I recently completed my first 13-hour flight to Tokyo and it was by far the longest flight I have ever been on. Long-haul flights can be intimidating if you don’t do them often. I actually get a little claustrophobic and anxious when I fly, so I invited suggestions from friends and added them to a few of my own favourite tips on how to survive a long-haul flight:
- Start with a massage. The pre-flight massage is an absolute must. The price may seem a bit steep and you are paying a premium, but I am usually stressed out just trying to haul myself to the airport on time. Between wrapping things up at work, packing and laundry, I arrive at the airport already flustered. So I’ve started treating myself to those gate-side chair massages at the airport spa. The $30 cost is nothing when you think of what you’ve already spent on the flight. Consider it the official start of your vacation. When I finally get myself on the actual plane, I melt like a jelly dessert and sleep those first two hours away.
- Detox and hydrate. I usually cut out caffeine and alcohol around 24 to 48 hours before my flight. I find that makes it easier to sleep on the plane and I can shake the jet lag a bit faster. I also buy the biggest bottle of water I can find after I go through security, along with a bottle of coconut water, which is loaded with natural electrolytes and vitamins.
Don’t forget to bring your own tea, too! The tea selection is non-existent in economy class, so I’ve started packing a couple of bags of my favourite natural, caffeine-free, sleepy-time tea to help me get some shut-eye on the plane. Just ask for a cup of hot water. I also never drink alcohol on the plane (it’s dehydrating) and I avoid soda – it leaves you bloated. Stick to water if you can.
- Book your seat in advance. This is serious business for me. I like to be on the aisle (for easy bathroom access), somewhat near the back of the plane – but not the very, very back. I find it less claustrophobic and less crowded. Make sure you pick a choice seat when you book, or check in 24 hours before your flight to see which new seats have been released. Elite flyers usually start getting upgraded at this time, so it’s the best time to find a better seat. Double-check your seat choice on a travellers’ advice site such as Seatguru.com to make sure you’re getting something decent. My husband is 6’1”, so we usually call ahead to see how much it would cost to upgrade to a premium economy seat with more legroom and better seat-back pitch.
You should also ask at the airport counter whether a paid upgrade to business class is available. Sometimes the cost will be discounted and be totally worth it. Other times, the economy section may be oversold and they will be looking to upgrade certain tickets. It just never hurts to ask.
- Bring magazines and books. For a long-haul flight, I usually pack three magazines, two books and my laptop. Come prepared with a variety of activities so you don’t get bored. I usually watch one or two movies, do some offline work on my computer and catch up on my reading. Load up your tablet or laptop with movies the night before and bring your chargers on board, as you may have an outlet or USB plug at your seat.
- Invest in noise-cancelling earphones. A great set of noise-cancelling headphones can make a world of difference when you’re trying to listen to music or watch a movie on a noisy airplane. It also cuts out the sound of any crying babies and surrounding conversations so you can enjoy the ride.
- Get comfortable. I bring a pair of loose socks to change into and slip out of my shoes right away. I wear my heaviest coat on the plane to use as a blanket, pack an eye mask and bring my own airplane pillow. If it’s an extra-long flight, I’ll pack jogging pants to change into and comfy shoes to slip on and off for trips to the restroom.
- Consider meds. Some people use medications to help them sleep on planes. Definitely do your research in advance. You want to try to wake up refreshed, not groggy, and hopefully a bit more adjusted to your new time zone. I generally like something gentle and natural such as valerian or melatonin. Dried cherries are also said to work against jet lag, but I haven’t tried them myself.
- Pack awesome snacks. I make a point of hitting up my local natural foods market and stocking up on raw energy bars, mini-bags of chips, cookies, apples (wash, wrap in plastic and stick them in the fridge the night before), banana bread and other snacks that I look forward to enjoying on the plane. I also love a good cup of instant ramen – warm, salty and cozy during a long flight! I usually pick up a low-sodium version if I can and throw it into my carry-on bag. It’s the best snack! Instant oatmeal in a cup is also a great choice; just ask the flight attendant for hot water.
- Stretch it out. I try to do a few ankle circles and leg stretches and move about the cabin every once in a while to keep the blood flowing. My friend Tara suggests spelling out the alphabet with your feet under the seat in front of you – both capital and lowercase letters – to keep your legs occupied. You can also find an empty area near the restroom or exit row to do deeper stretches to help avoid blood clots and prevent your legs from falling asleep.
- Get travel insurance. Despite all your precautions, your vacation could be derailed by a surprise illness or accident. Travel insurance will protect you from unexpected medical costs, and help you find emergency assistance when you're far from home and don't speak the language.
Lisa Ng is editor-in-chief of This Beautiful Day, a lifestyle blog for smart women. Follow her travels on Twitter @helloLisaNg.