Survival Guide for Long-Haul Flights

Saturday, December 12, 2015

You're at the airport hugging your loved ones goodbye, taking an obligatory selfie with the departure sign and trying not to look suspicious as you go through border security. Grabbing a coffee and a snack on your way to the airline gate; you're so ready for your trip to the other side of the world! The plane boards, you get settled into your seat and watch the world disappear beneath you the plane takes off! All is well for about an hour, then suddenly the excitement vanishes and boredom kicks in. 24 hours later...

Travelling itself is an amazing experience, but getting to your destination is often uncomfortable and, let's be honest, boring. Long-haul flights are a killer, but they are a necessary evil if you want to explore the world. Having sat upside on some flights and counted how many steps it takes to walk the plane, it's safe to say I've had quite a bit of experience with long-haul flight boredom. To help my fellow travellers out, here are some of my hints and tricks for surviving long-haul flights!

1. Check seating options

I'm 6 foot tall, and most airlines DO NOT cater to my height needs. Having my knees stuck in the back of someone's seat, and coming off a plane looking like the hunchback are common occurrences for me. I've now learnt that the best way to avoid these uncomfortable encounters is to inquire with the check counter assistants about seating options. 

The first thing I do when I check my baggage is to find out whether there are any emergency exit seats available. To get these seats you do need to be fit and able to assist in an emergency, but if there is an exit seat available you will have endless leg room to make your trip that little bit more tolerable!

If there are no emergency seats left, ask whether you are sitting right next to someone else, and whether there is the possibility of moving to a row with spare seats. I love to be sociable, but having some sleeping room and not hating on the person in front for reclining their seat is more of a bonus! If I can't get either of these options, over the wing by the window is my preference for low turbulence and reasonable sleeping space.

2. Dress to impress be comfortable

Short shorts and a crop top are not going to make this journey enjoyable. Wearing your new killer heels or those "just-washed" skinny jeans might look hot but within the hour you're gonna be wishing you wore the slacks and hoodie the dude next to you has on. When I travel I like to wear a pair of leggings and a loose, comfy shirt. I always take a jumper (or two) so I can be comfortable no matter what the temperature is on the plane. They also come in handy as a pillow if you are lucky enough to have sleeping space!

I also like to take a set of fresh clothes in my carry on. Fresh clothes can really make a difference to your level of comfort, because there's nothing worse than hot sticky clothes to make a journey less enjoyable. Think about your fellow passengers here as well, because I can tell you that BO is not a nice thing to experience for an extended period of time. Freshening up will benefit you and everyone around you as well!

I highly recommend taking flights socks with you as well. Not only will they assist with the risk of DVT, you can comfortably take your shoes off and relax a little more without annoying your "foot-phobic" neighbour. 

3. On-board necessities

A lot of people seriously over pack their on-board luggage, making life difficult for other passengers and taking up your own leg space. Don't be one of those people who takes their entire house onto the plane, because honestly, do you really need it!? After all, you're about to go travelling so leave some room for your overseas purchases and only take the necessities. A few things you should take on your flight include: 

  • that new novel you've been meaning to read 
  • your ipad, tablet or other mobile device with some games and relaxing music
  • a portable charger for said electronic items!
  • puzzle books and magazines to occupy the mind
  • a small toiletries set containing a tooth brush, tooth paste, facial/cleansing wipes, chapstick and deodorant
  • flight socks, eye mask, spare clothes/jumper and a small pillow (I don't like neck pillows but something small like that)
These are my "essentials" for long-haul trips to keep myself occupied and feeling fresh. If you have the spare cash, purchasing yourself a pair of noise cancelling headphones can also be a blessing. In any case, bringing your own headphones is better than the rubbish plastic ones you are given on-board.

4. Make new friends!

I can't count the number of friends I've made on long-haul flights, and I've actually stayed in contact with quite a few of them! On my last flight to England I met a lovely young woman who was returning from her trip around Australia. Being from opposite sides of the world and visiting each others countries was a great conversation starter, so much that I think we talked for the whole 8 hours to Singapore (I missed her very much on the 14 hour stint to England!). On my return journey I met Tom, an English student on his way to study at a university in Western Australia. It's always so great to meet new people and get chatting, not only to pass the time but to pick up cool little tips and pass along your own knowledge. 

