How to Survive Long Haul Flights : 18 International Flight Tips

Long haul flights can be stressful and uncomfortable.

While I actually enjoy short domestic flights, I always dread cross-continental flights. The icky food, the crowded seats, the annoying kid behind you kicking you just as you’re about to fall asleep.


Luckily, after 3 years and almost 20 intercontinental flights, I’ve accrued some pretty helpful tips. If I follow the advice exactly, I even have a borderline enjoyable flight (I keep a checklist to ensure I don’t forget anything).

So, what do I do?

Each one of these 18 international flight tips!

How to Survive Long Haul Flights

Decrease stress levels

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1. Pack in advance

Don’t leave packing until the night before, or worse – the morning of, your flight. Complete all your packing at least 24 hours before you fly. This all gives you time to go over any checklist and remember if you’re forgetting anything.

2. Charge your electronics

Make sure all of your electronics and fully charged and ready to go at least 1 hour before you’re scheduled to leave. Have chargers wound up and stowed up, and double check to be sure you haven’t forgotten one. Charging my electronics last minute almost always caused me to forget my charger, and to end up leaving with a half-charged phone or laptop. Bring a power pack for extra juice.

3. Don’t procrastinate

Try to finish all of your responsibilities BEFORE flying, so you don’t have any lingering tasks to fret over. That big client project due the day after I land? Finished before the day I take off. You’ll be surprised how much freer you feel.

4. Double check everything

The night before the flight, recheck all of your reservations, responsibilities, and flights. Do you have your seat reserved, your special meal confirmed, and have you checked in?

An hour before you plan to leave for the airport, do another final check to be sure that absolutely everything is set, packed, and ready to go. Make sure the flight hasn’t gotten delayed at the last minute or postponed.

5. Arrive early

You know that jittery feeling as you keep glancing at your watch, at the taxi meter, and Google maps as you try to figure out how much time you have before you absolutely NEED to be in the airport? Oh, maybe that’s just me…

Forget it, easily, by just planning to arrive early. Factor in any possible delays, any potential last minute crises (like spilling boiling water across your hand and burning all your skin off just a few hours before your flight is scheduled to leave – yes that happened to me), and give yourself a comfortable buffer. So what if you have to wait a little bit in the departures area? It’s worth it.

6. Be organized

Getting a passport holder has changed my life! I can keep my tickets tucked inside, and I never have to anxiously search my pockets. Even if a passport holder isn’t your thing, keep your passport, tickets, and any other important documents organized, in one place, and easy to reach.

Print copies of any flight, hotel, or car confirmations, and keep them with you. Also download a copy or snap a photo on your smartphone.

Prioritize comfort

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7. Wear your comfiest clothes

Some people like to fly in yoga pants, some like a breezy skirt, others like athletic clothes or jeans and a sweater. Whatever you choose – make sure it works for you and feels absolutely comfiest, especially to fall asleep in. I personally like dressier yoga pants (or my new obsession: Bia Brazil leggings), with a tank top and slouchy sweater.

8. Don’t forget a canga

A canga is my number one must-have flight item. A lightweight, Brazilian sarong, the vibrant colors are cheerful, and the canga can be used in countless ways, including rolled up as a pillow, around the shoulders as a shawl, across the lap as a blanket, and even to mop up any spills.

9. Bring a few comfy luxuries

Do you love cozy socks or plush slippers? Bring them on your flight, and pop ’em on after takeoff. If you’d rather keep your shoes on, a silky pashmina shawl feels luxurious and soothing, even in a cramped cabin seat.

10. Increase your chance for sleep

Even if you usually can’t sleep on planes, pack a few essential items to help just in case the urge strikes. An eye mask to block out any pesky reading lights (or daylight), earplugs for crying babies or loudmouths, and an inflatable U-shaped neck pillow for even if you get stuck in the middle seat all work wonders for a teeny tiny price and small space in your carryon.

11. Dress in layers

You never know whether you’ll have to take an overpacked bus to a lesser terminal or board from the runway in stifling heat, or whether your seatmate will blast the AC. Be prepared by dressing in multiple layers that are easily removable and customizable for your comfort.

12. Feel refreshed

Bring wet wipes for the flight, so that you can frequently wipe the recycled airplane air grunge off your hands, face, and skin. It feels like taking a little mini refreshing shower! Brush your teeth, wash your face, and chew gum – these all help too. Before the plane lands, I sometimes even like to change into fresh clothes. For me, one of the worst parts is getting off the plane and going through customs feeling gross and dirty – these habits help.

Maximize entertainment

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13. Devices, devices, devices

One of the best things about the rampant overgrowth of modern technology is the availability of entertainment. Not all flights offer entertainment systems (especially if you fly generally cheap and shitty airlines like me) and even when they do, sometimes they go wonky, so it’s important to bring your own. Download movies on your iPad or iPhone, books on your Kindle, or a game on your laptop – maybe all 3! Time flies when you’re having fun… (as long as you don’t forget a spare power bank battery)

14. Step up your podcast game

Even if you don’t have enough space for movies, you can always download podcasts. Some of my favorites are Jess Lively, Tim Ferris, and TED radio hour. I always make sure to have at least a few hours of podcasts, which are also great for passing time waiting in lines.

15. Treat yo’ self

I have Kindle Unlimited, and I never buy physical printed media.. except for when I’m flying. The treat of a solid book in my hand or a glossy magazine almost makes even the worst flight totally worth it. I’ll also calorically splurge on special snacks that I would otherwise never eat, just so I have something to look forward to.

Be healthy

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16. Stay hydrated

Bring a refillable BPA-free water bottle, because it’s better for your wallet and better for the environment. Absolutely make sure to empty it BEFORE security however, as if you arrive to the scanners with even a sip of water, the TSA agents have been known to make you throw it out.

Avoid coffee and alcohol, before and during the flight. Especially alcohol – plane hangover is the worst type of hangover I’ve ever experienced, and I’m basically a connoisseur of hangovers. Trust me.

17. Get moving

Every now and then, get up and move around the cabin. Take a short walk to the bathroom and back. While you’re sitting, moving your legs up and down and in circles, and the same with your arms. Stretch and stay limber, while keeping your blood moving.

18. Sanitize

Bring a little bottle of hand sanitizer (or my preference: naturally antibacterial tea tree oil) with you, especially if you’re prone to picking up colds or the flu. Think about how many people have touched the tray table or arm rest in even just the previous 24 hours… ick.

What are your best tips for enjoying long haul international flights?


A short vacation in Thailand turned into a life abroad with a canceled ticket home. Nearly a decade later and after living in Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, Puebla, and Puerto Vallarta, Steph is on to her next adventure and living back in beautiful, cosmopolitan Mexico City. She is living, traveling, and working (both as an expat therapist and an international health insurance representative) around the world to find the beautiful, inspirational, and interesting while sharing it with you!

Find me on: Web | Instagram | Facebook


  1. February 22, 2016 / 6:30 pm

    Plane hangovers ARE the worst hangovers ever…but it’s also the only way I found to fall asleep (ok, pass out) on a red-eye flight from JFK to KEF.

    • February 23, 2016 / 4:06 pm

      I had to stop and google KEF – Iceland?! That is so awesome! I might be too excited to fall asleep, I’d need the booze to knock myself out otherwise I’d be bouncing off the walls from excitement 🙂
      I’ve found that an eye mask really really helps me. I pop it on and have no choice to either be alone with my thoughts and zero stimulation or pass out right away.

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