For practical packing suggestions, see my article How To Pack A Suitcase. If, however, you just want to know how to make your plane ride less tedious, you’ve come to the right place.
If you’re going on a relatively long-haul flight, I strongly suggest getting an “alternative” meal. You’ll normally need to arrange this at the time you make the booking, but you never know. You can always call the airline (or your travel agent) and find out. I’m a really picky eater, so often I am horrified at the “food” presented to me in a little plastic tray. I must say that most airlines have made huge improvements in the quality of their cuisine over the past few years, but still, sometimes it is good to play it safe. Go for a vegetarian/vegan/kosher meal. You will receive your meal before everyone else (meaning it’ll be hot, not lukewarm or soggy from sitting in a cart for half an hour), and they usually taste much better.
The other thing that sometimes causes problems for me on planes is the fact that I like to eat small amounts regularly. I’m not a three-square-meals-a-day kinda guy. Sometimes I will eat all of my airplane meal and then be hungry again 20 minutes later. I don’t know, it’s just how my metabolism works. Usually when this kind of thing happens, I ask the air hostesses if they can bring me some snacks. I remember once when I did this, they gave me a fistful of miniature chocolate bars and told me to come back when I was finished. Awesome! Sometimes, though, the air hostesses are cruel and only give you more tiny packets of peanuts. (Peanuts dehydrate you and will contribute to jet-lag — more on that later.) In situations like this, it is great to have extra snack food in your bag. The discovery of a sandwich or cookie hastily stashed in a side-pocket will totally thrill you.
I really like to over-pack food. For example, I would probably take a bag of crisps, a bag of rice crackers, a chocolate bar (or two), something chewy (gummy sweets or bubble gum) and mints. That’s just how I roll. Not to mention that if you’re travelling with someone else, they will inevitably want some of what you’re scoffing.
I have a habit of going crazy at airport bookstores. I start panicking, thinking, “Oh god, what if the only movie they show is Shrek?!”, and start throwing magazines toward the sales assistants as if they were storybook villains and I was equipped with ninja stars. I hate buying celebrity gossip magazines normally but I will on a plane, I will happily go nuts over every edition of Vogue, Nylon, Paper, etc. (I also have a secret weak spot for home and interior decorating magazines. Only when I’m on holiday though, it’s weird.)
The typical contents of my carry-on would be: food (see above), magazines (see above), a Moleskine & pen (not an ink pen, they explode/leak up high!), my Macbook, lip balm (The Body Shop’s Cocoa Butter Lip Care stick), an eye-mask (very important), an empty bottle (for water — that way, I can put the lid on and stash it in the seat-pocket), a toothbrush and a tiny tube of toothpaste, a few M.A.C. Cosmetics wipes in a ziplock bag, (learnt this tip from my friend) and a small quantity of moisturiser. The wipes basically work as a water-free cleanser, which also means you don’t have to leave your seat to use them.
Depending on the airline you take and the length of your flight, you might also find that taking blank postcards, an MP3 player (well phone) (with good podcasts as well as music, and decent headphones) and a little gaming machine (Nintendo DS anyone?) will keep you pretty well occupied. Sometimes you can find out what movies are going to be played on your flight in advance, just by checking the airline’s website. I suggest doing this. That way if they’re only going to be playing Titanic, you know to stock up on other amusements.
For a short journey, you don’t need a lot of entertainment. I usually make do with an MP3 player and write letters to my friends on the back of vomit bags about my ridiculous love life.
Remember that you can normally carry a small suitcase as well as a handbag and a plastic bag of magazines onto the plane with no problem — and if your small suitcase weighs a lot, be sure to carry it in a way which implies that it is light as a feather.
If avoiding jet-lag is your main intention, my recommendation to you is that you get lots of sleep and drink a lot of water. I think the reason people get so exhausted is because they’re dehydrated and basically, being cramped up in a little seat in a flying tin-can is pretty tiring. Even if you try to sleep for the whole flight, you probably won’t manage it, but do the best you can. (I also suggest staying away from sleeping pills, because while they will knock you out, when you come to you won’t feel particularly well-rested.)
I’ve seen those aromatherapy packs for airline travel but I don’t buy it. You probably wouldn’t get them onto the plane anymore, with those ridiculous restrictions on liquids they have in place, and who has room to pack a cute little kit of 4 bottles? Space in a bag is a valuable commodity. If they made them in little sachets which you could just throw in your bag, that would be great, but I haven’t seen that (yet).
If you’re going to go the anti-jet-lag route and drink lots of water, it might be best for you to sit on the aisle so that you don’t disturb Gramps every hour.
Take your shoes off! Bring nice socks with you if you’re travelling economy (most first- or business-class areas will supply you with them). Stash your shoes in the overhead locker, wriggle your toes and relax. (Remember that your feet will swell while you’re in the air, so when you put your shoes back on after landing, don’t be alarmed if the fit seems a bit tight!)
Most major international airports have showering facilities. If you have a stopover for a couple of hours, I strongly suggest you use them. Usually it’s about £3 for a shower of up to 20 minutes, and it is absolutely worth it. It is the most magnificent shower you will ever take.
Beware of using a laptop if the person sitting in front of you is excitable about putting their seat back. I almost had my Macbook decapitated in a reclining seat incident, it was very upsetting. All the more reason to travel first- or business-class!
Fly baby ,fly!
(All images sources available by clicking on the picture themselves)