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How To Survive A Long-Haul Flight

Written by: Sara Coulter |

Arrive ready to hit the ground with these tips on surviving a long-haul flight.

If you read my article Are You On The Top 10 Bucket List?, you know that international travel is #1 on the list.  If you're planning to take your first overseas flight, it will be much longer than you’re used to, and it pays to be prepared.

If you have experience with  longer flights, you probably know about the down side of flying – headaches, sinus pain, stomach distress, jet-lag, hypothermia – OK, maybe it’s not that bad.  But if you plan your carry-on strategy, you’ll be better off once you land at your destination.

I recently returned from a trip to South Africa, which meant 36 total hours of travel and four legs with a 16-hour flight right in the middle.  After 40 years of traveling overseas, I was able to get up the next morning and go to work as usual with no affects from the long haul at all.  My solution – the perfect carry-on formula, which I will share with you in this post.

The Flight Bag.

First let’s talk about the bag itself.  The most important thing is size.  First, it needs to fit either in the bin above you or under the seat in front of you.  Believe me, you don’t want anything getting in your way of stretching your legs when you’re sitting in a flying tin can for 16 hours!  These days, you’ll most likely have a connecting flight, which also means changing gates and sometimes terminals.  If your carry-on is heavy,  it will be difficult to manage by the end of the trip.

My ideal carry-on is a large rolling duffel similar to this bag.  It is made of nylon fabric, which makes it light and easy to clean, and it has wheels and a handle that makes it easy to maneuver through airports, even at a sprint!  The size gives me lots of room for souvenirs on the way back, so I don’t have to worry about packing anything fragile in my suitcase.

Now, let’s get to the nitty gritty – what exactly is in my carry-on?  Set your watch for your destination, and let’s dive into my bag.

woman carrying a water bottle in a backpack

Water bottle.

Dehydration contributes to jet lag, so I always take a large water bottle with me.  You just can’t drink too much water when you travel.  But don’t forget to empty it before security.  You’ll be able to fill it up before you get on the plane.

Gum or hard candy.

If you have more than one flights, it’s important to equalize the pressure in your ears to protect your ear drums.  Chewing gum, drinking, eating or sucking on hard candy will do the job.

Healthy snacks.

You don’t need to load up, because the airline will feed you 2-3 meals on a long-haul flight.  It is nice, though, to have something to snack on between meals.  I like to eat light while traveling, so taking munchies along keeps me from getting too hungry in between meals.  (Make sure you go easy on the sugar.)

woman knitting


Even though I’m a gadget geek, I still prefer an old fashioned book.  But on a long trip, it’s nice to be able to take more than one book and not have to carry them.  Plus, if you finish what you’re reading, you can download another one.  Don't forget your charger!

Activities for the flight.

Whether you’re traveling 5 hours to California or 36 hours to South Africa, flying is boring, and airport layovers are even worse.  So I recommend taking something that you really enjoy.  For me, it’s knitting.  For others it might be listening to music, playing games on their phone – whatever.

Phone charger/power stick.

If you’re taking a long trip, or if you’re starting early in the morning, your phone charge won’t last the whole way.  Even if you are traveling to another country and won’t have cell service, you can still text, Facetime (iPhone users)  and surf the Internet where you have WiFi.  Most airports and many airplanes have charging plugs, which makes it easy to grab a quick charge along the way.  For extra security, bring along a power stick which will give you an extra charge until you get to your destination.

man holding a tea cup


Sleeping on a long flight is critical to preventing jet lag. You don’t want to find yourself nodding off in a meeting or needing a nap in the middle of a tour!  Melatonin is a natural supplement that helps with falling to sleep.  I like it, because it is not a drug, and it doesn’t keep you asleep, so you don’t have any of the sluggish after-affects you might feel from a sleeping pill.  Melatonin pills are inexpensive and, you can get them at any pharmacy or natural food store.

Tea bags.

Caffeine interrupts your sleep cycle and contributes to jet lag, alcohol dehydrates your body, and sugar contributes to stomach distress.  So I avoid all three by drinking herbal mint tea rather than coffee or wine.  Just ask your flight attendant for hot water.

feet wearing striped toe socks


Longer flights travel at a higher altitude than normal, and it gets COLD (especially if you have a window seat). Don’t rely on the airline blankets, which I compare to wrapping yourself in a tablecloth!  Make sure you have something that will keep you warm, because there’s nothing worse than being held hostage in a small space for 16 hours and freezing your tushy off!


Bare feet on a filthy floor (especially the tiny bathrooms shared by hundreds of people over a short span of time).  Nuff said.

toothpaste and toothbrush


It’s bad enough to have to go for days without a shower, but you’ll feel much better brushing your teeth every few hours.

Hand cream/lip balm.

This goes for the guys too.  Airplane air is incredibly dry.


There you have it – my formula for travel success!  So get your bags packed, and have a great trip!

Topics: Health, Business, Travel, Personal

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