Travel Tips: Surviving Long Haul Flights

Travel Tips: Surviving Long Haul Flights

Living in South Africa means that I have plenty of opportunities to experience horribly long flights and I have developed several coping mechanisms to survive 15 plus hours in coach. Here are seven travel tips to surviving long haul flights.

Carry-on Loot

First thing in my carry-on is a one quart plastic bag filled with an eye mask, ear plugs, hand sanitizer, lotion, lip balm, and mouthwash. I always throw in a pair of headphones and an iPad or computer loaded with additional movies, books, and magazines. Ever been on a long haul flight where the entertainment system didn’t work? Yup, it has happened to me three times. At least I was able to wrangle some additional frequent flyer miles as compensation. If I wore sandals or flip flops on the plane, I also stash a spare pair of socks in my bag. Knowing that airplanes have temperature regulation issues especially during the first few hours of the flight, I layer – t-shirt, sweater, and a scarf that can double as an additional layer/blanket. Lastly, I am short. Yes, my feet touch the floor but barely. I try to pack my carry-on to the perfect width so I can stash it below the seat in front of me and use it as a foot rest. Being comfortable depends on a bit of creativity.

Snacks + Water

Plane meals are relatively terrible. Meals in business class are significantly better, although I find there is a lot of variation between airlines. Often if you do some research ahead of time, you can find a decent option in the airport terminal – Fronterra in O’Hare is the best. Moreover, meals on airplanes are generally served at times when I would rather be sleeping which is why a I also have a granola and some chocolate in my bag so I can eat if I wake up starving.

I also always have water. I have been on flights where the flight attendants bring around water every hour and other ones (I am looking at you South African Airways) where you will nary see a soul for over six hours. I pick up a bottle after I clear security, but in Johannesburg they do an additional scan at the gate and confiscate all water. In these instances, I board and immediately ask for a bottle. Staying hydrated helps fight jet lag.

One thing to remember for all caffeine addicts flying east on long haul flights is that you won’t be served breakfast. This has resulted in me skipping coffee and suffering an enormous headache. I have since learned that I need to get a coffee or black tea from the flight attendants mid-flight as soon as I wake up. If you are equally caffeine dependent and not a soda drinker think ahead or be sorry, terribly sorry.


Charge all of your devices before you go to the airport to 100%. I travel with three cell phones (don’t ask – no one ever calls me), an iPad mini, and at least one laptop (sometimes two). It is a ridiculous number of gadgets for one person, but I find that when I have long layovers, it is easy to drain a battery especially on my phone.

Global Entry

This is a no brainer. $100 for five years and TSA pre-check. Sold. In your sleep deprived state all you have to do is saunter up to a Global Entry kiosk, scan you passport, get your mug shot taken, be fingerprinted, and answer a few innocuous questions. As long as you aren’t bringing in forbidden fruit, an enormous sum of cash, or have been petting a pony you can go on your merry way. Seriously, you will wait longer at baggage claim than at immigration or customs. Added bonus, you don’t have to take off your shoes, take out your tiny liquids, or your laptop when going through security in the U.S.

In Transit

Fork out $50 and buy a club pass if you have layover before or after a long haul flight. This will save you. A shower, free drinks, snacks, wifi, charging stations, and if you are lucky some outdoor space makes it the best $50 dollars you can spend while traveling. Since you will likely have several hours to kill, head to the international terminal as it is likely to have the largest and best lounge. It is generally also the least crowded, at least until the late afternoon when most long haul flights start departing.  I make sure to have small toiletries in my carry-on and a spare t-shirt and underwear so I can shower, change and feel like a semi-normal person if I spent the night before jetting around the world.


Not everyone can sleep on planes. I am blessed with the ability to sleep anywhere. In fact, I am fairly certain that I could fall asleep in a loud restaurant if I put my mind to it. Therefore, I never take a sleep tablet and rarely drink on or before my flight. Planning and timing when you will sleep on the plane is critical to adjusting to your new time zone. Some people are disciplined enough to start going to bed early or later to adjust before they even leave home, but I don’t have the patience for that.

Those neck pillows are crap and are generally a waste of space. I have tried the blow up neck pillow, the filled ones, and a custom made top-rated one. Leave them at home. I find that sitting in the window seat is nice because you can lean against the side of plane, but as I prefer aisle seats, I just take the head rest and bend the side wings and fold them until they touch the side of my face. Works for me.

The other key is to immediately adopt your new time zone. If you arrive in the morning get on with your day. No napping allowed.


When arriving in Johannesburg after flying all night and day, I usually arrive home in the early evening and while tired, going to sleep is the last thing on my mind. To ease the transition to sleep, I always take a long bath and add some Mio Liquid Yoga which not only is laden with epsom salts and other fragrances, but moisturizes dried out skin. It relieves my achy muscles and raises my body temperature. After some light stretching (Pilates roll-downs) my warmed up body feels ready for bed. Honestly, it works like a charm and usually allows me to sleep all night.

What are your techniques for surviving long haul flights?