The bags are packed, hotels are reserved, you received all of your immunizations and learned a new language. Honestly, you’ve done everything you can to have one of the best vacations of your life. There’s just one little detail you left out. How in the world are you going to survive a huge flight across the ocean?
No need to worry! Here are the magic survival items in my Mary Poppins bag that make my flights great.
I should be the cover girl for earplugs. Earplugs have been my date to every music event since I turned 21. It doesn’t matter if they’re bright green. Or that they stick right out of my head like the bolts on Frankenstein’s monster.
Hearing is sexy. Earplugs…are sexy.
And I don’t just wear them in loud places. As someone who removes all the batteries from ticking clocks, I’ve got a serious problem. I pop earplugs in at any moment that I’m annoyed. The tiniest repeating noise in a hushed library. The annoying woman in the coffee shop. The car alarm way in the distance. When I burn my rice and the smoke alarm goes off. Again. For the second time today.
They can transform any hellish moment into a peaceful sanctuary of hushed heartbeats.
That’s why earplugs are my number one survival item for a long-haul flight. Don’t expect to sleep without them. Even when the lights are dimmed, most of the plane is still awake. Think screaming children, coughing people, and the creak and bang of the bathroom door over and over. Bring earplugs.
2. Eye mask
Next on the list of survival items is earplugs’ best friend: the eye mask. I know you’re going to feel like Zinnia Wormwood in Matilda when you don this, but you won’t get a wink (hah) of sleep without it.
I’ve been across the Atlantic four times now. The first time, everyone around us promptly went to sleep after the meal. I woke up calmly and refreshed when the lights came back up in the cabin.
The last time, I was surrounded by a screaming child, a man who kept laughing at his TV, and an elderly couple who power-read throughout the entire 8 hour flight. My trusty earplugs blocked out the noise, but those sweet bibliophiles couldn’t be stopped.
That’s when I realized that I had misplaced my eye mask. In a moment of genius, I tied a bandana around my face like a confused Lone Ranger. Sure, it kept the light out, but it definitely made me look ridiculous. Bring the eye mask next time.
When you think of a comfy airplane pillow, you probably imagine those U-shaped neck pillows, right? I used to. They might be great for a car, but here’s why you don’t want to bring one of those on a plane.
Today’s plane seats are not built for the human spine. Instead, they’re designed for camels. Unless you have an elastic spine or have been graciously given the world’s roundest butt, you’re going to find your lower back collapsing into the sinkhole that is your seat.
To make it worse, your upper back and neck will still be fully supported in the normal, upright position. If you are crazy enough to combine that with a neck pillow, your spine is going to fold into a perfect S.
So forget the neck pillow and take my word for it. You’re going to want a lumbar support cushion. I know, I know. That’s grandma stuff again. But seriously kiddos, nothing will make you happier than when you’re leaning back into your seat into the world’s cushiest pillow. Preferably a memory foam one. Or something really crazy like this.
4. Ibuprofen, Vitamins and TUMS
You remember those screaming children I mentioned earlier? Yeah, they’re going to give you a headache pretty fast. And did I mention they pick their nose? And sometimes rub it on your tray? Right after they cough all over you?
Bring some ibuprofen and vitamins to combat those little ones. Then throw in some TUMS in case that airplane food just doesn’t fly. They’re also a big help if you’re getting settled into a culture with very different cuisine or different food handling regulations.
For me, that means my trusty Camelbak. This water bottle has been everywhere with me. I brought it along for our Grand Canyon hike five years ago, and it helped me cope with terrifying bats and a monsoon. It tagged along to Sapelo Island with me for the first time…and the second. And it held my hand in the UK, Italy, the 17-day road trip out West, Red River Gorge, and back to the UK again. For me, it’s a two-in-one water bottle and lucky charm.
You’ll definitely want to take a large (empty) water bottle through security. Once you get to the other side, be sure to fill it up. You can even ask the stewardesses to fill it back up for you on the plane. (They’ll be happier if you catch them AFTER they’re done serving everyone drinks.)
