You’ve been packing, running errands, and pulling late nights at the office to get everything in order before taking off for a week in paradise. When your departure day finally arrives, you couldn’t be more ready to relax. Just 12 hours of sitting like a pretzel, banging your knees on the tray table, elbowing strangers, and breathing stale air, and you’ll be there!
Unless you have the dough for business class, a long-haul flight isn’t a great way to start a much-anticipated vacation – or a stressful work trip, for that matter. International flights tend to provide more amenities than domestic ones, but it’s heavily dependent on the airline and route, and even flying domestically in the U.S. can be a whole-day affair.
Different people swear by different things for surviving long-haul flights (aisle or window? sleep or stay awake?), but these 15 airplane essentials will make anyone more comfortable in the air. Pack them in your carry-on for your next flight, and you just might arrive at your destination feeling like a human.
Long-Haul Travel Essentials: Entertainment
Whether you want to catch up on your favorite podcasts, watch an in-flight movie, or listen to some meditative music while you try to sleep, headphones are high on the list of long-haul travel essentials.
But am I the only person who thinks airplane headsets are super uncomfortable? Plus, on some flights, it’s just one of many things you have to pay extra for. You’ll probably want headphones later on your trip anyway – like for runs or long bus rides – so just be sure to pack them in your carry-on.
The only downside to using your own headphones is that some planes (especially older ones) have a dual-prong plug, so you may need an adapter to plug into the plane’s entertainment system. Fortunately, they’re tiny and cheap.
For Christmas in 2011, Ryan gave me this thing called an “e-reader” (I didn’t even know what it was) – and I’ve been religiously using one ever since. These days, I take my Kindle on every trip, and it always goes in my carry-on.
I love the Kindle Paperwhite for its screen, which even works in the dark and is much easier on your eyes than looking at a phone or computer screen. Kindles are small, lightweight, and hold more books than you could ever read – if your favorite traveler doesn’t already own one, I can attest that they make a great gift.
I think long plane rides are a great time for journaling (so long as you don’t have a nosy neighbor). If you’re on your way somewhere, chances are you’ve been busy and stressed out getting ready, and the flight might be your first chance in a while to sit and think. And if you’re headed back home, you have a whole trip to reflect on!
Even if you’re not big on journaling, a pen will still come in handy, especially on international flights. For many destinations, the flight attendants pass out arrival cards during the flight, and you’ll get through immigration much quicker if you fill yours out on the plane.
Even where you get the cards after landing, it’ll still be faster if you don’t have to wait around to use a communal pen, since there only ever seem to be about three available.
Airplane Essentials: Comfort & Toiletries
If there’s any chance I’m going to want to sleep on the plane, I bring a neck pillow. An airplane seat headrest is just not sufficient, and I don’t find regular-shaped pillows, like the ones the airline might provide, to be that helpful for sleeping.
So for red-eye flights and long plane rides, a neck pillow is key. While the inflatable kind isn’t the most comfortable, it’s lightweight and packs down really small, so it’s the obvious choice for a backpacker.
I only recently started using an eye mask to sleep during flights, and it really works! If you need complete darkness to sleep, I definitely recommend trying one on your next flight. But there are tons of masks out there, and they are not all created equal.
After pouring over Amazon reviews of loads of different brands and styles, I settled on the Lonfrote Deep Molded Mask, which comes with a little storage pouch and pair of earplugs. The mask contours to your face pretty well to block out light and has a cup design that allows you to easily open your eyes under it, making it more comfortable and avoiding the dry-eye problem that some masks cause.
I almost always find myself freezing on planes, so I think blankets should be standard airplane essentials. But since the airline doesn’t always give you one, especially on short flights (and being shorter does not make a flight less cold!), a small travel sheet is great to have in-flight.
I really like this one from Cocoon because it packs down small and is lightweight, but will still keep you warm on the plane.
If you tend to get cold, bringing or wearing socks will also help keep you comfortable. Plus, socks make it way more acceptable to take your shoes off on the plane, and you don’t want to have to walk barefoot through security, anyway.
That dry air on the plane can really affect your eyes, which might not be feeling great anyway if you’re tired. Putting in eye drops during and after long plane rides can fight some of the redness and irritation, and it’s a must if you’re at all prone to dry eyes.
I’ve tried tons of types of eye drops ever since having LASIK surgery (which is a godsend for travelers!), and Refresh drops are the ones I keep coming back to.
This is another product that will help combat the dry air of the plane. As something of a lip balm addict, I’ve tried tons of different brands and types over the years, and nothing beats Burt’s Bees.
I’ve tried most of their varieties, but the plain beeswax one is the most hydrating and least messy, plus it lasts forever. And I love the company’s philosophy and ethical practices, from all-natural ingredients to responsible sourcing to eco-friendly packaging.
Using hand lotion during or after a flight feels refreshing, especially since the – you guessed it – dry air doesn’t feel very good on your skin. Just use an unscented one if you’re planning to apply on the plane, since nobody likes the person who opens up smelly products in enclosed spaces.
I only recently discovered blotting sheets – which are honestly not something I ever would have thought I needed – and it turns out they’re great for looking and feeling less greasy. If you have oily skin, using one at the end of long plane rides will refresh your face and help you feel a little less gross, at least until you get to your hotel.
I’m no blotting sheet connoisseur and picked these bamboo charcoal ones just based on their ingredients and reviews, but I’ve been happy with them so far.
In-Flight Food & Drink
Ugh, airplane food. It’s usually loaded with sodium and preservatives, and neither healthy nor tasty. Airport options are often not much better, and are seriously overpriced to boot. So make sure there’s room in your carry-on for some snacks of your own.
Apple slices, carrot sticks, trail mix, granola bars, and even peanut butter sandwiches are all easy options you’ll be glad to have when the flight attendants bring out the rubbery chicken.
Since the air on planes is notoriously dry, staying hydrated is key to surviving long-haul flights. If you’re in a place with potable tap water, bring an empty water bottle with you and fill it up once you’ve gone through security. You’ll save money, and it’s more eco-friendly than buying bottled water.
And that’s what I rely on for surviving long-haul flights! Hopefully some of these products will make your next trip more comfortable, too.
What are your long-haul travel essentials?
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