We all know the feeling of dread associated with every transcontinental flight. What’s more awful than sitting in close proximity with strangers, in a cramped metal tube, breathing compressed air? Top it all off with drunk adults, crying children, or stinky neighbors, and you’ve got a recipe for a pretty terrible experience.
Recently, I received a message from a friend that said, “I was looking through them to see if you had any tips for surviving on extra-long flights. I’m flying to Japan next week. One of the legs is 14 hours and I’m already feeling claustrophobic. Do you have any suggestions for someone who struggles with that?”
She’s not alone. Discomfort and anxiety on flights are things that affect even the most seasoned travelers. While there’s no good way to make flying an absolutely painless experience, there are ways I like to minimize the annoyance I feel in the air. Here are my tips on how to stay relaxed on a long flight.
1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
There’s nothing more stressful than not having access to water when you desperately need it. Between the compressed air, the constant shuffle around the airport, and eating extra-salty plane snacks, it’s easy for dehydration to sneak up on you when traveling.
A few days before every flight, I usually start increasing my water intake to ensure I am as hydrated as possible. In the few hours leading up to the flight, I’ll be sure to accompany my hydration with electrolytes or semi-salty snacks to retain as much as possible. Then, right before the flight, fill a reusable water bottle to the brim to take with you on the plane.
Not only will hydration lead to better relaxation and sleep, but you’ll in general be thankful that you have one less thing to worry about on your flight.
2. Avoid anxiety-inducing activities
Is there a horror movie you’ve been wanting to watch? A thriller novel you’re dying to read? A creepy podcast you’ve been listening to recently? Save them for another time when you’re not flying across the world. These activities may be fun, but they can seriously detract from your ability to wind down or sleep on a long haul flight. Instead of adrenaline-inducing media, try reading something that’s soothing or borderline boring (romance, anyone?) if you’re in need of some distractions. Even better, disconnect completely for a few hours.
3. Choose your seat wisely
Most airlines will enable you to choose your seat when you book a flight. Others may charge you for that luxury. Regardless, I think it is worth the small price to book your seat ahead of time. It may be obvious, but choose your seat very, very carefully. Of course, you can choose whether you prefer a window or aisle seat. What you may not think about is choosing your exact location in the plane, proximity to restrooms, and optimizing for beautiful window views. If you get claustrophobia, make sure to get a seat close to the front for a quick exit. If you are sensitive to smells, stay away from restrooms. If you are intentional about your seat choices, you’ll feel a lot better when you get on the plane.
4. Nail your relaxation routine
Even if you’re extremely tired, it can still be difficult to calm down on a flight. There are many ways to add to your comfort and relaxation on a flight, if you come prepared. Bring a compressible pillow or a soft blanket to help make yourself more comfortable. Scents like vanilla and lavender can also aid with relaxation. Adding in some pre-flight meditation or stretching can help calm your mind and your body. Avoid the lack of sleep by bringing along a few things you know will help relax you.
5. Exercise beforehand
There’s no better way to get nice and tired than by wearing yourself out before the flight. Try and squeeze in a good, long workout session before you go to the airport. Do a mix of cardio and strength training to get yourself moving and burn some energy before your flight. I love being nice and tired before a flight so I can sleep right away, and getting in some exercise is a great way to do just that.
6. Begin with your bedtime rituals
Do you have certain activities you always do before bed? If so, do these same things before you get on a flight. Brush your teeth, wash your face, put your hair up, and drink a warm cup of tea before you get on your flight. Bring a book that you enjoy reading before bed. Stay away from bright screens and lights so that your brain will remain relaxed as you board. If you’re sensitive to brightness, be sure to carry something you can use to cover your eyes.
7. Think ahead
I know, I know. You’re probably thinking that despite all of this stuff, flying for long periods of time still sucks. However, you’re not flying just to fly. You’re flying to go somewhere new, beautiful, and exciting.
Once you get off the plane you’ll no longer think about how horrible it felt, but you’ll remember the stories from your travels forever. The stress of flying is just a means to an end. So if you’re in the most dire straits of your anxiety while sitting in your middle seat in the back of the plane, always remember that it is temporary, and you’ll be on to more exciting and spectacular things soon.