Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th Century Essayist once famously said: “It’s not the destination but the journey”. Clearly Waldo’s never been on a 14 hour economy red eye to Shanghai next to a screaming baby and surrounded by a group of middle schoolers.
Between the bumps, the boredom, the lack of available legroom, and the misshapen, dry lasagna they call food - long haul air travel can be a pain.
There are, however, many steps you can take to make a long haul flight more pleasurable – or at the very least not miserable. After years of air travel and countless flights, we’ve compiled this survival guide for complete with how to book your flight, pack your bags, make your way through security and avoid jet lag.
Let’s start with the biggest culprit for why a long flight will seriously put a damper on your good times abroad. We’ve all been there - excited to start the trip but feeling like complete garbage thanks to Jetlag.
The key to beating jet lag is understanding it’s cause.
Turns out, it’s not the timezone, it’s dehydration. The dry, artificially pressurized, and dehydrating environment onboard a plane plays a huge role in your jet lag. Think about it: between the pressurized cabin, the diuretic coffees, beers, salty snacks and over-seasoned airplane food, being on a plane does a serious number on your body. It will dehydrate your body to the point where it has to go into recovery mode afterwards.
It’s this recovery mode that makes you feel like a bag of dirt the day after a flight. Trying to sleep it off when you land does not address the underlying problem, and so the recovery mode continues until your body finally recuperates. Sure, it has to do a little bit with time zones, but you can’t neglect the physiological effects of air travel.
So, here’s what you do can do to prevent jet lag caused by dehydration.
NOTE: All this water means you’ll be using the bathroom frequently. For this reason, it’s wise to pick an aisle seat.
Once you land:
There are a few extra steps you can take to kick-start your body into it’s new time-zone.
We swear by the hydration hack, and would love to hear your experience in the comments below.
Now, on to every other detail of the creature comforts of air-travel.
Booking Your Flight
If possible, choose your seat on the flight. Most airlines send a pre-booking email. Watch for it like a hawk and beat the rush for the best seats. Other airlines charge a little extra to have your pick. It may cost a little extra to reserve a certain seat when you are booking, but if you arrive early enough to check-in on the day of your flight, you can circumvent this cost and still have a good chance of choosing your preferred seat. A popular option, especially if you have long legs, is the emergency exit row, where legroom is significantly wider than other rows.
You can also choose a seat to ensure that you aren’t stuck next to a baby by picking one far away from a partition, or bulkhead, which is usually where airlines put parents so that they can stow their bassinet or stroller. It may not be a sure thing, but by picking a seat far from the bulkhead, you give yourself a better chance of peace and quiet.
On this blog, we have posted a number of reasons why we think people should pack light. With airlines looking to nickel-and-dime fliers in ever-pettier ways, it is smart to pack light if just to avoid the hassle of having to pay for a check-in bag or larger carry-on. But beyond saving money, packing light is beneficial for moving to and from the airport with ease, since you don’t have to worry about dragging a suitcase around while you find your check-in.
Packing just a carry-on also cuts down on wait time at your destination – the last thing you want to do, after a long flight, is wait around a baggage carousel for a half hour for your suitcase. Packing light can be easier than you think. Just get a merino wool t shirt or two, instead of the week’s worth of cotton shirts you usually bring, and you have already saved a ton of space. For more about packing light, check out our guide to “one bag” travel, which comes complete with our recommended packing list.
Packing For Comfort
Long haul flights can do a number on your neck, since airline seats aren’t exactly ergonomically designed. To that end, it is good to bring a travel pillow, one that offers support but doesn’t take up too much bag space. Our favorite here at Unbound, the one we use on long trips, is the Cabeau Evolution Pillow, which features high quality memory foam and a zippered case for compacting the pillow to half its size.
The best feature of this pillow is it’s extra tall so it supports your entire neck, and it locks into place, so once it’s on, it’s staying put. If you’re planning on sleeping your way through the flight, noise canceling ear plug, and an eye cover are key. This one by Cabeu is our favorite and is extremely comfortable and truly blacks out the world.
When packing for the flight itself, also make sure you have layers on hand. The air conditioning on an airplane can be pretty aggressive sometimes, so it’s best to wear multiple layers that you can put on/take off according to the temperature. For instance, wear our v neck merino t shirt and The Compact Travel Hoodie if the AC gets the best of you, plus it easily fits in the storage compartment on the seat in front of you.
For the flight, you want clothes that aren’t too restricting or stiff. Denim jeans are good as long as they are adequately worn in. Of course, as a first “point of contact”, so to speak, wear merino wool underwear and socks, which in addition to being odor-resistant are also incredibly soft.
Last, don’t be afraid to ask the flight staff for extra pillows and blankets, you won’t be turned down, and it helps pad your seat for extra comfort and support.
Other Useful Things To Pack
If you don’t want to rely solely on airplane food (or the exorbitantly priced airport fare) pack a few snacks. When packing food, reach for items that are both compact and nutritionally dense, foods that will nourish you without taking up undue space in your bag. Energy bars are a great choice, since they tick off both these boxes; really, many of the conventional hiking foods, like trail mix, jerky and salad pouches will fit the bill.
Make sure you have some good music downloaded to your phone, and that you have your charger with you. Another good tip with music is to buy a headphone jack splitter if you're traveling with a friend, so you can listen to the same music or watch the same movie. They are cheap and easy to carry.
Finally, carrying travel-sized toiletries in your carry-on allows you to stay fresh throughout the flight. A little tube of toothpaste and a small stick of deodorant can help you end up at your destination feeling clean and ready to hit the races. Just make sure all liquids and gels are 100ml (3.4 ounces) or less, which is the general rule at airport securities.
At The Airport
If comfort is a priority, you can pay for lounge access for a single day, even if you’re flying economy. Not all airlines do this, and the ones that do charge a premium for the luxury, but if you have money to burn, all the power to you. Kick off your shoes, put up your grey merino socks and relax.
To plan your airport arrival around security wait times, check out the app TripIt, which gives its Pro users real-time updates on the length of security lines, as well as an estimated time for getting through. You can check it before you even leave the house. It may not be able to expedite the process, but at least it will help you keep updated on how things are moving.
If you want to try and game the security line, we also have it on good authority that if you go to the left at security, rather than choosing to branch off to the right, you might find a quicker line. This is based on a study in The Scientific American that reveals that right-handers (the majority of us) tend to prefer going to the right side of anything. So next time you are at airport security, put science to the test and see if you make it to your gate quicker!
Finally, once you are past security and waiting at your gate, listen for boarding announcements. It is beneficial to you try and be one of the first ones on board – in your section, at least – that way you are guaranteed access to overhead space on a busy flight. There have been times where one of us has had to check a carry-on bag for lack of overhead space, and it isn’t fun.
Most doctors will tell you that, when you aren’t sleeping, you should move around every hour or so on your flight, to avoid stiffness and – on the more extreme end – to avoid blood clots. This is, maybe, the best case you can make for choosing the aisle seat over the window; you can get up often, without disturbing anyone. But even if you do have a window seat, it’s better to bug your neighbor every once in a while so you can move around, rather than suffer a stiff back on your trip.
This is why we also recommend traveling in slip on shoes. Alternatively, wear a comfortable pair of Merino wool socks for walking around the plane, since, once you’ve kicked off your shoes, you won’t want to put them back on just to walk around every hour.
Whether you are buying your tickets, packing your luggage, waiting in security or onboard your flight, there are always tips you can follow to ensure your long haul flight is as mellow and pleasurable as possible. If you have any other awesome hacks, contact us today.
At the end of the day, life really is all about the journey, so make sure your next one is a good one!