We live in a glorious age of international travel, where every corner of our globe is seemingly accessible within a day’s worth of flying. Now you’d think that with more than a hundred years of aviation experience behind us, we’d have this whole flying business figured out. Sadly, that’s not the case. Today’s modern passengers are caught between our own uncompromising demands for speedy travel and the airlines’ need to turn an actual profit. This complex economic system relegates the responsibility regarding comfort solely on us, the passengers, during particularly long flights.
Luckily, there are several ways to ‘hack’ your flying routine, so you can travel comfortably like a pro!
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Before you leave Home
Find the Best Flight
Believe it or not but traveling comfortably really does begin by finding the right flight. For starters, you’ll want to find the most direct flights with the fewest layovers possible. Having to change planes or go through multiple different customs checkpoints is extremely stressful.
If jet-lag is something you’re concerned about, then you should really consider taking a red-eye flight. This is usually our preferred method of flying: sleep on the plane at night, and then arrive somewhat refreshed and ready to go out and explore. This is the best way to adjust your body to your destination’s time zone as quickly as possible
Cheap flights are wonderful when you can find them, but there’s really something to be said about finding the absolute best flight – one that doesn’t cost too much and gets you there quickly with minimal layovers. Skyscanner has become our go-to source recently after years of using different budget travel sites. They search all the budget travel sites to find the best flights available on the web. Skyscanner will show you the cheapest flight, the shortest flight, and finally the best flight – the cheapest flight with the fewest layovers and overall shortest travel time! This is usually the option we choose.
PRO TIP: Flying for 16 hours or more? Why not plan an extended layover of 10 hours or more between destinations? It’s a great way to feel out a city you’re interested in traveling to in the future. Most airports have lockers you can use to keep your luggage in while you go out and play; just ask at an information kiosk when you land. Grab an Uber, Lyft, or Taxi and you’ll be dining in a local restaurant in no time!
Getting away from planes and airports for even a few hours can be marvelous for breaking up a long travel day and taking the stress out of flying!
Choose the Perfect Seat
Once you have your flight info, why not take a little extra time to find the best seat on the exact plane you’ll be flying in? SeatGuru has an enormous library of seating charts from airplanes and airlines around the globe. They can show exactly which seats have the most legroom, are too close to restrooms and galleys, which ones have limited overhead cargo space, etc… You could spend hours researching every plane you’ve ever flown in on their website and get into the minutia of details you didn’t even know you cared about.
Upgrade to an Exit Row
If you’re tall like RJ, then leg room is probably something very important to you during a long flight, then you may want to ask a gate agent about upgrading to an Exit Row, or purchase it far in advance. An Exit Row seat will give you the maximum leg room at no additional cost, but doing so comes with a few minor drawbacks.
You won’t be able to store anything at your feet during takeoff and landing, so it’s really only suited for people who travel extremely light (check out the section below about packing carry-ons into a single bag.) Also, most Exit Rows are situated right by the bathrooms on most large aircraft, so you’ll have to deal with the constant foot traffic of people who want to stand in your extra space as they wait their turn to use the toilet – also the smell. And finally, the armrest and video screens can sometimes be a little wonky on some aircraft exit rows. This is why it’s important to use SeatGuru, so you can see if it’s worth the upgrade.
Pack Your Carry-on into a Single Bag
If you’re checking a bag, then there’s no reason to have more than one carry-on on your flight. Stick it in the overhead bin and keep the area around your feet free of small bags like purses and backpacks. Not only will you get through security with less hassle, but getting on and off the plane is easier as you’ll only have a single bag to worry about.
Megan really likes the Osprey Meridian Wheeled Backpack because of their variety of ways to transport them as well as the way the organization is set up in each. The ROLLER also comes with a smaller personal bag that clips onto the outside of the carryon luggage.
RJ prefers the Patagonia Black Hole Duffle because of its minimalist, one compartment design which eliminates the wasted space of organizational pockets. The exterior of the duffle is both extremely durable and waterproof which eliminates the need for a rainfly and comes in a variety of colors.
