For over a century, humankind has had the power to fly. We have made stride after stride in aeronautics, and now we can go ANYWHERE. We can soar above the clouds and look lovingly to the world below, so naturally, flying fills us all with… dread?
Flying has become commonplace for many. We get on a plane, and we feel cramped and impatient, surrounded by people who may be carrying a disease or a cranky baby time-bomb. We take for granted the feat of flight, and grimace at the limited movie selection or the tacky and tired SkyMall catalogue. Being sentenced to a flight exceeding 2 hours begets a spoiled sigh. A flight exceeding 6 hours sends us looking for Benadryl at Hudson News. Watch the way most people board an overseas flight and you’d think they were about to endure a monotone reading of War and Peace.
Flying should be an enriching experience, and the power to make it so sits poised in you. Here’s my advice for tackling the boss battle of all flight travel: the 15 hour flight.
A 15 HR STATE OF MIND
Enjoying a 15+ hour flight is not found in endurance or survival; it’s found in a constant and optimistic state of mind.
If you decide ahead of time that spending 15 hours in the air is going to be absolute misery, then it will be. Even if you are in the last Economy row in the middle seat with your knees in your ribs, you occupy a throne of rare privilege. Somehow, you’re in a situation where you get to see the other side of the world, so be pumped. If you’ve sponsored this expedition yourself, you’ve made some specific decisions and taken deliberate actions to ensure you could land yourself an other-worldly adventure. If your employer is footing the bill, you should be similarly stoked. You’ve worked really hard to get to a place where someone or some entity wants you to represent them to another hemisphere. Both require heaps of hard work, so get proud.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE:
1. Make sure to sleep the night before.
There is no guarantee, even in business class that you will have a flight on which you will be able to sleep. Turbulence can keep you awake. A fellow passenger can snore through your ear plugs or noise canceling headphones. Do cardio, drink chamomile, take melatonin, and have your suitcase packed at least 24 hours before you plan to sleep to keep jitters at bay.
2. Book the right seat.
If you’re flying a red-eye or you know you will most likely sleep for 8+ hours on the plane, go ahead and book that window seat. I always book aisle. Why? Because I’m prone to insomnia and enjoying my flight requires the ability to get up and move whenever I want.
3. Secure peace of mind.
Set yourself up for success: bills on auto-pay, kindly worded away email in place, water globes in each potted plant. Scratch everything you can only do at home off of the list, because heading into a 15 hour flight with an “Oh no, I forgot to—“ or the regretful “I should have” is really going to impede your enjoyment of your flight.
4. Prepare for zero luxury with a well stocked carry-on.
I was once on a flight to Johannesburg sponsored by a production on a jeggings-tight budget. The plane had no outlets, no internet, no headrest monitor, nada. Even the cushiest of vessels have flights where the internet is down or the outlets are out of order at specific seats. Charge all of your devices to the fullest, and refrain from using them until you’re on the plane. Invest in 2 portable power banks: one you can fit in your pocket (which will also come in handy apart from the flight) and another bank with a minimum output of 25,000 mAh. I typically have my phone, an e-reader, and my laptop with me on long flights. Having multiple devices and the power to keep them going without an outlet will keep you safe from the void of idle confinement. Load your tech with a few movies, podcasts, books, and a game or two that can be played off-line. (My personal favorites are Plague, Inc. & Languinis.)
Have some sort of tech-free fun in your carry-on as well: a coloring book, a journal, mad libs, a small book of crosswords—anything without a plug.
Stash some essential first aid in a small pouch you can put in the seat back pocket. Mine always includes Tiger Balm for any muscle aches, pain relief tablets, Emergen-C, a calcium-magnesium-zinc tablet to ward off migraines and colds, a decongestant, and Olly Restful Sleep gummy vitamins.
Pack 3 healthy snacks. For example: celery with peanut butter, kale chips, apple sauce squeeze. Pack at least one indulgent snack: what’s up cayenne, sea salt, dark chocolate with pop rocks?
Be your own first class flight attendant. Pack an eye mask, slippers or warm socks, ear plugs, and face wipes. Pack a small memory foam pillow for your low back. Before you board, grab a liter of water and maybe a small bottle of adult beverage you know you like. I have been on several overseas flights that have run out of water bottles around hour 8, and you may not always like or want the free NeverHeardOThis Scotch or Guaranteed Headache red wine.
Pack a second and third outfit to change into. For me, it makes a huge difference. The third outfit is a sort of a safety if you end up in a 15 hour sweat fest with poor air circulation. Second outfit: go for light weight, yet warm—something you feel cozy enough to sleep in. Third outfit: something to change into an hour before you land that takes up very little space in your carry-on. Keep the climate and culture of your destination in mind.
