17 helpful tips for a more comfortable international flight
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International flights are exciting because they often mean that you’re going on an adventure. Somewhere new or somewhere you have dreamed of going. Maybe an adventure to see someone you love or for a celebration.
Obviously not every flight means that and not every flight means a happy outcome. Regardless of why you’re headed across a pond, I hope these 17 tips will help you have a more comfortable international flight as they are quite different from a domestic one.
As you read through, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are there things in your travels that you think I should add to this list? Were any of them more helpful than others post international flight?
Well let’s jump in and start with something that I recommend before you even leave.
1. Boost immune system
Flying is amazing. It still blows my mind that technology is such that I can go from one side of the world to the other in a days time instead of weeks on a boat on rough sea.
That being said, you’re then in this enclosed space with recycled air with a bunch of people. You don’t know them or their hygiene habits.
One of the best things you can do to make sure you stay healthy for the trip is load up on Vitamin C, D and Zinc before you go. Give yourself a boost of immunity. I am a huge fan of doing it naturally.
- Vitamin C – kiwi, kale, parsley, broccoli and lemons are great resources for Vitamin C.
- Vitamin D – eating eggs, especially the yolks, as well as fish like salmon, sardines and canned tuna have great levels of Vitamin D.
- Zinc – legumes, seeds, nuts, dark chocolate and eggs are all naturally higher in zinc than other foods.
2. Get there early
There is nothing worse that getting to the airport late and missing your flight or your luggage not making it in time.
Make sure you get to the airport 3-4 hours early for international flights. The reason being, not only do you have to check your luggage and make your way through security, you also have to go through passport control and often a separate part of the airport that is after passport control.
After having rushed my way through enough times, I can tell you from experience that it is better to have plenty of time and be able to wander and go slowly than to rush through.
One time flying from Istanbul back to the states, I didn’t give myself a long enough of a layover. I almost missed my connecting flight in Frankfurt. It doesn’t help that the airport is massive and works so incredibly different than many.
Give yourself time and thus eliminate unnecessary stress.
3. Check for a lounge
Many credit cards these days have an added benefit of airport lounge access. Make sure you check and see if yours has that feature.
Airport lounges are great for when you get there really early or have a long layover. You typically have access to free drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and snacks. It is a quiet space in the midst of a busy airport. There are different levels and depend on the airport but they are a great option to have when you’re traveling.
If you’re new to international travel and have access, adventure on and check it out! You may just fall in love with a good lounge.
When you fly it is really important to drink enough water. The recommended amount is 8 oz. or 250 ml of water for every hour that you’re in the air.
I know. It seems like a lot! But flying will actually really dehydrate you. And if you plan to take advantage of any of those free drinks you get on the plane, make sure you drink even more.
If you don’t drink enough water you will likely get a bit dehydrated and it will take longer to get over jet lag. Obviously if you’re sleeping you’re not going to wake up every hour to drink, just make sure that you drink before going to sleep and when you wake up.
While you can ask the flight attendants for water, it often comes in a small cup. I recommend bringing your own water bottle. I am a huge fan of Epic Water filters because they are especially made for tap/filtered water.
They are reasonably priced and have plastic, steel and glass bottle options. They also have great incentives to use and recycle as well as make sure your water is free from toxins often found in tap water.
Plus you’re helping the environment. You can read more about my love of Epic in an upcoming blog post.
5. Clean everything
While the standard of cleanliness on planes has greatly improved in this pandemic era, it is still a great idea to make sure you wipe down your area.
While I haven’t used every international airline out there, my experience has been that they give you a fresh mask, alcohol wipe and maybe something else in a small little packet. Make sure you use the wipe to clean the drop down table and the arm rests, buttons and screens. Anywhere you’re going to touch really.
It is also a great idea to bring a small pack with you. I am a huge fan of these because they are individually wrapped and small. You can just grab a handful and they won’t take up a lot of space or easily dry out. You can even throw a few extra in your emergency pack. They are also really reasonably priced.
6. Pack a few good snacks
Every airline is different in what they offer but the offerings are typically better the farther you’re going. They understand that it is a long flight. Typically you get free alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages as well as a couple of meals during the flight.
