I have a confession: I absolutely dread any kind of airplane travel. My very first flight was at the age of two and twenty years later, I still haven’t really gotten used to it. The whole experience is generally very unpleasant for me: I hate the food, I can never sleep comfortably (and if I do, I wake up with some horrible back/neck/shoulder pain afterwards), and my skin becomes unbearably dry. I suppose it is partly because I am used to traveling long distances via planes (10+ hours in the sky), which exacerbates what would otherwise be minor annoyances on a shorter flight.
Because of this, I have developed a list of absolute must-haves (in my humble opinion) that make flying slightly more comfortable than it would be otherwise:
- A travel neck pillow: Airplane seats are the worst. While a neck pillow is not a perfect solution to this, it is the best one that is out there. These provide some extra comfort and support for my neck, even when I’m not trying to sleep, so that I can sit comfortably for long periods of time. There are a bunch of options to choose from and they are relatively easy/small to pack in your carry-on luggage.
- Travel-sized moisturizer and/or lip balm: Airplanes have a way of literally sucking all of the moisture from my skin (and I am assuming that I am not alone in this), so it is a good idea to pack (travel-sized! TSA requires all liquid items to fit in a quart-sized plastic bag) moisturizer and some lip balm in your carry-on/purse to keep your skin from becoming flaky and dry.
- Fuzzy socks/sweater/scarf: It can get very (very!) cold up in the air and sometimes the airline blanket is NOT enough to keep you comfortably warm. So I’d highly recommend carrying something extra in case you get chilly during the flight: warm socks, a sweater or sweatshirt you can throw on, or a scarf will do the trick.
- Hand sanitizer/cleansing wipes: I’d highly recommend bringing some hand sanitizing gel and/or wipes with you. First of all, if it is a long flight (5+ hours generally, depending on the time of day), you will most likely be served a meal (or at the very least a snack or two). Since airplanes can be rather germy places (especially the teeny-tiny bathrooms!), I’d recommend having the sanitizer on hand in case you want to use your hands to eat a snack/meal.
- Chewing Gum: It is pretty common for my ears to pop during takeoff and landing, so I find it useful to have chewing gum on hand to avoid the painful sensation altogether.
- Toothbrush Equivalent: There are plenty of products that are similar to toothbrushes but do not require toothpaste/water to work. I’d suggest packing one or two of these. If you fall asleep on a long flight, you will definitely need them once you’re up (and have disgusting morning breath!). Trying to actually brush your teeth in those ridiculously small plane bathrooms (especially if your flight is the least bit bumpy) can be a real pain. So I generally opt for the equivalents—obviously, once you’re back on land, you’ll want to brush your teeth for real, but on a plane, these substitutes work just fine.
- Some Kind of Entertainment: Bring something to do with you. Often, planes might have an in-flight entertainment program (movies, television shows, music, etc.) but just in case you do not find something that interests you there, you might want to have a back-up in the form of a movie you already downloaded onto your laptop/iPad, a book, or music. (Though, for all its drawbacks, I have to say that in-flight entertainment—when it is available—tends to be pretty good, with relatively new movies, television episodes, etc.)