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How to Survive Long Flights in Economy - The Complete Guide
Travel is one of my favorite hobbies and I try to be away from home at least once a month. For me the most exciting parts of traveling are to get to know different cultures and their food, to explore foreign cities and landscapes and to connect with people. Especially through their food, haha (yes, I mentioned that twice). I also love to capture those beautiful memories on camera and video.
However, I really dread the travel itself. I don't like airports, I don't like to wait and I especially don't like being locked up for hours in a tiny space like a sardine (I wish I could fly business all the time, but I can't - yet ;)). So here's to flying frequently ECO as relaxed as possible.
To make ECO the most comfortable, I put together this list with my personal travel hacks & my favorite and (imho) best travel accessories available at the moment AND created this complete guide with the most extensive list you can find online on how to survive long flights in economy the best way possible. I really hope these tips will help you as much as they help me.
This post gets updated frequently. As soon as I find a new travel accessory, it gets added to this list.
By the way, this is me in the picture quite tired but excited (it was 2AM) waiting to board the plane on my trip from Dubai to NYC in March 2017. Check out my video of this trip here.
Here it comes: The complete guide on how to survive long flights in economy and arrive relaxed and full of energy at your destination - enjoy!
20 Best Travel Accessories & Practical Tips for the Modern Explorer
How to Prep Like a Pro
Don't be Cheap
Keep it Simple: Avoid too Much Baggage
Outfit of the Day
Online Check-in: Food & Seat Selection
Charge your Devices
Have your Travel Docs Handy
My Favorite Pieces of Luggage
Travel Cushion? Yes or No?
Additional Sleep Items
Drink Water - a Lot
Always try to get to your destination on a non-stop flight. I know, if you would opt for an additional stop, the price for your ticket might be less expensive. But: as long as you don't save some serious money, the additional stress and the hours you will spend at your stopover location are just not worth it.
Think of it like this: Your time is valuable and no matter how you spend it, you'll never get it back. So spend a few more bucks and enjoy yourself arriving earlier at your destination to experience the city trip, hiking adventure, beach resort or whatever you've chosen to do.
Don't bring excessive luggage. Try to travel as light as possible. Trust me, I've been there: when I moved abroad for the first time, I brought along A LOT of really heavy suitcases with me and it was a nightmare! So, if you don't have to bring half your life with you, always remember:
No matter what the baggage allowance is, luggage is a pain and will only drag you down. Also, you might want to buy a special piece for your wardrobe or something else, that reminds you of your trip, so better leave some space in that suitcase.
Don't wear (too much) make-up. The air on the plane is very dry, which will affect your skin even on short flights. Your skin will get irritated anyway, so don't stress it with additional layers of make-up. On long flights, I even remove the bit of make-up I put on my skin, before I try to sleep and do the whole beauty routine (cleaning, toner, lotion).
Lotion is also a good idea for your hands (mine get paper dry pretty quick while flying). I'm a big fan of Molton Brown and my favorite hand lotions are Gingerlily and Pink Pepperpod. And don't forget a good moisturizing lip balm (!!!).
If you have long hair, braid it. That way, your hair is tidied up, braids always look stylish and they will last forever (well, at least until you reach your final destination).
You can see, how I braid my hair usually while traveling in the picture above (two dutch braids). Don't know how to braid? I will put up a mini series of braiding tutorials very soon and link to it here.
Wear comfortable clothes. I often see people wearing an outfit as if they're about to visit some fashion show. While you should not look like a homeless person (that's not what comfy means), try to wear your most comfortable pants and not the tightest pair of jeans you have (thrombosis alert! Google it, if you don't know what it is!).
There are even nice looking sweat pants out there (no, I am not talking about the plushy Juicy Couture trash!). Use some stylish sneakers and not the latest pair of high heels you got. This is a nice example.
I personally love to wear tank tops and will always take a sweater with me and an extra pair of thick socks, because it gets super cold on the plane, also your destination might be really cold. The onion look works definitely best for me when traveling. And don't use any belts or any metal jewelry, you will only have to get rid of it at the security check. Keep it simple and classy.
If you're on the plane for many hours, you might want to bring some additional clothes (e.g. another t-shirt or tank top), a toothbrush, sanitizer and your most needed toiletries e.g. deodorant and towelettes.
Again, premium airlines will most likely provide you with a toiletry bag; in case they don't, you're sorted.
I'm anyway always happy to use my own toothbrush rather than the cheap one provided by the airline. Before I 'go to bed', I do my beauty routine as explained above.
And once my destination is only an hour and a half away, I lock myself into the washroom one last time, try to improvise a mini shower, make a mess and clean it up - and change into fresh clothes.
