5 Tips to Survive a Long Flight

By Drew Goldberg, ContributorNov. 5, 2014
By Drew Goldberg, ContributorNov. 5, 2014, at 11:22 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

5 Tips to Survive a Long Flight

We all love to travel, but not many of us enjoy the exhausting process of getting to our chosen destination. Spending half the day in a metal tube with more than 300 strangers isn't ideal, especially coupled with the fact that it can be uncomfortable and flat-out boring. 

I've been on dozens of long-haul flights, including a 13-hour journey from Tel Aviv, Israel to Philadelphia, a 12-hour flight from Sydney to Seoul, South Korea and an 11-hour trip from Warsaw, Poland to New York City. Over time, I've developed some strategies for getting through these lengthy plane rides.

However, it's important to realize that what works for one person may not work for you. Everyone's mind and body is different. As you fly more, you'll learn which methods are best for you, but to get you started, here are five simple tips for surviving long flights.

Choosing the right seat can make or break your flying experience. Obviously, you should avoid the middle seat. Having to share armrests with two people can be both annoying and frustrating — especially when you're sharing those armrests for 12 hours. Sometimes, spending a little more on a comfier seat can result in a much more pleasurable flight. If you can, avoid sitting near a lavatory — this heavily trafficked area tends to get noisy.

Catching proper shut-eye is extremely important on long flights. If you don't get any rest, you'll likely be a walking zombie for the next few days. Start by dressing comfortably and wearing loose-fitting, warm clothes — most airplane cabins are heavily air-conditioned.  

Every traveler has his or her own way of sleeping on a flight. For some, it means staying up all night before the flight. For others, it means taking a sleeping pill, such as melatonin (herbal) or Ambien (prescription). Whichever method you choose, try it out before the flight so you know how your body will react.

If those strategies don't work for you, then consider purchasing an eye mask, some earplugs and a travel pillow. Better yet, bring a cozy blanket. These little comforts can make a huge difference.

If you're still having trouble falling asleep, then try getting out of your seat and moving your body. Stretch and walk up and down the aisle a few times to get your blood flowing again. Better yet, strike up a conversation with a flight attendant — they always have interesting travel stories to share and talking with them may help distract from your insomnia.

If you couldn't fall asleep on the flight, then you can overcome jet lag by regularly exercising and going to sleep at a normal time in your destination.

When your eyes aren't shut, staying busy is the most important thing you can do to keep from ripping your hair out. Don't rely on the in-flight entertainment system: the selection is limited and may cost an exorbitant fee. Instead, load up your own gadgets with your preferred movies, TV shows or games.

Invest in a quality pair of headphones — preferably noise-canceling ones — to block out the din of the plane and your fellow passengers. Also consider purchasing the in-flight Wi-Fi — the nominal fee may be worth the distraction surfing the Web can provide. If you like to read on long flights, think about buying an e-book reader, such as a Kindle or a Nook. Its sizeable capacity will lighten your carry-on load considerably. 

Many travelers don't realize how dehydrating flying can be. Think about it: everyone is breathing in the same stale, recirculated air for 10-plus hours. It doesn't help that most airplane food is high in sodium, further dehydrating your body. Try to pack your own healthy snacks (think fresh fruit or a salad). If you do decide to indulge in the in-flight cuisine, then stay away from meats — they're heavily processed with additives and preservatives.

If you're flying on a budget airline, then there is a chance that it will not serve free water. As a precaution, buy a water bottle in the airport terminal before you board. If the water is complimentary on the flight, then order a cup every time the flight attendant walks by — even if you're not thirsty. It's also critical to refrain from drinking alcohol, as it will exhaust your body even more. 

Freshening up half-way through the flight, or whenever you need a break from your seat, is one of the best ways to revive yourself and power through the remainder of the ride. Keep necessary toiletries, such as a toothbrush, toothpaste and face wash, within reach so you can easily access them throughout the flight.

Above all else, it's important to remember that all flights will eventually come to an end, so try to sit back, relax and refrain from getting frustrated.

About the author: As a recent University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, Drew Goldberg has visited more than 40 countries since 2012. Drew is currently teaching English in South Korea, blogging about food, culture and nightlife at The Hungry Partier. You can follow his adventures on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

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