But sometimes it is a long time in between meals. Some healthy snacks are a great thing to have with you just in case. They are also helpful during your layover or if your flight gets delayed.
While you’re limited on the liquids you can bring with you, there aren’t any restrictions on food you will eat during your flight. That being said, make sure you conscientious of others around you. i.e. don’t bring hard-boiled eggs or tuna salad sandwiches for your flight.
Bring things that don’t have a lot of smell to them, fruits, nuts, seeds, crackers. A good trail mix is often a good option because the fat and protein will help keep you full longer. I am a dark chocolate fan so I always make sure I have some of that with me as well.
7. compression socks
For years I flew internationally without using these and didn’t see the big deal. BUT, they are a great investment in your health.
Compression socks help prevent clots and swelling from sitting for long periods of time as well as promote blood circulation. This unisex option has a variety of sizes and prints and comes in a pack of 4.
If you’re new to the concept of compression socks, you read more about them in this comprehensive article from Healthline.com.
8. Do a few exercises
Another thing to help your legs from swelling and feeling all around better during the flight is to do a few simple exercises. If you’re trapped in a window seat, these will especially be helpful for you.
This is a great video put together by Physitrack, The University of Melbourne and Sports Medicine Australia. Do these exercises as often as you can for a much better flight.
While these exercises will be very helpful for you, it is also recommended that you get up as much as you can, even every hour, so as to help keep your blood flowing well.
9. Make your luggage unique
One of the worst things is after your long flight you go to grab your chic black luggage but it actually looks the same as every other black one out there. Next thing you know, you’re pulling the wrong one off and missing your own.
To make it easier and less stressful for yourself, make your luggage unique and easily distinguishable from all the others. Tie a ribbon on tightly or draw a pattern on the hard shell. Whatever it is so you will know it is yours.
Have some fun with it!
10. Take photos of your luggage
While I talked about the potential for lost luggage in the point about a carry on, this is another tip that is also helpful if that happens.
After you’re packed and before you give away your luggage, or perhaps even at home, snap a photo of all your luggage. In the even that it gets delayed/lost, having a photo will be helpful and make filling out the report much quicker.
It’s happened often enough that they have gotten pretty good at quickly getting the luggage to you. Having photos makes it even easier.
11. Dress nice but comfortable
While you don’t want to wear a three piece suit on the flight, sweats and grungy shirt aren’t a great option either. There are a few reasons why not.
If by some happy chance you have the opportunity to be bumped to first class, you will never get there if you’re not in a nice looking outfit. Doesn’t matter how much money you have!
Also, things happen. Flights get delayed. If you look nice and all of a sudden find yourself with 12 extra hours in Rome, you’re more likely gonna feel much more comfortable adventuring out if you have a nice outfit on instead of something that more resembles pajamas.
You don’t have to sacrifice comfort to look nice! There are so many options out there these days for comfy, nice looking outfits.
12. Make sure you have some USD
I am a huge fan of simply pulling money from the ATM as opposed to carrying a lot of cash. Firstly it is much safer in my opinion. If I lose cash, it is gone. But if I somehow lose my card, I can cancel it and use another one.
I also don’t have any fees on mine because I am part of a great credit union. Obviously find out what the fees are for you as you travel internationally. Also, don’t forget to set a travel alert with your card so it doesn’t get turned off.
If you do need to bring larger amounts of cash, know that there are limits as to what can be carried. For US Customs it is $10K in cash. Other countries may have different limits. But who wants to carry that much!
Regardless of how much it is, make sure it is in a money belt secured to your person so it isn’t as easy to be forgotten, lost or stolen.
All that being said, regardless of where you go it is a good idea to have a small amount on your person in USD or Euro as they are internationally recognized and accepted currencies. If you run into problems, you will be able to take care of yourself.
The longer the flights, the more options you have. If you’re like me and love to watch movies, you may have seen all the ones on the flight. There are a couple of things you can do before hand to make sure you get the most out of your in-flight entertainment.
First, check the airlines you’re flying with. They will likely have a list somewhere of their current movie, music and game options that will be available in-flight.
