14 Not-So-Overkill Ways to Make Air Travel Enjoyable

They say the journey is the destination but if you ask us, the best part about traveling is usually not the transit. Yes, we all want to go to Ubud. But none of us want to take the 17-hour flight it takes to get there, do we? So how do you make the most of an undesirable situation? By having your in-flight essentials in order. Keep scrolling to read my long-haul air-travel tips and find out how I make it through without feeling worse for the wear.

A Sleep Plan

Many of my last several flights have lasted 12 hours or longer, and have each involved a fairly significant time-zone change. Jet lag never used to get to me, but now that I’m in my 30s, it’s become a real issue. I’m also terrible at sleeping on planes—always falling asleep while we’re taxing, waking up for take-off, and then staying up for the rest of the flight no matter what. That means I’m seriously dragging once I reached my final destination. So I decided I needed a solution—and one that does not include drinking several scotches.

I realized the best thing to do was to set a sleep schedule. I just looked at how long my flight was, when I landed in local time, and set my bedtime for seven hours prior.

While I’m generally very judicious with my use of all medicines, I’m not above using a sleeping aid when the appropriate. So I started packing Advil PM and Benadryl and setting a sleep schedule. I check my arrival time, factor in the time difference and calculate how long I need to sleep in order to be as close to on-schedule as possible. About an hour before I need to fall asleep, I take a gentle sleeping aid and tuck in. Does it work perfectly? Of course not—nobody is a spring chicken after sitting on an airplane for hours on end. That said, I’ve noticed a tangible difference in my ability to stay awake through dinner on my first night in a new, faraway city, and I find it much easier to get a decent night of sleep my first few nights in my new location. This little trick has made all the difference for me.

A Sleeping Mask

I used to think sleeping masks were silly and reserved for divas. But then I finally came to terms with how hard it is to sleep on airplanes without near-total sensory deprivation, a fully reclining bed, and loads of personal space, none of which I enjoy when I fly. I used to just play some good music at a volume loud enough to drown out the hum of the airplane engine. However, I have become a sleeping mask convert. It turns out these little things are really helpful, especially when you’re trying to snooze and someone nearby is using their reading light, computer, tablet, or TV. So if you have a chip on your shoulder about eye masks like I used to, give it a go—you’ll be presently surprised.

Good Headphones

This one should be a no-brainer but I’m always amazed by how many people I see on the plane with mediocre headphones. You know the ones I’m talking about: they come with your phone. My advice is to ditch them and get a pair of quality noise-canceling or in-ear headphones that actually block out ambient noise. Headphones are something most of us use on a daily basis so why not invest in a good decent pair?

A Long Playlist

A good playlist is key to making the best of what is in truth a cramped, smelly, dirty situation. A great song always improves my mood and diverts my attention, making it the perfect antidote to the tin can in the sky. And if making a playlist isn’t your thing, at least make sure your favorite albums and playlists are downloaded from your streaming service of choice so you have access to them when you get bored of whatever you thought you wanted to listen to.

I like to have an album for takeoff. I’m a bit of a nervous flier due to a near-death experience I had as a child that was resurrected on a flight back from Buenos Aires several years ago. Takeoff and landing are usually the bumpiest and most hair-raising, so I usually play a feel-good but mellow album that gets me really excited but that is also immersive. Lately it’s been the Jungle album. I also like to have a longer playlist for the several hours to fill the time between movies or shows when I’m reading, writing, or just zoning out.

Plenty of Other Media

If you’re like me, you plan to make significant headway on that book you bought just for this trip. But you might get bored. Or the book will make you start falling asleep, which will throw you off schedule (see above). Now is the perfect time to binge-watch so make sure you download your favorite shows. If you prefer to read but need a break from your book, download a few magazines you love and flip through those. And, of course, you can always use your next flight to catch up on Stuff You Should Know (one of my favorite podcasts), or your other favorite-but-neglected podcast.

Ginger Chews

This one may seem random but ginger chews have changed my life. Unless you’re terribly lucky, you probably feel a little gassy and bloated on the plane. It’s so uncomfortable and I used to think there was little that could be done about it. I’ve turned to ginger to calm my belly on many occasion but it never occurred to me to use it on the plane, too.

Then I discovered ginger chews. The rest is history. These little gems ease my belly bloat, greatly reduce the murmurs I tend to experience, freshen my breath, and can even help a hangover (at least temporarily). I’ve found they’re also great for nausea, which can happen after eating airplane food. They also feel like a bit of an indulgence generally contain very few calories so while they feel like a treat, they don’t count like one.

Face Wipes

Somehow the airplane dries out my skin and makes it greasy as hell at the same time. How is this possible? I don’t know. But I can tell you it’s the worst and I hate breaking out after a flight, right when I’m about to snap a bunch of photos of my awesome trip. And because washing your face in the airplane bathroom is less than ideal, I bring along a stash of face wipes to refresh my skin once or twice on the flight—typically once before I go to sleep, and shortly before landing.

