Hopefully you’re heading somewhere fun because this is going to get bad before it gets good.
There’s no high quite like booking a plane ticket to a place you’ve never been before. But at some point after booking that ticket to Southeast Asia, you have to actually get on the plane and spend somewhere between 15 and 35 hours crammed into a flying metal fartbox. In most cases (we hope!), the plane ride will be by far the worst part of your vacation. However, a bad flight can ruin your first day or two once you’ve arrived, so we’ve compiled a list of everything you need to arrive at your destination as sanely as possible.
Ok, we’ve all heard stories about how Xanax and flying don’t mix (falling asleep at the gate and missing the flight; that scene from Bridesmaids) but with all the stress involved with packing, traffic, TSA security, and fighting for room in the overhead bins, it’s essential to have something to take the edge off. Skip the pharmaceuticals and opt for something natural. Humm Nutrition’s Big Chill and Beauty zzZz supplements will help you relax (and hopefully snooze) without the scary side effects.
INSIDER TIPIf you live in California, Oregon, Washington, or Colorado (or know somebody nice who does), go to a marijuana dispensary and pick up some 15:1 CBD pills. It’s natural and effective, and CBD pills won’t make you paranoid like a weed gummy…just make sure to take it prior to boarding your flight, as marijuana is still illegal at the federal level and we don’t want you to be arrested for drug trafficking
It is just a fact of life that airplanes smell bad. Even though you’ll likely acclimate to the pungent mix of jet fuel, recycled air, microwaved mystery meat, and bodily functions, it’s nice to have something that smells nice. Plus, some essential oils have the added bonus of calming properties. Pick up some lavender oil at the health food store and douse it on your airplane blanket and pillow. For something a bit more luxe, Tata Harper has a line of aromatic treatments that are nice enough to smell like perfume, but seriously help you chill. They’re pricey, but your sanity is worth it.
Recommended Fodor’s Video
This might sound stupid but this is possibly the most important thing you can bring on a plane. No, you can’t bring it from home and yes, you have to spend $7.50 per bottle at the overpriced magazine store in the airport terminal, but water is essential. Feeling thirsty and trapped in a window seat is a bad feeling, and staying awake all night to not miss the drink cart is a stupid way to fly. Just spend the money, drink the water, and land feeling like a plum instead of a prune. Plus, all those bathroom breaks will give you something to do.
Airplane food is nasty and you don’t want to be stuck eating mystery meat puree while you’re starving. You’d be surprised at how appetizing a dry cracker can look when you’re faced with unidentifiable warm goo cooked in a tinfoil box. Just buy some chips before you get on the plane. You probably won’t regret it.
Many Different Outfits for Your Feet
How many socks do I really need for a 20-hour flight? The answer is: more than you think. First of all, there are the compression socks. While you might be like “what, I thought those were only for old people!” I have news: they’re for everybody (they increase circulation and reduce swelling) and these cute ones from COMRAD are totally not embarrassing. For plush comfort, I like to opt for an over-the-top fuzzy sock in chenille fabric because I can’t afford cashmere and these socks are easily washable. The other thing that’s an absolute necessity is a pair of slippers. You don’t want to have to put your shoes back on mid-flight, but there’s no way you can walk around an airplane in socks or (yuck) barefoot. This travel set from Cotton On includes cozy (but extremely packable) slippers and an eye mask, which leads me to the next item on the list.
A Serious Eye Mask
One of the most important factors in getting a good night’s sleep on an airplane is blocking light. Just how Kim Kardashian only sleeps on silk pillowcases, I prefer using a silk eye mask because it makes me feel like I’m getting my “beauty sleep.” It’s also lightweight and washable.
You might be flummoxed by the number of options and styles for sale at airports worldwide. Do you opt for a neck donut? An inflatable neck donut? Do you get one of those crazy ostrich things? Or this neck brace-looking number? The answer is: none of the above. I found the perfect airplane pillow and I’m willing to let you in on the secret. The Travelrest Ultimate Travel Pillow seems pretty weird at first, but the design is genius. It’s sort of an inflatable golf club shape that can attach to your seat via the headrest and the seatbelt, effectively turning it into a soft wall to lean against–even if you’re seated in the middle seat. It sort of feels like sleeping on a friendly shoulder, except you won’t make any of your seatmates uncomfortable.
A Coat That's Also a Blanket
I don’t care if you’re flying to a tropical vacation in Hawaii–all planes are freezing. Lighten your load and your schlep factor once you’re on the ground with a coat that doubles as a blanket. Apiece Apart has some chic (and pricey but so worth it) options for flowy tapestry-like woven wool coats that are all made in Peru. If you’re going for comfort over style, opt for a fluffy wrap coat from Nanako Clothes. The best part about these furry coats is that they’re super packable, so you can shove it into a side pocket of your suitcase until the flight home. If you’re flying to (or from) a cold climate, Uniqlo’s Ultra Light Down is the best option. The long coat is like a super light sleeping bag that gently hugs you while in the air and the hood can double as some extra pillow fluff. This cape from Cuyana is better for warmer destinations since it’s basically just a scarf.