Bring a Variety of Things to do
Flying is uncomfortable – period. Even the smallest of annoyances will be magnified during a long flight, but the good news is that mental distractions are the greatest weapon to combat them. The problem is, we sometimes pack our bags thinking we’ll do a certain activity, but then change our minds once we’re on the plane. For this reason, it’s important to have plenty of things to do at our disposal in order to make time fly.
- The ubiquity of smart devices today makes taking more options with you extremely easy. Download e-books and app-based games prior to departure to ensure you’ll have a catalog of things to do while at the airport and during your flight.
- Some streaming services like Netflix allow you to download shows and movies to your devices. Bingeing that show you’ve been meaning to watch, or revisiting an old favorite, is one of the best ways to obliterate boredom during a long flight.
- Most Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD movies have codes which allow you to download them to your devices as well. Be sure to check the inside cover of your movies to see if it’s available.
- If books are more your thing but suffer from motion sickness, you can download audiobooks from a service like Audible.
- Adult coloring books have recently become popular and are surprisingly an excellent way to pass time in addition to being incredibly relaxing. Coloring is a fantastic mindless activity that pairs exceptionally well with an audiobook, like we mentioned above, to fully engage your brain and idle hands.
- Personal entertainment devices are also becoming much more prevalent on a lot of flights as Airlines update their fleet of airplanes, so make sure you bring a pair of wired headphones to watch movies and TV during your flight. But they could be broken or have bad content, so we don’t recommend relying solely on them.
During your Flight
Get Plenty of Sleep
Books and movies are great for passing time during long flights, but nothing makes time pass quicker than a good sleep. Some people, however, will find this more difficult than others because they just can’t sleep comfortably in any moving vehicle. But if you can, it’s a great way to adjust your sleep schedule to your destination. And in our opinion, there’s no downside to getting as much sleep as possible.
- Adjust your body to your destination’s time zone as soon as you step on the plane. Doing so will adapt your body quicker to your destination and help you get over the effects of jet-lag much quicker.
- Try taking Melatonin. It’s a supplement that regulates wakefulness causing you to fall asleep quicker and acts as an antioxidant which may help protect your cells from developing free radicals. Melatonin is a hormone that’s naturally produced in the body and appears to cause very few side effects in lab tests, so there’s no substantiated downside to taking it. Melatonin comes in 3 mg (normal) up to 10mg (max strength), we use 10 mg.
- No-Jet-Lag – a homeopathic remedy that claims to reduce or eliminate the effects of jet-lag on long flights. You must be responsible enough to take each pill at set intervals of two hours for it to work correctly. We have to admit we’re a little suspicious No-Jet-Lag may be nothing more than a well-marketed placebo, but we’ve taken them pretty religiously on all our long flights and have yet to experience a horrible case of jet-lag.
Don’t be Afraid to Recline Your Seat
People are generally 50/50 on whether this is considered poor flying etiquette, but your seat is designed to recline so you should take advantage of it if doing so will make your trip more comfortable – especially if it’s a Red-Eye flight.
Reduce Your Caffeine and Alcohol Consumption
We have been known to imbibe our share of drinks at the airport bar or pass the time at a coffee shop on early morning flights. The fact of the matter though is both caffeine and alcohol wreak havoc on your body while flying due to the altitude. If you’re trying to adapt your body to your destination’s time zone, and reduce the effects of jet-lag, then you’ll want to avoid both as much as possible. We really need to start taking our own advice!
Disinfect your Area
We don’t consider ourselves germaphobes, but it’s perfectly rational to feel anxious about getting sick while flying. Everyone’s aware of how infectious airplanes are – though not in the way you probably think. The commonly held belief is that germs are spread throughout the cabin by those gross little flu-cannons blowing high-velocity, diseased air right at your face. The truth is that the air on a plane is actually cleaner than the air we’re breathing on a daily basis.
So, if it’s not the air, then what causes sickness to spread so easily from air travel, you ask? Well, while we could just give you the answer, let us regale it to you in an anecdote. Some friends of ours once witnessed a mother change her baby’s dirty diaper using her tray table. And then wrapped the diaper up, put it in a plastic bag, and stuck it in the seat pocket in front of her until a Flight Attendant came by with a garbage bag awhile later!
