Before we went to Tanzania, the longest flight I had ever been on was about 6 hours long. My family went to Spain to visit my sister during her study abroad semester and it was fairly bearable, considering we were traveling with my then 9-year-old twin brothers who were not down to sit still for that long. And I was a young and flexible teenager that had yet to experience the aches and pains that come with being stationary for long periods of time.
This past December, Seware and I traveled from Boston to Tanzania via Paris and Amsterdam for a total of ~40 hours in the air. I have to admit I was really nervous about that much travel time. I like to think that I am a pretty decent traveler, considering we fly to Massachusetts from Grand Cayman a few times a year, but to be confined to one seat for hours on end, possibly crammed in the dreaded middle seat had me feeling all sorts of stressed.
Seware – who has made the trip before – promised me that the planes used for that length of travel do tend to be a bit roomier than the planes we are used to flying on, but I was still wary. The trip was a success overall, and because of that, I thought I would share with you my top 12 overnight and international flight tips:
1. Choose your seats well in advance.
To me, there is literally nothing worse than getting stuck in the middle seat during a long flight. You never know who you are going to get stuck next to, and let's be honest, there are some really lame people to be seat companions with. Most people like the window seat for obvious reasons, but I always opt for the aisle seat. I like to be able to get up without asking the person next to me to move, I have the tiniest baby bladder, and I sometimes get a sore hip so it's more comfortable for me. My husband, on the other hand, LOVES the window seat… which put us in a predicament for this multi-flight trip to Tanzania (we had to take turns compromising).
Anyway, as soon as you book your ticket, see if the airline has made the “Choose Your Seat” option available. If they have, snag your preferred spot well in advance of your flight so you can board with ease. If you don't specify where you want to be, you will automatically be assigned by the airline. You can change your seat later, but your options will be increasingly limited the closer you get to your departure date.
Pro tip: Talk to a gate associate on the day of your flight to ask if there “happen to be any aisle/window seats open,” and if the plane isn't jam-packed, chances are they will be able to assist you. Just plaster on a sweet face ;)
2. Stay hydrated.
Water works wonders. Hydrate before boarding and during your flight to better your chances of avoiding discomfort. Airplanes tend to be dry which is a prime makeup for dehydration, and ultimately air-sickness. Rather than purchasing water bottle after water bottle at the airport (and having to throw them away at each security checkpoint), bring your own empty bottle and refill it throughout your trip. Your skin and muscles will thank you.
3. Stretch your legs.
This is particularly good for those 6-8+ hour long flights, regardless of how spacious your seat is. When you fly for an extended period, you may experience poor blood circulation. This happened to me for the first time on one of our Tanzania flights. I usually travel in slip-on Toms sneakers because they're easy to take off when you go through security and they are comfortable. I took them off during one flight and when I tried to put them back on to use the restroom, I couldn't get my feet back in because they were SO swollen!
Get up, walk aground and stretch those legs before they get too sore. Take a lap around the plane or find a nook in the back where it's a little more spacious to do some simple yoga poses. This will help get the blood flowing and keep you from getting too stiff from sitting in those narrow, painfully upright seats.
4. Dress comfortably.
People often say that “millennials these days don't know how to travel,” because back in the day, people would dress really well for flights. I am all for dressing up if that's your jam, but I have never sat in first class and probably won't anytime soon. Being in economy, your quarters are much tighter! Ya girl's tryin' to be comfortable! It IS possible to be comfy yet fashionable; just dress in whatever suits your long-haul needs. Make sure your outfit is stretchy and breathable, and consider dressing in layers. Your cabin may be freezing, or it could be sweltering – it doesn't matter what time of year it is. BUT, if you're trying to get an upgrade, your chances will improve if you look put together. Leggings and a big hoodie won't cut it.
5. Bring a snack-pack.
You actually get fed quite a bit on long international flights – at least we did. However, quality and quantity varies by the airline and sometimes it isn't made perfectly clear what you will be served and when. Pack fiber and protein-rich snacks that will keep you feeling full and energized throughout the flight, just in case.
