Last weekend I embarked on my first long haul flight. We’re talkin’ a 16 hour non-stop flight from Dubai to Auckland.
Upon planning my current excursion (going on 3 months abroad) I’d actually done quite a bit of research on super long flights (specifically for this part of the trek) as I was worried about certain elements that I’d heard on the news in the past, like people getting blood clots and dying on the way to their destination. What? Yeah. Scary stuff. But the good news is those cases are extremely rare and what I’ve since learned—now first-hand—is that these flights are actually not so bad!
Therefore, here are my tips for surviving a long haul flight:
BEFORE THE FLIGHT
The majority of these tips are preparatory as you’ll find life so much easier, and the flight so much more enjoyable, if you go into it knowing you’ve done as much preparation and planning as possible—and as much as you’re comfortable with—in order to make the long haul flight experience a breeze.
BOOK A WINDOW SEAT
This is for anyone who may not have someone to lean on and/or those of us who don’t worry so much about pee breaks. As a solo traveler I always, always, always try to get a window seat. I can squish those little pillows the airlines give you into the pocket of the window with the shade down and hope for a nap.
I tend to do well at holding my bathroom breaks for when the person(s) next to me need to go so I don’t worry too much about that. Though on this flight I did climb over a sleeping fellow traveler. She had no clue! It was all fine. 🙂
If, on the other hand, you’ve got a cozy neck pillow, you’re really good at sleeping sitting up, and you want to ensure those pee breaks and walkabouts are free to you as you please, then definitely aim for an aisle seat. You know you best.
CONFIRM VEGAN MEALS WITH AIRLINE AHEAD OF TIME
Ah the big question is: “What about food?” Most big airlines that have long haul flights do offer vegetarian and vegan meal options. The results are often mixed. Even on beloved vegan-friendly airlines like Emirates, you may find something of the dairy nature on the meager tray of food you get every 5 or so hours.
Therefore, don’t be afraid to call the airline immediately after booking your ticket online to confirm the strict vegan status of your meals. Do so again about a month before the flight, just to confirm.
Even though I did this I still ended up with some definitive non-vegan things on my “strict vegan” labeled food trays.
And that brings us to the next tip…
PACK SNACKS (many snacks)
Regardless of the food on the plane, you can be sure you’ll get peckish at random times and perhaps a tiny box of raisins or a teeny bag of nuts just won’t do. Leave some room in your carry-on for a small bag of snacks. Or, depending on what types of carry-ons you’re allowed, you could bring a bigger grocery bag or tote bag full of yums to keep you from getting hungry or a stomach ache.
Small pre-packaged things, like hummus, chips, cookies, crackers, and fresh fruit, are always handy. NOTE: Depending on what country you’re flying into, you may be required to discard some of the food stuffs. So be prepared to throw some things out if you don’t eat them!
BRING TURMERIC PILLS (in lieu of aspirin)
This is my new secret weapon! 🙂 When I was doing initial research on long haul flights I found myself perusing the health care section of a natural grocer. I was looking for something like aspirin that would be a good anti-inflammatory (for those terrifying blood clots) and good for overall health (as to not catch a cold while en route).
One of the employees asked what I was looking for and then suggested turmeric pills. He explained how turmeric is a natural supplement that’s good for our bodies in multiple ways (including the items mentioned above), and is much better than taking harmful aspirin.
He suggested taking one pill per day leading up to the flight, and then 2-3 during the flight. I put the pills to a bit of test before this particular flight. You see, I’d taken them during my 12 hour trek to Turkey a few months ago. All was great. But then when I was in Germany last month I caught a bit of a cold from a friend. The person I was staying with got the same cold as well.
I popped turmeric 3 times a day on the morning I woke up feeling like poo. The very next day, I was nearly back to normal. The person I was staying with however was sick for a full week.
Okay now a few other factors came into play here: I had a full day of bed rest while she was at work, and of course our bodies are totally different so perhaps I was fighting the cold off in a different way, regardless of the turmeric.
