My first born child is leaving school this year and wants to travel during his Gap year. He’s 17 and a lovely innocent young lad so I’m excited and terrified for him in equal parts.
I’ve always encouraged my kids to travel because nothing teaches you about yourself and the world around you like visiting new places and experiencing different cultures. But, being prone to anxiety, now Luke’s solo travels are looming I’m starting to worry.
Our Luke is blessed to hold two passports (New Zealand and British) and he’s well-traveled having lived in New Zealand, Costa Rica and Australia and backpacked round Central America. But I’ve always been there to make sure he didn’t miss a flight, lose anything or have any problems.
Soon my not so little boy (he’s already 6 foot 5″!) will be travelling solo and Mummy won’t be there to hold his hand, bags or passport.
There are endless travel tips I want to share with Luke but I’m starting with tips for long haul journeys because his travel experience from Australia will almost certainly start with a long haul flight. If he goes to Europe he’s in for 24 hours of long haul travel as a necessary prologue to his adventures.
I’ve flown to Europe and back twice this year, to film a TV show for Catalunya Experience and to England for my Mum’s 80th. Flying business class is bliss but most often I’m in cattle class with the rest of the herd and it can be a grueling experience.
Jet lag aside, you always miss out on precious sleep when you fly long haul so making your journey as comfy as possible and sleeping as much as you can is essential.
Some of my long haul flight travel tips won’t suit everyone because we all have our own idiosyncrasies and they’re accentuated on a plane. The great window or aisle debate rages on – more on that later.
Even if you don’t follow my long haul flight tips verbatim, hopefully they’ll help you create your own strategy for long haul flights so the journey flies by!
1. Book your seat
The best seats get booked up fast and if the flight’s full (which most are these days) you may get stuck in a dreaded middle seat unless you book a window or aisle seat early. Book your seats as soon as you book your tickets so you don’t forget and book them for every leg of your return flight.
The window or aisle debate and which seat is best?
I prefer a window seat because on some long haul flights you get almost a foot of extra leaning space next to your seat in a window seat which is brilliant if you find sleeping upright hard.
I like to sit at the back of the plane because if there are any empty seats that’s where they tend to be. Having an empty seat next to you is priceless.
On my most recent flight to England there was a row of four seats free across the aisle from me. Straight after take off I scooted over and grabbed it which meant I could lie down. There’s no need for business class in that situation and the flight attendants don’t mind you lying across four seats because if you’re happy their job is easier.
Long-legged travelers like Luke should book an exit row seat because you’ll need the leg room. Exit row seats get booked up fast so book well ahead and be prepared to pay extra for the privilege – it’s worth it if you’re leggy.
2. Book your meal
I always book a special meal because it’s usually tastier and healthier than the regular meals plus having a special meal means you get served first. You only need to book special meals three days before you fly but you might as well do it when you book your seats so you don’t forget.
I love Asian vegetarian plane meals but there are heaps to choose from including gluten free, raw and vegan.
If none of the special meal options take your fancy you can wait for the regular meal which usually has a choice of chicken or fish although the galley can run out of popular choices if you’re at the back of the plane.
3. Pack snacks
If take off is delayed or you’re at the back of the plane it could be a while until you get a meal. Being a chocolate addict I like to have choccie on hand too to see me through any rough patches.
I also take protein bars or nuts to snack on, cheezels (my favourite junk food) if I’m feeling naughty, sugar free lollies for a treat, mints to freshen my breath before landing and chocolate. Did I mention chocolate? Lots of dark mint chocolate.
4. Befriend the cabin crew
They’re only human and generally lovely humans who are trying their best to do their job in what can be a difficult situation. Be polite and friendly to them as you board and use your best manners at all times.
If you get bored cabin crew usually enjoy a chat in between meal service times and if you run out of treats they probably have some tucked away that they’ll share.
5. Take or make a pillow
Two pillows are better than one on long haul flights because you can use one to cushion you from hard arm rests and one for your head.
I take my own pillow but if you want to save space a mesh stuff bag (which you can pick up at a travel or adventure shop) filled with clothes works just as well.
6. Take an eye mask and ear plugs
You may feel silly but having an eye mask and ear plugs helps you get to sleep faster and sleep longer, with less disturbance from the other passengers.
Some long haul flights supply eye masks but not all of them, so it’s better to bring your own. Splash out on a comfy eye mask with a wide strap and padded eye covering. Typo have fun eye masks like this foxy one for $4.95.
Get some disposable ear plugs from the chemist. A pack of ten is handy as they’re easily lost and can be useful when you’re travelling if you stay in a noisy hotel.
7. Pack a bag inside your bag
I take a pull along cabin bag on the flight with me which is stuffed with things I might use on the flight or don’t want to pack in my checked bag. Inside the cabin bag I pack a separate fabric tote bag with my book, diary, chocolate and anything else I want easy access to during the flight.
When I get to my seat I just unzip my cabin bag, pull out the tote, stow the cabin bag in the overhead locker and slip the tote under my seat where I can reach it without disturbing anyone.
You can find more details on what to pack here.
