As a travel writer, I take many long haul flights. I tend to fly every single month, so I'm used to what flying entails. While eventually, your flight experience will become second nature and make it all easier to navigate, I know how it's like to need help preparing for your long haul flight.
Let's face it, most of us fly economy even when we fly for a business trip because it's a lot more affordable. Luckily, the decade of flying everywhere taught me that some travel essentials can really make those long flights more bearable.
Long flights are not often comfortable, even on business class because ultimately, you are still stuck on a plane for hours and hours. My first-ever long haul flight was a decade ago, from the UK to New Zealand. We're talking almost 30 hours of travel with absolutely no experience. You can imagine how much I would have loved to read a useful article telling me about long haul flight essentials to make my life a little better.
After years of flying, I feel confident and comfortable packing and preparing for my long haul flight. And you will too! Here are all the things you need to know before your flight. How to prepare, general tips, useful items to pack in your carry on and how to have a great flight.
Table of ContentsOpen
Before your trip
You must be excited that you have a trip coming up! That's pretty wonderful. I know you are a bit nervous, especially if you are a first time flyer, but honestly, don't worry, with the following tips you are going to have a great flight. And the more you fly, the more experienced you become. In no time, your trips and preparation will be fine tuned and smooth.
There are a few things you can do before your trip to make your life a bit easier. Plan ahead everything you can for your trip. Start with things like how to get to airport, do a bit of research on the airline, check in, in advance if possible and select your seat for the plane.
I recommend checking sites like seat guru to understand more about the layout of your plane and which seats are good. I, personally, prefer an aisle seat on long haul flights, but I know many people would prefer the window seats. Select the seats that's best for your needs and travel preferences. Seats in the emergency exit aisles don't allow any personal items to be left under the seat in front of you during take-off and landing for safety reasons. If you are sitting in one of these seats (yay for extra legroom), you will have to keep your carry on in the overhead compartment, so be sure to pack everything you will need for takeoff and landing at the top of your bag so that you can take it out easily before stowing your possessions away.
Research a few other things about your upcoming trip too. Get a travel journal and write down everything about your trip, including where you want to go, what to do and see and plan your days. Studies have been published which suggest that writing things down actually really does help retain information, and it helps you think in a more organised way. Don't worry about making the perfect list, you can edit it as you go along and as you remember things, but write it down. It'll help you keep track of everything.
Before you get ready for your flight, make sure to purchase travel insurance. Travel insurance can help you not just if things go wrong during your trip, but also before the trip. For example, if the airline loses your luggage, or you're having issues with cancellations. I know it's tempting to just skip it, but it's just a few quid, for a lot of peace of mind.
Prepare your luggages
There are two types of luggage you will need for long flights: a carry on and checked luggage.
A carry on is the smaller bag you will take on board with you. We will discuss what are the carry on essentials for long flights you need to prepare and have with you at all times.
The checked luggage is a larger luggage the airline will store in its hold. You won't have access to it until you reach your destination, as it's held in a secure place.
There are many suitcase sizes you can pick from for your flight, and remember to check with the airline company which are your size and weight restrictions. Some flights allow only a single piece of carry-on luggage, whilst others allow two. Knowing your luggage allowance will also dictate how you will have to pack your items, so this is an important thing to look into before commencing your packing adventure.
For carry on luggage, I recommend a comfortable travel bag you can carry on your back. Once on the plane, you will put it in the overhead compartment. This is where you'll have all your travel documents, boarding passes and essentials. Here are some recommendations:
SZXL - Affordable and well sized backpack as a carry on which fits many of your travel essentials.
Cabin Max - A very well sized bag designed and built to last with durable 600D polyester making it lightweight 800g, but hardwearing and showerproof.
