5 Tips for Making Long Haul Flights More Bearable

This post has emerged out of my experience flying from New Zealand to South Africa, via Dubai. In total this journey took just over 27 hours and I changed time zones by 10 hours. Essentially night became day and day became night, and in-between I had a lot of time in the air to deal with…

1) Adjust your watch to the new time zone as soon as you get on the plane

The first bit of advice and probably the best I’ve received is to change your watch (or phone, or whatever you use to keep the time) to the time at your destination as soon as you get on the plane. This will give you a massive head start on adjusting to your new time zone. I began my long marathon flight by having a couple of RedBulls to keep me awake whilst everyone else was sleeping. I did this is because I knew that it was day time at my destination so why sleep if I shouldn’t be where I was going? When it came time to sleep, I had a scotch, put on the eye mask & headphones and after a while, drifted off.

2) Bring enough entertainment

For this one preparation is key! Make sure you bring enough with you depending on how long your flight is. Yes in flight entertainment has gotten a lot better, however if you try and watch movies for over 24 hours you may go a bit mad… I always find that bringing different forms of entertainment is a great way to keep boredom at bay and break up the journey. For example, as well as making use of the movies and TV the airline offers, bring a magazine or paper to read, have some puzzles or sudoku on hand, get lost in a good book or audiobook, listen to some podcasts or music, or have a few games ready. I personally downloaded all of the Harry Potter audiobooks and managed to use up a massive amount of time with Stephen Fry’s soothing voice reading to me. You also don’t need a Nintendo Switch (which as a side note sounds like the absolute ideal time waster for a flight if you love console gaming and have the money) or handheld console to enjoy games, there are lots of great games on phones these days, I’d personally massively recommend ‘the room’ series of puzzle games, they don’t have replay-ability but are ideal for using up a bunch of time.

3) Function over fashion

By this I mean wear something comfortable that you’d happily lounge around at home in. Now I’m not advocating rocking up in your dressing gown and slippers by any means, what I’m recommending is simply dressing comfortably. It will make so much difference when you fly long haul to be in comfy clothes. If you’re one of those people that likes to look smart on flights that’s fine, on long haul flights it’s not actually that uncommon to have people turn up in their smart clothes (for example a suit) and then get changed during the flight into clothes they brought in their hand luggage. If you’re going to be sat in the same seat for over 10 hours worth of flying, it’s most definitely worth it. On top of this I’d also recommend taking your shoes off or bringing comfy slippers, having a bit of freedom for your feet also makes a difference. As an add on for this, do try to be considerate to your fellow passengers. If you’ve just hiked for three days in the same socks and boots it’s probably best to not have these as the ones you bring on and take off on the flight.

4) Have a wander

I’m not one of those people who knows about all the circulation exercises people advise you should do on planes, I’m aware of them and might occasionally wiggle my feet, but that’s about it. However, you should definitely get up and have a wander about occasionally. Not only does it benefit you health wise but it actually feels good to get up out of your seat and have a bit of a change of scenery. It breaks up the journey and makes it seem less like you’re stuck in your chair the whole time. As a bonus, sometimes on long haul flights they leave out free snacks by the serving area, and who doesn’t love free snacks.

5) Sleep!

This one is great, because if you can sleep on flights then that’s a huge amount of the journey done already, happy days. However for a lot of people this is not easy to do at all, especially if like most of us you’ll be on a budget, sitting in economy and trying to sleep on seats that barely recline. Technology is on hand however, and here are some pointers on making sleeping on the plane all that much easier.

– Quality sound reducing headphones

Now I’d tested some of these out but always thought they were a bit pricey. Then a friend showed me his pair of Bose headphones as he worked in Africa and did a lot of long haul travelling. He swore by them, so whilst feeling grumpy waiting at the airport for a delayed flight (as we usually do) I ended up purchasing a pair on the way back from the States. They are fantastic and the difference it makes to have the majority of airplane noise blocked out is phenomenal, not to mention if you don’t like over ear/stereo type headphones, they now come in smaller in ear versions.

– Eye mask & Ear Plugs

Luckily most long haul airlines should provide these. However sometimes the eye masks are not actually that great, and you can still see light through them. If you have sound reducing headphones you probably won’t be needing the earplugs, but unfortunately sometimes the free low quality free earplugs don’t fit too well. So I would recommend bringing your own of both of these, they’re pretty cheap to purchase.

– Decent Neck Pillow

Now I always judgingly looked at people with neck pillows and thought to myself ‘they look a bit stupid, what a pain to carry that weird looking thing around’, until I got one. To be completely honest I’m still on a journey to find that perfect neck pillow, however the difference just having one makes to comfort is incredible. It allows you to rest your head on something so it’s not upright, which for me is the main barrier of sleeping. Also it’s really comfortable just to have that support, and with the variety of neck pillows out there you should be able to find one to suit your budget and needs.

– Sleep Playlist

This one is probably the most unusual on the list but I’ve found having a playlist of calming music to fall asleep to really helps. I don’t mean whale noises or anything like that, unless that floats your boat. I personally have a late night jazz playlist I listen to that not only is pretty relaxing on its own, but once you’ve listened to it a few times your brain will get used to falling asleep to those songs, making the process all the more easier.

– Have a couple of drinks to relax you

As I’ve never taken sleeping pills (for reasons I don’t quite know) and because I’m a big fan of whiskey in general, I always have a couple of drinks to help me get to sleep. Whiskey is my choice as it’s one of those spirits that makes you feel calm and relaxed and ready for a nice nap. This doesn’t mean get absolutely hammered and pass out, it’s just having a couple of drinks to relax you a bit and help to ease that transition.

So there you have it, my top tips on making long haul survivable. Anything I haven’t mentioned that’s worked for you? Post it in the comments, I’d love to hear it.

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