Check in online and choose your seat. Avoid sitting at the front or any bulkhead. Most of the times, families with little children will be seated there. It's less noisy in the back of a plane and on long-haul flights chances are there are more seats available so you can stretch out and sleep. More on that at tip #14.
I also don't like sitting at the emergency exit. Yes, you have more leg room there. But you cannot have your personal items there and have to store them during take-off and landing. I always want to have my personal belongings like handbag with me. Also, the screens for in-flight entertainment are hidden in the armrest and usually smaller than the normal screens.
They can't be adjusted in a super comfortable way. I just don't like it at the emergency exit. I prefer sitting at the window, because I like to take pictures of weird landscapes from high above and to lean my head against the side wall to sleep.
Fancy getting your food earlier than your fellow travelers on board? Nowadays, there are plenty of food options available (at least with premium airlines), which you can choose, once you check in online (only up to 24h before flight).
All special menu requests get served before the normal service begins. I usually take the vegetarian/vegan menu (if available); most of the times, it is a really healthy option.
Beware though, if you want an upgrade (and are eligible e.g. a frequent flyer): Apparently, special meal requests rarely/never get upgraded as seen here.
If you travel with a low-cost carrier, they might charge you for food. Bring your own snacks with you. It'll be probably way healthier as well. In case you're allergic or intolerant, you definitely should prepare your own snacks beforehand.
Dried fruits are a great option. Make yourself a sandwich or a wrap. If you prefer fresh fruits, apples or grapes work well. How about a power bar? Or veggie sticks with hummus or home-made guacamole? Your fellow travelers will for sure be very jealous!
Have your smartphone, laptop, tablet, additional battery packs, DSLR, drone etc. charged at home. If you have any electronic items, that need batteries like your headphones, don't forget to pack some additional batteries.
Nowadays, you're not allowed to have any lithium batteries inside of your checked luggage, therefore, pack them into your carry-on (e.g. drone batteries).
At the airport
Every airport is different, but at least at Dubai Airport, the airline and security staff wants to see your passport and travel documents minimum five times (no kidding) before you're allowed to board the plane, so have your documents at hand until you pass the security check. After that only the staff at the gate and then once again at the plane entrance wants so see your documents.
The airport is probably the worst place to exchange money. The exchange rates are not favorable at all. So what to do? You need cash on your adventurous trip, don't you? I usually pay everything abroad with my credit card.
The most economic way for me to get cash is by using a local ATM machine. I pay a standard fee of 1€ wherever I withdraw money in the world and the exchange rate of my bank is way better than what I would have paid at the airport or even by exchanging money at home.
Most of the times I only use the cash to pay for transportation or leaving a tip, if I'm in a bigger city. If I'm in a more rural place or feel insecure about using my credit card frequently at my final destination, I still only withdraw money at the local airport - enough that I get by for the first couple of days.
If you haven't prepared anything at home, you could still stock up on healthy food options at the airport. At bigger airports, there are usually a lot of different food outlets to select from. Just don't go to a fast food outlet and get smelly sh*t. A little respect for your travel companions doesn't hurt.
Best Travel Accessories to Survive Long Flights in Economy
I usually travel with a backpack, where all my camera gear fits neatly (it's a special Rollei photo backpack, I love it), one of those super light Samsonite suitcases as checked luggage and a small handbag for personal items such as wallet and passport.
If I could, I'd let the backpack at home, but then, I'd miss out on all those beautiful photo opportunities...
Although it's more kind of an office bag, I use it when I don't travel by myself and the flight is not too long. It smells so so good and the quality is fantastic! Everything I need on board, fits neatly in there and has its own space.
Since you cannot close the top of the bag, you should always keep it with you, especially when you're on board. Keep it in front of your feet or, if you sit next to the window, lean it against the sidewall.
UPDATE #2: Another bag,
I recently ordered, I finally received, is from a Swedish company called Använda. I've seen their hilarious Kickstarter campaign video and simply had to back this project. I don't have the bag yet.
I also ordered a DSLR insert as an add-on
and am really really excited to get my hands on it. Once I receive the bag, I'll update this section and I did an unboxing video of the 2 backpacks which you can watch down below 🙂 I love the bag but beware, the company's customer service has A LOT of optimization potential (let's put it nicely, right?).
Economy class is ok if you're only flying somewhere close, but on long haul flights, it's terrible. Most airlines will provide you with a cushion and a blanket, nevertheless take one of those neck cushions with you, if you have one. If you don't, get one of those squeezy ones.
Yes, they look horribly touristy, on a long flight though, they will save you, even if you're able to lie down. Also, once you check in online, check the seats availability. Very often, there are empty rows in the back of the plane.
Choose a seat in one of those and reconfirm, if they're really empty when you're at the gate. If you're lucky, you will get to stretch out and sleep for a few hours. Another bonus point of sitting in the back: There are usually no toddlers crying half of the flight.
