A Short Guide to Long-Distance Travelling

by RACHEL TSAO

Spending more than half a day in a stuffy aircraft cabin can seem intimidating. If you think about it, that’s a lot of time spent trying to drown out screaming children, battling the cramped conditions in coach, and struggling to find the best position for sleeping upright. And, of course, topping it all off is the jet lag that delightedly awaits you at your destination. Luckily, though, there are ways to make your long-haul flight more endurable. Whether you are a plane virgin or a seasoned jet-setter, here is your guide to flying like a pro.

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PACKING

The first step to survive a long-distance flight is to pack everything you need. Not every airplane has a power point conveniently located at your seat, so power up and charge all your electronic devices before you leave. Download back-up entertainment, including your favorite tunes, movies, and books on your devices in case in-flight options do not suit your taste. Don’t forget to bring a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and an external charging device.

HOT TIP:

Bring a book–a real one, made of paper–on the flight. Looking into a bright screen, especially in pitch dark when the rest of the plane is asleep, can be very straining for your eyes. Give your eyes a break and get a chance to really read that novel you were assigned in English Comp 3.

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Wearing

Get comfy! Ditch the skinny jeans, itchy wool sweater, and choker necklace–you are not here to impress anyone. Instead, opt for soft, loose-fitting clothing made from cotton to give your skin some breathing room. The emphasis should be on comfort, especially in the already-confining conditions of airplane seating. You can show off your wardrobe later when you are not at risk of DVT, deep vein thrombosis (or blood clot formation). [1]

The aircraft can feel rather stuffy during tarmac delays, but later comes the blast of arctic chill. Wearing layers is therefore a traveler’s best hack to withstand such fluctuations in temperature. Not to mention, the more clothing you bring with you onto the plane, the fewer items you need to pack into your luggage. A scarf is always a versatile option that comes handy as a blanket, eye mask, or a pillow.

For footwear, go for something that can be easily slipped in and out of. This is especially helpful when going through the troublesome security in the States. And once you are settled in your seat, liberate your feet! Just remember to put on shoes when you walk to the bathroom.

HOT TIP: You can never go wrong with a hoodie and sweatpants. They may not be very fashion-forward, but they sure come with added perks. For example, when you pull the hood over your head, you are signalling to the flight attendant that you just want to sleep. And if you are anything like me and enjoy the solitude of flying solo, the hood actually works to avoid small talk with your neighbor (#hoodiehacks).

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Seating

Everyone has different preferences with regards to airplane seating. Different seats come with different caveats, so here is a general rule of thumb to follow when it comes time to reserving your seats:

  • Exit rows to have the most leg room.

  • Front rows to be the first to exit the aircraft.

  • Back rows to avoid screaming children in the front.

  • Window seats to see the view out of the airplane and have fuselage to sleep against.

  • Aisle seats to have extra legroom and easy access to the bathrooms.

HOT TIP: Choose aisle seats whenever you can, especially on long-distance flights. There is nothing more awkward than trying to climb over a stranger to go to the bathroom, or having to politely exit your seat so others can get out. In fact, the aisle seat comes particularly convenient when going to the loo after meal service, as there is no waiting for other people’s trays to be collected–you just hold up your tray table, get to the aisle, and do your business. And even if you are stuck in a crappy seat, fly with gratitude–not everyone has the opportunity to step foot on an airplane, let alone travel the world.

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Hydrating

Aircraft cabins are extremely dry. When dehydrated, you are likely to feel extra grumpy or fatigued. Take small sips of water throughout the plane ride, and avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks. On long-haul flights especially, they can aggravate dehydration, interfere with normal sleep cycle, and prolong jet-lag recovery. [2] You might also want to bring some herbal tea bags with you, such as peppermint, ginger, and chamomile tea in case you feel nauseous or bloated during the flight. [3]


HOT TIP: Water comes in small plastic cups on the flight, but if you are anything like me and have a seemingly insatiable thirst, you might find yourself pushing the call button a little more than socially acceptable. To avoid being that passenger, bring an empty bottle of water onboard and have a flight attendant fill it up for you before takeoff. Add a slice of lemon for that extra boost of hydration to prevent dryness in your throat. This way, you are helping the environment too by reducing plastic waste!

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Eating

I probably belong to the one percent of the population that finds airline food pretty tasty. Whether or not you agree, it is always a good idea to prepare some snacks to bring with you on the plane. Fruits and veggies with high water content are a great option to help you stay hydrated throughout the flight. Just toss some cucumber slices, carrots and celery sticks into a zip-lock bag, and you’ve got yourself a healthy, refreshing, and mess-free snack. Nuts and protein bars are also satiating options to keep you fuller for longer.

One of my favorite foods to make ahead of time to take on the plane is a sweet potato, topped with heart-healthy avocado and protein-packed chickpeas. I brought this snack with me on my past couple of long-distance flights, and it has never failed me. Sweet potatoes are predominantly water and have a low glycemic index, meaning that the carbohydrates are slowly absorbed into the body. Not to mention, they are easy to eat, making this root vegetable a perfect snack to bring on the plane. However, if you have digestive issues, you might want to skimp on the chickpeas to avoid bloating.

But steer clear of deep-fried foods and heavy carbs before and during the flight. [3] They sit heavy on the digestive system, causing digestive discomfort, and can even result in an immediate constriction of blood flow. Excessive calories consumed during a long-haul flight are also more likely to be stored as fat, especially when there is limited physical activity for literally hours straight. Avoid foods that are high in salt, as extra sodium can lead to fluid retention, thereby exacerbating dehydration on the plane.


HOT TIP: If you do decide to opt for airplane food, request a special meal at the time of booking to be served before anyone else. This is a smart choice if you know you will be starving, or fear that there will be no more options left by the time the flight attendant gets to you. Not to mention, the special vegan and vegetarian meals offered by airlines are often more nutritious than the regular selections, with fewer calories but more naturally occurring sugars. You’d be surprised to learn how many options are available onboard! British Airways, for example, caters for diets of all kinds, from vegan and gluten intolerant, to Muslim and Kosher.

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Sleeping

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for getting to actual sleep on the plane. Some people deprive themselves of sleep the night before; some people swear by melatonin to trick their bodies that it is nighttime. For me, I have found that doing an intense workout the morning of the flight helps me ease into sleep when I am on the plane.

However, what does not work is alcohol. Many people resort to alcohol to help them fall asleep, but studies have consistently shown that alcohol worsens symptoms of jet lag by disrupting the normal sleep cycle. So maybe save the partying for later?


HOT TIP: Set your watch to the timezone of your destination once you get on the plane. This can help you get into the mindset for where you are going. In fact, airlines often schedule their meal service and lights-out period to coincide with the local time of your destination. That way, you are at least mentally adjusted to the new timezone.

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Moving

Sitting in the same position for hours, especially in the cramped economy seats, can leave your muscles feeling sore and stiff. To increase blood circulation and avoid the risk of deep vein thrombosis, remember to stay active throughout the plane ride. Gentle exercises like drawing circles with your foot, lifting your heels, and rolling your neck and shoulders can go a long way in staying loose.

HOT TIP: Take advantage of bathroom lines as the prime time to stretch and move. Taking a stroll down the aisle, when the seat belt light is off, of course, is another way to avoid looking like a crazy person while still keeping it movin’.

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References

  1. “Prevent DVT when you travel.” nhs.uk. (2016).

  2. “Preventing dehydration from air travel.” everydayhealth.com. (2009).

  3. “What to eat and drink on a long-haul flight - and what to avoid.” scmp.com. (2015).