WFMW: How to sleep on an international flight. And other tips for a more fun flight (even if you are a fearful flyer).

While it is fresh in my mind I wanted to jot down a few things I found useful (and NOT) when I flew across the world and back recently.

If you have always envied people who look like this on a plane:

woman-sleeping-on-plane (1)

Because you look more like this:


or even just like this


I have a few tips.

OK, first off and I’m not even kidding, xanax. If you are fearful of flying, just do yourself and everyone around you a favour and get some.  I do not take medication blithely and I really, really hate feeling in any way loopy or out of control and so  I resisted for many years. When my fear of flying got so intense that I would hyperventilate every time I heard a plane fly overhead, and considering I live about as far away from my family as one can get,  I knew it was time for intervention. Years ago, I (don’t laugh) took a fear of flying course online which was hugely helpful and I also embraced the concept of better living through Chemistry, and got myself a prescription.  Because I only take it very occasionally for flying, just a low dose helps me to feel completely rational about the proceedings and protects my travel mates (whether I know them or not) from nail marks in their arms and going completely insane along with me. “What was that noise? Ok what was that one? It sounds like the engine is striving! We are going down aren’t we! I know we are! ““We are going down and I am the only person who knows it!” etc etc.” While xanax does make it easier for me to sleep, it doesn’t make me loopy, giddy or drowsy when I’m busy doing other things and I can be totally alert when I need to be. It’s just me..but sane.  Not to be a pusher but if you are a flying freaker outer, consider talking to your Dr.

Speaking of sleep, this time I logged several reasonable hours on my flights and it made the whole travel experience and the transition on either side so much more pleasant. (I used to stay awake and rigid for the entire 19 hour flight which made for a wasted couple of days of recovery on either end).  Knowing that my neuroses would be under control, I just had to deal with my insomniac prone body which only likes to sleep in its own bed under specific circumstances. So, I put together a little “sleep kit” which I was so grateful to have.

It included:

1.An aisle seat!  My mom reserved aisle seats for all my flights and I was so grateful! I have always been a window seat girl before and while it is nice to be able to look out the window, it is even nicer to have the extra wiggle room and freedom an aisle seat gives you. Highly, highly recommend it if you can get it.


2.A blanket (airlines do provide blankets but they are dinky and not very warm and once, I was given one that was wet!!!-that airline went out of business-surprise!). I was really grateful to have a nice big soft blanket that I could easily wrap around my feet and legs and at times I even pulled it over my head to make a partial little tent. It’s not a glamourous way to go, but I slept much better this way, plus I did not get sick on the flights despite lots of hacking fok around me, so I feel like it’s an extra bonus. The blanket was very light weight but it was pretty large so I put it in a space saving bag from Swiss gear (the one which squish out all the air-also procured at TJ Maxx) which made it really doable for my carry on.  I got my blanket on sale at Rite Aid, it was not designed for travel but with the travel bag it worked out great.


3.A neck pillow. Ok my friends. Get yourself a neck pillow. That little piece of fluff they give you is not a pillow. It’s a little piece of fluff.  And while you are at it, get the best one you can afford. I found a memory foam one at TJ Maxx for about $15 and it was worth every single penny (and more). The softer ones filled with beady type stuff seem really comfy and fun and squishy at the outset but they don’t have the same support for a long, long flight and the blow up ones are only for people who can sleep anywhere, under any circumstances (like my husband). Don’t even bother with those. The ones with a little clasp can strap to your carry on handle to save space.


A sleep mask and ear plugs. Most airlines don’t give these out anymore. Times are tough friends. It’s barebones out there. Bring your own.  (The pic of the one above cracks me up by the way.)


And finally my piece d’resistance…you are not allowed to laugh, ok?? A footrest. Yes I said it, an inflatable foot rest. I saw this at TJ Maxx too (about $10) and since irritable legs are my biggest discomfort when flying (and since my legs are the length of the average toddler) I figured I would give it a shot. I felt pretty silly as I blew it up the first time,  but oh my goodness, what a difference it made. It was so incredibly helpful and I did not suffer from the dreaded jimmy legs at all…plus with it shoved under the seat in front of me,  it made my reclined seat extended…so it was that much more like a bed. (Think business class versus economy). Once it is under your seat, nobody sees it so you don’t look like a geriatric as the photo above would suggest.  It inflates and deflates in seconds and it takes up hardly any space. If you have issues with restless legs and/or you are short, it’s so, so great.  I will never travel without one again.


