Surviving Your Long Haul Flight

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“Travel brings power and love back to your life”

Rumi

Long haul flights can be a killer, even for the most seasoned of traveler’s. On my upcoming trip to Australia, I have several very long flights to enjoy ranging from 11 hours between Dublin and LA, 10 hours from Honolulu to Sydney and some shorter hopes within California.

Here are some of my best pointers, some which are tried and tested by myself on my flight to San Francisco in 2015 and others which I can’t wait to try in a few weeks time.

1. Escape

When it comes to surviving flights, I am easily bored and so need to be kept entertained and relaxed in the same way most toddlers would be. You want these long hours on the flight to almost disappear. Think headphones and Hollywood blockbusters. High on my list of things to buy is a 1TB external hard drive for hours of movie entertainment for all my flights.

My bag of tricks so far includes a USB Power Bank to keep my MP3 and phone fully charged for maximum musical and meditation amusement, my mindfulness note book, my travel diary, a coloring book with markers and coloring pencils and a Kindle packed full of books – hopefully more than enough to keep a fidgety overgrown child amused on hours of flights.

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2. Bring your go-to gear.

Neck pillows, eye masks, earplugs, headphones for some meditation, a blanket and a sleeping comforter (like a small teddy) cannot be over estimated on a long flight.  When you land as well rested as I did in San Francisco after a few hours sleep, your body and brain will thank you. Small comforts go a long way.

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3. Sleep

Although I mentioned in my last point about being able to sleep, don’t count on a long-haul flight as a good place to catch up on sleep — it’s not. Fortunately for me, I am one of a lucky few who can sleep at will and can sleep nearly whenever I please. Make sure to get a good night’s sleep before your long haul flight. As nice and intuitive as it may seem to get on a long-haul flight extremely tired, hoping to sleep the whole way, you are in for a world of hurt if you can’t sleep for any reason thanks to turbulence, noisy, snoring neighbors or other fun distractions. On top of that, the last thing you want to be is tired clearing US immigration in Dublin Airport if you are on a US bound flight.

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4. Secure your stuff

I am always particularly paranoid about loosing my wallet or passport on my travels, as these are the most annoying things to try to replace. Unfortunately, long-haul flight can give dishonest travelers all the more time to size up the location of your wallet, waiting until you fall asleep and make a move on your luggage. Luckily, this has never happened to me (thank you Aer Lingus). However, you can never be too careful – secure your valuables deep inside your bags. It could be worth considering keeping items like your passport, credit cards and cash in a money belt under your clothes.

5. Consider a Sleep Aid

As I mentioned, I can sleep at will so have never had to use any sleeping aids. However, if you are a nervous flier who wants to make sure they can have a nap on the plane, make sure you try them before you fly with them. These drugs can vary greatly in how they affect individuals, so you will want to try them at home before you rely on them on the plane.

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6. Take care of your health.

Hydration: Keeping hydrated is always important but even more so on a long haul flight, to make sure you arrive as full of energy as possible at your destination. Aer Lingus provide free soft drinks on all of their Trans-Atlantic flights, however for other air lines, I would suggest purchasing a litre or 2 of water to keep well hydrated.

Eye Care: If you are a regular contact lens wearer, it is a good idea to bring your glasses with you in case your eyes feel dryer than usual.

Skin Care: Keep your skin moisturized and pampered from the dry air. Use lots of moisturizer on your face and hands in particular. Lip balm is a useful thing to pack also.

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Time Zones: Beat jet lag by setting your watch to your destination time when you arrive on board, or ask one of our cabin crew who will be happy to tell you the local time at your destination.

Body Care: Choose comfy, loose fitting clothes and shoes for your journey.

Deep vein thrombosis: DVT, the formation of blood clots in deep veins, is a known (if occasionally overstated) risk on longer flights. According to the National Institutes of Health, the risk of developing DVT increases when flights go longer than four hours. The NIH’s tips include walking up and down the aisles of the plane; moving, flexing and stretching your legs to encourage blood flow, especially in your calves; wearing loose and comfortable clothing; drinking plenty of fluids; and avoiding alcohol. Also, if you’re at increased risk for DVT, your doctor may recommend wearing compression stockings while traveling or taking a blood-thinning medicine before you fly.

A combination of being immobile along with the effects of dehydration increases the risk of DVT on long flights. The following is recommended during long trips:

  • Hydrate well the night before the flight, preferably with electrolyte drinks.
  • Don’t drink alcohol the night before the flight.
  • Avoid diuretics such as coffee, soft drinks and even chocolate (all of which contain caffeine).
  • Get an aisle seat or exit row so you can get up and walk around whenever possible.
  •  Wear compression socks on long flights

7. Yoga*

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At regular intervals, do some gentle yoga stretches when you’re mid-flight. They will keep the blood flowing freely through your body, mobilize joints, revitalize the vital organs and pacify the nervous system.

  • Breathe: Close your eyes and take 15-20 mindful breaths. Slow the breath down and breathe in through your nose for a count of 3 and breathe out through your mouth for a count of 4.
  • The Neck Stretch: Sitting as upright as you can, gently turn the chin over towards the right shoulder on an exhalation. As you breathe in, return to centre and exhale the chin over to the left. Repeat between 5-10 times.
  • Shoulder Rolls: Inhale and draw the shoulders up towards the ears, and then draw them forward and down as you exhale. Then repeat 5 times. Switch directions and perform 5 more.
  • Wrist Circles: Keeping your elbows tucked into your sides, extend the forearms as much as you can. Rotate the wrists in circles, first in one direction and then the other. Repeat 10-15 times on each wrist.
  • Arm Extensions: Lift the arms overhead, interlace your fingers and press the palms up towards the ceiling. Take a big inhale and hold for the count of five. Repeat 3 times.
  • Twists: Sitting upright (you might need to move away from the back rest) keep the hips comfortably square in your sit, take a deep breath in and as you breathe out, twist slowly to your right. Pause when you reach your maximum and return to centre. Repeat on the opposite side.
  • Flex Your Spine: Again, sitting upright (away from the back rest) gently inhale and sit as tall as you can, lifting through the chest and arching the back slightly. As you exhale tuck the chin in towards the chest and round the back. Repeat up to 10 times.
  • Knee Extensions: Sitting squarely in your seat, with a flexed foot, gently extend the heel of the right foot as far as you can in front of you, pause to hold and then return it to the floor. Repeat on both sides 5-10 times.
  • Ankle Rotations: Rotate the ankles one at a time in circles, first in one direction and then the opposite. Repeat 10-15 times.
  • Hip Rotations: While you’re waiting in line to use the bathroom, bring the feet about hip distance apart and gently rotate the hips in circles, moving in a clockwise direction 5 times and a counter-clockwise direction 5 times. This will help to nourish the lumbar spine and release the hips from the time spent sitting.
  • Hug the Knee: If you have space, gently bring your knees up to your chest to extend the glutes.

 *Credit to Megan McGowan for the Yoga poses.

8. Mindfulness

Travelling can be a stressful time for most people, but if you suffer from anxiety or claustrophobia, flying can be particularly stressful and exhausting. Mindful meditation can be a good thing to practice on a long flight if it isn’t something you have tried already. YouTube alone has some great guided meditations you can try and there really is one for everyone. Even some airlines have seen the benefit of this, with British Airways releasing their own mindfulness videos to help with those flight jitters. For those of you who may be nervous fliers and looking for a good way to release your anxiety, I would highly recommend the Honest Guy’s Guided Meditation for Anxiety Relief on YouTube.

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The open road is beckoning now. I hope these points will be useful for your flights and will lead to a well rested journey.

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