6. Lip balm
Ah, lip balm. It’s one of the most easily overlooked tools to help you through an overseas flight. Thankfully, it’s one of the simplest to procure and pack. If you forget it, just pop into one of the stores on your way to the gate and pick some up. Put it in your pocket. Get on the plane. Apply. Be happy. Repeat.
7. Yoga leggings
I have seen some people board planes wearing the craziest things. Some are in suits, some in high heels, but the craziest of all are those people who wear jeans. How in the world are you going to make it through an 8-10 hour flight in jeans?
I always opt for a long pair of yoga leggings. Sure, some of you may not be comfortable wearing such body-hugging material or think it’s so-last-Shakespeare-play to wear leggings. However…
When you’re staring at your third in-flight movie like the sleep-deprived monster you are, you’ll thank yourself for wearing comfortable pants. Maybe you just want to walk the aisle or you’re happy to not be stabbed by your waistband. Or maybe you’ve magically been seated in an empty row and are now able to contort your pretzel legs through the maze of armrests to form a makeshift bed. All thanks to your leggings.
(Pro tip for the legging-shy: You’re on a plane with hundreds of other exhausted travelers. In those few moments that you walk from your seat to the nearest changing room at your destination, no one is going to care that you look like a ballet superstar. Rock the leggings, my friend. Be comfortable.)
8. Compression Socks
Alright, alright. I only have one more grandma tips for you. You wouldn’t guess it, but underneath my awesome eye mask, ear plug, yoga legging, lumbar support, Camelbak glory…I always wear compression socks. That’s right. The really attractive ones that go all the way up to your knee. The type that you can find in the diabetic section of the drug store. And why do I wear them?
My main reason is comfort. If you sit too long, blood slowly pools in your legs and makes your feet swell. (I actually sat next to a lady on my last flight whose shoes didn’t fit in the morning.) Maybe you can’t detect the swelling with the naked eye, but your feet will feel more tired upon arrival without the socks. I no longer start a long flight, car ride, or even an intensive blogging session without wearing those socks just because of how good they make my legs feel afterward. They are one of my best travel secrets for crossing the pond.
My second reason to wear compression socks is for my health. You know those warnings on some medications about Deep Vein Thrombosis? Well, it’s no joke. No one wants to arrive at their dream destination and find a massive blood clot in their leg. Thankfully, you can prevent it with compression socks, leg raises, and periodic walks in the aisle. It’s more likely in elderly people, but certain medications raise your risk of DVT including birth control or hormones. Keep yourself safe and travel ready!
9. Choosing the right seat
Last on the list is to choose the right seat. The first time I traveled on a long flight, Zach and I were on a 2-5-2 plane. With two seats on the side, we were able to walk around or lean over to look out the window at will. The second time, Julia and I sat next to the aisle, and I had an aisle seat on my last flight.
I’ve given it some thought, and I think I’ve worked it out. If you’re flying with someone else, go ahead and try to snag that window-aisle seat combo. You’ll be able to watch the sun go down on the wings, see the glimmering buildings below you, and gasp as the last flickers of light catch wave tips in the Atlantic. And you can have a comfort break whenever the heck you want.
If you’re flying by yourself, try to get an aisle seat in the middle section. It’s pretty simple. The whole goal of this flight is to stay comfortable, hydrated, and stretch your legs from time to time. Either aisle seat would make this easy, but the middle aisle is extra special. That person next to you will either: (1) take advantage of your comfort breaks and get up too, (2) hold it for the whole flight, or (3) ask the people next to them to move because you’re sleeping like a spoiled, hibernating bear in all of your high-tech grandma gear.
The main goal here is to not become trapped in the middle of a 4 or 5 seat center. Aisle seat, aisle seat, aisle seat.
10. Go pack! You’ve got a long flight ahead of you!
And that’s about it for my magic travel bag. After some trial and error, these are the things I have consistently used, missed, and desperately needed on long flights. I swear they have the power to take your flight from this…
Is there anything I missed here that you always have to bring with you on a long flight? Let me know in the comments section below.
Happy travels, my friends!