I'm flying over the Atlantic, on my way to Madrid to lead a food tour of Spain. It's my sixth international flight this year, and I always fly coach. I want to justify the cost of business class, but it always seems so unreasonable for a few hours of comfort, even if that means being crammed into a space almost too small to be allowed. Each time I make my journey much more comfortable by bringing these 10 items with me in my carry-on...
1. Reading material: During take-off and landing, there's at least an hour where I can't work or watch the in-flight entertainment. It's a great time to catch up on the latest magazine I didn't have time to read yet or a Sudoku puzzle.
2. Mini-spa kit: Collect and save sample sizes of hand and face cream, lip balm, tissues, moist towelettes and an emery board for this vital piece of your in-flight pampering. The air in-flight is dry and you want your skin to stay as hydrated as possible. The other items can be invaluable when the aisle is blocked for an hour with food service or there's a long line at the restroom.
3. Travel toothbrush and toothpaste: Whether you step into the cramped airplane bathroom or wait until you are on the ground, being able to brush your teeth can really help make you feel more civilized. I always bring breath drops or gum as well, in case I want to wait until later in the flight to brush.
4. Travel socks: Laying over somewhere? Switch to travel socks once on the plane and put your regular socks on after you land -- it will make your feet feel refreshed. Keep your shoes off during the flight and make sure to rotate your ankles and stretch your feet, too. If you have problems with circulation or the flight is more than a few hours, compression socks can make a big difference in reducing swelling. Put your travel socks on over the compression socks so you can walk freely around the plane; a lot gets spilled during long flights.
5. Clean underwear: Putting on fresh knickers when you are between flights is also a nice comfort, and if you are in an airport where you can buy a shower, you'll be even more glad you have them in your bag.
6. Music to sleep or meditate by: We all carry around our phones or iPods. Listening to meditation or classical music while you rest can both block out sound and give you a better sleep experience. Having your favorite pieces on can soothe and relax you as well.
7. Eye mask and ear plugs: Drowning out the sound of crying babies and the light coming from my neighbor's screen makes a huge difference to the amount of sleep I can get on a plane. Make sure the earplugs fill your ears completely and treat yourself to a good-quality eye mask that doesn't gap, so you can block out all the ambient light. Don't forget to ask the flight attendant to hold your meal if you are planning on sleeping through a meal service but will want to eat later. They often are happy to oblige.
8. Tea bags/eye gel/cucumber slices: Don't laugh. Between the dry air and the change of time, your eyes can feel like you've flown through the desert in an open cockpit. Moisten tea bags or grab a couple of cucumber slices and slip them under your eye mask when you wake up. Or soak a couple of cotton pads in eye gel and bring them in a plastic baggie. Either way, your eyes will thank you.
9. Deodorant: If you wear a liquid or gel, just soak a cotton pad in it and bring it aboard in a plastic baggie. Bonus: liquids transported this way don't register as liquids so it doesn't have to take up valuable real estate in your quart baggie.
10. A sweater, scarf, or wrap: Often the coach cabin blankets aren't big enough, and sometimes they run out. Give yourself an extra layer of warmth by bringing your own for the flight.
11. Bonus! My very favorite travel item: An inflatable neck pillow. Unlike those huge horseshoe-shaped pillows people are always lugging around, these deflate to almost nothing and keep your neck cradled so you wake up refreshed, not cramped.
Until the airlines take out some coach seats to make the poor cattle comfortable, I hope this list will bring you happy flying!