Having a toe in so many parts of the world means we travel, a lot.
The hubs and I have just hopped off our most recent 18 hour flight from Melbourne to LAX, LAX to SFO, SFO to SEA-TAC.
I tried to count it last night, and I think this around the 20th time we’ve done this flight– and of course that means I have some excellent tips for you on how to survive your own long haul international flight.
Whether this is your first time flying internationally and you’re looking for some advice, or if you’ve already made a few long haul trips and are looking to up your game, the following is my personal bible on how to arrive fresh, rested, and ready to take on whatever adventure you have in store.
Sleeping on the plane:
• Bring something like a scarf that you can wrap around your neck and mouth when you decide it’s time to go to sleep. It’s amazing how much easier it is to sleep when you’re not self conscious about other people watching your mouth hang open!
• Wear warm footwear, or bring warm socks to put on after you sit down. They ice things down in there, and it’s hard to sleep with cold feet! In the past I’ve just worn warm socks, but this gets annoying when you want to put shoes on to go to the bathroom (and believe me, don’t wear your socks in there.) AND my feet were still cold.
This last trip I wore thick socks and my boots, it was divine.
• Bring an eye-mask you are already comfortable wearing, and don’t count on the flimsy one they give you in the back of your seat. My husband and I have these small eye-bra contraptions that we wear, they look ridiculous but they are comfortable dark bliss.
• No matter HOW tempting it is, do not put your knees and or feet up on the seat in front of you in any way. Instead, place the pillow they gave you behind your lower back, tilt your chair all the way back (don’t worry about the people behind you, they’re doing the same thing), and keep your feet straight out in-front of you on the ground, with a slight bend in your knees.
This is the best position to sleep in for a long period of time, without any body parts going numb or getting smacked by a passerby in the aisle.
• Before you go to sleep, get up for a lap of the plane every 30 – 60 minutes. Not only is this good to avoid blood clots during the long flight, but it also eases your muscles so they don’t become restless and wake you up while you’re trying to get some shut eye.
• If music helps you sleep, prepare a playlist before you board the plane. Make sure there are no ‘rocking’ songs that come on and wake up your brain. *Make sure* your headphones are comfortable to wear for long periods of time, the ones apple gives you for free do not fall into this category – they will make your ears ache. Instead bring a good pair of over-ear headphones, or simply bring ear plugs. They provide earplugs and headphones on the plane, but the headphones are crap and the plugs are ‘one size fits all’ which ends up helping no one.
• THIS IS IMPORTANT: Before going to sleep, follow your bedtime routine AS CLOSELY AS POSSIBLE. This means brushing your teeth, washing your face, applying moisturizer, etc. The more like real ‘bedtime’ you treat the time you will sleep on the plane, the more likely your body is to let you go to sleep.
• Have a set time in your head that you will try to go to sleep, and stick to this time. Not only will this help you avoid jet-lag on the other side, but it prevents you from accidentally keeping your brain awake too long to actually go to sleep. If you take the approach ‘oh, I’ll just watch movies until I’m tired’, you’ll land overseas having seen every batman and transformers ever made, but not gotten a wink of sleep.
• Keep your blanket up to your shoulders, and over your lap. Buckle your seat belt OVER the blanket, and keep it buckled the entire time. If you don’t do this, the flight crew will wake you up to make sure you’re buckled in.
• Sleep when everyone else is sleeping. Once they finish food service and turn down the lights, this is an excellent time to try and get some shut eye. If you try to sleep too early, they’ll make you move your chair for the person’s food tray behind you. If you hold out on sleep too long, same thing happens once breakfast starts.
• Bring a comfy neck pillow that you have tested before getting on the plane. Do not wear it around the back of your neck, instead, pull the flaps of the seat up on either side of your head, and tuck the neck pillow under your chin like a neck brace. This is by far the comfiest way to keep your head in place. (I can toats recommend a non traditional neck pillow like this one.)
• Get up to pee before you sleep even if you don’t think you have to.
• Stop drinking fluids one hour before sleep time
• The most ideal seat for sleeping on the plane is not in fact the window seat, it is the aisle seat.
• Create a small, tightly packed carry on for your seat, and put everything else in the overhead bin.* The pack for your seat should be full of ONLY the things you’ll need regularly during the flight, and should almost be able to fit in the seat pocket. Having no bag under your feet makes A HUGE DIFFERENCE to your quality of sleep.
* There is an exception to this rule. If your ankles are super sensitive and prone to swelling, bring a bag you don’t mind putting your feet on, and sleep with your feet on top of your bag to get enough elevation to keep the swelling down.
How to not break out / not dry out / not age 10 years / not get puffy while you fly
A long haul flight with recycled dry air can really mess up your skin, sending it into a crazy spiral that could take a whole two weeks to clear up. Follow these tips and people will actually tell you how good (not tired) you look when you get off the plane:
• As soon as you sit down, remove your makeup with proper makeup removing wipes. I would avoid bringing actual face wash as trying to wash your face as the tiny toilets and long lines for them can be a bother.
• After removing makeup, apply a serum, and then a heavier moisturizer than you normally use, or double the amount of your normal moisturizer. (Unless you generally have oily skin, in which case just moisturize as per usual routine.) Make sure to coat it on thick around your eyes, and any other spots you typically experience dryness.
• Optional: 8 hours into the flight or just before sleeping, cleanse face and repeat the above process.
