to pass the time.

Related: The Best Travel Books For Adventures Near and Far

What to Do to Survive a Long Flight

Before You Go:

1. Book a Window Seat: Built-in headrest. Need I say more? Okay, I will. I prefer the window seat because of the aforementioned comfy factor, but I also like to see a new place from the air. The disadvantage to this seat is that you will have to crawl over your seat mates to use the bathroom. The advantage is that none of your seat mates will need to crawl over you.

Woman looking out airplane window
A window seat will help pass the time on long haul flights. © Jason Toevs

2. Download Entertainment: International flights tend to have good variety when it comes to in-flight entertainment, but that’s not your only option. We’re living in the future, friends. Books, movies, TV shows, podcasts, you name it: You can download almost anything to your phone or tablet and take it with you off-line. For video content, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube Red all allow downloads and off-line viewing, although not all Netflix shows are available to download. Open the Netflix app, go to downloads and click “Find Something to Download” to see the available titles. Do this before your flight and you’ll laugh in the face of boredom.

3. Pack Only a Carry-On: Traveling with just a carry-on is always great, but it’s especially nice for long-haul destinations. After sitting on a plane for more than ten hours, who wants to go stand around a luggage carousel? This also allows you to have everything you need for a lounge shower during layovers, if need be. Just grab your carry-on and go, go, go!

Related: Packing for Long Term Travel in a Carry On

In the Air:

4. Have Your Essentials: Make sure that everything you will need or want for the duration of the flight is conveniently packed in your personal item to be stashed under the seat in front of you. Headphones, chargers, medications, water bottle, books/magazines/journal, scarf, toiletries. “Toiletries?” you ask. Yes. I’ll explain that in a moment. Keep everything handy so you won’t have to duck out into the aisle, rummage around in the overhead bin, and make enemies of the people who will be sitting next to you for the foreseeable future. Don’t be that person.

Related: Best Crossbody Bags for Travel

5. Get Ready for “Bed”: This is probably my favorite thing to do on a long flight. When I’m ready to sleep, I’ll grab my toiletries bag and my water bottle and go to the bathroom. Performing my nighttime ritual helps my body relax and makes it easier to sleep in an undeniably uncomfortable situation. Important note: the water in airplane bathrooms is not potable, so don’t use it to brush your teeth. That’s why I bring my water bottle with me. Slightly inconvenient? Yes, but trust me, having a clean, minty mouth before “bed” is worth it. Dental health is mental health.

6. Be Kind: Please, whatever you do, keep your hands and feet and body to yourself, in your seat. Don’t be that person who leans, kicks, or otherwise annoys the hell out of the person in front or to the sides of you. On the same note, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask the annoying person behind you to stop kicking your seat. #respect

7. Get Excited: You’re on your way to a far-flung, wonderful destination. That’s exciting! Remember all the fun things on your itinerary? The awesome adventures you’ve been planning for months? The local cuisine you’ve been drooling over on Instagram? All that is right around the corner. The long flight will be worth it when you finally arrive.

Do you have any favorite hacks or must-haves to survive a long flight? Let us know in the comments!

By Meghan Crawford