For checked luggage, I recommend a spacious suitcase with wheels so it's easier to manoeuvrer. a hard shell is usually better than a soft shell and also a bit more resistant. This is where you'll pack your clothes, shoes, heavier items and cosmetics. Here are some suitcase recommendations:
American Tourister - Incredibly popular luggage that's expandable, light and resistant and features double wheels for smooth rolling comfort.
Samsonite - Three-point locking for extra security; seal to limit moisture penetration. Enjoy the smooth rolling double wheels and dual tube wheel handle. The interior is spacious with lowered cross ribbons, zipped divider pad and large side pocket.
Long haul flight essentials
We're going to focus on packing the perfect long haul flight essentials whether you are taking a 12 hours or a 20 hour flight. As previously mentioned, you will have a carry on with you and most of these items will have to go in your carry on bag. This way you will have access to them throughout your flight, hence offering you more comfort. Let's dive right in.
Passports and Documents
Your passport(s) and documents are the most important items in your carry on so make sure to keep them safe. If you are a dual citizen and you travel to one of your own countries, it's best to have both your passports with you, just in case. Don't forget to have a copy of your visa if needed. Crucial: check the expiry date on your passport!
Have some cash from your original country, but also cash exchanged for your destination country. Nowadays, many banks allow you to take money out from a cash machine free of charge, but it's still a good ideal to have some money on you before landing. There are places where you can't take money out at the airport, and you might need it for a taxi to the hotel. It's always good to have some for emergencies.
I like to keep all my documents and visa in a dedicated travel wallet as it's easier to keep everything together. Just make sure to place it in a secret compartment in your carry on or to just keep it in an internal pocket of your coat/jacket.
Collapsible water bottle
When you pass airport security, you can only bring 100 ml liquids with you and up to 1 litre in total. Having a reusable water bottle is eco-friendly, and you can refill it at the airport at one of the fountains. Your own bottle can also be refilled on the plane, just ask the flight attendants. You will need plenty of water with you on the plane, especially if it's a long flight. Staying hydrated is crucial to have a smoother and more comfortable flight.
Have a fully charged power bank or portable charger with you so you never run out of juice for your phone or headphones. If you prefer listening to music on your ipad mini, that's fine, but there are times you might want to play a game or read a book on your phone.
Noise cancelling headphones
Flights can be pretty noisy because of the engine noise but also crying babies and other passengers. Get Bluetooth headphones, so you don't have to rely on the USB cord if you're listening to your music or using your own devices. However, most airlines will have a special headphone port if you want to use the inflight entertainment. Most headphones like the Bose noise cancelling come with the adaptor so you can use it on your next flight.
Moisturiser and Lip Balm
The air on the plane is usually very dry so the best tip is to keep as moisturised as possible. Your lips can get cracked during the flight so the easiest way to avoid this is to use a lip balm now and then. Use your favourite moisturiser to keep your face and hands well hydrated.
Whether you travel during restrictions or not, know that planes are not the cleanest of places. So having a hand sanitizer with you, it's a great idea. Use it to sanitise your tray table and regularly before eating and after touching your seat or seat belt.
Facial wipes or baby wipes, whichever you prefer, are also a great way to stay fresh. Remove your makeup before falling asleep if you're taking a long overnight flight, or just clean your face and hands. Wipes are also great for cleaning parts of the airplane you're inevitably going to touch.
An essential in the carry on, a small deodorant is great to use just before landing so you feel fresh and nice.
Pack all the cosmetics you can't live without. I'm talking mascara, concealer, blush. Just the items you can fit in a small bag to use before landing to feel nice and refreshed after the long flights.
While all long flights offer food on board, the food is usually either not excellent or not enough. Pack your own snacks for when you're feeling hungry. Get some granola bars, protein bars and savoury items.
Would you go to bed without brushing your teeth? Of course not, which is why it's essential to keep up with your normal routine. Before and after sleeping on the plane, brush your teeth to have that fantastic, refreshing feeling. A toothbrush won't take too much space anyway, and you'll be glad to have it with you before landing.
