So you’ve booked an exciting vacation abroad and you can’t wait! Maybe you’re dreaming of Amalfi or looking forward to having your own fun under the Tuscan sun, perhaps a backroad adventure in Spain, island hopping in Greece or sipping rosé beside a lavender field in the captivating region of Provence. Wherever your trip takes you are ready to spend more than a few hours on a plane.
For nearly three decades I’ve helped many travelers enjoy their trip of a lifetime. In those years of dedication to the details that make our tours special, I’ve had the privilege of visiting our alluring destinations several times. Each flight teaches me something new and better about how to survive the journey and thrive at the destination. Here are my tips for how to survive a long-haul flight to Europe.
Depending on where you’re flying to and from where you depart your flight could last anywhere between 8 hours to 12 hours or more. Airline seats are not recognized for their comfort. Being wedged between your fellow travelers can tax even the most zen of travelers. Poor planning only adds to your travel woes and can make for a rough first few days at your glorious destination. Here are my tips to make your flying time more bearable and arrive ready to make the most of your trip.
- Dress Comfortably
It’s best to wear comfortable clothing for long-haul flights. Layers offer the most comfort as planes tend to be a little on the chilly side. Try not to wear heavy belts, jewelry or the like that will trigger an alarm at security checkpoints. Wear shoes that are comfy and easy to take on and off. Pack some cozy slipper socks in your carry on bag.
- Fly Comfortably
There are so many flight accessories that fit in your carry-on and make a huge difference in your comfort diurnal long-haul flights. Lumbar pillows to keep your back from throbbing, seat cushions that help prevent sciatica flare-ups, foot slings high attach to the tray table and are perfect for those with shorter legs. Neck pillows are very popular and compression socks help with circulation.
- To Help Pass the Time on Your Flight
Load up your electronic reader, download some podcasts, movies, music (including some white noise or other sleep-inducing recordings), TV shows you want to binge and bring your own (wired) headphones. The freebies from the airlines aren’t the best quality. Include a backup charger or two and remember to pack your charging/power cords in your carry-on. Pack a book or two, crossword puzzles, sudoku and maybe a favorite hobby item to help pass the time, such as a sketchbook, your knitting or crochet items or a grown-up coloring book.
- You Are What You Eat
Airline food isn’t exactly Michelin Star material. It’s basically filler and I avoid eating what is served on an airplane. It's typically processed and high in sodium. When you are in a high altitude environment your digestive system is under stress. Eating easy-on-the-tummy foods helps you feel good and bounce back quicker from any jet lag you experience. Here are some ideas of foods to pack for your journey:
- Nuts (but check with the airlines as some limit nuts due to allergies)
- Protein bars
- Cheese sticks
- Dried fruit
- Sliced apples
- Pre-Made sandwiches (but please, no strong-smelling sandwiches such as tuna, egg salad or garlicky cold cuts)
- Crackers or pretzels
- Stay Hydrated
It’s essential on long flights to stay hydrated. The air that circulates on the plane is drying and you’ll feel much better if you drink water throughout the flight. Sure, your row mates might grumble a bit when you excuse yourself to the restroom but you’ll feel much better overall by keeping up your hydration.
Pack some herbal tea bags (also useful to help you sleep).
Avoid alcohol as it is dehydrating and also not conducive to feeling your best when you arrive. Alcohol adds to your jet lag. Also, if possible, avoid caffeine during your flight. Perhaps enjoy a cup of coffee prior to arrival, especially if you are a coffee-drinker.
- Dream a Little Dream
One of the best ways to pass the time on a long-haul flight and feel ready to enjoy your destination is by taking a long nap. Try to get an evening flight and you’ll be more likely to sleep. An added bonus? Your body will be better adjusted to the time zone when you arrive.
Some people have no problem sleeping on a plane. Others find it nearly impossible. There are a few subliminal cues which will help ease you into slumber:
- Pack your toothbrush and other before-bed ritual items, such as face wash or a disposable face cloth. Use the restroom to brush your teeth and prepare for “bed”.
- Pack and eye mask in your carry on. There are weighted eye masks that help you relax more easily as well as lavender-scented masks to promote sleep. You can even find eye masks with wired headphones built in to connect to your phone and the white noise recording you downloaded.
- If necessary you can use OTC or physician-prescribed sleep aids. Just make sure you’ve tried them before. No one wants to arrive at an unfamiliar destination groggy and confused and certainly you don’t want to experience an unknown reaction to sleeping pills at 35,000 feet. Also, don’t take your sleep medication until you’re on board the plane and ready to sleep.
- Arrive Refreshed
As you get closer to the end of your flight you may want to freshen up. Be sure to pack a small “in-flight kit” to take with you to the restroom. This kit should include your toothbrush and toothpaste, travel size (under 3.4 oz) mouthwash, Moisturizer is always a good idea due to the drying atmosphere of the plane.
- This and That
Obviously flying has changed a lot in recent history. Check with your airlines about travel requirements for face masks, proof of Covid vaccine, etc. Make sure to wash your hands frequently and it’s always a good idea to bring along a travel-pack of disposable sanitizing wipes to keep your immediate area (tray table, seat belt, arm rests, etc) disinfected.
Feeling cramped? Do some in-seat stretches or get up and move about the plane, iff allowed.
Before your flight:
- Get a good night’s sleep the night before your trip.
- Try to get some exercise and fresh air before you head to the airport.
- Eat healthy whole foods.
- Measure and weigh your carry-on and double check contents to ensure it meets the security and airline regulations before you get to the airport.
- Weigh your checked luggage to make sure it’s under the 50 lb. max or be ready to pay extra.
- Have your passport, tickets and any other paperwork you may need in an easy-to-access area of your carry-on
In nearly three decades I’ve learned the best ways to make flying long distances as comfortable as possible. Plan ahead for your long-haul flight and you will land at your exciting destination ready to enjoy the trip of a lifetime.