Think about where you eat your food, where you put your phone and that little snack they give you that “you’ll just save for later.” Think about the armrest, the window shade, the buttons, and the touchscreen on the seatback in front of you. Now try not to think about how often you touch your face or rub your eyes and nose. Pretty nasty huh‽
If you naïvely assume that airplanes are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between flights, allow me to fill you in…
So, if you’re sitting there like any normal human being – gagging in disbelief – maybe you might want to grab some disinfecting wipes for your next flight. Sure, you’ll look like a crazy person wiping down everything around your seat but you can relish with smug satisfaction the fact that anybody with a mask on their face isn’t doing shit to prevent themselves from getting sick.
Get Up and Walk Around
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns. They include obesity and a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. An analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking. ”
Some uncomfortable and potentially life-threatening side effects of sitting too long are swelling of the feet and calves due to blood pooling in the legs, and the development of blood clots known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
The best remedy for combatting these terrifying risks are to get up at regular intervals and take a walk up and down the aisles of your plane, find a place to do a few squats, or even try stretching regularly in your seat.
The Mayo Clinic recommends to take a break from sitting every 30 minutes; however, we’re realists and know that’s going to get annoying for everyone around you on the plane. So we suggest timing when you get up with when you take your No-Jet-Lag supplement. That means you can get up out of your seat and walk around, go to the bathroom and take your pill, and do some stretches every two hours. We feel like this is an easily obtainable and maintainable routine.
We don’t need to go into a bunch of reasons why, so just trust us on this one: Flight Attendants have difficult jobs. You don’t want to get on their bad side. A charming smile, friendly attitude, some understanding and empathy, and perhaps even a helping hand can go a long way in making their job easier and getting on their good side. We’ve certainly been comped drinks for being pleasant and conversational to FA’s and have heard stories of people being bumped up to better seats, so it definitely pays to be a nice, positive, and optimistic human being (isn’t that just generally good advice for life anyway?)
What to Wear on the Plane
This might seem like a ‘no-brainer’ to some, but for others, traveling presents an opportunity to dress up more splendid and attractive than normal. Unfortunately, high-fashion usually comes at the cost of comfort. But even common, casual clothing can be downright uncomfortable for all-day travel.
Here’s a breakdown of some things to pack, and others you should avoid.
Dress in Layers
The temperature inside an airplane seems to fluctuate between uncomfortably warm and stuffy, to downright freezing. For this reason, it’s important to dress in layers so that you can easily regulate your comfort during the flight.
When we fly, we always wear:
- A lightweight insulated jacket. Our favorites are the Patagonia Nano Puff for men, and the Marmot Featherless for women. They are equally insanely lightweight and warm, and can pack into their own pocket to double as a pillow (we just love anything that pulls double-duty!)
- A moisture-wicking, quick-drying T-shirt for men and women or tank top for men and women.
- Linen shorts for men and women or pants for men and women
- Comfortable pants – see below!
- Long wool or cotton socks
- Slippers – also see below!
Fashionable, durable, and adaptable to a variety of social situations – you’d think that denim jeans would be the perfect foundation for any travel wardrobe. But, in addition to being a bulky space-hog in your luggage, jeans are just flat-out uncomfortable for long flights because they fail to stretch well enough while seated and tend to have restrictive waistbands. due to denim’s weight, you’ll also most likely need to wear a belt, which is another item you’ll need to remove before going through security!
What to Wear Instead
Chinos offer all the stretch and pack-ability for traveling comfortably and are an excellent alternative to denim thanks to their durability and versatility in regard to style.
If we haven’t convinced you to avoid jeans at all cost while traveling, then try to pack only one pair for your trip and resist wearing them during your flight. Whatever your style, try to invest in materials that stretch where you bend and have a more relaxed fit.
Some may find this recommendation gross and unfathomable, but if you’ve got great personal hygiene habits then you may want to consider just how freeing it feels sans underpants – especially if you’re a dude. The best part is – there’s nothing extra to buy!
Wear Slippers – Not Shoes
Shoes are stuffy and restrictive, socks can be too cold, and going barefoot isn’t recommended. Slippers are warm, insanely comfortable, and easy to slip on and off through Security. There are plenty of sophisticated styles available that make this one of our top tips for traveling comfortably. We like the Lamo Men’s and Women’s slippers.
