From airports to airplanes to your final destination, you're coming in contact with a LOT of different bacteria and viruses. Even a robust, healthy immune system can fall prey to one of these insidious bugs. It can start as a tickle in the throat, or feeling hot all of a sudden, but when you're suddenly struck ill on a vacation, it can ruin the whole trip.
Back in the day, traveling when we were younger, we didn’t spend time thinking of the possible negative health + wellness side effects of a long flight, the subtle-to-super-obvious inconveniences and discomforts of being in a small-ish space for half a day or more, or the recirculating cabin air and germs in airports.
But, as we traveled more (and grew up, by the way), we started to notice more and care more. Thousands upon thousands of air miles later, we created this guide to help anyone else about to embark on a long flight know that there are several ways to avoid the swollen feet, aching hips, dehydration, icky feeling, harsh breath, restlessness, boredom, and even some of the anxiety for the flight itself. And of course . . . coming down with something nasty during your trip.
How to stay healthy and comfortable on flights
These tips are the compilation of our experiences from short-long flights (4 hours) and medium-long flights (8 hours) all the way to long-long flights (14 hours or more), but the focus is on tips that will hopefully help you survive a long flight without losing your mind or feeling horrible before, during, and after.
Oh, and before you read the next heading (about what to do two weeks beforehand) and possibly think we are over-prepared weirdos (which is true), here’s the #1 concept for all of this >> Just like a long-distance fitness event or something along those lines, preparing for a long flight needs to start ahead of time.
What to do 2 weeks before your long flight:
1. Get the things.
You may be in need of a few items you don’t have yet in order to travel comfortably, and, instead of getting the best version available last minute at the nearest store, you might want to order them online and have them shipped, or take the time to go to a store in your area that you normally don’t shop at.
Order or purchase:
- Any special containers to hold your products, medicine, or personal items. Check out the type of non-drip, BPA-free travel containers we use below. And if you’re like us, and like to carry natural plant/herb oils and other hippie stuff, check out the travel oil carrier below as well.
- Replacements or travel-size quantities of any special soap, face care, makeup, lotion, essential oils, etc. that you enjoy. Even though it’s slightly more work to pack up your favorite items in travel tubes or be forced to check a bag because you’re carrying so many liquidy substances, once you’re at your destination, being able to use products you’re familiar with that you know make you feel good and don’t cause allergic reactions is golden.
- Any special clothing or shoes that you will require/want in the place(s) you’re traveling to.
- Any other supplies you think you'll need
2. Test things.
For all the products mentioned above, make sure to test them out if you haven’t used them before. Roll your luggage around, put your backpack on, wash and fill your travel tubes, try on your new clothing and wash it, walk in your new shoes, etc.
Also, test out any sleep aids or (legal) drugs beforehand. If you’re anxious about your flight, alcohol and certain drugs might now have the effect you want. (I have a friend who hates flying and took a sleep aid for the first time on a flight, and it kept him awake and jittery the whole time. And it was his honeymoon. Don’t do drugs kids. Or at least test them out before you need them.)
3. Add in extra self-care.
If you need to get something done that needs some advanced planning on your part (ex: you have to adjust your work schedule), or that needs some advanced notice with a business or service provider, then schedule it out.
Think about whether or not you want or need to:
- Get more sleep.
- Adjust your sleep if you’ll be crossing the international date line (or making a big time zone jump) so that you can minimize the effects of jet lag
- Make a doctor’s appointment.
- Reduce your stress if needed. Get a massage and take care of things in advance (such as getting your currency exchanged, if needed, and arranging a reliable pet sitter).
What to do 1 week before your long flight:
1. Check things.
Not only is it a good idea to check:
- that you have everything you will need to pack
- and everything you will need to pack it in
. . . but it’s also an amazing time to start working with your body to get it in healthy shape beforehand.
2. Do (healthy) things.
If you’ve never done it before it can be grueling, painful, or at least uncomfortable to be confined to a small space for hours on end. You run the risk of getting a bit dehydrated, feeling gross, attracting lots of unwanted germs, and getting sore or swollen in certain areas. The good news is that you can do something to prevent or minimize these effects, starting one or more weeks before your flight.
