Let's face it, sometimes even the quickest flights can be difficult to get through unless you're prepared. How are you supposed to survive your 12+ hour flight and layovers and what in the world makes the cut for the carry on??
Here are 10 ways that can ease the pain of those long, dreaded international flights, and hacks so that you have everything you need right in the seat in front of you.
You don't need these tips unless you've got your trip planned though!
Come see which country you'll be flying to on your semester abroad
And just to make your life that much easier, this post has affiliate links for your convenience (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link, we earn a small commission). Just know that we only share products that we ourselves have used and loved, that other volunteers have recommended, or that we think just look like they'd be pretty useful!
Essential Tips To Survive A Long, International Flight
Getting through a long flight is no joke. A lot of times you're in a state of high stress just packing for your trip not to mention being excited to get there, and then getting through the airport can be a whirlwind. Finally ... you're on the flight! Now you're just sitting in one spot for hours on end. Welcome to a long flight, but it's definitely do-able if you bring some comforts for yourself.
1. Bring A Journal + Something To Write With
What is better than being thousands of miles in the air, looking out at the sunset through the window, taking flight for your new adventure? Writing it all down! There is something so exhilarating when you're sitting on that plane, so why not take notes of it all to look back on later? Some of my favorite journal entries are from when I was sitting on the plane anxiously awaiting a new experience, it's so fun to look back and see the things I was worried about and so excited to see.
Once you are coming home, you can compare your pre-experience thoughts to your actual time across the world! You'd be surprised how many people decide they want to save a little room in their bag, and throw that journal to the side. Big mistake! Believe me, on those 12 hour flights, having something to write your thoughts down could save your sanity. I love these little Moleskin notebooks or this much-prettier travel option.
Pro-tip: Make sure you put a pen or two in a small pocket in your bag. Those pens are easy to lose and/or often end up at the very bottom of your bag, forcing you to dig through everything to find it. Bring an extra in case someone next to you asks to borrow a pen (that happens to me all the time because people never think to pack a pen).
2. Charge Up All Your Devices + Download Entertainment
Most international flights have not only a personalized screen so that you can watch movies, but also an outlet (usually a USB port) where you can charge your phone, wireless head phones, etc. But ... there's nothing worse than getting on the plane and realizing that's not the case for you this time.
That's actually happened to me many times. Sometimes my USB plug flat out just doesn't work. I've even been on a long flight where the airline's movies weren't working, so I had to watch movies on my phone ... but then my phone died and I couldn't charge it so I was just out of luck. It does happen.
If you happen to find yourself in one of these situations, you will be so glad you have your phone (or even something like an iPad) with all your music, Netflix shows, and movies all downloaded.
Pro tip: Make sure to download them beforehand! Even if the airline advertises free WiFi on the plane, most of the time the signal isn't strong enough to download entire shows. You can even download your Netflix shows to your phone. Don't forget to charge up your bluetooth headphones (or other headphones we love traveling with).
Make sure you have them fully charged before you leave, and plan on bringing an extra battery pack or charging chord in your carry on just in case.
3. Download Your Favorite Podcasts
On my most recent trip back home from Europe, I was so excited to watch every movie that had come out in theaters in the last few years. Something that I love to do right when I sit down is browse through all of the movies and make a "movie bucket list" for the flight. I thought this was going to be the greatest thing, until I started getting those little headaches behind my eyes from watching the tiny screen for so long ... after 7 straight hours of watching.
So even though I watched everything that I wanted to and was thoroughly entertained, I wish that I would have had downloaded podcasts to listen to in between every movie or two, just to break it up, rest my eyes and relax even more!
Not already a podcast junkie?? Look no further! We put together our top podcast picks right here.
4. Don't Be Afraid to Move Seats, and Spread Out!
Most international flights have assigned seating, but if your flight isn't full and there is a row with no one on it ... take it! Flights attendants typically prefer that you wait until everyone has boarded the plane, but after that I've never had a problem moving seats. Having even a little extra room to spread out is worth the hassle of moving. You will appreciate every inch you have.
5. Wear The Right Things
No one cares what you look like when you travel. Pull out leggings and leave the skinny jeans to change into after you land. Trust me, comfortable clothes can make all the difference in the world, as can a neck pillow. Most flights get pretty chilly too (in my opinion) so I love having a small blanket and a baggy sweater in case I need it.
To get specific ... personally, this is my favorite thing to wear while flying:
- A loose t-shirt with a sweatshirt over it (so that I can take the sweatshirt off if I'm hot or put it on if I'm cold)
- Loose, baggy pants like joggers and compression socks (it's easy to pull on knee high compression socks if you have loose pants)
- Shoes that slide on easy and are comfortable to walk in, like tennis shoes
But that's just me. You do you. But really, just wear something stretchy with lots of layers.