8. Consider a Chrome book
If you need to take a computer with you I recommend getting a Chrome book because they’re really cheap (mine cost $250), small and light weight. So they save space and they get lost or stolen it’s not the end of the world.
9. Stock up on sleep
It’s often hard to sleep well the night before a long haul flight because of the excitement. Go to bed early the night before and do everything you can to get a decent sleep before your flight.
For night flights have a nanna nap before leaving for the airport. Otherwise early birds like me will rack up a sleep debt before you even get on the plane.
10. Walk and Talk
Walking round the plane or standing up and doing a few exercises is the best way to keep yourself healthy when you fly. A few gentle stretches on board will help you avoid arriving with back ache or getting cramps.
You’ll usually find a few other people standing at the back of the plane or near the exit rows and the time will pass faster if you chat. It’s easy to start a conversation by asking about people about their travels and you can meet some fascinating people on a plane.
On my way home from England I met a walrus-moustached indigenous elder who’d been speaking at a climate change conference in Europe and a rocket scientist who studies super sonic travel. Brilliant.
11. Dress right
I’ve already shared tips for what to wear on a long flight before but for young guys like Luke I recommend you wear nice clothes. Looking smartish can will help you get through customs and immigration much faster than if you look like a scruffy bum. Patterned shirts are best to disguise food spills which are all too common on long haul flights.
12. Take a pen
You’ll need a pen to fill in customs and immigration forms or take contact details for your new plane friends. It’s amazing how many people need to borrow a pen so take two if you want to help out.
13. Take a water bottle
It can be excruciating to ask cabin crew for water every time you’re thirsty so having a water bottle to hand is essential. Flat pack water bottles like these ones by Vapur that pop out when they’re full are brilliant. I picked up a similar one at Big W for a couple of dollars.
Fill your water bottle right before you get on your flight or ask your friendly air host to fill it for you on board. Drink lots of water.
14. Check your baggage weight
Stay within baggage weight requirements as most airlines stick to the rules and charge a lot for excess baggage. It’s usually 6kg for hand luggage and 25-30kg for checked bags but you can find the exact weight allowance on the airline website.
Weigh both your hand luggage and checked bag at home before you leave. If you’re going over weight let the airline know before hand as they may make exceptions. For example, when I was travelling to Zimbabwe with heaps of extra clothes and shoes to give away to locals, the airline waived my excess baggage fee because the items were a charitable donation.
15. Buy a head phone jack
If you have your own fancy headphones buy a cheap jack at the airport which will allow you to use your own headphones instead of the airline headlines. That way, when the crew takes away the headphones towards the end of the flight, you’ll still be able to watch the end of your movie.
16. Listen to relaxing music
Most airlines have good in-flight entertainment including relaxing music to help you sleep. It works. I tune in before going to sleep and can hear the mellow music through my ear plugs but not any outside noise.
17. Take a book and magazine
Flight entertainment systems can and do break down, or sometimes you just get fed up of the eye and ear strain involved in watching a small screen for 24 hours. So take a choice of reading materials.
18. Be nice to fellow passengers
Say hello and be friendly to passengers sitting next to you. I’m always amazed by how many people ignore people totally as they sit down next to them. It’s nice to say hello as you’ll be sharing the same space for a long time.
Most people are rightly terrified of being stuck in long conversations with boring strangers. If you want to have a quick chat watch for signs that your fellow passenger doesn’t want to talk. If you’d rather not talk once you’ve said hello just plug your ear phones in and relax.
Trust me, even if you get seated next to someone difficult, they are unlikely to be the worst passenger on a plane.
19. Get travel insurance
When I went to England I didn’t get travel insurance because I didn’t think I needed it. Even though nothing went wrong I didn’t enjoy travelling uninsured. It’s worth paying for travel insurance and the peace of mind that brings.
Shop around for the best deal and try your airline’s website as they often sell travel insurance at a reasonable price as an add on to your flight. Or you may be covered already if you buy your flight with certain credit cards.
20. Become a frequent flyer
Most airlines have a frequent flyer program and you should earn good points on a long haul flight. Even if you don’t fly much you can then boost those points by shopping at airline partner stores or using partner products.
You’ll probably feel cramped and wish you were already there at least once on a long haul flight. So remember why people love to travel, how lucky you are to be travelling and how precious it is to have time on your hands with nothing to do. Check out the view below from seat 85A; it’s all good!
Long haul flights are a good time to meditate, catch up on reading or start a journal. Relax and enjoy your flight. You’re nearly there.
Have you got any long haul flight travel tips? Share them below in the comments – we’d love to hear from you.
This post is a Virgin Australia competition entry. The lucky winners will receive 250,000 Velocity air mile points. How good would that be?!
If I win I’d love to fly to Nairobi and nip over the border into Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Or, if they play their cards right, I might take the Candy family to Rarotonga to hike the cross island trail, frolic on white sand beaches, swim with tropical fish and soak up the Cook Islands culture. Or maybe I’ll even go to visit Luke, wherever he may be, just in case he misses Mummy…
Where would you go with 250,000 air mile points?