The epic journey from my front door to my hometown takes 35 very long hours: three flights and 23 hours up in the air. This kind of travel itinerary can be downright unpleasant — taking a toll on your body, mind and mood. As a practiced long-haul traveller, I have discovered that there is much we can do to minimize discomfort and boredom during a long flight … and bounce back more speedily afterwards.


When it comes to surviving a trip that necessitates a long flight, you may want to consider these tips:

Prepare ahead.
Make every effort to select flight times that are suitable and search for multi-destination flights with minimal layovers. Night flights are ideal if you can arrange transportation for your departure and arrival times. When booking a multi-leg trip, aim for an agenda that allows for approximately two to three hours between each flight. Anything less can be too rushed and surprisingly stressful.

Unexpected delays are a regular occurrence, so it’s best to minimize the risk of missing a flight which could further delay your schedule. On the other hand, remember that a ten hour layover is sure to be a grueling stand-off in a boring airport. Whatever the plan, get familiar with your itinerary and plan in advance. No pun intended, but “winging it” on a long trip is no way to go. Be clear on your flight details and keep copies of your tickets and reservations on hand.

Travel light.
I once flew from Johannesburg, South Africa to Vancouver, Canada with two large duffle bags and an excess of 30 pounds in hand luggage, which included an extremely fragile ostrich egg – don’t ask!

I’ve also traveled with a wedding dress, a large hand woven basket, and big backpacks full of rope and rock climbing gear. Let’s just say it … live and learn. Try killing eight hours at London Heathrow with those awkward items in tow. My advice? Don’t carry-on too much luggage and be as practical as possible. Absolutely think twice before you pack your luggage or purchase souvenirs abroad.

No pun intended, but “winging it” on a long trip is no way to go.

Beware of theft and loss.
Keep your passport and travel documents, purse and wallet, phone and electronics secure in your hand luggage. Ideally, these items can be carried-on in a small wheeled suitcase, and secured with a combination lock. This will save your back and shoulders from hours of lopsided lugging, and it will serve to reduce the risk of your belongings disappearing en route.

Rest up.
If you want to look and feel refreshed after a long flight, you will need sufficient sleep before you arrive at your destination. Remember that catching a few winks while you are in-flight is likely to be interrupted and awkward, at best. Pack in advance (and not the day before you leave), and get ample sleep leading up to your trip.

Airports and airplanes can expose us to nasty germs, which our immune systems are more likely to combat if we are well rested. Sleeping enough before a flight will also assist to reduce symptoms of jet lag. Our body feels less cranky, and our physical and mental state will be healthier as a result. For prolonged flights, a sleeping aid may be one way to burn some time and get some z’s in the air. There are natural options, however, stick to what you’re familiar with. A long flight is not the time to experiment with any new remedies.

What not to wear.
Stilettos. No! Short skirts or dresses. Don’t do it! Tight jeans. You’ll regret it! When it comes to an extended journey, select a comfortable outfit with layers, and footwear that is both comfortable and easy to slip on and off.

The fact is, we are going to walk (what seems like endless corridors), sit for hours on end, sleep and eat in these clothes for one or two days. The air is likely to be hot and cold at various times. And if we’re really lucky, there will be some kind of opportunity to stretch-out on a few vacant seats. Darling, dress accordingly.


Pick your seat early.
Long legs and small bladders will appreciate the leg room of an aisle or exit row seat on board the plane. Or maybe it’s more adventurous to monitor the view from a window seat. Seating plans can often times be viewed online, which means we can avoid a seat selection that leaves us too near the lavatory line-ups or the hubbub of the cabin crew.

What’s on the menu?
Most airlines are going to feed you fairly well on a long flight, but don’t always count on it. It’s best to confirm the menu before a flight, plus tuck away some packaged protein bars or sweets to nibble in the event of unforeseen hold-ups or interruptions to the meal service. Special meals can usually be requested in advance of a flight for persons with restricted dietary needs.

Long legs and small bladders will appreciate the leg room of an aisle or exit row seat …

Because the air onboard a plane is very dry, it’s suggested that we protect our skin and other organs from dehydration. Drink plenty of water. Using a moisturizer, lip balm, eye drops, or a saline nasal moistener can also help. Caffeinated drinks and alcohol are counter-productive to this goal of staying hydrated, and therefore should be consumed in moderation.

Just do it!
Try to stay active and squeeze-in some exercise before your flight. Keep healthy by moving between flights, too. In-flight exercises are designed to assist circulation and it’s beneficial to kill a bit of time by carrying out a few stretches and exercises to reduce fatigue and swelling. Long flights typically offer a simple video routine for passengers. Also, get up and walk around during the flight when there is opportunity to do so.

Enjoy the flight.
Pulling out a laptop to finish a little bit of work might help pass time, but consider taking this opportunity to relax and have some “me” time. Prior to your trip update playlists, trick out the tablet, or buy a neck pillow and earplugs. Technology allows us many options for in-flight entertainment that will not only serve to pass the time, but also to help us chill-out prior to arriving at our destination.

The airline will likely provide a headset in order to tune into the radio or enjoy a movie marathon. But a tablet or iPod (with personal earphones) will prove to be great escape gear for the journey. If it’s time for a media break, then snuggle up with blanket and a new book. For once, you’ve got nothing but time!

Personal checklist for long-haul flight survival:

  • Water bottle (can fill after going through security)
  • Protein bars or nuts
  • Chewing gum (helps prevent ears from plugging during take-off)
  • Medications
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Hair brush/hair-ties
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Face/hand moisturizer
  • Lip balm
  • Nasal spray
  • Eye drops
  • Travel pillow
  • Eye mask
  • Earplugs or noise-canceling headphones
  • Music device
  • Book, reader or magazines
  • Laptop or tablet

Have you made similar long-haul travels? What’s your advice for conquering the air?

Top image via Rebekah J. Murray; bottom image via Sadie Dempsey

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