Make sure your hair ties are easily accessible, as you will very likely need them at some point during that long flight.
At some point, you might want to get some sleep and a travel pillow will make your life so much more comfortable. Purchase one that doesn't take much space. You can wear it around your neck at all times, even when passing security or at the airport.
If you have a long haul flight during the day and you want to get some sleep, make sure to bring a nice eye mask with you. It will block out all the light and make it easier for you to fall asleep.
Are your noise cancelling headphones too bulky or can't sleep with the music on? Bring your ear plugs with you. They are sometimes easier to wear on a flight as well.
Warm socks and compression socks are a must have on any flight but they are especially important on long haul flights. Compression stockings can ease swelling in your feet and ankles, as well as help, prevent and treat spider and varicose veins as well as Deep Vein Thrombosis.
Laptop, iPad/tablet, Kindle
Your most important travel gear should be part of your carry on essentials. Every bit of electronic you intend to take, you must pack in your carry on.
A cosy jumper
Flights are usually so cold and to keep a comfortable temperature, bring a cosy jumper or a lightweight jacket with you. Wear clothes that are warm and feel good on you. Worry less about fashion and more about how to keep cosy and nice. Besides, these clothes can come in handy even when visiting a hot country.
Do you not like wearing socks? Don't walk around with bare feet as the floor is filthy. Please don't enter the bathroom without wearing shoes as that water on the floor, I can guarantee you it's not actually water... If in doubt, bring your flip flops or a pair of comfortable shoes with you and wear them on the plane.
Bring a lovely and warm scarf or a blanket scarf if you prefer. Again, you will want to keep warm at all times. That will make your flight so much better, guaranteed.
Paracetamol / Ibuprofen
Flights can give you a headache. To avoid discomfort, pack in your carry on essentials some easily accessible medication. Any prescribed medicines that you might be on and need to take regularly (make sure you have a copy of your prescription with these, as countries have varying regulations on different medicines, eg. tramadol, a heavy duty painkiller, is completely banned in Egypt).
Just throw in a couple of plasters in the bag. To save space, add them to your cosmetic tote bag which will take less space in the carry on.
If you have straight hair, you will want to bring your hairbrush with you. For curly hair ladies, you won't be needing this. But maybe bring a nice silk headscarf, so you can sleep more comfortably.
This is my secret for any long flight and honestly, one of the most important travel essentials in my carry on. Take a couple of vitamin C pills before your flight and another two after your flight. This will boost your immune system for the duration of your flight, which, let's face it, it's needed given that you'll share such small space with hundreds of strangers.
Contact lenses and glasses
My husband wears contacts but when the eyes get too dry after several hours on that long flight, it's nice to swap for glasses instead.
A change of clothes
The truth is, nobody is prepared for the lost luggage issues. It can take anything from a few hours to a few days to get your checked suitcase. Meanwhile, you will want to pack a change of essential clothes in your carry on. Have some underwear, some socks, a pair of lightweight trousers and a top. Chances are, you won't have to use these, but just in case, best to be prepared.
A good book is a staple of any relaxing holiday, and more so a necessity when you have many hours of sitting to do. So pick whatever you've had on "to read" list for the past few years and take it with you.
A journal is a fantastic way to keep track of all your exciting experiences and a lovely, albeit occasionally embarrassing relic to look back on in your older years), a sketchbook and a comprehensive pencil case including all the things you might want to use to create. If you don't want to write, a sketchbook is also a great way to document your travels.
Whilst the above list may seem extensive and you may be questioning how on earth you could get all of that into your carry on, you must remember that packing your carry on is an extremely personal activity. At the end of the day, only you know what you may or may not need when travelling.
Perhaps the most important take-home messages from this comprehensive list is that if you take some of these suggestions and make them part of your travelling ritual, then great! The golden rule is to pack a carry on that you can actually carry comfortably and that you can keep organised throughout your journey.