People are always surprised when I tell them that I hate flying. HATE. Despise. Loathe. Detest. I travel all the time, so people tend to assume it doesn’t bother me. But I have really bad anxiety, and being stuck on an airplane, even for just a few hours, tends to exacerbate it. Turbulence scares the ever-loving shit out of me, and I can usually be found clutching the armrest, white-knuckled, praying for the smooth air to return. I’m not above popping a Valium and/or drinking a whiskey on the rocks to settle my nerves on a long flight.
Obviously my first tip for surviving long flights is to be rich and fly first class. If that’s not possible, as is the case for me, I’ve figured out some decent ways to quell anxiety and make international flights slightly more comfortable.
Dress Comfortably. Sorry but I don’t believe in dressing “nice” for a long flight. Seriously, who wants to be smooshed into a plane with hundreds of other people wearing uncomfortable clothes? Yoga pants and Northface Fleece or bust. I also always bring a pashmina, since it’s easy to throw around your neck and can double as a blanket to accommodate the sub-zero temperatures on flights.
Drink. As in, have a drink at the airport. I always have a pre-flight beer or glass of wine. It calms the nerves and makes dealing with the people who line up at the gate 20 minutes before boarding begins much more bearable. I typically also get a drink when the first beverage service comes around, as it takes the edge off. Pro-tip: it’s easier to get drunk on planes because of the slightly lower oxygen levels so be careful and don’t overdo it, or you’ll wake up hungover on the plane, which is the second worst place to wake up hungover (the NYC subway is number one).
Bring snacks. Do not make yourself hangry on top of being stuck in a tin can hurtling through the atmosphere. Also the last thing you want is your blood sugar crashing because you haven’t eaten enough. You can bring food through security so long as it isn’t liquid, so take advantage, since snacks at the airport and on the plane are offensively expensive. I typically bring almonds, dried fruit, beef jerky, and Lara Bars (bonus: I usually have stuff left over for the first couple days of my trip). Try to stick with healthy stuff that won’t upset your stomach. Make sure you’re eating an appropriate amount; sometimes I have to force myself because my anxiety diminishes my appetite, but you really don’t want low blood sugar on a flight.
Hydrate. And not just on the flight. The couple days leading up to your trip, drink extra water so you’re going in fully hydrated. If you bring your own water bottle (make sure it’s empty when you go through security), the flight attendants will fill it up for you no problem- it’s easier than having to constantly bring you water. I typically bring a large one and refill it once every 2 hours, because flights more than a few hours can leave you very dehydrated due to the pressurized air being pumped into the cabin. Dehydration can lead to headache, fatigue, and a general feeling of shittiness, so drink more than you think you should. That is actually why I always get aisle seats, even on long flights; I pee constantly due to chugging extra water.
Eye Mask, Ear Plugs and Neck Pillow. I didn’t used to travel with these when I was younger, but now that I’m past that “I can sleep anywhere!” phase, I need dark and quiet if I’m going to snooze, and god help my neck if I don’t have a proper neck pillow. Most people will have their overhead light off on overnight flights, but there’s always that one asshole who stays up reading the latest James Patterson novel, so best to bring the mask just in case. The ear plugs might not be necessary if you’re someone who can sleep through noise, but I always travel with them anyway in case the hotel is noisy, so I use them if I’m not listening to music. As for the pillow, invest in a really good one, because it’s so worth it. Here’s a great list.
Melatonin. I find this is the best sleep aid for me. It’s gentle, natural, and doesn’t leave me waking up wondering who and where I am (like the unfortunate Ambien episode of 2007). I definitely recommend giving it a shot, but Tylenol PM or any other sleep aid that works for you should do the trick.
Entertainment. Many long flights, especially international ones, have some sort of entertainment for each seat. If I can’t sleep, I watch a shit ton of TV or movies. But bring your own entertainment just in case; on two flights I’ve been on, my entertainment console didn’t work and it was a full flight, so there was nothing they could do. Luckily I had 2 seasons of The Good Wife downloaded and a bunch of old Star Trek: TNG episodes, so I was set. Plan ahead and download some TV shows, movies, or books, so you have some options. It’ll make the time go by way faster.
Move Around. The worst thing you can do on a long flight is stay seated the whole time. I usually grab aisle seats precisely so I can get up anytime I want. I’ve been known to do yoga in my seat, or head to the back of the plane to do standing yoga sequences; I’ve even led a mini yoga session for a few flight attendants. Here is a link for a great plane yoga sequence that I highly recommend the next time you’re on a flight more than a few hours. If you don’t want to do plane yoga, at least walk around every couple of hours. It’ll keep the blood flowing and reduce swelling, as well as your risk of developing a blood clot. I also regularly spell the alphabet with my feet, as mine tend to get sore and swollen on long flights.
Chapstick, Lotion and Socks. Dry lips and hands make me so uncomfortable, as do cold feet, so I always bring these items. The air on planes dries everything out, so next to belly-flopping into a vat of vaseline, this is the next best thing. You don’t want to deal with dry, cracked lips heading into your vacation. Also don’t put your bare feet on the airplane floor, who knows what’s been there. I typically bring a pair of thick socks with those little rubber dots on the bottom, so I can walk around in them. I also always bring an extra pair of socks just in case.
Meditate. Partly due to my anxiety and partly because it’s just a great thing to do, I keep several short meditation podcasts on my phone. Whenever I’m getting antsy or anxious, I listen to one. Meditation Oasis on iTunes has some great free ones, ranging from 7 minute relaxation sequences to 20 minute sleep meditations. I promise it works. These have kept me from having full-fledged anxiety attacks on flights before.
And finally…..just think about all the cool stuff you’re about to do. Sometimes, no matter what, you just want to get off the damn plane. When that feeling hits, start mentally ticking off all the fun things you want to do on your trip and revel in the excitement of travel. That’s why you’re putting yourself through the hell of flying in the first place.