There are some truly mind-blowing holiday destinations out there. Imagine driving a campervan around New Zealand, chilling on a Hawaiian beach, or exploring the natural wonders of Chile.
But there’s a great challenge one must overcome before the holiday begins: an air-conditioned nightmare known as the dreaded long-haul flight.
For 27 hours your home is a seat between two strangers that have both hogged your armrests. You need a plan, so here are 13 tips to keep you cool and comfortable.
Booking your flight
The first step, and quite possibly the most important part of ensuring you have a stress-free flight, starts at the booking phase. It’s easy to just go for the cheapest option, and that works with short haul budget airlines, but this is different.
1. Research the airline
Do your research. This really makes the difference on a long-haul flight and it’s worth paying extra to ensure you avoid the stress. Don’t assume you’ll have a screen to watch just because you’ve booked a long-haul flight — imagine 27 hours without something to watch!
If you want some truly excellent insider tips on how to book cheaper long-haul flights, visit the Ytravel blog and you could save some serious money. For example, paying attention to the day you fly could save you:
“The consensus is that it’s best to fly out on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. These are typical off-peak days usually meaning lower fares and less passengers. You also have a better chance of grabbing frequent flyer seats. Fridays and Sundays are usually the most expensive days to fly.”
This obviously depends on finances, but once onboard you can expect your own private chamber with an actual bed, indulgent dining and access to spa treatments (before and after you board). It’s a 27 hour holiday! But a very expensive one. However, according to LifeHacker there are a few tricks you can try:
“I recommend being extremely friendly and appreciative. Frontline employees deal with lunatics and generally ungrateful people all day, so if you can quickly and nicely ask them about getting an upgrade, you might be surprised at what could happen. While it’s a long shot, the only thing you have to lose is a little bit of dignity.”
3. Break up the journey
If budget is an issue, then a great way to save money and also break up a marathon journey is to book a flight that requires a stopover. This could be for just an evening or a few days, but these types of flights are cheaper. Get some rest and explore your temporary location — two holidays in one!
And according to the Extra Pack of Peanuts blog, even just hanging in the airport can be quite fun these days:
“Airports are getting nicer and nicer each passing year. SFO has showers and Changi airport (Singapore) has a pool, botanical gardens, and even a complimentary movie theater.”
4. Booking your seat
You have three choices: the window seat, the aisle seat or, “for the truly savvy flyer, there’s the emergency exit seat, with a luxurious few centimetres more of legroom – bliss!” The Digital Gypsy blog explores your seat options in more detail.
Preparation — what to do before your flight
Preparation begins two days before your flight. Try to avoid the last minute panic and stress that ends with you driving like a maniac to the airport as you had to stay late at work the night before. Take it easy.
5. Travelling to the airport
It’s easy to think you’ll just slog it out and drive 6 hours through the night to the airport and then get some rest on the long-haul flight, but that’s before you realise you’re sitting next to a screaming 8-year-old. Trains will help you avoid traffic but aren’t always reliable, and coaches are often tediously long-winded.
There might be a connecting flight from a local airport and these sometimes work out to be quite reasonable. Driving is an option of course, but consider driving the day before and staying in a hotel at the airport in order to avoid rushing around and getting stressed with the traffic. It’s all about maximising rest periods and breaking up your journey.
6. Prepare yourself
Eat well, sleep well and go to the gym for a light cardio session to get the blood flowing. You’ll be calmer, less irritable and find it easier to sleep on the plane if you don’t have things on your mind. It’s the same as taking your car for a service before a long drive.
7. Choosing your clothes
You’re going to be sitting and sleeping in the same seat for over one day. That’s a long time. It’s really important that you’re wearing comfortable clothes that aren’t too tight or irritate your skin.
Choose loose clothing with an option to add or remove layers easily. The last thing you want is to be sweating in an itchy cashmere pullover two hours into the flight.
Some people even take a change of clothes on board, you could take it a step further and pack a pair of comfortable slippers and pyjamas; the ultimate comfort! And if you’re not a fan of deep vein thrombosis, don’t forget your compression socks.
Your cabin bag is your best friend
It may be small, but it’s perfectly formed to keep you sane during your flight. First of all, stick to the cabin rules and don’t drag on a huge bag that won’t fit in the overhead lockers, thus conquering all your legroom.
8. Sleeping and waking up packs
You might be sitting next to the world’s loudest snorer so you’ll need a few tricks in your bag for sleeping, like an eye mask, ear plugs, inflatable pillow and some sleeping medicine (but do make sure you’ve tried the medicine before).
Eventually you’ll wake up, but you may feel groggy and dried out due to the air conditioning. This is when you’ll need your wake up pack! Take along some refreshing face wipes, moisturiser and the basic toiletries, like toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant, for when you need to refresh yourself.
9. Hydration and energy
The inflight bottles are quite small and you won’t drink enough water, so simply bring a large, empty bottle with you and ask for it to be filled up by a flight attendant. Put some tasty snacks you like in your bag too; things like peanuts or energy bars are great for when you need a lift before landing. And avoid alcohol or too much caffeine as they will dehydrate you.
Unless you’re a zen master and can meditate for the whole flight, you’re going to need some entertainment. Try to break up the flight into chunks by doing different things at different times. Jessica from the TripIt blog has some great advice:
“My tried and true trick is to grab a pen and paper and break the flight into two to four hour chunks, depending upon the length of the flight.”
Take your laptop with you and watch some movies you’ve downloaded, or invest in a tablet. Tablets are especially excellent as they are compact, light and offer superb apps that provide a wealth of information on your destination. And don’t forget to bring your own quality headphones.
Give yourself more options with a book too and a couple of magazines for light reading.
Talk. Move. Sleep.
If you’re not watching a film, reading a book or eating then talk, move or sleep!
11. Say hello
Say hello to that person you’re going to eat, sleep and (probably fart) next to for the next day. They may turn out to be the most interesting person you’ve ever met and the hours could fly by as you enjoy the conversation. But, if you’re worried about opening up a bad conversation connection, simply bring out the headphones.
Try to take regular walks up and down the aisle to keep things flowing, and have a good stretch either in your seat (within reason) or in the toilet cubicle if you’re embarrassed. For some handy examples of how to stretch, visit the TripIt blog once more.
Sleep is your best option on a long-haul flight. The problem is actually getting to sleep, especially if your seat doesn’t recline enough or it’s too noisy. Play the odds and bring out your sleeping pack to improve your chances of nodding off. The best option here is to use your medicine and get in a good 12 hours (but do ensure you’ve taken it before so there are no adverse reactions).
Thinking of having a nightcap? Erica from MapHappy advises otherwise:
“Unfortunately, not only is alcohol a depressant, it’s also a dehydrating agent, so I actually generally discourage drinking on the plane. When you combine this with the pressurized cabin of an airplane, its effects can be amplified. I also can personally tell you this as someone who once fainted in the middle of an aisle during a 9-hour flight from Singapore to Australia”
In a nutshell — an aluminium nutshell flying through the sky
To finish, we’d like to borrow a quote from Mark Hodson, a travel journalist who says, “the key to reducing the stress of flying is in taking control of the experience. At least control the controllables.”