En Route

Surviving a Long Flight: Tips to Make Time Fly On Your Next Trip

So, you’ve booked your trip to a far-off destination, and you’re getting ready to leave. Suddenly, realization sets in and you realize you’re going to be trapped in a metal tube for upwards of 12 hours. Need some tips on surviving a long haul flight? You’re in luck, I’ve done it, and I’m sharing my top long haul flight tips with you here.

Nothing is more intimidating than sitting down in your economy seat, about to depart from LAX to Sydney, Australia, and seeing this screen:

Long Flight Ahead: Distance to destination is 7882 miles
Not sure why “Time to Destination” says 0. The flight was actually about 16 hours.

The 16-hour, 8,000-mile hop from LAX to Sydney was my longest flight to date (and one of the world’s longest), and to be honest, I was a little nervous before it. I’m not typically an anxious flyer, but I am an active, slightly claustrophobic person, and the thought of sitting in a seat for 16 hours made my legs hurt. So, I did some research and came up with a game plan for how to survive the flight. My plan worked surprisingly well, and (I couldn’t believe it either) I actually enjoyed the flight!

Before Your Long Flight

Make a plan

I found that preparing for a long flight was very much a mental challenge. I had to psych myself up for the journey ahead. One article I read suggested setting a schedule for yourself which would break the time into smaller chunks. This strategy would also enable you to accomplish some things you want to get done.

Here was my schedule idea:

  • Board plane
  • Read until dinner service (1 hour)
  • Eat dinner (1 hour, roughly)
  • Watch one movie (2 hours)
  • Meditate (15 minutes)
  • Sleep (as long as possible) (6 hours)
  • Eat a snack (15 minutes)
  • Read for an hour (1 hour)
  • Watch another movie (2 hours)
  • Eat breakfast (30 minutes)
  • Read for an hour until landing (1 hour +)

When you break the time into chunks, it doesn’t seem so intimidating! But remember that things won’t always go according to plan.

Prepare your carry-on/bag of distractions

Enemy #1 of a long flight – boredom! You’ll want to stay as busy as possible to make the time fly. So, I thought of lots of things to keep me occupied and comfortable.

These essentials include:

  • Books – load up your ereader or check out a few library books that you’ve been eyeing.
  • Download a meditation app – I like Gaiam’s Meditation Studio and Sven prefers Headspace
  • Depending on which airline you’re flying, you may need to download their in-flight entertainment app prior to your flight. Check the airline’s website to find out. American Airlines requires this but Qantas had screens in the backs of the seats.
  • Snacks – fiber-rich snacks are key when you’re going to be sitting for a while (maybe TMI but it’s true), so trail mix with dried fruit and nuts is one of my go-to’s. I also love the GoPicnic Meal Packs, which are completely shelf-stable and come in a bunch of delicious flavors, like this one: Black Bean Dip & Plantain Chips.
  • Journal or other writing device – being totally unplugged on a plane can lead to a clear mind and a stroke of inspiration. I always bring a Moleskine Cahier Journal with me on my travels which takes up about zero space in your carry-on. Don’t forget a pen!
  • Comfort essentials – I take no risks here. Being too cold or too hot, or having a headache or sore throat can ruin even a short flight! I make sure to dress in layers (usually a tank top, then a long-sleeved shirt, and a jacket in my bag), bring think socks and a shawl or scarf, and wear loose pants.
  • I also bring a little first aid kit that has Advil, cough drops, hand sanitizer, and some Gin Gins Ginger Spice Drops to settle my stomach. If you’re a neck pillow fan, make sure to bring that too.

During Your Long Flight

Get Comfortable

Before the plane leaves, take a minute to set up your space. If possible, I like keeping my bags in the overhead bin so nothing is at my feet, if there is enough space. Then, you can settle in and start flipping through the airline magazine, perusing the in-flight entertainment (picking out movies to watch), and getting to know your seatmate, and you’ll be on your way before you know it!

The last glimpse of land before crossing the Pacific
The last glimpse of land before crossing the Pacific.

Get a head start on your new time zone

With any long-haul flight comes a big time difference, and inevitably, some jet lag. However, you can start to overcome jet lag before you leave by setting your clock to the new time zone.

When I boarded my LAX-SYD flight, it was about 11pm in Los Angeles and 4pm in Sydney. Although I was exhausted from exploring LA earlier in the day, I pushed myself to stay awake for a couple hours so I could go to sleep at a somewhat reasonable hour in Sydney time.

Drink lots of water

Did you know an airplane cabin is drier than the Sahara Desert? Not only will drinking a ton of water keeping you feeling good en route, you’ll feel less jet lagged when you get to your destination. Airplane air can wreak havoc on your skin as well, and a steady intake of water (and a good moisturizer or mist) will prevent breakouts.

Plus, getting up to pee regularly will keep your legs happy and healthy!

After Surviving Your Long Flight

Adjust to your new time zone

Congratulations, you made it! The best piece of advice I received before landing in Australia was to not go to sleep right away. We landed in Sydney around 6am, and despite getting a few good hours of shut-eye, a bed felt absolutely dreamy.

However, a seemingly harmless morning nap would likely turn into a full 8-hour sleep. And feeling refreshed, I would be wide awake that afternoon and probably all night too. Definitely did not want to start my trip on a nocturnal schedule. So, I made a plan to stay awake the entire day until a normal (maybe slightly early) bedtime.

Take a shower

Sounds simple, but feels sooo good. Wash off that airplane air and pamper yourself with some yummy-smelling toiletries. If you can’t check into your accommodation yet, see if you can check into a different room for an hour or use a pool or fitness facility.

Surviving a long flight from LAX to SYD
Feeling like a human again post-shower after arriving in Sydney.

Get some fresh air and exercise

I’ve found that exploring my destination is the best way to stay awake and feel good after surviving a long flight. The combination of fresh air and sensory stimulation of moving my body always gives me a second wind.

What are your tips and tricks for surviving a long flight? Hope you’re able to use some of my strategies on your next long-haul adventure. Happy travels!

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