Living in Europe for 13 years meant that I had to travel back and forward between Dublin and the U.S. several times a year, or as some call it, “skipping the pond.” For over a decade I flew long-haul flights several times a year, on economy class no less. This taught me several valuable lessons on how to make the experience not only less painful, but enjoyable too.
Here are my top 4 tips:
1. Pack ruthlessly. Pack well, then leave 50% of everything you packed. Pack for what you are planning to do, not for every eventuality life might throw your way. Life, people, and your creativity will come through for you when you need something you didn’t pack. Also, pack assuming you will never see your bag again, so be sure to keep your irreplaceable items in your carry-on luggage.
2. Pack a ‘Travel Comfort Kit.’ Unless you are flying first-class, today’s travel experience is less glamour and more prolonged gloom. From the traffic to the airport to the check-in lines to the security screening to the long waits at food courts and uncomfortable gate seats, things aren’t pleasant even before you board the plane. So, take the time to assemble your ‘Travel Comfort Kit’ to your exact specifications, keep a list of its contents, and this will make putting it back together before a trip a cinch! Everyone is different, but here are my must-have items:
- Zip-down hoodie: Highly packable and very adjustable to varying temperatures throughout a day of travel.
- Sunglasses: I find these better and less disorienting than sleep masks.
- Noise-cancelling ear phones. Escaping the humming of engines can bring marked relief. The first time I tried them it almost felt uncomfortable, as if one is underwater. However, after a while, I started feeling as though I was in a very quiet library where I could really lose myself in my reading or writing, rarely looking up to remember that I had a middle seat between two sleeping travelers.
- MP3 player: I found it very useful to have a dedicated music player instead of using my phone’s battery. My iPod Nano had so much battery that it would play my entire way across the Atlantic without pause.
- Neck pillow: This is a controversial one and everyone has an opinion on these. I’m no different. The big, fluffy ones are a godsend, until you stop using them and must carry them around mopping up whatever dust and germs they can find. Inflatable pillows are far more packable but can be awkward. Try a few and decide which is best for you. With a window seat I’ve found that a thick jacket does the trick just fine.
- Slip-on shoes: These will get you through security smoothly and once in your seat, can discretely slip under the seat in front of you. Keeping your toes in motion during long-haul travel is not only pleasant but also an important consideration. This practice activates your calf muscles and enhances lower limb circulation, which helps prevent serious leg clots (DVTs or deep vein thrombosis). But I am digressing into medical talk… just take the advice of John McCain, take your shoes off and try to grip the carpet with your toes. You will thank us both.
- Healthy pocket food: This one is a biggie. Airports make a lot of money on selling us fast-food when we are their captive audience during long layovers and delays. Hack the system by packing your favorite energy bars, nuts, seeds, and died fruit. They are healthy, cheap, portable, and satisfying. Put them all in a Ziplock bag and you can even ration them for each leg of your trip. And, if you are ever in a real bind, you’ll have food to satisfy you!
There you have it, 4 ways to make your next flight more comfortable, safer, and healthier. Bon voyage!
Victor Peña-Araujo, Director of Health & Wellness