Second, make sure you have some non-digital options. I don’t know about you but I can’t really sleep on planes. I try but I just can’t get comfortable enough and I wake up in so much more pain than it is worth. But staring at a screen for 15 hours will make you want to go batty.
So if you love sodokus or puzzles, make sure you bring a small paper book of them that you can use while on flights. It will save your eyes and your sanity.
Finally you can load your phone/tablet/computer with your own options. Maybe there is a show on Netflix that you have been dying to binge watch and now you will have the time. Smart download will let you download them and then delete them as you watch them!
But make sure you have your charging cable and an external battery with you. While all international flights I have made in the last decade have had charging ports, there is a chance it won’t work or maybe you need two (BT headphones die too).
This is my favorite external battery because it will charge my phone multiple times and is a great price point. I had a previous version and just replaced it in 2021 after having it for 4+ years. Great life span!
14. use the time well
I am all for a good Netflix binge session, but sometimes I just feel so blah afterwards. It isn’t what I really needed at the time. And so often, it is hard to find a long chunk of time without interruption or distraction.
One of my favorite things to do on the plane is use it productively, especially if I am leaving in the morning and am wide awake. I will write or journal or read instead of just watch movies.
By the time I land, even though I am exhausted, I feel so incredibly ready to take on the day/evening having accomplished something.
Maybe for you it is reading that book that has been on your list for ages or knitting that scarf or putting together that business plan for your dream business. Whatever it is, use the (mostly) quiet time you have and knock out some to dos!
15. eye mask/ear plugs
There are always going to be those people who are awake through the whole flight. Watching movies or playing games or whatever it is they do. There will be sounds and snoring.
Definitely recommend having a good set of ear plugs and a nice eye mask to make it the best sleeping environment possible. I am a huge fan of this 3D mask to give my eyeballs a little bit of space as well as my mascara doesn’t smudge. But if a cheap flat one works for you, use it!!
Ear plugs can be tricky. For me, my right ear hole is bigger than my left. So always sound comes through regardless….that is until I found out about silicone ear plugs. These bad boys are amazing! You can mold them to your ear shape. What’s even better, you can even swim with them and keep the water from getting in your ears!
If you are a naturally cold person, I would also recommend you make sure to have an extra sweater or something. The airlines typically have a small pillow and blanket per seat but for some it isn’t enough. Some flights can get quite chilly.
16. Sleeping aid
When I first left America, I went to Uganda. I was so so excited. But I also knew I wasn’t a great sleeper. So a friend recommended to me that I go to the doctor and ask for a handful of sleeping pills that I could take on the way to and back home to help me sleep.
The process was easy and the doctor totally was willing to help in providing these. While I think I am just “special” most people love being able to do this and find it quite helpful. Somehow, I found myself still wide awake.
Another more natural option is melatonin. You can’t find it in Turkey so make sure you bring it with you. It will be good to use even as you’re adjusting to jet lag as well. This is one of those supplements that more is definitely not better. I would encourage you to start small and build up until you get to a dose that works well.
I have a high medicine tolerance typically but if I take a 10mg capsule it gives me a headache when I wake up…kinda feeling like a hangover. I typically start with 5mg and if I take it too late (only 8 hours before I have to wake up) I will just take half of a pill.
17. well packed Carry-on
Sometimes airlines don’t always get it right. Sometimes, in spite of the best planning, things go wrong. Sometimes that means you find yourself in a foreign country without your luggage.
One of the best things you can do before this happens is a well packed carry-on. By that I mean having all the things you will need with you but light enough that you can actually carry it around as you transfer and get your other luggage.
Check out this blog post on all the 21 things you should definitely pack for the most peace of mind. Here I talk about the musts in a carry-on. Suffice it to say, it will help you have a better international flight if it is packed well!
If you’re not sure what to pack, you can also check out my Packing Travel Hacks.
Traveling is an exciting adventure. Sometimes it can be stressful or long depending on your flights. Hopefully these tips will make your trip go more smoothly and enjoyably.
Do you have any other tips for international flights?
See you next time!