Though some may have an aversion to their styling, Uggs are another, more-versatile option.
We talked above about the negative side effects of sitting for too long and mentioned that blood can pool in the legs and cause swelling of the feet and calves. Speaking from experience, we can say that it’s a fairly painful experience that can last for several days or weeks.
One remedy that many travelers swear by is compression socks. They work by gently squeezing your feet to improve blood flow and lessen pain and swelling in your legs. If you’re someone who suffers from high blood pressure, diabetes, or is just generally concerned about developing deep vein thrombosis, you may want to invest in a pair if it’ll make you more comfortable on a long flight.
Travel Gadgets, Products, and Suggestions
Flying is uncomfortable – period. Even the smallest of annoyances will be magnified during a long flight. Luckily, there are a few items that make a big impact on personal comfort without compromising your personal space. These are the things we highly recommend you invest in to have you traveling comfortably on your next long-haul flight.
Pack a Ditty Bag
Pack a small bag with only the absolute, essential items to keep with you at your seat. The total size should be no bigger than a small purse and be easy to slide in and out of the carry-on luggage that you store in the overhead bin. We like the Eagle Creek Specter Extra Small bag, it comes in set of 3 with two bigger bags. Some purpose-made bags even have a useful hook to clip onto the seat in front of you with little pockets to keep the following things organized.
A Collapsible Water Bottle
We are complete suckers for the smallest, lightest, most packable version of any item we plan on taking with us when we travel. While certainly not the lightest, the Hydrapak Stash Water Bottle collapses into a tiny little puck that fits into even the most stuffed luggage. It’s a 1 liter, wide-mouth design that, when coupled with a splash guard and a carabiner, is our go-to bottle whenever we fly anywhere.
An Inflatable Neck Pillow
Sea to Summit is one of our favorite brands as they make some truly awesome products for traveling. One of their best is this inflatable neck pillow that packs down small enough to fit in your pocket. Not only will you no longer look funny transporting a neck pillow through the airport, but you can actually adjust it for maximum comfort during your flight. It’s an amazing travel investment!
An Inflatable Pillow for Back Support
It’s no secret that airplane seats aren’t designed for the comfort of the passengers sitting in them, but for the airlines to maximize the number of people they can fit on the plane. If you’re like us and suffer from lower back pain during extended flights, then you’ll want to invest in a small pillow to wedge behind you for some much-needed support and comfort. Cocoon comes to the rescue with an inflatable pillow that packs down to fit in the tiniest crevice of even the most over-stuffed luggage. The fact that it’s inflatable means it’s highly adjustable, and at a small pack-size and price, it’ll become one of your favorite travel companions!
Blanket, Poncho, or Scarf
Planes tend to be cold – especially if you’re a woman. So, it’s a great idea to pack along a compact travel blanket to make your flight more comfortable. A folded blanket can also double as back support in exchange for the pillow we mentioned above.
A fashionable poncho can double as an article of clothing, and a travel blanket – making it marvelously useful for travel.
If the styling of a poncho doesn’t suit your taste, but still want more than the single-purpose usefulness of a blanket, then you’ll probably be very interested in a blanket scarf. As the name implies, they’re a giant version of a scarf that can be used as a blanket. They are stylishly comfy and warm when worn around the neck without letting in any drafts, and yet compact enough to work perfectly as a blanket on an airplane without spilling over into your neighbors’ seat. If you’re traveling somewhere frigid, then a blanket scarf is the absolutely perfect choice and our personal favorite of the three!
Regardless of which you choose to travel with, their versatility makes them a fantastic item to pack along with you on your travels.
Pack Earplugs or Headphones
There’s no question that you’ll need headphones or earbuds if you’ll want to watch movies or listen to music during your flight, so packing them along is a no-brainer. But planes are also extremely noisy; from the droning white noise of the engines to your fellow passengers and screaming babies. Make sure you pack along some disposable earplugs in your ditty bag just in case you need some peace and quiet. These KM Brand hypoallergenic silicone earplugs are better for sensitive users and come with the added benefit of being reusable.
Medications, Toiletries, and Supplements
Melatonin – We love to keep some of these little chewable pills with us to help us fall asleep faster during long flights. They also work equally well to help you adjust to your new sleeping arrangements and time-zone while at your destination. Melatonin comes in 3 mg, 5mg, or 10 mg variations, we prefer the 10 mg.