A lot of airlines provide you with at least some basic cushion and a blanket. Some unfortunately don't. Some will provide those but only for a fee. It gets really cold up in the air, so if you know beforehand that you won't get a blanket, bring one with you.
Another helpful item to bring along: A sleeping mask to shut out any light and keep you in the dark. There are some really comfortable and soft ones on the market, that even help falling asleep at home.
Now to the best invention ever when traveling: Noise cancelling headphones! You will start noticing how loud it is on board when you have them switched on. There are studies saying that this noise is super stressful for our bodies and minds especially if tolerated over a long period of time.
I got myself the BOSE QC25 Black Edition and I love them (not only for traveling)! I have them now for more than two years, took good care of them and they're still as new.
Their latest model is Bluetooth enabled, but on board you still need the cable. Those are over-ear headphones and come inside a handy carry case with an airline adapter, so you can connect directly with the on-board entertainment system. I'm still impressed how the outside noise fades away, when I turn them on!
When on Board
Staying hydrated is not only important for your skin but for your whole body. If there was no way to purchase one of those uber expensive water bottles before boarding the plane, I usually take a small (empty!) bottle with me. As soon as I'm on the plane, I ask for water.
Emirates has those mini water containers and I refill them into my water bottle. Yes, it sounds cheap - still better than nothing.
That way, I don't have to wait until take-off and have something to drink until the service starts. Also, on long haul flights, the crew passes around with beverages several times and even leave them in their kitchen for self service.
I know, using the washroom frequently on a plane is not the most sexy thing - staying hydrated is so much more important though and at least you get some movement (gosh, I sound like my own grandma!).
According to this article by Condé Nast Traveler, experts say you should drink 8 ounces of water per hour on long flights. For reference, one plastic cup usually holds 9 ounces.
Here's an important one: Don't drink alcohol while flying (again some grandma advice). This topic is super unpopular. I know a lot of people, who swear, that drinking a few long drinks take you to la-la-land (or was it la-le-lu?) faster than you can spell Gin Tonic.
I even had one of my closest girlfriends calling me out on BS, when I was writing that article. But I stand my ground: I know, it's tempting to drink, especially if the airline serves welcome champagne and high quality booze, HOWEVER, trust me on this one: Don't do it!
In short: You'll feel like sh*t really fast. Long version: Your metabolism reacts different to alcohol while flying and most of the times, you'll feel pretty crappy, even after just one drink. Why is that? Due to the low cabin pressure your blood oxygen levels are lower as well, and your body cannot cope with the same amount of alcohol, it could on earth.
You will feel drunk much faster than usual. The dry air additionally supports a faster dehydration of your body. So in conclusion: If you want to treat your body like it deserves to be treated (like the one of a goddess, clearly), don't drink alcohol while flying.
It is really important to get up and walk every once in a while. Also standing and stretching is good for our bodies. To be seated in such a small space over a long period of time might increase the likelihood of suffering of thrombosis.
So get up every once in a while and walk the aisle up and down, even if only to the crew kitchen to grab a snack and water/juice.
Most airlines nowadays offer great on-board entertainment. I often fly Emirates and their movie selection is really good. If for whatever reason, it is not possible for you to enjoy on-board entertainment, you could download an audiobook on your smartphone.
Lately, I became a huge fan of audible and I love listening to historic novels. If the airline doesn't offer any in-flight entertainment, here are some ideas to keep yourself busy:
- Download your favorite series or new movies beforehand on a tablet to watch it on board.
- Bring a book to read.
- Listen to a podcast, a variety of topics are available as well on audible or iTunes. Most are for free!
- Are you a creative person? Have a sketchpad or notebook handy and practice your drawing or calligraphy while flying.
Beat the Jet Lag
Last but not least: Try to beat the jet lag! This works best, if you adapt to the new timezone already while traveling. Change your watch to the local time of your destination and try sleeping on board when it is night time there. A lot of airlines also serve their food according to the destination time zone, which is incredibly helpful.
Once you arrive, try to stick to this routine. I know traveling is very exhausting no matter which class you fly and it might seem very tempting to take a quick nap when you arrive at your accommodation. Please wait until evening, or even better, night time to sleep and you'll be ready for all adventures the next day!
Now it's Your Turn
I hope you enjoyed reading this post! Do you have any travel tips on how to survive long flights in economy, that I didn't cover? Or maybe you have a travel story you'd like to share with me? Let me know in the comments section below.
Are you looking for actionable ways on how to be more mindful in your daily routine? I’ve put together what I call ‘The ultimate beginner’s guide to a mindful lifestyle’ incl. a 30 day planner to keep track on your habits and - imagine the best thing! - you can download it for free!