No matter, from that point on I have entrusted turmeric with a portion of my health, and I stand by it as a good supplement all around—not just for travel! 🙂
BRING A SMALL BOTTLE OF ESSENTIAL OIL
I’m a fan of essential oils, and for about three years now I have been using one called “On Guard” by the dōTERRA brand. Made up of clove bud, orange peel, cinnamon bark, eucalyptus leaf, and rosemary flower, it’s a potent elixir intended to boost the body’s immune and respiratory systems, and general cardiovascular function.
Taken daily it’s supposed to be super effective, but I remember to use it about 2-3 times a week. You can use it topically (I rub some on the souls of my feet after a shower, dab onto each wrist, and a few dabs on each side of my neck), consume it diluted in water, or diffused into the air.
I absolutely love the smell of it and always be sure to use it several days before, during, and after any flights I go on.
CONSIDER MELATONIN PILLS (do not take sleeping pills)
I know many people who proudly pack medical grade sleeping pills for long trips but I’d urge you not to. Those blood clots and other rare cases of people being injured or unwell during long flights in particular have been (in some cases) linked to a person being totally out of it from sleeping pills. When we’re knocked out like that we don’t feel natural body sensations (like tingly or “sleeping” limbs) which are important for knowing when we need to shift or move our bodies, enabling healthful blood circulation.
Instead you may consider a more natural option: melatonin pills. Melatonin is naturally occurring in our bodies. It works in conjunction with daylight and darkness, releasing into our bodies when it’s time to sleep.
Some say that popping a few melatonin pills when trying to sleep at ‘unnatural’ times helps. Personally, I’ve tried them on a number of occasions to no success. So, if you want to try this route, do some research and find out to best use them, if at all. They just might work for you!
CARRY ON LAYERS OF CLOTHES
Inevitably throughout your flight it’s going to get too hot and then too cold. And then you’ll want lighter socks or a fresh t-shirt. Even just throwing in a scarf will do. Pack a few extra pieces of clothing so you may stay body temp comfortable as best you can.
PACK A BOX OF ‘JETZONE’ + EAR PLUGS
In the realm of staying comfortable, you may wish to bring ear plugs and a sleeping mask. So far though, in my experience on any flight longer than 4 hours, the airline may provide these things for you. But it’s not a sure thing (unless maybe you call ahead to ask).
Remember the person who helped me settle on turmeric pills? They also suggested I pick up a box of JetZone: Jet Lag Prevention. It touts being a “natural” product and better than more traditional jet lag medicines. You’re intended to take it before, during, and after your flight.
The packaging states: “A homeopathic combination for the temporary relief of the disruptions in circadian rhythms and fatigue associated with jet lag from flying and the symptoms of insomnia, exhaustion, irritability, and anxiety.”
I did pick up a box, but to be honest I completely forgot about it and it was stored away in a bag that *should* have been carry-on but had to be checked at the gate. So I couldn’t get it. So far (day 2 on a different hemisphere) I’m doing alright! I haven’t felt the need to start taking it. But it’s potentially a good backup nonetheless.
CONSIDER NECK SUPPORT + COMPRESSION SOCKS
I always see fellow travelers with their u-shaped neck pillows and have read many an article about the benefits of compression socks (particularly if your ankles and/or feet are prone to swelling if you sit for long periods of time).
Often I find myself in envy of those fast asleep with their cozy neck pillows but I’ve yet to get one myself. I’ve managed alright with those little pillows they give you. And sometimes I bunch up my jacket or extra layers into a ball for extra padding. It may not be pretty but it’s worked for me so far!
DURING THE FLIGHT
The following in-flight suggestions are pretty straight forward so we’ll keep this section shorter. Here are some things to consider DURING your long haul flight:
DRINK LOTS OF WATER
I’m sure you’ve heard it before: stay hydrated! Bring a water bottle or two on board, don’t be afraid to ring the flight attendant for as many glasses of water you may need, and instead of getting that complimentary coffee or an alcoholic beverage, consider just straight up water. It’s better for your body while it’s going through a particularly unusual and possibly stressful few days.
