Tips for Surviving a Long Flight

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In just over a month, we are off to Sydney, Australia (from Washington, D.C.). The question has crossed my mind more than once, “How are we going to survive the trip?” Long-haul flights can take a real toll on your body and mind. Here’s my plan for surviving our 20+ hours in the air:

Map showing travel across the globe, with plane, suitcases, passport, and ticket
Want to staying well while traveling halfway around the globe (or even across the country)?

Before booking this trip, my one condition for my two sons was that they would have to follow my instructions on the flights to the letter (with no argument). That means that when I remind them to drink some water, stretch their legs, or get some sleep, that’s what they need to do. I know my teens, and they are not necessarily going to devote their mental bandwidth to properly managing their wellness on a flight (instead their brains are thinking “cool, I can play on my device for 15 straight hours.”).

Flying halfway across the globe is going to be exhausting no matter what you do, and there is no real way to avoid jet lag with a 14-hour time change. Nonetheless, here’s our plan to make the trip easier on our bodies. You can use these tips for a flight of any length:

Tips for Surviving a Long Flight

Start with the destination in mind

Mindset is important! We can either approach the flight with dread, or we can think, “OMG, we are going to Australia! This is the trip of a lifetime. I’m so excited!”  Which do you think will yield better results?

Landscape photo of Sydney Harbor, Australia, with the Sydney Opera House and skyline
Remember your why! Sure we have to be on the plane for a long time, but we get to go here!

Build in a break

On the blog, we have advocated having deliberately long layovers.

Following our own advice, on this trip we will leave Washington, D.C. in the early morning, landing in San Francisco at 9:40 a.m. (5h42m flying time). A transcontinental flight can be tiring in and of itself (even when you aren’t tacking on a second 15-hour flight). So, we are going to take the day to recover and travel into the city to stretch our legs with a day of sightseeing.

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco at sunset. Having a long layover and leaving the airport is a great tip for surviving long flights
We have 14 hours to stretch our legs in San Francisco en route to Australia.

Snacks and showers

After we have cruised around Alcatraz, strolled the Embarcadero, and done whatever else tickles our fancy, we will head back to the airport (SFO). In preparation for our second, significantly longer flight, we are going to avail ourselves of the shower facilities at Freshen Up, put on a comfy flying outfit (something loose and lots of layers!), then relax in the lounge before boarding, thanks to our Priority Pass membership. We will leave San Francisco at 11:00 p.m., tired but refreshed and ready to sleep!

showerhead with water running. Showeing during a layover is a great tip for surviving a long flight
No one ever complained because the person in the seat next to them was freshly showered.

Compression socks

On separate long-haul flights to Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay, I have had some bothersome ankle swelling (damn you, middle age!). So, for this flight I bought some cute compression socks to help with blood circulation and prevent swelling. (I’ll take a pass on deep vein thrombosis, thank you very much.)

Compression socks for a long flight. Sitting motionless for long periods can lead to DVT. Wearing compression socks will help prevent this and is a great tip for surviving a long flight.

Sleeping discipline

Cue the self-discipline! While the boys will no doubt be tempted to stay up watching movies or playing on their phones, they will have to set aside the electronics and commit to trying to get a full night of sleep. We have taken small doses of melatonin, a natural sleep aid, in the past on flights to Europe, and it seems to work well for our family, so we will have some on hand. I am also a huge fan of eye masks for blocking the light and noise cancelling headphones (earplugs are a compact, budget alternative).

Face mask

The low humidity levels in airplane cabins dries out the skin significantly. Before lights-out, I am going to go all diva and slather on some Jet Lag Mask by Summer Fridays. It looks and feels like a thick moisturizer and will protect me from the desert-like air conditions in the cabin.

Food and water

We all know that we should drink plenty of water on flights, but how many of us really do? For shorter flights, the boys often seize the opportunity to order a soda (something they don’t generally get at home). Not this time though—water it will be. We will also have our regular arsenal of “just-in-case” snacks (typically unsalted cashews, fruit and veggies (fine to bring as long as they have all been eaten before we land), granola bars, etc.)

Airplane food is notoriously high in sodium (to add flavor, since our taste buds are less sensitive at higher altitudes). So, we will want some healthy, low-sodium options (I refer you back to swelling ankles).

Movement

I mentioned deep vein thrombosis (DVT) earlier. This is when a blood clot forms in a vein; if it breaks loose, it can cause a pulmonary embolism. Tips for preventing DVT include staying active and avoiding long periods of sitting motionless.  That’s pretty hard to do when you are crammed like a sardine into a fuselage hurtling its way through the sky for the better part of a day. Still, since we are in a row by ourselves, we can easily make a point of getting up every hour to walk in the aisle a bit, without disturbing other passengers. There are also many foot, ankle, and leg exercises one can do while seated. 

Entertainment

When I have a flight approaching, I save up episodes of my favorite podcasts (and make sure they are fully downloaded onto my phone) as an in-flight treat. I also enjoy reading magazines in the air, as they are easy to dispose of on arrival. Movies and video games are the boys’ primary in-flight entertaining, so they will have to be sure to keep their devices (and battery back-ups fully charged).

hand holding iPhone. Tip for suriving a long flight: make sure your devices and battery back-up are fully charged.
Have everything you need downloaded and your devices fully charged

So that’s our general plan, but as the saying goes, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” We’ll report back in August about the good, the bad, and the ugly and share anything we learn during our longest-ever flight.

What have we forgotten? Do you have any tips for surviving a long flight? Please share them here!

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10 thoughts on “Tips for Surviving a Long Flight

  1. I follow all of these tips – except the layover break which I have been thinking about more and more. I have also never tried compression socks but so many people recommend them I need to do it – LOVE the striped ones! I ALWAYS bring my own food for the airplane and save up books and videos I really want to watch as a special treat on the plane. One thing that has worked for us a lot is to schedule a tour when we get to our destination. It keeps us awake and we are not likely to skip it because we paid for it!

  2. I just got back from Egypt and my feet were swelled up like sausages for two days. It was bad, really bad. I would love a good pair of compression socks but I am cursed with itty bitty feet and great big ankles. I am a big fan of taking vitamins for the plane ride. There always seems to be somebody coughing and the last thing I would want on my trip of a lifetime is to get sick.

    1. The socks are a God-send. One of the contest winners contacted me today to ask where she could buy more of the socks. If you DM me your address, I’ll hook you up with a pair when I’m back from Australia.

  3. I actually don’t mind really long flights. It’s the only time I can sleep on a plane. Usually, if it’s less than 7 hours, I’m screwed. I always bring reading materials and I do take advantage of airline lounges. But I think what gets me through long flights mentally is my love for feeling unreachable. I don’t have to do anything but sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight. 🙂

  4. Ooh my boyfriend should have read this before his flight – he just flew from London to Vancouver to meet me, which was 22 straight hours of travel for him! I love all of these tips. Personally though I’m not one for long layovers! I just get so nervous about having enough time to leave the airport and then come back through security in time… I’m one of those people that arrives to the airport 3 hours early lol.

  5. Some of these are great tips! Long haul flights can be hard to handle sometimes, but I think you’re right. Going in with a good attitude is helpful. I also find that watching movies makes the time go by much faster than reading or listing to a podcast. Maybe it’s because you can zone out? haha.

  6. Love all these tips and I follow most of them myself. I have a pair of compression socks and love them! Would love some in stripes though – how fun! I find my body aches more than it used – long flights affect me more than before so I really have to make a point to prepare.

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