Wireless headphones are great, but the thing is you still need a pair of plug-in headphones to be able to watch movies on the plane. And if you’re going to watch 10 movies on this flight, there’s no way you can do that with the sad earbuds they hand out for free–you’ll get an earache (and a headache) after about three hours of earbud use. Your best bet (and one you probably won’t regret) is a pair of compact noise-canceling headphones. The PXC 550 from Sennheiser are a super splurge, but with a battery that lasts for 30 hours, they’re worth it. If you’re not trying to spend half the price of a plane ticket on a pair of headphones, these Bluetooth headphones from Altec Lansing are an excellent bargain.
A Good Book
There’s this thing that I’ve witnessed firsthand on planes where the TV console in the seatback doesn’t work. Whether it’s broken audio or a broken screen, you can’t count on movies and on-demand TV to entertain you. Additionally, some smaller regional carriers don’t have personal entertainment systems. Go analog with a good book. You really can’t go wrong here–a boring one will put you to sleep and a page turner will make the time fly by. If you need some ideas, check out our Holiday Gift Guide or our Summer Reading List.
Book a Hotel
You know what? Wine is free on transcontinental flights, even in coach! Treat yourself to a glass of wine because it’s the only fancy thing that’s going to happen to you for the next 11 hours. It might even help lull you into sleep, or at least a false sense of contentment. Just don’t drink too much because there’s nothing worse than flying hungover.
Pack your carry-on like you’re going to a sleepover. A sad, miserable sleepover with a bunch of strangers that you will slowly grow to hate, but still a sleepover. The best way to cure jetlag and kill some time during your flight is to impose an arbitrary bedtime, preferably around the same time you’d be going to bed once you arrive at your destination. Brushing your teeth and changing into some PJs can help trick yourself into thinking it’s time for sleep, even if it’s 11 am.
Screaming babies, odd buzzing noises, conversations between chatty strangers, screeching loud fasten seatbelt announcements: There are plenty of things on a plane that you don’t want to hear. Earplugs are infinitesimally small, and there’s no reason NOT to bring them.
A Face Mask
I’m not entirely sure what a free radical is, but I know that they’re not good for your skin and that the recycled airplane atmosphere is probably full of them. Add that to dry air, dehydration, and a lack of sleep, and you have a good chance of arriving at your destination looking like Tales From the Crypt. Combat crypt face with a sheet mask from Lancer or Jurlique that will leave your skin hydrated and fresh. I’m just warning you, these sheet masks make you look like a character from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so if you’re not interested in creeping out your seatmates or drawing attention to yourself, you can go with a more low key option. The Dermalogica Barrier Defense Booster and Calm Water Gel both can work as overnight masks, moisturizing and protecting your skin while you (try to) sleep.
Fancy Moist Towelettes
Whether you want to “wash” your face, dry away the night sweats, or mop up that weird yogurt container thing full of orange juice that you just spilled, it’s a good idea to carry a packet of goodwipes.
An Undereye Savior
Although we can hope for sleep on a plane, it is a rare occurrence that you get a full night’s rest if you’re flying economy. This means that you’re going to have bags under your eyes when you land, but there is some triage you can do to minimize the effects of a sleepless night. Both Honest Hazel and 100% Pure make under eye masks that will leave you fresh-faced, while Tata Harper’s boosted contouring eye mask helps with puffiness. If your problem is dark undereye circles, La Roche-Posay Pigmentclar Eyes can fix that.
Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans
I understand if you’re an addict who desperately needs a fix before the plane lands, but for everyone else: do not drink airplane coffee. Don’t believe me? Read this. Or this. However, if you’ll be arriving in the morning, caffeine is essential to fighting jet lag and making the most of your first day of vacation. The solution is the crack cocaine of coffee: dark chocolate covered espresso beans. A handful of these magic nuggets will keep the wolves at bay until you deplane and can hunt down a proper cappuccino. Although they’re a bit hard to find, you can usually pick some up from your local gourmet grocery, or order them from Jacques Torres.
Some Face Spritz
This is a really fun thing to keep around. You can spray it on your face, your friends’ faces, and anybody who looks like they are in need of a spritz. Guinot’s brume hydra beauty mist delivers instant moisture and a refreshing scent, while Biologique Recherche L’Eauxygenante is a vitamin-packed spritz that protects against dryness. For a face spray that smells as good as fresh flowers, try Jurlique’s rosewater balancing mist.
INSIDER TIPIf you don’t want to shell out the cash for these high-end mists, you can also pick up some $5 rosewater spray from your local health food store.
Trying to sleep while confined to a single airline seat is a recipe for sore muscles, so it’s a good idea to travel with a recovery balm of some kind. You can kick it old-school with some Tiger Balm, or try out Tata Harper’s recovery gel, which is made to soothe post-gym muscles but works for lower back pain caused by airplane seats, too.