IMMEDIATELY SET YOUR BODY CLOCK TO THAT OF YOUR DESTINATION
One of the most common tips I’ve heard and read about is that of attempting to—as quickly as possible and as best you can—set your sleep cycle to that of your destination.
Before boarding, check the local time of where you’re going and set subsequent alarms on your phone or watch to remind yourself of when you should try to sleep or try to stay awake. If you can manage this in any capacity, it’ll be the quickest way to avoid and/or get over potential jet lag.
WALK AROUND + STRETCH EVERY FEW HOURS (or when you feel you need t0)
Because I’m relatively small I can kind of curl into myself and twist into a ball or raise my arms high, mostly without disturbing the person next to me. So, I haven’t felt the need to walk as much as I see others suggesting to do on long haul flights.
Having said that, when I do get up to use the toilet I do some leg lifts, heel stretches; I hang my head down for a minute or so and swing my arms about. I don’t care if it looks silly. Keeping my body from cramping up or getting hurt is way more important!
Don’t be shy! If you nailed that window seat it’s okay to tap the person next to you to ask them to let you out. They’ll probably be glad for an opportunity to stretch a bit themselves too.
USE THIS AS ‘ME’ TIME
Zen out! If you’ve exhausted your music list and are tired of staring at the bright screen in a dimly lit cabin, close your eyes, meditate, focus on your breathing, relax your body, envision each of your limbs being relaxed. Maybe even download a few meditations on your phone or iPad for guidance.
One of my favorites is simple: I close my eyes and count to 10. I breath in on 1 and out on 2, in on 3, and out on 4, and so on – until reaching 10 and then starting over again. I often find this puts me right to sleep (some of the time)!
ACCEPT THAT THIS IS YOUR REALITY
Even though I’m not generally a nervous flyer, I was psyching myself out a bit for this long haul one, wondering if I’d panic at the fact that I couldn’t really go anywhere for 16 hours, or just trying to wrap my head around a plane traveling THAT far without stopping. Crazy.
But once I was on board and saw how chill everyone else was, I relaxed, accepted that it was just going to be a long friggin’ flight, and went with it.
AFTER THE FLIGHT
What you do when you land is just as important as all that preparatory work. You’ve made it! You’ve landed, and now it’s time to ensure you can jump right into exploration of your new destination. With that in mind, here are some ways to avoid dreaded jet lag and take care of your body:
EAT A FILLING MEAL
No matter the meal options on the plane you might feel unsatisfied and/or even have a mild stomach ache (I did!). I knew I needed healthful and filling foods. The first thing I did was find a restaurant with nourishing foods; but tempering myself too – not overdoing it.
WALK, WALK, WALK (or go for a run/jog)
You’ve been sitting for a long time. After your food digests you might be inclined to take a nap, so instead go for a walk to explore your new destination. Or even for a short jog or run, if that’s your thing. Get your body moving to combat any cramps or other discomforts from the flight.
AVOID JET LAG
Do whatever it takes [WHATEVER IT TAKES] to immediately be on the schedule of your new destination. Try as best you can to go to bed at your usual time (say it’s 10PM) but in your new time zone. This may mean enduring some caffeine or kombucha or whatever your method of staying awake might be.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, consider that melatonin – OR – try as best you can to rest even if you’re not fully sleeping. Force your body into it a bit.
I’m also not fully opposed to short (see: SHORT) naps as you’re adjusting as well. Just be smart about it and don’t oversleep as to let your body stay on your old cycle.
I hope these tips help you prepare for your first or fifth long haul flight. At the end of the day it wasn’t bad at all once I accepted what was happening, and made adjustments as my body needed.
You got this! 🙂