Aesop Immediate Moisture Facial Hydrosol

I recently started using this spritz from Aesop, and it feels like a miracle. Remember when I said the plane makes my face feel both oily and dry at the same time? This face spray is the perfect refresher for either situation. If my skin is feeling a bit slick, I give myself a few spritzes and suddenly it feels so fresh and so clean. And if my skin is feeling dry, it provides just the right dose of moisture I need. Also, the act of spraying a cool mist on my face wakes me up and feels like a mini-facial, which is obviously wonderful. The best part is, it comes in a pint-size bottle that can be applied anytime, anywhere and is perfect for your carry-on. Basically, it’s the ideal product.

Hand Wipes

We can all agree the airplane is gross. I don’t need to get into the details. I’m not a fan of antibacterial products. I personally believe a healthy amount of bacteria is essential for fighting disease on a long-term basis. But—and I know this may sound contradictory—I am incredibly leery of germs in public places (though I have relented a bit on my walkabout, mostly out of necessity). And the plane is basically the worst of the worst. That’s why I swear by hand wipes whenever I fly. The best part is, there are plenty of earth-friendly and organic brands out there that are less harsh on your skin and the planet.

A Pareo or Wrap

I can’t say enough about the value of investing in an attractive pareo. I bought my first real, non-resorty one from Serena & Lilly a couple of years ago and now have five. Yes, five. Not only are they great for the beach (they’re a skirt! A dress! A towel! They dry in a snap!), they are the perfect size (large) and material (cotton—breathable!) to use as a scarf or blanket. They also roll up really easily and can be stuffed in the smallest of crevices, making them an ideal carry-on companion. They may not be as warm as a cashmere version, but the cotton iteration is much more versatile. And it can be easily washed. This one is a winner.

A Neck Pillow

Neck pillows are absurd. And I’m embarrassed to say that I usually treat these like single-use items and leave them on the plane. They’re pretty cheap and I can tell you the hassle of toting them around has never been worth it for me. They take up too much space and inevitably have to be put on the outside of your bag. Then you have to put that thing you’ve dragged around and put on the floor back on your body, really close to your face. Sometimes touching your face. Sorry but no. I also find that the standard models do not work very well. They’re not sufficiently fluffy and lack the support your neck really needs.

Safe to say, I’m not that into neck pillows. But they’re essential for longer flights. So buy one at the airport and leave it on the plane. Or, better yet, consider the Nod Pod. I haven’t actually used one but they look amazingly comfortable, and apparently work pretty well. And it will fit in your suitcase so you can easily stow it someplace clean. And I recognize that they look a little ridiculous but who cares—it’s the airplane. Everybody looks terrible on the airplane.

Black Cotton Pants With Stretch

I don’t mean stretchy pants or leggings, although, those are okay, too. I mean actual pants (remember the days when people “got dressed” for the plane?). I don’t know why I thought wearing jeans on the plane was a good idea. They’re so uncomfortable and then they’re all stretched out when you want to wear them around town. That’s why I’ve started wearing black cotton pants with a little stretch in them. I love black because they hide any spills that may occur in-flight. Having pants with a bit of give in them is important because it’s really important to stretch on the plane and these will allow you the space to do so. Also, when combined with cotton fabric that is slightly stretchy, they still look fairly polished when you get off of the plane. I’ve made a particular pair my go-to travel pants and they have never let me down.

Healthy Snacks

This one is probably obvious but I find so many people forget it: snacks. And healthy snacks at that. Traveling is a pretty unhealthy endeavor. Being crammed like sardines into a tight space sharing recycled air and eating barely edible food, drinking weak coffee or tea, and sugary juice is not a recipe for success. That’s why I took matters into my own hands long ago and made sure to stop at Whole Foods or a good sandwich or salad place before I go to the airport. I typically stock up on one healthy meal, a box of pre-cut fruit, and one small dessert. I look like a total bag lady when boarding the plane but I’m always so happy I’m not subject to overpriced, crappy airplane food when hunger strikes. Just remember to be kind to your fellow traveler and avoid any overly odorous foods.

Your Own Water Stash

Again, this one seems obvious but I hardly ever see people with large bottles of water on the plane. The fact is, it’s so easy to get dehydrated while on a flight and the impact of several hours of dehydration can last a few days. I find that if I’m dehydrated after a flight it makes me feel more fatigued and leads to breakouts and irregular digestive patterns. Each of these issues makes traveling even more uncomfortable, which is a bit of a bummer when you want to be traipsing around feeling and looking your best. That’s why I always make sure to bring as much water as I can reasonably carry. Yes, it may mean I’m getting up a bit more often to use the facilities but I always leave the plane feeling better and more refreshed when I’ve made sure to hydrate adequately.

What are your favorite in-flight essentials? Tell us in the comments below!