5. Make an achievable in-flight To-Do list for a productive flight.
Having a battle plan for the day helps put my mind at ease. I often will save correspondence or small projects I know I can tackle on a plane without internet, relying on a laptop and a hard drive. I’ve prepared my taxes on a plane; I’ve caught up on Thank You cards. Most of the trailers I’ve edited were cut together on the tray table of an aircraft. You can get so much accomplished when you know you are going to be in one place for 15 hours.
* *At the gate, make sure your inbox is current, so you can respond to emails and save them as drafts. If you’re flight doesn’t have internet, you can send them as soon as you land. **
ON THE PLANE
6. Be the most gracious passenger onboard.
Flight attendants work hard, and this is a long day for them, a smile and a little friendly exchange goes a long way. Once you’ve identified the flight attendant with whom you’ve gelled best, ask if the flight is fully booked. If it’s not, ask the flight attendant if he or she would mind letting you know of any open rows once the door is closed. This hasn’t failed me yet. A flight attendant once asked another passenger to go back to his original seat so I could have the row he was stretched out in, simply because I asked permission ahead of time.
7. Get comfy.
While waiting for your row mates to arrive, put your shoes in the overhead bin, and put on your cozy socks or slippers. Remove makeup if you wear it. Put on an overnight moisturizer. I use Origins Drink Up Intensive. My skin feels amazing when I get off the plane: really.
Browse through the in flight movie options and pick two to watch after you finish your To Do List. (This gives you something to look forward to, which is KEY to 15 hour flight happiness.)
Slip into the restroom and lose your bra or swap it out for a minimalist seamless option. The underwire is the number one enemy to comfortable flight travel!
Set up shop. Make sure most of what you’ll need in the first few hours is easily accessible.
8. Know the people in your row.
Not everyone likes to engage in conversation, but you might as well at least know the names of the passengers in your row. If you don’t enjoy shaking a stranger in a Benadryl induced coma awake when you need to go to the bathroom, you may prefer to simply call out a name.
9. Adjust your To-Do list.
You have your movies selected; you know the work you want to get done. By now, you know whether or not you will have access to the internet. Try and have a plan for 10/15 hours of the flight.
IN THE AIR
10. Set an intention for your entire trip.
Whether it be in your journal or in the margins of a newspaper you’ll toss at the end of the flight, write down everything you hope to get out of the experience ahead of you. Make achievable goals. Write down how you want to feel on the other side of this trip. Remind yourself why you’re on this flight. Then let that intention color the rest of the flight and the time you are abroad.
11. GET. UP.
Your body needs to move. At minimum, walk the aisle every two hours. You can’t jog or do burpees, but try to find a space where you can do more than walk. Most often, a plane capable of a 15 hour flight is big enough to have hallways in between sections. I use those hallways for sun salutations when it seems like the rest of the passengers are pretty sedentary. Believe it or not, no one has ever walked into me or even seen me doing them. It’s like a secret hideout where you can escape from stiffness in your joints.
12. Learn something.
Listen to a TED talk, play Duolingo to work on the language of your destination, or dive into a Deepak Chopra podcast. Personal growth on an airplane? Yes you can!
Dehydration exacerbates jet lag. Get ahead, and stay hydrated on the flight. At minimum, drink 8 ounces of water every two hours.
14. Change into jammies.
Slipping into cozies helps section off the hours of the flight. When you’ve checked off every item on your To-Do List, change into your second outfit and surrender to the down time portion of the flight. Take Melatonin or Calms-Forte to help you sleep if you need.
When you’ve slept as much as you can, make the most of what you brought with you. Use wipes such as Yes to Coconut cleansing wipes and give yourself a good once over in the lavatory. Change into outfit number 3, brush your teeth, comb your hair, change back into your at attention bra, whatever makes you feel ready to land in confidence.
If you find yourself slipping into “WHEN WILL THIS BE OVER” mode, read over what you wrote at the beginning of the flight. Read about your destination and get jazzed, or look back through your photos and reminisce if you’re on your way home. If all else fails, look out at the clouds and consider the age into which you were born. Halfway around the world in less than a day? Pretty incredible.
Rin Ehlers Sheldon is one of The Travel Women Ambassadors, read her interview here.
2 thoughts on “How to Actually Enjoy a Long Flight”
Long haul travel doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable experience. Long flights can mean going from freezing to overheated and back again. In order to keep your body at a comfortable temperature, it’s best to layer your clothing.
Such a great article. Thanks for all the great suggestions!!