• Around one hour before landing, cleanse face and apply your ‘normal’ amount of moisturizer and any makeup you want to wear. Personally I only bring my primer and mascara in my carry on, and apply these at this point. It makes my skin look refreshed and glowing and my eyes bright, without having to do a full face of make up. No one expects you to get off a 15 hour plane ride with movie star makeup, but it’s amazing how far a little mascara and attention to your skin will go.
• *Optional: When I get on the plane, I wear something that looks nice but is comfy enough to sleep in, or run through the airport in if the need arises. In my carry on I stash fresh undergarments and a *nicer* outfit, such as a skirt and a top, to change into the hour before we land. (Note, change directly after breakfast service, otherwise you won’t have time. If you do it before breakfast, you’ll sit too long in your fresh outfit and feel grotty.) Then going through customs I look totally fresh, smell nice, and while I’m still looking forward to a shower – I don’t feel totally disgusting and desperate.
• When flying Virgin, they will give you a small bottle of water, and then keep infinite water at stations in the middle of the plane, next to the infinite supply of free chips (YUM). Drink one of these small bottles of water every hour, or more if you can be bothered. This ties in nicely to the regular walking you should be doing in the plane, as you can fill up your water bottle along the way.
– Not only is this water good for your skin, it helps your body adjust to the environment
– You sleep better when well hydrated
– Your ankles are going to swell due to sitting for so long + the air pressure. Walking and drinking water can nearly eliminate this.
• Worried about arriving and your ankles are too big for your shoes? Wear knee-length compression socks and walk/stretch regularly while you are awake to eliminate this from happening. Once you get off the plane, sleep that night with a pillow underneath your calves to drain them 🙂
Surviving the 15 hour ride: Entertainment
• Don’t count on their in-seat entertainment. While yes, they will have a few movies and TV shows you’re keen to watch – you never really know what they’re going to have and if you’re really going to enjoy it. Got netflixs? Download the app on your phone and save shows / movies you KNOW you want to watch, just in case the in-seat stuff doesn’t cut it. Do this two days before the flight to avoid netflix letting your downloads ‘expire’.
• Bring a book, unless you are a seasoned TV marathoner, staring at the screen is going to get boring.
• Have a good pair of headphones, and want to listen to the in-seat entertainment? Make sure to purchase and bring one of a headphone splitter jack things for the seat, otherwise known as Travel Headphone Audio Adapter. Some planes allow you to plug in a single jack, but most international flights require the dual jack – which is why they provide you with (crappy) free headphones. If you bring your own dual jack thing (go into any electronics store and they’ll know what I’m talking about) then you can listen to the in-seat entertainment in the comfort of your superior headphones.
• DO NOT look at the ‘map’ in the in-seat entertainment.
It shows you exactly where you are over the ocean, and how long until you reach your destination. Fun? NO it’s a torture device. Nothing slows down time like the counting of it’s passage, and if you keep looking at this map it will make your 15 hour flight FEEL like a 15 hour flight. It’s amazing how fast time will go when you’re not paying attention to it. You know you’re traveling over the ocean, you know you are headed to Brisbane, there is nothing of interest the map can really deliver to you. Don’t give in.
The only moment you should look at the time is to glance at your phone/watch (which you changed to your destination time when you boarded the plane) to see if it’s your bedtime yet.
Important to avoid jet lag: switch all your time telling devices to the time of your destination as soon as you sit down on the plane. Use this to go to sleep / generally behave in line with the time of your destination. It goes a long way in combating jet lag!
Surviving the 15 hour flight: Food
• Alcohol is free, from gin & tonics to glasses of wine. *However* I recommend having ZERO alcoholic beverages. Free drinks are great! But not as great as sleeping better. Also, you won’t bloat as much, and your body will be more inclined to adjust to the new time zone upon arrival. In fact, I recommend avoiding alcohol for at least 24 hours after your arrival. Want to beat jet lag and feel energized and awesome? Then put that pint down mate.
• Generally the meals without meat will look the most appetizing, and that is usually what I will order. However, the food has gotten pretty good these days, and even if the meat doesn’t *look* amazing, it does actually taste pretty good. Just don’t expect airplane food to look *good*.
– You’ll get sweets and stuff with each meal, avoid eating any sugar if possible. I notice when the sugar is avoided, it’s like avoiding the alcohol. You’ll sleep better, and bloat less.
• Whatever you do, don’t skip dinner. Eat! However I would say breakfast after you wake up is optional. I will usually skip it because I can’t be bothered sitting with the rubbish on my tray for an hour.
• On Virgin Australia they have FREE CRISPS!!! Never ending free crisps, soft drinks, and water! You’ll find these stations towards the front of the cabin and over the wings. The crew keep them topped up through the night, perfect snacks for your last movie before bedtime. Again, I would avoid sugar, so pick the ‘coke zero’ if you feel like you need a fizzy drink. Whenever possible, guzzle water.
Arrival at Customs
• The flight crew give you a little card to fill out moments after you board the plane. Bring a black pen with you and fill it out as soon as you have it in your hand so you can safely stash it with your passport and not have to worry about it when you remember it last second.
• There are these fancy new electronic customs gate things, they look like ATMs, most people don’t realize what they are and will walk past. These things are GOLD – scan your passport and make your declaration, take the ticket it spits out, and you will skip the GIANT line waiting for you on the other side.