Pro tip: If you have dietary restrictions, specify with your airline so they come prepared with enough alternative meal choices.
6. Pass the time with your favorite entertainment.
The second-most frustrating thing (after getting stuck in the middle seat) is getting stuck in a seat with a broken TV! Whether you download a few movies or a full season of your favorite sitcom, or you get a good book to read on your tablet (easier for travel, though I tend to prefer paperback!), you will not regret having something to pass the time with. Be sure to pack your own set of headphones because airline earbuds tend to be of pretty poor quality.
7. Stay fresh with carry-on toiletries.
You're going to eat, you're going to sleep, and you may sweat a little (especially if you are in a rush!)… you're going to want to refresh when you get the chance. What to pack:
- Hand sanitzer
- Sample-sized perfume/cologne
- Panty liners & tampons
- Facial wipes
Keep these in your carry-on and hit refresh in the airplane bathroom or during your layover.
8. Speaking of your carry-on… keep it organized.
Going through security over and over is a big pain in the butt! Especially if you are someone who travels with multiple electronics and toiletries in your carry-on, aka me. I used to travel with two laptops (I'm self-employed), my iPad, toiletries and some of my more expensive makeup in my carry-on. This meant unpacking each and every screening item into 3-4 buckets while backing up the line. It brought my anxiety through the roof and often left me flustered and sweating. Since, I've learned to organize my carry-on in such a way that I can unpack the necessities in a breeze, get through the line and be repacked in a matter of moments. Keep your electronics and liquids (in a plastic Ziploc) at the top of your bag, and keep your passport and travel documents in a safe but accessible pocket so you aren't digging around for them frantically.
Keeping an organized carry-on is also quite helpful in-flight, if you're the type to actually use what you've packed while in the air. Put your electronics in an easy-to-access section along with your headphones and reading material. It may be easiest to store these under the seat in front of you while the rest of your items go in the overhead compartment. Also, make sure you have a spare sweater and maybe even a pair of socks packed at the top of your bag in the event that the AC is too chilly.
9. Pack a spare outfit.
There is no keeping fresh on a long flight. You can be the cleanest, most delicious smelling individual on the planet, but unless you are flying Emirates and you have access to a luxury shower on-board (please?!), you're going to be a little gross by the time you land. If you have a multi-flight trip, bring a backup outfit to change into in between flights. This is also necessary in the off-chance that your bag doesn't make it to your final destination.
10. Use travel credit cards to rack up the points.
If you are traveling long and far, chances are you will be spending a decent amount of money. Rather than using your debit card, opt for a travel credit card that has no foreign transaction fees and offers rewards for the money you spend while on the go. You will most likely buy food, drinks and some duty-free items at the airport, you may need to splurge on transportation, and your cost of flight was probably pretty hefty. Put all of that on your travel card and reap the benefits later. We flew to Tanzania for FREE using our credit card rewards points, and you can too if you spend right and rack up those points!
11. Sleep well and smart.
I was definitely a victim of post-travel fatigue in Tanzania because I slept horribly on the plane. While my husband knocked out the moment we took off and slept up until the last hour (no, I am not even remotely exaggerating), I was wide awake and unable to get comfortable. By the time we were ready for our final flight, I was exhausted and nodding off when I should have been keeping awake because of the time difference (8 hours ahead). Time your sleep hours and make yourself as comfortable as you can so you don't have a travel hangover when you land. You are, after all, going to want to explore. You can't explore if you are sleeping!
Pack a neck pillow to prevent nodding off and inevitable aches, and a sleep mask to block out the light. You may even considering noise cancelling headphones in the event that the people around you are too chatty.
12. Sanitize regularly.
Airplanes and airports are breeding grounds for germs and bacteria. You are already putting your body through enough stress by traveling at high altitude for an extended period of time… why risk putting it through more by getting sick? Keep hand sanitizer and/or anti-bacterial wipes with you at all times and wash your hands every chance you get. You will be in extremely tight quarters with hundreds of other people for hours. Chances are a few of them are sick. You don't want to feel sick on your trip, do you?