Obviously this won't happen on every flight. I've had the guy who stuck his headphones in before we'd taken off and didn't say a word the entire flight, or the love-struck couple who make you feel like the third wheel, but striking up a conversation with your travel buddy for the next 10 (seemingly endless) hours could make your flight that much better!

5. Screen time - plan of attack

Usually about a month before your flight is due to depart, the airline will release a list of the movies and TV shows that will be airing on-board. I always like to have a read and find out what there is available. Checking what's on will also help in case you need to quickly borrow an ipad to watch your own movies. 

I find planning the movies and shows you want to watch is a great way to tackle a long-haul flight. If you've got a selection of 4 movies to watch (say 1 and a half hours per movie) there's 6 hours of your flight time taken up! I like to watch a new TV show as well, as this tends to hold my interest longer than repeats of The Big Bang Theory. 

6. Start your time-zone change preparation

When I travel internationally, I like to change my watch to the local timezone. I do this to help prevent jet lag which is only exacerbated by sleeping at the wrong times. If you're like me and can't sleep on a plane anyway, having some valium or sleeping tablets on hand can't hurt. I often find that I can sleep best during transit at the airport, but I will avoid at all costs if I know it's lunch time at my destination.

Jet lag has to be the worst downer for travellers as it takes a few days to fully adjust, which can eat into your adventure time! Getting yourself into a rhythm from the moment you depart will help shave off some of the inconvenience of being jet lagged and get you going sooner. Keeping your body well rested and hydrated will help limit the impacts of jet lag.


Admit it, airline food is average at best. Some carriers are better than others, but mass produced reheated food is never going to be 5 star quality. I've eaten a range of food on long-haul flights, from weird vegetable breakfast patties to wobbly dessert concoctions. I tend to go for the Asian style meals, which usually reheat a heck of a lot better than the more Western options. But what I've learned is that the best way to beat the hunger blues is to take your own snacks.

I usually try to pack a sandwich or two and a few snack bars (muesli bars etc), as well as some lollies and chocolate for a little pick-me-up. Most airlines will have fresh fruit on board which you can ask for at any time, as fruit, vege and meat are probably things that you will lose at customs. Remember to check your international airport's restrictions on food and water; you don't want to waste your money or end up in trouble with border security before you're even off home soil! I buy my fresh bits and pieces once I'm already in the departures terminal (such as sandwiches), but you will usually be fine to bring unopened packet food and bottles of water.

8. Don't blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-alcohol

One of the worst parts of flying is no doubt dehydration. Most long-haul carriers offer free alcohol on your flights, but beware, this is your enemy not your friend! I know it's 5 o'clock somewhere in the world, but since alcohol severely dehydrates the body it's only going to make you feel worse. Having one little bottle of wine with a meal or a scotch on the rocks mid-flight won't kill you, however if you drink too much you're going to feel the negative effects during your holiday.

Keep your water consumption up throughout the flight and limit your alcohol intake so your body is well hydrated for when you arrive at your destination. Don't worry about being annoying and calling the attendants for more water (yep, that's me), think of your own health first!

9. Keep moving

Deep vein thrombosis (or DVT) is a serious condition caused by a blood clot in your leg. Research is divided on whether long-haul flights are a contributor to DVT, but I'm going to err on the side of caution here! In any case, getting up and moving around the cabin will assist in preventing muscle cramps and get the blood moving. Performing in seat foot exercises (contracting and relaxing the calf muscles) will assist in moving the blood through your legs. I try to get up and walk around once every 2 hours or so (usually when I need the bathroom!). It's also a great time to hide up the back of the plane and do some stretching. Who cares what other passengers think, later they're going to be wishing they did it too!

10. Most importantly, just enjoy the experience!

Yes we all know long-haul flights suck, and yes they can be mighty boring and uncomfortable, but in the grand scheme of things you're travelling to another country to have a great time! Long-haul flights are a means to an end so try to enjoy the experience and don't sit there watching the airline tracking map the whole time. Keep yourself occupied, have a chat with your neighbour, snack on some naughty treats and make the most of being socially disconnected. Have some time to yourself to escape the everyday and get ready for another adventure of a lifetime! You're on holiday!!

Til next time, happy travelling!

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