I’ve been through hundreds of airports and it never fails to surprise me just how stressed everyone looks when they travel. There’s the businessman frowning as he jogs past to catch his flight, or the parents having a meltdown as their three screaming kids run wild through the crowds.
People just aren’t having fun anymore.
From the mad rush to make it on time, to the stampede to actually board the plane, I just don’t get it. I love travelling. There’s nothing more exciting than grabbing your bags and exploring somewhere new. It’s an adventure. And it’s just good fun.
But as I was coming back from a 26 hour transit from the depths of New Zealand, I realized why most people seem to struggle. They’re just not prepared for a long flight, and flying without a plan is a recipe for disaster. If you want to enjoy your next long-haul flight, you’ve got to get organized. It’s that simple. Plan ahead and you’ll land refreshed, recharged, and ready to enjoy your vacation.
Here’s what I’ve learnt in the last 15 years since I discovered the world outside of Australia, and started to travel a bit too frequently.
Book non-stop flights
Wherever possible you want to find non-stop flights to your destination, so do your research properly before booking. Some airlines advertise a flight as direct, but there’s a stopover hidden in the details. Which means you’re going to have to wait at a transit airport to collect more passengers, or to disembark completely and change planes. Both of these can cause delays, and should be avoided if you can.
I’d also recommend spending a little more to fly without a transit. There’s nothing fun about changing planes, especially if your first flight was delayed so you’ve now got a mad stampede through your transit airport to make your connection on time. Or perhaps you don’t. Which leaves you stuck, burning hours of precious holiday time while you sit in a random airport waiting for the next connecting flight. You’re far better off to pay a couple of hundred dollars more to fly direct, wherever possible.
Choose the right seat
If you’re at all picky about the seat you want, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and choose a good seat once your check in opens. You can use a site like SeatGuru to see maps of particular airplanes, and choose accordingly.
In general, pick an exit row seat if you’re tall and want additional legroom, and go with the aisle if you like being able to get up and walk around without having to climb over the people sleeping either side of you. I’ve also found that the screaming babies all tend to be grouped in towards the front of the plane, so go further back if you’re wanting a good night’s sleep.
Wear comfortable clothes
Unless you’re on a short flight, it’s not a good idea to board the plane in shorts and a t-shirt. Planes get freezing, especially on an overnight flight, and if I can’t stay warm it’s almost a guarantee I’m going to have trouble sleeping. Pick a comfortable outfit and wear layers, so you can adjust as you need.
For me, I start with a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, and a pair of black leather shoes that can double for work. The next layer is a casual long-sleeve button up shirt, and then just a hoodie to stay warm. I love being able to pull the hood down and block out the world, especially as the stewardesses always seem to want to turn on the lights and serve food at 2am.
Pack smarter bags
Now I get there’s plenty of travellers who fly carry-on only, but I don’t like the idea of having to lug everything I need for my trip in just my carry-on, unless I’m only going for a day or two. It’s a struggle to fit everything I need in, and sending things to the laundry at your hotel gets pricey fast.
Instead, I recommend only packing one set of business clothes you can change into in your carry on, just in case your checked bags go missing. This way, you’ve got something professional to wear until the airline either finds your bag, or you get a chance to go shopping the next day.
If you want to simplify things even further, put everything you’re going to need on the flight in a smaller bag separate to your carry-on. That way, when you board, you can put your carry-on in the overhead lockers, and won’t need to block the aisle as you rummage through to find your charger, your headphones, your book, and everything else you want during the flight.
Be ready to sleep
You’ve also got to think about what you’re going to need to get a decent sleep on the plane. Because you can’t always choose who you sit next to, a set of earplugs have made all the difference on a couple of the red eye flights I’ve taken. You can block out the engine noise, the crying baby, even the snoring guy, and get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.
A comfortable pillow also makes a big difference, and stops you waking up with cramps in your neck, because, let’s face it, we’re just not meant to sleep sitting upright. Oh, and throw a toothbrush in with a little toothpaste. Brushing your teeth will make you feel 100 percent better once you land.
Buy lounge access
No matter what happens things do go wrong when you’re travelling. If you do find yourself stuck at an airport for a few hours, be willing to pay up and buy access to an airport lounge. It’s usually about $50, and it’s well worth it. They’ll have WiFi, comfortable chairs to relax in, and many even have shower facilities which can be great to freshen up if you’re on a long transit. Oh, and there’s usually plenty of free coffee, snacks and more, which all up doesn’t make it that expensive at all if you’ve got a few hours to kill.
If you want to actually enjoy your next flight, the trick is to get organized. For me, travel is an adventure I enjoy, and by planning ahead, packing smart, and ensuring I’ve got everything I need to be comfortable and actually sleep on the plane, long-haul flights are a breeze.