No matter what you do, being stuck inside a metal tube in coach class for hours is going to suck. You're not going to sleep well, unless you're one of those bizarre people who can sleep anywhere, in which case, I'm incredibly jealous. Your skin will be dried out. Your muscles will ache. You'll feel greasy and dirty. You'll feel like a walking zombie.
When I flew to Bali, my flight from Seattle to Los Angeles was 3 hours. The flight from LA to Seoul was 13 hours and the flight from Seoul to Bali was 7 hours, resulting in 23 hours of flying time with almost no layovers I used most of the tips below and I arrived in Bali feeling somewhat human and normal.
Here are my tried-and-true tips for making your next long-haul international flight just a little less excruciating.
Choose an exit row.
Exit rows have a ton of extra space and are often available for an extra fee. This extra fee is well worth the price to ensure your legs aren't crushed by the person in front of you.
Use an eye mask and ear plugs.
Depending on the time of day your flight takes off and the direction you're flying, it might be bright outside, making it difficult to fall asleep. It's also challenging to sleep when there's constant conversation, babies crying and noise from the meal service. Many international carriers give out a free amenity kit that includes these items. If your airline doesn't offer an eye mask and ear plugs, it's definitely worth investing in a set.
Don't eat airline food.
Airlines offer meal service in economy class on most long-haul flights. The meals are typically loaded with sodium, which can make you dehydrated. Avoid the complimentary meal and bring your own healthy meals and snacks. Another bonus: You'll get to eat when you want and won't be woken up in the middle of meal service. Bring your own bottle of water on board and make sure to drink it frequently to stay hydrated. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which only make you more dehydrated.
Bring a sweater or an extra blanket.
Airplanes are usually freezing and while blankets are still included in coach cabins on international flights, they're so thin that they don't provide much warmth. Travel with a warm sweater or a small travel blanket so that you'll be comfortable during the flight. My personal favorites for travel are Splendid cardigans. They're comfortable and look stylish, even after you've been sitting on a plane for more than a day.
Sitting for long periods of time can increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis. Larger planes usually have space in the back to stretch. On my last flight from Seattle to Amsterdam, I stood in the back with the flight attendants twice for 30 minutes. I've learned that flight attendants usually have great travel stories to tell so hit them up for a chat if you're bored.
Wear a super comfortable outfit for the plane. My favorite outfit for long-haul flights is a pair of stretchy leggings, a cotton tank, a long-sleeved tee, a fleece jacket and a scarf to use as a blanket or a pillow. If you need to look more presentable once you land, you can always pack an extra outfit to change into once you arrive at the airport.
Pack an inflatable pillow.
The pillows provided by the airplane are really only useful as lumbar support. If you intend on sleeping on the plane, pack an inflatable neck pillow.
Bring your own entertainment.
Whether it's an iPad full of movies or a Kindle loaded with books, make sure you have enough in-flight entertainment to survive the flight. The in-flight entertainment systems often fail and there's nothing worse than a 15-hour flight where you can't sleep and you don't have access to movies or books.
Use a sleep aid.
Sleeping aids range from all-natural melatonin to prescription sleeping pills. Regardless of what you plan on using, make sure you test it out before you leave home. You don't want to have a bad reaction to your sleep aid during your flight. You'll also need to pay close attention to dosage and time it correctly with the duration of the flight. I've had good luck with Source Naturals 2.5mg sublingual melatonin. Check with your doctor before you take any sleep aids.
Pack your toiletries.
Brushing your teeth, rinsing with mouthwash, brushing your hair and applying makeup can help you feel like a new person. Pack your toiletries in a kit or a Ziploc bag and keep them within easy reach. If your checked luggage is delayed, at least you'll have access to your essentials. Some airlines, like Korean Air, will give you a toiletry kit in economy class but if you're flying one of the American airlines, such as Delta, don't count on the airline giving you a kit.
If you're lucky enough to be on a flight that isn't full, don't be afraid to move around to find more room. My flight from LA to Seoul was only half full and there were entire rows that were empty in the back. I was able to lay down and get some sleep. Don't forget to wear your seatbelt though; you never know when turbulence will hit.
What's the longest flight you've taken? What are some of your favorite tips for surviving long-haul flights?
For more travel tips and tricks, check out Away From the Office.