10 things you should never go on long flights without
I fly from Boston to Asia and Europe multiple times a year—here's what I bring to survive the trip.
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Having grown up in a household of world explorers, I never stop packing and unpacking my suitcase. Whether there’s a wedding to attend in Dubai, or a ski trip-meets-family reunion in Hokkaido, Japan, most of my trips involve a seven-plus hour flight that transports me from one end of the world to the other.
Depending on the type of aircraft, my flying experiences can vary widely. I'm always relieved when I find out I’m flying on a newer model aircraft like the Boeing-787 Dreamliner, which has its cabin pressurized to a more comfortable altitude than those of its older counterparts. The more comfortable air, combined with a quieter engine, helps to reduce jet lag and the physical toll that long flights take on my body. However, we don’t always get to fly on the latest model jet.
As a frequent flyer who visits friends and family on different continents multiple times a year, I've learned a few helpful tricks to cope with long-haul flights, regardless of the aircraft or airline. I've had people ask, "Why don't you look tired after sitting on a plane for 16 hours straight?" After years of hopping around the world, I've developed my own air travel routine with the following items:
1. A travel pack of disinfecting wipes to keep my seat germ-free
When I think of flying, the first thing on my mind is germs. Airplane seats are filthier than you can imagine, and you never know who sat in your seat or what happened on your tray table before you checked into your flight. So, the first thing you’ll find me doing after boarding a plane is obsessively cleaning my armrests with sanitizing wipes. I know the germs probably aren't going to kill me, but these wipes offer me some peace of mind, particularly when I’m spending more than a few hours in such a tiny space.
2. A pair of earplugs for mid-air peace and quiet
You know that sinking feeling that comes with realizing you’ve left something important behind when you’re already far from home? Earplugs are the one thing I keep on forgetting, only to realize how precious they really are once a toddler starts to cry on the plane. Our team reviewed the best earplugs to help keep your travels free of unwanted noise. Our winners from Hearos came in third in our lab sound-blocking tests and first in objective testing for sound blockage and comfort while being worn in various scenarios.
3. A light sunscreen, especially for window seats
Many of us prefer a window seat for the excitement of overlooking a new city, the mountains and the clouds. But while you look out the window, you may be exposing yourself to dangerous levels of UV rays, according to a study published by JAMA Dermatology. Even though the study was about UV exposure to cabin and crew members, travelers should also be aware of the danger that radiation can cause.
For a fast-absorbing sunscreen, I always use this oil-free, SPF 42 sunscreen from SHISEIDO that’s inexpensive and easy to apply. For people looking for a moisturizer with SPF, I would recommend this Perricone MD Tinted Moisturizer, which has over 100 rave reviews on Sephora.
4. A pair of compression socks to keep my legs from swelling
I always pack a pair of compression socks or leggings in my carry-on because my legs swell up like balloons after a couple of hours of flying. Compression socks can help increase blood circulation and reduce the risk of clotting on a flight. I swear by the pair of Dr. Scholl’s I bought in Tokyo. They’re so durable that they always come out looking and feeling like new after I throw them in the washing machine. They're specifically made for the Japanese market, but I recently discovered them for sale on Amazon. If the price is beyond what you’re comfortable with, Physix Gear also makes highly-rated compression socks with a more competitive price tag.
5. A pair of earphones that keep me entertained throughout the flight
Most international flights provide a long list of movies and TV shows for their passengers. Though most airlines give out free earphones, I always bring my own—they’re cleaner, and they sound better! I can listen to my favorite podcasts using AirPods, but in order to access the in-flight entertainment system, I still like to bring a traditional pair of earphones. We tested the best in-ear headphones and recommend the Final Audio E2000 for their budget-friendly price and great sound profile.
6. A toiletry bag for in-flight hygiene and unexpected baggage situations
The time I first traveled from Spain to Croatia through Vienna, I found my checked luggage missing at the Wien-Schwechat airport, thanks to an airline that I no longer fly with. The checked luggage had all my necessities, including the clothes and toiletries that would keep me going throughout my trip, leaving me to wander around Vienna on a very chilly evening with only a T-shirt on and a backpack. What was in my backpack? My camera and my laptop, nothing more. This incident taught me an important life lesson: Always bring a few days worth of necessities in your carry-on.
Luckily, the story ended on a happy note: I was reunited with my luggage in Berlin, one of my favorite multicultural cities that I think everyone should try to visit at least once.
7. A pen to fill out immigration forms on the plane
Even if you can travel visa-free to most countries, you'll still need to fill out some paperwork prior to arrival. Completing immigration documents on the plane not only saves your precious transit time, but also helps you get your questions answered—experienced crew members can answer most customs-related questions when you’re traveling to a country for the first time. I always carry one of these Muji pens with me, and they work wonders for filling out paperwork on the plane.
8. A travel pillow that allows me to get some rest on the go
On a long-haul flight, getting some sleep helps time move faster and ensures that I arrive at my destination refreshed—so a portable pillow is a must. This travel pillow on Amazon has more than 4,000 positive reviews and also provides chin support, which is a plus for typically-uncomfortable airplane seats.
9. A pair of cozy slippers that make me feel like I’m walking on clouds
Wearing comfortable shoes is so important to ensure an overall positive experience on a long flight. Some travel experts recommend slip-ons or sneakers, but I usually bring a pair of slippers to change into once on board. It might come from my habit of wearing slippers at home, which makes walking around the plane feel a little homie. I purchased my MUJI packable slippers in Japan, but these slippers on Amazon are very similar to the ones I carry around.
10. A reusable water bottle that keeps me hydrated
Although flight crew tend to bring passengers refreshments as often as possible, it’s always good to have some water on hand as the dry, recycled air takes its toll on your skin and body. Therefore, I like to bring my own water bottle on flights. Our Reviewed editors actually tested and picked the best water bottles after comparing 12 of the most popular bottles on the market. Our favorite, the Hydro Flask, is portable, versatile, durable, and well-designed. It also performed well during the temperature tests.
Still not sure what to bring? Save and print this checklist to bring on your next flight!
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