Enjoying [or at least not hating] Airplane Travel

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to some amazing places. This means I’ve taken more than my fair share of flights. I lump these into 2 categories: short/easy flights (anything under 4 hours) and long haul flights (anything over 4 hours). The tips that follow can apply to all of them, but are geared toward the long haul flights. They’re my favorite tips for making the hours pass–and dare I suggest–enjoying the flight.

My number one tip for a good flight? Check your attitude.

Whether you love to fly or hate it, none of the physical comforts I’m going to mention below are going to help you as much as checking your attitude. Let’s be real: you’re going to be crammed into a space that’s way too small, next to someone you may not know, and it may take forever for a bathroom to open up when you have to pee. This is the reality of flying. You’re dealing with other people. Be courteous, and more importantly, be compassionate. For some people, this is their first time flying. They’re nervous. Be kind to them. Parents with small children are frazzled and probably exhausted. Be patient with them and their children.

I can feel some of you rolling your eyes, probably thinking I’ve never had a truly terrible time on a flight. But I can guarantee you I have. From a red eye to Iceland where I couldn’t sleep because there was a crying baby and another small child making a ton of noise with an armrest, to one of my more recent flights where a young girl in front of me got sick and barfed multiple times, all over my shoes and purse, every time I check my damn self. I can guarantee you that sick little girl had a worse flight than I did, and those parents were running on less sleep than I was. I turned my energy instead to gratitude for the woman sitting next to me who surrendered all of her tissues and napkins to help us clean up the puke, and to the flight attendants who are doing their damnedest to make sure everyone is safe and as comfortable as we can be.

This is truly the best advice I can give you: practice empathy for the people around you, and respect that you are all in this together. Got it? Okay, onto the creature comforts.

Before You Head to the Airport

A good trip starts before you’re anywhere near a security line. In this post, I’m focusing on day-of sorts of things, but check out my post on some packing tips to make sure you have everything you need.

What to Wear

Wear something that’s loose-fitting and comfortable, preferably made out of a natural fiber so it breathes. It gets cold on flights, so layers never hurt. My go-to outfit is cotton leggings, a thin tank top, and a cotton dress over the top. For shoes, make it a pair that’s easy to slide on and off, not only for going through security, but for comfort on the plane, too. Loafers, boat shoes, moccasins, Vans slip-ons, and flats are all good options. These flats from Skechers are my favorite thanks to the soft fabric body and cushioned insole.

What to Put in Your Carry On Bag

I encourage you to only travel with a carry on, but if you check your luggage, you’ll need a smaller bag for the flight to hold stuff to keep you busy. Things I recommend to follow, take what you think will work for you:

  • Noise-cancelling headphones. Trust me, you’ll want these; they change the entire experience. If you can spring for the fancy Bose ones, go ahead and do it. I use these, which are much more affordable and work wonderfully.
  • Neck pillow. There’s a couple different styles of pillow you can get, the most common being the horseshoe style you think of when you think neck pillow. My favorite is this style, for portability and it works better for the way I sleep sitting up.
  • Snacks. If you’re flying a budget airline, pack meals too. Vegans: if your flight serves meals, call a few days ahead and request a vegan option. Just remind the gate attendants and the flight attendants when you board.
  • Fuzzy, warm socks. Remember the slip on shoes I recommended earlier? Take those off and put on some warm socks at the first opportunity. Your feet will thank you.
  • A soft scarf. I prefer a blanket scarf because it can act as more than just a scarf. Planes get cold; this is a fast way to cozy up.
  • Water. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. If you don’t want to bring a reusable water bottle with you (by far the most practical option, for your wallet and they environment), grab a bottle of water past the security gate and refill it as needed. When you’re dehydrated, you get tired, your head hurts, your poor body just doesn’t feel great. Staying hydrated is better for your comfort and is one of the easiest way to avoid a killer case of jetlag after a long flight.
  • Something to do. If your flight is during daytime hours, try to stay awake. Bring a book or a device to read one on, something to do with your hands, or a game to play by yourself or with someone else if you’re traveling with a partner. Some of my favorite things to do on an airplane are small knitting projects, reading a great book, or listening to podcasts I’ve been wanting to catch up on.
  • Sleep aids. If your flight is overnight, do your best to sleep. Bust out your scarf, fuzzy socks, neck pillow, and noise cancelling headphones. I use the help of melatonin to get to sleep. If that’s not enough for you, there’s quite a few over the counter options to help you get some shuteye.

Time to Travel

Okay. It’s the day of your flight. Here’s you’re checklist:

  • Make sure you have all your travel documents in your carry on. This is always the last thing I do before I leave the house. I make sure I have my passport and any itineraries or travel insurance documents in my bag.
  • Use the checklist above to pack your carry on bag with things to keep you comfortable and distracted during your flight.
  • Wear an appropriate outfit, like I talked about above.
  • Make sure you’ve downloaded any movies, music, books, podcasts, etc. you want access to in the air. Use your phone, computer, tablet, whatever.
  • Make sure all your electronic devices are charged, including your headphones if they’re wireless.

A Note on Anxiety

If you struggle with anxiety on airplanes to the point where you don’t want to set foot on a plane, but you really want to travel, it might be time to chat with your doctor. An honest discussion about your anxiety can help them decide if medication is a good option for you. While I am not a physician, I know that medication can truly help in a situation like this, if taken under direction of someone who knows you and your medical history well.

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