Have you ever woken up on a plane one hour after taking a sleeping pill, with your headphones wire etched into your cheek, completely covered in sweat while simultaneously freezing and more hungry than you’ve ever been in your life? Were both of your legs asleep? Did you have a trail of masala-scented drool all down your shirt? Did you check the in-flight map and realize there were sill 10 more hours left on your flight? Did you cry a little bit? Did the girl next to you see you cry, nod in solidarity, and offer you her magazine? Because that was me.
As an expat in Asia, 15-hour plane rides are a big part of my life now. I actually look forward to them for months, since they usually result in a cheeseburger. Whether you're flying for business or pleasure (have you ever thought about how weird that phrase is?), there are several factors to consider surrounding how you survive this plane flight, including: Do you get hungry when you're bored, how bedraggled do you want to look, does your skin gets oily or dry under pressure, how much work stuff you have to bring on the flight, how long you can hold your pee, and are you over five foot eight. Here’s what my journeys have taught me:
Have you thought of upgrading to business class? I’ve heard it’s more comfortable there. JUST KIDDING.
First things first: What are you going to eat? I get incredibly hungry on long flights. I’d like to think I would be capable going 15 hours without food during my normal life, but on a flight this is simply not possible. Some plane food is quite palatable in my humble opinion, but the question is whether you want to wait around for the nice attendant to bring whatever you may or may not be interested in putting into your stomach at that time. Are you ready for fried spicy potato balls at 8 a.m. “your time”? Are you ready for sticky sweet rice pudding before you’ve had dinner? And a lot of airlines are charging for food now! What happened to unlimited tiny pretzels!?
Pack snacks. Yes, they are allowed. The best snacks are small but nutritionally dense, don’t smell (I’m looking at you, tunafish), don’t rot, don’t require a fork, and can take a long time to eat, since you’ll want to be passing the time. Hopefully they also won’t cause a severe allergic reaction for another passenger — so far so good with that one. You also don’t want to be dealing with Tupperware or gladware that you will have to throw out or carry around with you for the rest of your trip.
Here’s what I bring*: at least eight whole wheat (or spelt, gluten-free, whatever) cracker sandwiches with chunky peanut butter wrapped up in tin foil. Baggy of almonds. Baggy of Honeynut Cheerios, or equivalent. Dried apricots wrapped up in tinfoil. Baggy of baby carrots, cucumber sticks. At least one apple and not-too-ripe banana (I recommend tin foil inside a baggy for this one). Couple squares of dark chocolate in tin foil. Ha ha, just kidding, bring the whole bar. Put all those foods into one lunch bag the night before and then don’t forget it on your way out. Bring a giant empty water bottle. My new favorite trick is handing it to the flight attendant before I take my seat. They will actually fill it for you and deliver it to your seat before take off – delivery! Press the button with the glass of water on it to get them to refill it at least once during the flight.
*I settled on these as the ideal plane foods during a vegan period of my life. Vegan or no, I’m sticking to them. Feel free to add … meat?
I like to wear “nice clothes” (jeans, long sleeve t-shirt) to the airport. On the off-chance you run into a judgmental former classmate, or are travelling with coworkers, it can be best to look somewhat put together. I also bring black yoga pants, an attractive shawl, and a sweater-type thing. If you're hot you won’t need to wear either, but you will have extra pillows! But seriously, who has ever been hot on a flight? (If you are flying to Asia and will have time to shop, maybe skip the shawl since you will probably want to buy a pretty one here?) Some things to consider: Are you likely to break into a flop sweat? Are you probably going to spill on yourself? Do you really need to wear a bra? I like to wear a cotton “bralette” under a tank, with a loose fitting cotton t-shirt (have you seen this?!), and my “sweat jeans” (jeans that are so comfortable they might as well be sweat pants). Simple stud earrings that won’t come off – or nothing.
Wear cotton underwear and bring a spare pair in some sort of opaque bag, or inside your toiletries bag. Don’t just let them wander around in your carry-on bag! They will fall out when it is least appropriate…
Wear TOMS or other easy-on easy-off flats, but definitely bring a pair of socks in your bag. If you’ve ever gotten a pair of socks on a fancy flight (or hospital…) that have the rubber grippers on the bottom – bring those. They will make you feel slightly less groady when you wear them in the airplane bathroom. Sometimes flights provide them but you cannot depend on that.
Bring your “liquids” in a ziplock bag inside your normal toiletries bag. Pop the baggy out for security and pop it right back in for the rest of your trip. Don’t try to go putting non-liquids in the bag and pretending it is an acceptable dopp kit. If you want to cheat, and bring barely any liquids, bring unscented baby wipes and Wisps. If you are travelling to a developing country I highly recommend you actually pack a ton of both of those items for situations when water isn’t readily available.
Pee right before you get on the flight.
Once the flight has taken off, take a sleeping pill, see if you can get the flight attendant to give you two mini bottles of wine (they usually will) and change into your yoga pants (by the way, did you know Target’s yoga pants are really well made and come in a Tall size? Because that changed my life). Put on your gripper socks. Do you wear glasses? Take them off and put them in their case. Put the case back in your bag and zip it. Do not hook them onto your collar, hang them on the seat back pocket, or put them on top of your head. Do not take them off in the bathroom to pick at your skin because you will accidently knock them into the trash container and be too embarrassed to tell anyone until you land [one time when you were twelve].
Brush or Wisp your teeth, baby wipe or wash your face, and then cover your face in the thickest moisturizer you can find. Try to sleep for as long as possible. When you wake up, try to go back to sleep. Continue for the rest of the flight. If this isn’t working for you, try thinking about how glad you are that you aren’t doing this journey by sea or worse, not at all, you spoiled brat.
One and a half hours before landing, change into your fresh underwear and jeans. Baby powder or dry shampoo your hair if it has become greasy. Wisp ‘n’ wipe again.
Things you can do in advance to make this experience even better:
Buy these headphones. Seriously. They're not that expensive compared to other headphones (right?), they come in amazing colors, the sound quality is unreal, they have this thing so your loved one can plug his or her headphones into your headphones and you can all listen in!, and they look really badass. They're pretty soft too, so you can fall asleep on them. Mine have lasted forever.
Have you ever seen a jersey blazer for sale and thought about what a dumb idea it was? If you want to look professional you should buy a normal blazer, am I right? Who would ever want to look “sort of dressed up”? People on planes, that’s who. Invest in a knitted or jersey blazer. You will feel like a million bucks when all the regular people have hoodies, and you're a classy world traveller with places to be who of course is wearing a blazer. It can also be balled up for make-shift pillow purposes. Chances are, wherever you’re travelling, you may at some point want to wear a blazer – why not a cotton one?
Make a playlist of songs that make you fall asleep, or inspire your body’s immune system – depending on where you’re travelling to.
Your carry-on bag should be lightweight and have a top zip. Zip it.
Bring a crappy ballpoint pen. If you're on a long flight it usually involves some sort of customs forms. There will undoubtedly be a dearth of pens, and then you have to wait for everyone else to finish before you get a chance to screw up and write your date of birth in the British way when they didn’t even ask for it that way … Don’t bring a nice pen because it might explode.
Take your birth control or whatever medications you take on any schedule you will actually remember. There are no right answers because at the end of the day, you’re time travelling.
The things Hilary Fischer-Groban misses most about America/not-India are berries, bacon, and Target.