Why compression socks? This is another pro tip. It's really easy to retain water and get bloated because of the change in elevation, not to mention that salty foods that almost inevitably are eaten during travel. My feet tend to swell up and it can take days for them to come back to normal after a long flight, but when I wear compression socks it significantly takes away that problem! Give them a try the next time you fly, you can find them lots of places (like these ones from Amazon).
6. Get Up and Move
It is so important to get up and walk around every couple of hours. These little walks will keep your legs from getting super stiff. Even if you need to awkwardly climb over the people sitting next to you, just do it.
7. Bring a "Bathroom Essentials Pouch"
Whether you are traveling through the actual night time or not, it's important to have travel sized items such as: a toothbrush, toothpaste, make up wipes, deodorant, gum, floss, and maybe even face wash. This is something that I have been doing on my recent flights and it really makes all the difference! After eating airplane meals, being able to brush my teeth and stay fresh really helps me stay relaxed, which is the ultimate goal right?
You can make a little pouch with these items and bring it with you when you go to the bathroom. That way it's discreet and you don't have to carry your whole backpack with you, just to brush your teeth or wash your face. Here's my list of travel-sized goodies to have with me on any flight.
8. Stay Hydrated + Bring Healthy Snacks
Do you ever bring a water bottle thinking you'll be staying hydrated the whole flight, just to empty it out at security and forget to refill it on the plane? No? Just me??
Planes tend to be really dry, and a really easy thing to do to make sure you stay feeling good is to stay hydrated ... and no, drinking 5 mini cups of Diet Coke will not help the situation, trust me on that one. Make a rule to drink a cup of water with any sort of soda you get. If you plan on sleeping, ask your friend sitting next to you to get you water in case you're snoozing when the flight attendants come by so you can have something to drink when you wake up.
As much as I love the airline meals that come in metal tins ... I love having my own snacks. When traveling internationally, the airlines stick to schedules for how often they bring around food and drinks. If you take a nap and miss a snack, it could be a couple hours until they come around with the next thing, so you'll want to be able to reach into your carry-on and pull out a protein bar or trail mix. Here's my go-to list for travel snacks to pack.
9. Catch Those Extra ZZZ's
Sleeping is one of the best ways to make it through a long flight. The time will pass by, and you won't have any idea. Sleeping on a plane can be a little tricky though. The lights may bother you, the people moving around a lot may bother you...how are you supposed to sleep?
We suggest bringing an eye mask (I love this one) and headphones or ear plugs. While it still won't be as good as laying in your own bed, catching even a little sleep makes the time fly. If you are the type of person who can't sleep anywhere but their bed, try a sleep aid. It will help relax you, and help you sleep a little longer. Which sleep aids? There's so many options out there from natural, to over-the-counter, to prescription. Do some research to find what's best for you!
10. Have a Good Attitude
The last, but not least is to have a good attitude! If you mentally hype yourself for a fun and relaxing flight, go prepared with things to keep you entertained, fresh and hydrated then you will have a great time! Having a positive attitude about the flight will cause you to enjoy your time more, as well as the people around you. Nobody wants to sit next to the grumpy person on the flight, so don't be that person! Have fun, the plane ride won't last forever (and it will alllllll be worth it).
Let's Review: What to pack in your carry on
— Journal, Notebook, a book you have been dying to read but putting off for months... we all have one of those! Dive in.
— Cell Phone, Ipad, Kindle, headphones, charging chords
— Healthy Snacks: Protein bars, granola bars, trail mix, dried fruit, etc.
— Extra clothes for layering: leggings, sweater, extra pair of fuzzy socks
— "Bathroom Essentials Pouch" filled with: a toothbrush, toothpaste, make up wipes, deodorant, gum, floss, face wash.
— Sleep aids, eye mask, ear plugs
— Water bottle (You know those Hydroflasks everyone has? Volunteers really recommend something temp regulated like that! You could grab one of our rad ILP water bottles, or there's discounted brands too at places like Costco as well)
Now you're all set! It can be easy to forget the small things before a flight so be sure to refer back to this as needed so you can have the ultimate cozy flight abroad!
Interested in volunteering abroad?
Go with ILP! International Language Programs (ILP for short) sends college-aged volunteers abroad to teach English or volunteer in an orphanage. We've got programs all over the world (so you can use these tips no matter what ILP country you're headed to). Plus, we keep costs low and let you travel with a group, so you won't be adventuring alone.
Come talk to an ILP representative and get your questions answered!