Over the past seven years, I’ve traveled to 20 different countries, with a couple of repeats. Whether it’s going from Seattle to Berlin or Los Angeles to Auckland, it’s safe to say that I’ve been on a lot of long flights.
Flying for 10 or more hours in economy used to be brutal, but I’ve picked up a thing or two on each of my journeys and really don’t mind it too much now. I’m not saying I love long-haul flights in economy (I get major envy walking past the first-class seats), but I’ve gotten good enough at packing that I no longer feel cramped and miserable the entire time. Here are the things I always keep in my personal item to make even 13-hour flights bearable.
If I need to sleep on a flight in order to avoid jet lag, I always bring a travel pillow for the plane. However, I’m very selective when it comes to which ones I use because I have tried a lot of pillows over the years and only two have ever helped me actually get some sleep.
The first is this inflatable travel pillow. It does look kind of silly, but as someone who typically sleeps on their stomach, this is the only pillow that has allowed me to sleep for a solid four hours at a time without waking up with neck pain.
Inflatable Travel Pillow for Airplane
Trust me, this will help you get amazing sleep on planes.
When deflated, the pillow doesn’t take up any more space than a standard neck pillow, and it’s easy to inflate and deflate in your seat. If you can get past how it looks to other passengers, I highly, highly recommend this pillow if the regular ones don’t work for you.
If I’m not taking a red-eye and I’m more interested in naps on the plane, I like to pack the Cabeau Evolution TNE S3 Travel Pillow. This one has worked for me better than other neck pillows thanks to the straps that connect the pillow to your airplane seat and keep it cozy around your neck. This prevents any neck bobbing or neck pain while sleeping.
Cabeau Evolution TNE S3 Travel Pillow
Another great option for people who have trouble with traditional neck pillows.
The memory foam padding is also super comfy, and the entire pillow can be rolled into a small bag that’s easy to transport and takes up minimal space.
If I had to pick a travel product that has made the biggest difference for me, it would be my foot hammock. I first tried this out on a trip to Norway a few years ago and it’s now a staple in my carry-on for any flight over six hours.
A simple solution for feeling more cozy in your seat.
My legs get really restless on long flights, and this foot hammock allows me to take the pressure off of the backs of my legs when I need to. It immediately makes my economy seat feel ten times more comfortable.
Note that not all airlines may allow the use of this product because it attaches around the tray table. I’ve never had an issue, but I’ve heard of some travelers who have. I also try to be very mindful of the person in front of me when I use this since it attaches to the back of their seat. Place your feet into it gently and try not to shift around too much.
Getting up to use the airplane bathroom is annoying, but so is getting a headache from being dehydrated. Drinking plenty of electrolytes on flights has been the most effective and practical way for me to stay relatively hydrated without making my entire row get up every three hours (I’m a ride-or-die window seat on long flights).
My favorite brand of electrolytes is Liquid I.V. I’ve tried a few other brands that work just fine, but this brand seems to work a little better for me. I generally use one packet per flight, although I might take two in one day if I’m looking at a total journey longer than 24 hours.
Liquid I.V. Hydration Multiplier
Stay hydrated during long journeys.
Liquid I.V. contains electrolytes and a host of vitamins designed to help your body get hydrated more quickly than drinking water alone. The science behind the brand does seem pretty legit, but whether you believe it or not, I can attest that this stuff works for me. I’m very prone to dehydration headaches, and I never get them when I take Liquid I.V. on a flight.
Eye Mask & Earplugs
I’ll be honest, I find eye masks pretty annoying to wear. That being said, they work really well for me on planes, and I always pack one for a flight. I prefer these 3D eye masks, which don’t press into my eyes or rub against my eyelashes.
Don't let annoying lights keep you awake.
I find that I sleep much better on planes when wearing a pair of these since I don’t get woken up when the overhead lights turn on.
I also like to pack a pair of earplugs in my bag. I typically listen to music while trying to fall asleep on planes, but these are nice to have if I want total peace and quiet.
LYSIAN Ultra Soft Foam Earplugs
Block out all external noises.
Yes, I said noise-reducing and not noise-canceling. While I’m sure those $400 over-the-ear headphones everyone talks about are amazing to wear on flights, I 1) don’t own any, and 2) would be too afraid to bring them on a trip in case I lost them.
Instead, I prefer these noise-reducing headphones by Panasonic. They’re affordable, so I’m not as worried about losing them, and really comfortable, in my opinion. They can also be plugged into the plane to watch movies or use their entertainment system (the headphones that planes hand out are awful). While these won’t block out all of the background noise, they’ll dull it really well and make it much easier to relax or sleep.
If you have an iPhone, just use an adapter when you want to listen to something on your phone.
Apple Lightning to 3.5mm Adapter
Apple makes an affordable adapter so you can listen to wired headphones with an iPhone.
After my first long journey (a 16-hour bus ride in high school), I realized that my feet got swollen after sitting for long periods of time. Ever since then, I’ve been wearing compression socks on long trips and I’ve never looked back.
Compression socks help improve circulation in your feet and lower legs, making you feel less tired after something like a long flight. I’m a big fan of these ones from Comrad. They offer the perfect amount of compression and come in a variety of colors. I recommend trying compression socks even if you don’t think you need them—you might be surprised at how much better you feel after your flight.
Comrad Knee High Compression Socks
Improve circulation while you're sitting for long periods of time.
I started wiping down my tray table long before COVID, and I still do this for every flight I take, regardless of how long it is. A quick wipe down of the tray table, armrests, seat buckle (think about how many people touch that), and headrest makes me feel much more comfortable before I settle into a long flight.
Flight attendants are great at their jobs, but it’s just impossible to thoroughly sanitize every inch of a plane between flights. By the time you get to your seat, who knows how many people have already sat there carrying who knows what kinds of germs.
I always bring at least one pack of sanitizing wipes on every trip and use them on the plane, as well as to clean my phone at the end of each day. I firmly believe that this is why I never get sick while traveling.
PURELL Hand Sanitizing Wipes
Keep germs at bay throughout your entire trip.
Long flights are the worst, especially if you’re stuck in economy. As someone who’s been on dozens of long flights, here’s what I pack to make them significantly more enjoyable.