If you ask a North American what a long-haul flight means, most will tell you about the torture of a 7-hour flight to Europe or the time they spent 16 hours in transit to South America.
When you ask an Australian, that’s a short flight! A flight from Sydney to LA takes about 15 hours, and that’s not counting any other destinations on either side. Getting to Europe usually means going through the Asia or the Middle East for a longish layover.
Between the two of us, we’ve done dozens of these types of trips now. It never gets any less annoying, but I’ve found a few good tricks to make the experience of flying long distances a bit more bearable:
Be ruthlessly organised
When I travel overseas, I usually take one larger bag for the overhead compartment and one smaller bag for under my seat. I try to make the larger bag as light as possible so I’m not lugging around too much weight while still having access to everything I need. I make sure that neither bag is stuffed full (at least on the way there) so that I can stash things like my neck pillow in there while on my layovers.
Within these bags, almost everything is in its own bag or pouch so that I’m not spilling all my stuff around the boarding gate or onto the person sitting next to me. This also makes it easier to keep track of everything and avoid losing something important, like headphones or sleep aid medication.
Pack a foldable tote bag in your carry-on
I always pack a small, easily foldable tote bag in my carry-on to hold anything I might buy in the airport or store any overflow items that I need within easy access but don’t fit in my small carry-on bag. The foldable tote is also useful if you’ve got a heavy bag; once you get through check-in and security with your maximum two bags, you can empty a few things into the tote and readjust your weight distribution.
I usually do the same with a small purse– I’ll keep it in my carry-on until I get to the boarding area, then take it out and use it to easily purchase things in the airport or access my phone.
Take a change of clothes for each section of the trip
Inside my larger bag is always several changes of clothes– up to 4 different outfits for my most long-haul flights of more than 24 hours. I put each full outfit, change of underwear and socks included, in its own labelled ziplock bag so I can take it out of my carry-on easily.
Why do this? It’s the only way I’ve found that allows me to show up at the end of the trip looking and feeling like something fresher and more energetic than a wrung-out dishrag. It makes it easier to sleep during the trip and start exploring when you get to your destination, too.
Take my flight to Italy a few years ago, which took over 40 hours and included a layover in Delhi, India. I packed one casual outfit with leggings and a dark top for the 12-hour flight from Melbourne to India; one set of soft leggings and top for sleeping in for the overnight layover (if I’m on the plane overnight, I still change into a pyjama-like outfit when it gets to a decent sleeping hour), then changed into another comfortable but nice outfit when I woke up the next morning, which I wore on the 8-hour flight from Delhi to Rome. Lastly, I had a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals to change into between disembarking and the baggage claim. I was met by M. and his sister at Arrivals looking like I’d gotten off a 5-hour flight instead of a 2-day trip. We ended up staying out until 1am and I still managed to look normal and not smell.
You have to trick yourself mentally with these types of flights, and changing clothes makes a big difference making long-haul travel less painful.
Change your clocks (almost) immediately
Like my clothing change trick, changing your clocks right away is key. You should be using a long-haul flight as your first step in dealing with the time change. If I’m going to North America and I board my flight in the morning in Australia, I’ll try to remind myself that it should actually be evening for me and start acting accordingly.
Watch out for one thing, though– I never change my phone’s clock until I’m safely on the plane. If you do it too early, you risk losing track of time and not arriving to board your flight! Similarly, I only change my clock to the next destination’s timezone if I’m on a layover. It’s all well and good to be thinking on Ontario time, but that’s not going to help me if I have to catch a flight in LA first.
Still, do yourself a favour and get the worst day of jet lag over with while you’re still in the air.
I do try to eat healthy, sleep as much as possible, and get some exercise or at least stretching in where I can on a long-haul flight. But when you really look at what you’re asking yourself to do in the course of an international flight, all of that seems like a pretty big ask.
So within reason, I give myself a break when I’m flying overseas. I already have to sit in the airplane beside someone I don’t know for three times the amount of time than I typically spend at work or in bed; I’m going to treat myself.
So have that free class of wine, ask for an extra bread roll, buy a bag of sweet treats from your layover destination, and grab as many trashy magazines as your extra tote can hold. Why not? You’re on holiday! Act like it!
What are your best tips for long-haul flights? Is there anything I’ve never considered in my 5 years of taking 24+ hour flights?