As an expat living overseas, I have done my fair share of long-haul flights and after years of trial and error, I developed a pretty neat list of travel essentials that help me prepare for, as well as comfortably last through the multi-hour flights (especially the red-eye!). I thought it might be useful to share some of my tips and tricks and give a peek into my carry-on bag.
First thing first, the level of your comfort will be hugely impacted well before you even board that pan-global flight. I am a huge proponent of dressing neatly yet comfortably for the journey ahead. Typically, my go-to outfits are soft stretchy jeans/leggings, a long, slightly loose cotton top/shirt and a pair of converse or fashion sneakers. It allows me to be causal enough without looking too sloppy. To each their own, but I cannot do sloppy. Flipflops and pajamas or (tiny shorts) and messy buns are great at home, but I don’t appreciate thousands of people seeing me at my lousiest. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I cannot comprehend how people dress up full on for their flights either, with heels and dresses. I read a great article on CN Traveler the other day that talks about exactly that – why your flight attire matters.
I am not the first or the last person to comment on the unhealthy options typically offered on the planes. After picking up magazines I love to peruse airport combinis for some healthy snacks to munch on in-between meals on the plane. Nuts and dried fruit are my all time favorites! I also do my best to drink as much water as I can before, during and after the flight. Dehydration on the plane is a real story and it’s important to nourish your body. I also make sure to get up a few times during the flight, stand in the rear of the plane and stretch a bit.
Magazines, A Book, My Journal
I’m a sucker for glossy covers, and my number one destination after I check in and go through the security gate is a book store. I pick up the latest Vogue, InStyle and Travel + Leisure for a limitless doze of inspiration. A catchy light read is also a must. One time I was flying on Lufthansa from Munich to Miami and a few of the TVs didn’t work the entire flight (appox. nine hours!), including mine! Back then I was a shy traveler and didn’t think to demand at least a free wifi access on my laptop, but thank God I had a book with me to keep me entertained!
I also make sure I have my journal anywhere I go to scribble down all of my racing thoughts and ideas for future stories and articles. Oh, and three pens, because my uni-balls have tendency to malfunction (read: start leaking).
Exactly for the reason stated above, I also make sure I have a few of my favorite movies or new podcasts on my laptop/tablet. In-flight entertainment systems are not always reliable so I make sure I am well-equipped in case they fail.
This is my absolute staple and I cannot survive without one, especially if I’m cramped in the middle seat. The regular airline pillows never do the trick. Neck pillows help maintain dignity while falling asleep – no tilting heads or drooling nightmares.
I spent more years than I care to admit in a constant torture on the red-eye flights, unable to sleep. Even the comfort of the fully reclining seats in the first class wouldn’t do a trick. And then I finally found a reason – that perpetual roar of the airplane’s engine – and the solution – earplugs! It was a pure revelation. Blocking the sound lets me fall asleep like a baby! I’m also considering eye masks next time I fly – do you use them? Should I bother?
No, I do not put on make-up during flights. What I put in my carry-on make-up bag are a toner (a miracle for refreshing my oily T-zone), toothbrush and toothpaste, dental floss and mini packs of Listerine strips (no need to worry about liquids), deodorant, wet wipes, tissues and my mini hand towel, hand sanitizer, tiny fold-able hair brush (because: mane) , saline nasal spray (my nose always, always gets super dry from the lack of fresh air), a little tube of hand cream with subtle fragrance – perfect for moisturizing your hands and feeling refreshed without disturbing other passengers. My current favorite is cherry blossom flavored hand cream by L’Occitane and Laline which might be exclusive to Japan. They both smell absolutely divine in the most unobtrusive way and leave my skin silky soft.
I always carry my headphones around in my purse, and they are a staple during travel. I hate the ones that they give out on the planes, I want to cringe when that synthetic spongy wrap touches my ears. I also recently found out about the existence of noise-canceling headphones (I know, I’m behind about 10 years. Insert deep sigh here.) – you bet it’s on my birthday wishlist!
Scarf and Socks
We all know how chilly it can get on the plane, so I always make a point to pack my super soft pashmina wrap I got in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, as well as my cashmere socks (so soft, light and warm!) to make sure my feet (read: perpetual ice-blocks) remain somewhat warm.
Jewelry and Other Valuables
I already talked about my biggest lesson learned whilst traveling – never put any valuables in a check-in bag. I swear by that rule, better be overly cautious than loose something like I did once.
I also mentioned about packing first aid kit in my carry-on. At the very least I always make sure to have a small bottle of Advil, Antacid and a pack of Band-aids. Needless to say, you must always put your prescription medicine in your carry-on.
Last but not least, I genuinely dislike people who are fussy about everything the moment they board the plane: the seats, the leg room, the crying child in the back seat, the quality of the food, lack of drinks or choice of movies. You know what, it is what it is, and as long as the crew is polite, the service is good and the pilot knows what he is doing – I really don’t care. I also made friends with a former flight attendant who once shared that they would always feel a bit sad and underappreciated after every flight. Everyone rushes to get off the plane as soon as possible without looking back at people who have been taking care of them for the past few hours, while a simple thank you would make their day. Although they particularly loved those passengers who brought chocolates! I felt very very bad, and from that day on I make an active effort to be nice and appreciate the crew. Not only will you make them feel like their work counts (which does!), but it might up your chances of preferential treatment (wink, wink!).
What are your carry-on essentials? Let me know in the comments below!
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