Other things that were awesome to have: chapstick (or “lip-ice if you are South African), moisturizer in general, (a tiny container of vaseline is nice for putting around and in your nose-it really does help to keep you healthy) my own bottle of water. You have to buy it after you go through security and it will cost about a million dollars, but it is worth it, because if you are like me, you will be parched the instant you get on the plane and you won’t want to wait for the drink service. Drink service is nice, but the tiny little cups of liquid they give you won’t do it. Once you finish off your bottle, you just ask the steward(ess) to refill it so you don’t have to keep harassing them.

Learn from my mistakes. AKA: Things that sucked :

Overpacking my carry on. Just.Don’t. I did it because I didn’t want to pay the overweight fees on my checked luggage, so in future I will just pack very, very few clothes and ditch the ridiculous variety of shoes to free up more weight for the chocolate. Oy vey.

Speaking of carry on. My next mistake:


An uncomfortable shoulder bag carry on. Be ye not so stupid. Get the lightest most nimble one with wheels that you can find (and it wouldn’t hurt if it was cute like the one above). I almost got one and then I decided I wanted to save money. Stupid. Hauling a 200lb shoulder bag around airports and hefting them into overhead compartments when you are very short, gets very old, very fast. If you travel really light a backpack will do.


Something else: have a way to keep your passport and boarding pass really handy but really safe. You have to haul them out a million times and if you don’t have an easy access pocket it can get painful and occasionally scary when you can’t immediately find them in your overcluttered handbag. Ask me, I know. As nerdy as that thing above looks, I wish I’d had it.  Also bring a pen, especially if you are going on international flights. You need to fill out forms. I had to borrow one.

In terms of entertainment, go light. As is my way, I over-packed with not one but 2 books AND 2 magazines AND my iphone and I did not use any of them. When I was not sleeping there were tons of movies to watch (and TV, games etc, should I have wanted to). I really regretted the space I wasted with all my entertainment.

toms redsocks

Please do yourself a favour and *wear socks* and slip on shoes to the airport. I got the slip on shoes right for this flight but I forgot socks for the first leg. It is seriously gross to have stand barefootwhen you go through security (shudder) and from past experience I know that it is a huge pain to have to tie and untie shoes or zip boots on and off. Your feet will probably swell a bit on the plane so slip ons which will accommodate that are the best.


Extra’s for the medium to high maintenance traveler: Gum is nice if you ears get blocked, and a few little snacks if they get chintzy on the food service. I flew KLM this time and was fed very well but I’ve flown other airlines which felt like the hunger games. In terms of toiletries,remember to keep it under 2oz and in a clear bag for carry on.  All you need is a tooth brush and paste, contact lens solution, a mini deodorent, those pre-moistened face wipes, a tiny bottle of antibacterial gel is nice too. I also got a little body spray from Bath and Body works in sea breeze cotton or some such scent. It was light and breezy and gave the illusion of a recent shower. Minimal make up if you wear it and a hairbrush (and hair tie/scarf/hat) are nice to have so that you look less scary upon your arrival.  I bought some dry shampoo this time which I didn’t use but looking at the photos of my arrivals, I probably should have Winking smile.

From sad experience with lost luggage and kids puking on me. I always travel with a complete change of clothes and undies in my carry on and a nice warm pair of socks for sleeping. I try to make the extra clothing as light and compact as possible (and I put it in a space saving bag).  I had some Advil with me and I used it on the flight coming home, some throat sweets or hard candy was also useful for my throat when it got really dry.

Definitely dress comfortably and in layers. I was all over the place temperature wise. A soft, but warm light-weight sweater or cardigan is really nice to have.

A final tip for those traveling to different time zones. Get thee MELATONIN: My sister hooked me up with some before I left South Africa and I have adjusted so much easier to the time change then I did when I went over. I have been able to hang in ‘til my regular bedtime and sleep pretty solidly. I don’t think that has ever happened before. I’m a convert.

Happy trails to you!

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Dahling said...

Glad the Melatonin worked Sweaty ! I am going to try and get a footrest before we head back to Oz !

Anonymous said...

I am going to print out your advice for my next trip. Always make lots of mental notes on how to pack etc. and then loose them mentally and physically and make the same old same old mistakes, and HATE it! Sounds like you have got this travel thing down pat which means that you must visit once a year, OK??