How To: Survive an International Flight


If you’re prepping for a holiday overseas, here are a few tips that should make your time in the air a bit more enjoyable. Although, even I couldn’t prepare for the time I woke up with a baby sleeping on my tray table. Even so, here’s how to best survive an international flight and walk away with a smile.

Comfort First

Comfort is the absolute most important thing on a flight. If you’re not comfortable, you probably won’t sleep, at least not well and you’ll most certainly be irritable when you land. Think about all the little essentials that really make you cozy and comfy.  When do you feel snug as a bug? Why is that so? For me, it all has to do with being warm and creating a nice sleeping environment.

First and foremost, dress comfortably!  If you want to look like a boss when you arrive at your destination you can always change at the airport.  That business suit will get wrinkled on the flight anyway, so skip the skirt and wear a pair of loose pants and other nonrestrictive clothes.  I always pack a pair of warm socks too.  Usually I wear flip flops or moccasins at the airport so they’re easy to slip on and off, which means I’m not wearing socks, but once your toes are close to frostbite you remember to bring socks on all future plane and bus rides!  I also always take some type of blanket, usually a sarong, to cover up with on the plane.  Yes, the airline provides blankets, yes, they smell and feel weird, and no, they aren’t warm, so take your own if you like to be tucked in like me.  Lots of peeps also take a neck rest or some type of pillow, but I find that using my sweatshirt or some other article of clothing in my carryon works just as well for me.  Although when I was leaving for Thailand for eight months, I took my own feather pillow because I knew I would want it for my apartment anyway.  It all really depends on your destination and how much you’re willing to tote around.

Go To Sleep

It goes without saying that sleeping will make your flight fly by, no pun intended.  You’ll also get a jumpstart on any jet lag you may experience.  Usually my flights leave early (because those are the cheapest tickets) so I can get away with not sleeping the night before and immediately passing out once I’m on the plane.  If your schedule doesn’t work out so nicely, you should seriously consider a sleep aid for the flight.  Even if you don’t usually take medicine (like myself) this is an exception and a well deserved one.  In the past, I had mild pain killers left over from injuries that did the trick, but you could also try something even lighter like NyQuil or Benadryl.  Really you just need a tiny push into dreamland and you’ll most likely stay there for a few pleasant hours.  If you are comfortable talking to your doctor (you should be!) it is common to be prescribed two or three pills for a flight in order to calm your nerves.  As long as you’re not a drug abuser, most practitioners are very understanding of anxiety related to flying and will happily help you out.  If you only subscribe to homeopathy, at least take a calming lavender spray or some chamomile tea.


Hydrate Everything

Flights are dry, like uncomfortably dry. Definitely drink lots and lots of water.  For the most part, I avoid alcohol in the air because I already feel dehydrated out of the gate.  I’m constantly sipping on water, tea and sometimes even a little Gatorade. It doesn’t end there though, your eyes, lips and skin will feel really dry too.  I always pack chapstick, a small lotion and vaseline and a bottle of eyedrops.  In my every day life, it’s pretty rare that I use eyedrops, but I’m always grateful to have them in the air.  The lotion is for my face and hands and the vaseline comes out when I’m feeling particularly uncomfortable.  I’ll use vaseline on my lips and even inside my nose.  Have you ever tried doing that or do you think I’m totally strange?  I actually pull that maneuver a lot, especially when I’m visiting Katie in Colorado.

Occupy Yourself

There is nothing worse than feeling restless and bored when you’re stuck in a crammed seat.  Bring a good book (or a boring one that will put you to sleep), your favorite podcasts, and crosswords or sudokus to help occupy your time.  I shy away from bringing out my laptop or tablet because my aim is to always be on the verge of sleep.  Bright screens and serious work do just the opposite for me.  If you like watching TV, you’ll have a nice time perusing the selections on the flight.  This time around I was able to watch the animated film Inside Out, which I highly recommend! I also caught up on a bunch of documentaries and travel shows, including a neat whale shark project that’s happening in Qatar.


Refresh and Repeat

I always shower before I fly.  It just feels better to be sitting clean instead of stinky, wouldn’t you agree?  While in the air, I enjoy taking the time to freshen up after a long nap.  It helps me to feel clean and comfortable again and believe it or not, could send me right back into a slumber.  If you fly with Qatar Air or another quality airline, you’ll get a little goodie bag with toothpaste and a towelette.  If you aren’t familiar with the airline you’re flying, pack a tiny travel case of baby wipes and some mouthwash.  You’ll be surprised at how great it feels to wash your face and hands when you’re stuck in the same stale spot for fourteen hours.

A few more tips:

  • If you can, log into your flight itinerary and pick your seat a day or two before the flight that way you can see how full the plane is.  You might get lucky and choose a seat in an empty row.  On the way to Nepal, the gentleman at the end of my row choose his seat the morning of because he saw the middle seat was empty.  We both had two arm rests and a place to stash any extra stuff we were given by the flight attendants.  It was also nice to only shuffle over one person instead of two every time I had to use the toilet.

  • Are you a window or an aisle person? Nobody is a middle seat person.  Do you always have to pee (like me!) or do you want to look out the window?Obviously I love taking photos during flights so I choose the window seat every time, but it really is a hard decision since I’m always getting up to go to the bathroom.

  • Choose the veggie meal.  You can always switch at the last minute if you want, but honestly the veggie meals rock.  Especially the raw meals that some airlines offer.  Fresh fruit and vegetables are full of water and they are a luxury in the air.  Our taste is highly compromised at high altitudes anyway so why shovel weird, meaty goop into your mouth when you could be crunching on carrots?

  • If you’re flying international, it makes sense to have a smaller carry on bag with only the essentials that way you’re not lugging a big suitcase around during any layovers you might have.  I always make sure to pack my comfort cache, any electronics and fragile items, and a change of clothes, but other than that I stow the rest in my checked luggage.

  • Bring a few of your favorite snacks, treats and teabags.  It might sound silly, but treat yourself like you would a toddler.  What will make you happy when you’re feeling cranky? A snack! Don’t settle for salty peanuts, buy yourself that special bar of chocolate you usually skip out on.  I always take some almonds, dark chocolate and my favorite tea.  The treat factor does more for my attitude than the actual sustenance, but it makes all the difference.

Happy flying! Remember, if you need a flight buddy, buy me a ticket and I’ll sit in the middle next to you 😉