How to prepare for a long haul flight

I live in the most isolated state capital in the world, and while I love Perth, it makes travel just that little bit more difficult.

Why? Because every flight is a long haul flight.

Major international carriers with connections to Europe and America have frequent services, but this doesn’t discount that Perth is just really, really, really far. From everything. Probably why there aren’t a lot of other travel bloggers based here 😉

Let’s use Europe as an example. Since my second largest readership are British, this might be a hard concept for you to grasp, but stick with me. If you live in London, and you want to go to Paris, how do you do it? Most people would get on a train and be there in around 2 hours. Lucky you.

Y’all laugh when I joke about not being affected by jet lag, but when your body barely has time to register that you’re even in a new time zone, and you only have three days to spend in Paris (this actually happened to me) then you just don’t have time to waste on jet lag.

So, how does someone even prepare for the mental onslaught of a 20 hour flight?

1. Pick your transit city: I prefer to fly a Middle Eastern carrier, like Qatar Airways or Emirates. My reasoning is simple. The hub cities for these carriers (their hometown, and a compulsory stop point), are exactly half way to most places in the world, when starting from Perth. If you figure that Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi are approx 10-11 hours from Perth (see, told you everything is a long haul flight), and then most European and African cities are another 7-9 hours, then the Middle East makes for the perfect leg-stretch spot. If I’m going to the States, or into Canada, then I’ll still fly this way, since it’s almost exactly half way. New York is approx 13hrs from Dubai.

2. Hydrate: Being stuck in a tin can, crammed with 200-300 other people isn’t anyone’s idea of fun. But add the drying effect on your skin, and the dehydrating nature of a pressurised cabin, and you’ve got a migraine coming on. I suffer from migraines all the time, and have found from painful experience that keeping myself hydrated is the key. I generally feel less like I’ve been run over by a truck when I arrive, and more capable of figuring out how to get from the airport to my bed with minimal fuss.

3. During transit time: I walk, or I airport yoga. That’s right. Airport yoga. I refuse to sit for two hours during my transits, because realistically, I’ve just been sitting for 11 hours, and I’m about to sit for another 7-13 hours depending on my final destination. So instead, I go for a walk all over the terminal I’m in, and then I find a quiet corner (this is difficult in airports like Dubai and Singapore), and I stretch. Get all the stiffness out, and you can literally feel your muscles thanking you. I always feel more revitalised and alive after a good session of airport yoga. I do suggest you go easy with this in Middle Eastern airports. Try to do it in such a way that you don’t draw too much attention.

4. Music: Some people read, others watch the tv and movies provided by the airline. I can’t concentrate on these, the screens are too small, and too close to my eyes that it hurts my eyes and I feel all groggy. I can’t read for too long, so I’m that person on the plane with the massive headphones and the constant tunes. I have a couple of playlists, including a meditation playlist which comes in handy for overnight sleeping time flights.

5. Reduce carry on luggage: When faced with 20 hours of uninterrupted down time, a lot of people go overboard packing things to do on planes. I used to as well – book, Sudoku book, iPad, another book in case I finish the first one, pens, note paper, cards, mini board games, my list was literally endless – and now I’ve streamlined it. Aside from the things I absolutely need, like my passport and some money, I really only bring a book and my laptop. Mostly I spend the first couple hours of a flight doing some work, writing, or watching my David Attenborough docos, and then I get some sleep.

6. Sleep: It didn’t come easy, but over the years I’ve taught myself to sleep pretty much anywhere. Flights, airport floors, stretched out over a suitcase or five, or curled up on a bus seat on the bumpy roads of East Africa – it doesn’t really matter where, but I can do it. In cases of extreme emergency I will medicate, but I don’t suggest you do this, but if you want to – you should really see a doctor. I’m not going to advocate that sleeping on a flight with a perfect stranger right next to you is going to be the best night’s sleep you’ve ever had, but it will be better than nothing.

7. Seat selection: I’ve had long-term travellers tell me it doesn’t matter where you sit, all the seats are the same. You’re all wrong. The seat you select will be your home for the next 11-24hrs so you might as well be as comfortable as possible. I’m only short, so the prospect of having a seat in front of me isn’t awful, but if you’re really tall then look at paying extra to sit in the exit row. You’ll have to help out in an emergency, but you’ll be super comfy if there isn’t a crash. And chances are there won’t be. If you’re a sleeper like me, then the window is perfect so you don’t have to keep getting up to let other people out. If you are the anti-sleeper, don’t be a douche. Pick the aisle seat so I can sleep. obviously, we would all like to be in business class (PS thanks for the upgrade to Chicago, Qatar!) but most of us don’t have the budget that stretches as far as spending a small fortune on a flight.

8. The cheapest flight isn’t always the best flight: When you’re looking at a quick 3 hour jaunt to Europe from London, fine. Pay fuck all. I get it. The cheaper the better. But when you’re gonna be on that flight for around 20hrs of your life, you need to be as comfortable as possible. And that means paying a little more for your ticket to fly a fully serviced carrier. You’ll get food, drinks, unlimited water, and generally an amenities pack with headphones, earplugs, sleeping mask, toothbrush, tooth paste and socks. And I LOVE airline socks. I don’t know how they make them so damn comfy!

What ways do you prepare for long flights? What’s the longest flight you’ve ever been on? 


3 thoughts on “How to prepare for a long haul flight

  1. thegrownupgapyear says:

    Haha, love the “don’t be a douche” comment! I’ve got better in recent years but I used to get really travel-sick on planes (lucky me!) and the only thing I could do to stop it was sleep. I’m therefore *very* good at sleeping on planes and will often spend the whole flight dozing. I guess it also helps that I’m tiny so the lack of leg room really doesn’t bother me. I like the idea of airport yoga, might give it a try on my next trip 😉


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