It’s a big issue in the life of the budget traveller. I know, I know. Another blogger posting on that age old issue. Yes, there are a lot of articles and blog posts on this topic, but the majority of them are completely unrealistic – how many of us can SERIOUSLY afford a $350 pashmina to keep us cosy and warm, or have enough frequent flyer points to be able to upgrade to business class? Those tips are not helpful; they’re infuriating.
So what makes me qualified to give useful advise? Chances are, I’m just like you. I don’t have any frequent flyer memberships because I pretty much just book the cheapest flights available. I’ve only ever flown business class once, on a family vacation 15 years ago, because the plane was all but empty and the air hostess probably thought the exhausted family of 5 flying back home from Europe deserved a break. I can’t afford expensive travel clothes or hydrating face masks made from unicorn tears – my current carry on backpack came from Kmart, and my travel document wallet cost $15 from Typo about 6 years ago.
Now that we’ve established that I’m not ‘just like you but better,’ let’s get down to it. I’ve flown a lot in the last few years. That’s given me plenty of time to work things out by trial and error. Before we start, let me preface these tips by saying that there is no magic formula to making a shitty, squishy economy seat feel luxurious for 14 hours. But there are ways to make it manageable, so that when the plane doors open at your destination, you’re not disembarking like an extra from The Walking Dead.
– Pay attention to your seat selection. Whether you book with an agent or do it yourself online, you should be able to select your seat from a seating plan. I always pick a seat towards the back, for a few reasons:
a) First, you’re generally less likely to have a crying baby. Many airlines provide bassinets, and if parents use them, they’ll need to be seated at the front of the plane (or front of a section).
b) While you can view being that close to the toilets as a bad thing, you can also use it to your advantage for space to get up and stretch your legs.
c) And finally, if there’s no row behind you, you can recline all flight without annoying someone else, and no one can kick the back of your seat while trying yo get themselves some space.
– While we’re talking seat selection, go for an aisle seat. Being able to stretch you legs out in the aisle in between trolley runs make a lot of difference on a long flight!
– Something else to consider when you’re booking is your meal selection. Yes, plane food gets a bad wrap and most of us feel like rubbish after eating it. But you can actually do something about that by ordering a special meal. Here’s the deal with plane food: there are the standard meals everyone gets by default. But you can order a special meal if you have certain dietary restrictions – gluten free, non-pork products, lacto-ovo, there’s actually a lot you can pick from! Given that the main culprit in plane food is excess salt, you could order a low sodium or raw vegetarian meal – all you need to do in most cases is add in the request to the online ‘manage your booking’ portal, or just email customer service for the airline you’re flying, ask for their special meal options, and let them know what you’d prefer!
– Following on from that last tip, try to eat well in the 24 hours before your flight. Aim for lots of veggies, wholegrains and protein, lots of water, and try to minimise your intake of sugar, alcohol and processed foods. Basically, go low FODMAP for at least a day or two before you fly. Trust me, it’ll make a big difference!
– If you do have a sensitive tummy on flights, its also a good idea to BYO food on board, even if it’s just a few snacks. I generally take with me a punnet of strawberries or blueberries, some mixed raw nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc), and a packet of corn thins.
– Plan your arrival aiming to decrease your stress levels. If you’re on a plane for 14 hours and spend half that time worrying about what you’ll have to deal with when you arrive in terms of collecting luggage and organising transport out of the airport, you’re not getting much rest! Know what you’re going to be doing when you collect bags – you may want to book a shuttle bus in advance, or decide to get a coffee once you have your bags before you hit the taxi stand.
There are lots of things I like to take with me on board, like books and journals, but these are the things that will really help you.
– Noise cancelling headphones. These are new to my arsenal and hands down the most essential thing to take. Trust me, invest in some, it’ll make flying at least 68% less shit. Crying baby? Bickering couple? Snoring neighbour? Doesn’t matter!
– Make up remover wipes and mini fragrance. You’ve been airborne for many hours. You’re tired. You feel irritable and blehh. It’s amazing how much more refreshed you are after giving you face a good clean and spritzing a little perfume over yourself.
– Moisturiser and lip balm. We all know planes are dehydrating. And landing after 14 hours with cracked lips and a dry, itchy face feels crap. My go to products are Natural Instinct Rejuvenating Rosehip Oil (great for face & hands, and Burt’s Bees original honey lip balm.
– A clean top and undies. You may have a flight delay. You may have a while to wait between connecting flights. You may have a bit longer to travel to your final destination after your flight lands. If you can’t carry a shower and full wardrobe with you, a clean tshirt and pair of undies will make the world of difference!
ON THE DAY
– Choose your flight outfit carefully; this is not a time for fashion. Bottoms with either lose or stretchy waistbands are ideal; I like a long, maxi skirt or gym leggings. On top, layers. I go with a loose fitting black singlet or t-shirt (you’d be surprised at the amount of stains you can accumulate on a flight), a light button up hoodie or cardigan, then a heavier layer or a big scarf that can double as a blanket.
– Forget about fancy hats and headbands (headaches are not your friends on long haul flights), chunky jewellery, tight belts, anything decorative.
– While I’m at it, forget make up. You’re sitting on a plane for 12 hours, trust me, everyone in economy class is looking the same level of crap by the end. If you prefer to be made up, take a few small items with you to use at the end of the flight.
– Pick your shoes wisely. Nothing too tight or uncomfortable, because your feet will swell and the people sitting around you won’t appreciate you taking your shoes off when you get uncomfortable. Also, socks. Planes get cold, and you’re not going to get much rest with cold feet!
– Get to airport early. I’m always at the airport 3 hours before my international flight is scheduled to depart. Because I’m only going to be waiting around at home, so I may as well wait at the airport so I don’t have to rush! Drop your bags off, head to a café or bar, and relax until boarding time.
– Set your watch to the time at your destination as soon as you’re buckled in to your seat. Then, act like you’re already on that time. So if they’re serving lunch at midday in your departure city but it’s 7pm in your destination city, consider it dinner. Then watch a movie and try to get some shut eye.
– Drink. Water. Buy a big bottle before you board and just keep drinking!
– Yes, they’re daggy and look ridiculous, but wear the compression socks. We get ours here, they’re pretty cheap, and it’s as easy as putting them on and forgetting them until you arrive! They’re good for your body. And while you’re at it, make sure you walk around every now and then, or at least wiggle your feet and ankles around regularly!
All set? Great! Now off you go and book that flight!