7 (or even 14) days before your flight, begin to:
- Do yoga. Or some other form of exercise that both stretches you (your hips, shoulders, arms, legs, neck, etc.) and helps you to strengthen key areas (your back, core, arms, etc.), such as Tai Chi, Pilates, or other.
- Consider yin yoga: A style of yoga that holds deep stretches for 2 – 5 minutes.
- Try hatha yoga: A style of yoga that helps you strengthen and stretch through different positions and movements.
- Consider hot yoga or vinyasa if you’ve been doing yoga for a while. These classes will really increase body heat and help you lengthen + strengthen.
- Start hydrating. A lot. More water and coconut water will likely help you sleep better, will definitely make it less likely that you get dehydrated on your long day(s) of travel, and will hopefully help your bladder get used to better intake levels of fluids. We can’t stress enough the personal benefits we’ve experienced by hydrating well before, during, and after long flights. It’s amazing.
- Consider taking the natural vitamins and supplements your doctor recommends or that you take normally for your health. We like to up my Vitamin C before getting on a crowded plane full of germs.
What to do 2 – 3 days before your long flight:
1. Pack your regular luggage.
2. Stock and pack your special flight bag that never leaves your side.
This one we can help you on. We really recommend having a small bag (perhaps one that slings over your body diagonally (like the examples in #5 of this post) or a small backpack that you can have under the seat in front of you or in the seat back pocket (if it’s small enough). This bag should contain everything you might want to access during the flight. Things such as:
- Comfy, long, and non-restrictive socks or compression socks. As in: they shouldn’t have elastic on the rims.
- A blanket or shawl. You can just carry it in your hands or folded over your bag. Don’t rely on the airline blankets to be thick enough, long enough, or awesome enough. You can wear an oversized shawl onto the plane and then use it as a blanket.
- Headphones. Preferably noise-canceling ones if you can swing it. These will help you actually be able to hear your shows, and actually be able to sleep (if you get a seat next to louder people).
- A sleep mask. If you’ll want to block out light. Though most airlines provide these on international flights, you can’t be sure and you may prefer your own.
- A disposable toothbrush and toothpaste. I’d recommend carrying one that isn’t the one you packed in your regular luggage. You’ll be able to refresh during the flight, and if you drop it, lose it, etc., you’ll still have your other one.
- Snacks. Yes. Airlines typically feed you on long flights. Sometimes the food is even good, but just in case the food isn’t great, or you get hungry between meals, or their vegan/gluten-free/low dairy (or whatever you prefer) options aren’t exactly what you expected or are unavailable, then it’s great to have something you know you can eat. Dried fruit, jerky, trail mix, squeezable applesauce, nuts, small doses of dark chocolate, or chia seed treats can all fit in a small bag and hopefully hold you over.
- Health care and refreshing items: vitamin packs, essential oils (if you start feeling queasy), medicines, moisturizer (your face and hands can easily get dry), lip balm, wipes (to freshen up in the bathroom), makeup, hand sanitizer (here's our post about our favorites and which to avoid!), or natural deodorant (after a day of travel, you might need some more – we prefer these natural brands).
- Essentials: chargers, backup batteries for your noise-canceling headphones, actual earplugs, etc.
3. Download stuff.
Download all the books, and movies, meditations, podcasts, and music to your phone or device that you want to be able to access without Wi-Fi and in airplane mode. Even though most airlines provide great movie and music services, you never know what you’re going to get or if you’re going to sit in the one seat where the screen or audio is malfunctioning.
Bring enough work materials, digital treats, and physical entertainment to keep your attention as if the airline won’t provide you any.
4. Check in, or set a reminder to check in.
Some airlines will let you check in 48 hours before international flights. Try to get checked in and make sure you’ve selected a seat you think you’ll enjoy. Will you like being tucked in near a window, or having the easy access to getting up frequently by sitting in an aisle seat? Do you feel safe and comfy in between your two friends in a middle seat?