No-Jet-Lag – Maybe they’re a placebo, maybe not, but we take these pretty religiously to combat the effects of jet-lag.
Pepto Chewables – It’s safe to say that everyone’s familiar with the ubiquitous pink cure-all; it helps alleviate nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, and diarrhea (remember the song?) Well, due to the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule, it makes more sense to pack along some Pepto in chewable form just in case your in-flight meal starts causing some acid reflux.
Gas-X – For whatever reason, travel can make us extremely gassy – maybe because we tend to change our diet quite drastically? We don’t really know, but regardless, having gas on an extended flight can be incredibly uncomfortable, so it’s worth it to us to keep a pack of Gas-X with us in our ditty bag.
Imodium AD – Diarrhea is the shits. As with headaches, gas, and stomachaches, it’s a prevalent enough occurrence to justify carrying enough of these little guys to get you through a long day of travel. Should you find yourself in the unfortunate position of developing food poisoning during your flight, you’ll be so unbelievably thankful to have these on board.
Allergy Eye Drops – Due to TSA’s 3-1-1 rule for liquids in your carryon luggage, the things we choose must be highly important to justify bringing. While eye drops only serve a single purpose, they’ll be a godsend should you ever need relief from dry, irritated, or itchy eyes during a long flight. The good news is that a tiny bottle is enough to share amongst a small group, so there’s really no downside if one of you packs it along. (Just make sure you transfer it from your 3-1-1 bag to your ditty bag before you board the plane!)
Lip Balm – Women seem to have this concept already on lock, but carrying lip balm with you is just as integral to travel comfortably. A change in environments can wreak havoc on your lips. We’re partial to Carmex Medicated, but lip balm is one of those weird items where everyone’s got a strong biased toward their favorite brand.
Q-Tips – Did you know that having a dry nose is actually a leading cause of getting sick? Airplanes have a very low humidity environment of about 12% which causes your skin and nose to dry out – another reason why people believe the air circulating within the cabin spreads germs.
One travel hack we’ve learned is to rub a little medicated lip balm on the inside of our nostrils to help prevent them from drying out as well as the added benefit of clearing your sinuses if they’re a bit stuffed up. Q-Tips come in handy if you prefer not to use your fingers and appear to your fellow passengers as if you’re digging for gold!
Pro Tip: Repack all your pills into travel size containers to reduce their footprint in your bag.
Face Wipes/Wet Ones
Airplanes are dirty. Traveling always seems to make us break out, and the air circulating in the cabin seems to make our skin oily. Therefore, we like to pack some face wipes and wet ones into a sandwich size Ziploc bag. Our favorite brand is Neutrogena Oil-Free Cleansing Wipes. They are medicated to help prevent acne but don’t dry out our skin regardless of how often we use them.
The best part is that even though they’re wet, they’re not considered a liquid by TSA and therefore not required to fit into your 3-1-1 bag.
See our section above about Disinfecting your Area and then come back here and load up on disinfecting wipes.
Everything you touch from the moment you arrive at the airport is filthy. We’re always left feeling nasty and gritty when we travel. Hand sanitizer goes a long way in helping us feel cleaner while we fly and also prevents you from catching any illnesses your fellow passengers were kind enough to bring along to share with everyone on board.
Pro Tip: Purchase hand sanitizer at the airport in order to save room in your 3-1-1 bag; it’ll only cost you a few dollars at the Duty-Free shop.
The Long and Short of it
When it comes to flying, we actually believe it is all about the destination and not the journey. Despite our love for travel, we still struggle to endure when confronted with a full day of commuting through airports. And while we can’t say it’s a blissful part of the travel experience, many of these suggestions absolutely do ease a great deal of the stress and anxiety associated with long flights. Our goal is to show that you don’t need to suffer through the typical modus operandi and can travel comfortably with some simple but drastically effective adjustments to your routine.
If you’ve got any tips to travel comfortably that are a part of your method we may have missed, please let us know in the comments – others could benefit from your insight and would appreciate your contribution! You can also drop us an email – we’d love to hear from you!