What to do 1 day before your long flight:
1. Charge everything. Fully.
Your phone, your computer, your iPad, your kindle, your fitness watch, etc. Put new batteries in your headphones. Make sure everything is set up to last the maximum amount of time without a power source, even though some airlines will provide plugs.
2. Then pack the chargers and any adapters you might need.
Getting to a new country with a work deadline and no adapter to plug your computer in with is not as fun as it sounds. I’ve tried it.
3. Lay out a comfortable, layered outfit and your with-you-at-all-times bag.
If you ignore everything else in this guide, then please at least wear comfy clothing with layers and hydrate a lot.
But, while you’re at it . . . make sure all the refreshing personal items you need are with you in your bag that stays with you in your seat. Check for your blanket and neck pillow as well. Just reassess based on your “needs list” that you have everything. It will make you more comfortable as you sleep the day before your flight and as you head to the airport the next day.
4. Try to get rest and do some relaxing activities.
If you’re into long baths, long yoga sessions, tea, movies, whatever . . . do it. You’ll want to relax your body and mind . . . especially if you get anxious about airplanes, or crowded airports, or tight spaces.
What to do the day of your long flight:
1. Re-pack anything you took out and used. Make sure your passport, necessary documentation, and necessary identification is on you.
Run back over your packing list one last time if it will bring you peace of mind. And if you are at all prone to stomach aches, headaches, queasiness, or nervousness on flights or in stressful situations, may we make the hippie suggestion of getting some natural plant and herb oils that you can smell, apply to your skin, and even dilute and drink in your water in some cases.
Always check the proper use of any health oils you buy. Below is a combo pack of essential oils you can check out, but p.s. also having some oregano oil on hand has saved a few long flights for us. It helps us nervous stomach soooo much.
2. Get to the airport early.
This will help reduce stress and anxiety before boarding your long flight–if you know your there on time and can just relax in the waiting area instead of rushing right up until the last minute.
3. Stretch and keep hydrating.
Even if you feel weird or look weird, taking care of your body is “so in” right now. . . so don’t get too worried about looking foolish. When I see someone stretching in the airport or even doing some yoga in the terminal, we immediately have a high level of respect for their travel game. They know the deal.
What to do during your long flight:
1. Keep drinking healthy beverages.
Sure. You’ll have to go to the bathroom every 3 – 5 hours, but it’s worth it. You won’t get as hungry, you can choose beverages that are providing nutrients, and you’ll be less likely to get dry lips, dry skin, or the fatigue that can come with slight dehydration and it will also force you to get up and stretch your legs.
Tip: Bring your own stainless steel water bottle.
2. Get up and walk every few hours. Stretch.
Stand near the bathroom and hit tree pose (the third exercise in this post). Trust us. It helps. And you’ll typically see other people stretching too, so try not to feel weird, but even if no one else does it, you’ll simply look like the smart, cool, athletic person on the flight . . . and you may even make someone else feel comfortable enough to stretch out and feel better.
3. Find movement and space within your seat.
Whether you put your feet up in your seat with you, rotate your ankles, stretch into the aisle every so often, or stretch your arms up and down frequently, try not to remain absolutely still in your seat for hours.
We love to do our own version of “chair yoga” by crossing one leg over the other and leaning forward to stretch out our lower back and glutes. Your body will thank you for it.
Move your travel bag to the side so that your feet can go as far forward as possible–this is why it helps to have a small plane bag.
What to do after your long flight:
1. Walk. Hydrate. Stretch.
Pay special attention to your hip joints, knees, and back. They are likely what felt most compressed or stationary during the flight, so try to gently stretch them.
2. Try to get some seriously restful sleep at your destination at some point that day.
If at all possible, renew your strength through some good, old-fashioned sleep.
Our long-flight friend, even if you don’t take the time to do every single thing in the guide above, planning for ways to be hydrated, calm, prepared, and entertained on your long travel days will really make a difference on those days, and in your interactions with the people you may be traveling with, and in the quality of trip you’re able to have.
Oh, and please consider (1) leaving some tips or thoughts of your own in the comments below, and (2) sharing this post with your friends. You can click the suggested tweet below to do so easily. Thank you travel ninja.