A month ago at this time I was in the international lounge of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport waiting to board my flight to Madrid, Spain. I’ve been back from that trip (where I also went to Helsinki, and Frankfurt…very briefly) for a couple of weeks. I had a pretty enjoyable experience (aside from getting sick), but I have to confess while I love traveling I don’t actually like the travel part. Flights, waiting in airports, and trying to figure out where I’m going isn’t my favourite thing. If I could have the superpower to teleport myself around the world, I’d take it.
Of course, I don’t have any teleportation superpowers, but the traveling I’ve done recently (I flew for a combined 24 hours over 7 flights during my 2 week trip) has shown me where I went right (and where I went wrong) on my flights. These are my tips, from recent experience, on how to make your flight awesome (or maybe a little better than it might have been).
Mentally Prepare Yourself
I did a bit of a milk-run route. First flight leg Edmonton-Toronto-Madrid. After a week in Madrid my second flight leg was Madrid-Zurich-Helsinki. Then after a few days in Helsinki my flight leg home was Helsinki-Frankfurt-Calgary-Edmonton. Yeah, it was a little exhausting. While I had long layovers in several places (5 hours in Toronto, 8 hours in Zurich and 17 hours in Frankfurt) this type of flight route (while being really cheap) might not be for everyone.
That was okay for me. I was prepared for layovers, and sleeping in airports (Zurich for logistical reasons…it wasn’t the worst night sleep I’ve ever had). My advice (and this would be when booking your trip) is to make sure you’re okay with all your flights and connections. Make sure you have enough time for connecting flights and passport and immigration if needed. Mentally prepare yourself for your trip. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Bring Snacks and a Collapsable Water Bottle
Airports are pricey. Waiting for a flight I get bored, and then I find myself thinking I should get a coffee. I should buy some candy from that store. Suddenly I’m spending money at the airport that I could save for experiences (and better food) at my destination. While the flights I took, including the ones in Europe, all had meals (which was surprising to me) I still think it’s valuable to bring along a small snack, maybe a granola bar or two, and a collapsible water bottle (that you can fill up after security). Drinking water will help keep you hydrated and feeling better (also helps to eliminate jetlag), and the snacks are a good backup plan in case there isn’t food on the plane. You don’t want to be hangry on your trip.
Bring Something to Do
You’ll want to bring something to do while you are waiting at the airport, and while you are on your flight. Yes, there might be in-flight entertainment, but there might not be and you never know you could be sitting in the one seat where the entertainment isn’t working. So bring along something to occupy your time, whether that’s work to get done, or a book, or a journal, or puzzles, or a tablet or smartphone filled with music and movies (don’t forget your headphones). It’s always good to have an entertainment backup plan to give you something to do while you wait.
Get A Good Seat
Everyone will have their own idea of constitutes a good seat on a plane, and if you can afford business or first class and want that then go ahead. In economy, some people (like me) will want the emergency exit row for the little bit of extra legroom, but other people will find the lack of being able to recline in that row a bit problematic. Some people will want a window seat for the view. Personally I find the window seat too loud and cold. My pick is the aisle seat because I have long legs and it’s nice to be able to stretch them out a little (when the flight attendants are not coming down with drink carts). Also, I like being able to get up to go to the bathroom without having to bug the people sitting beside me. The only seat I’d say to avoid at all costs is the middle seat because you’re squished between two seats, you don’t get the view of the window seat, or the freedom aisle seat. Unless I’m on a short (2 hour or less) kind of flight, I book an aisle seat whenever I can.
Don’t Drink (Kind Of)
Actually do drink, water that is, lots and lots of water. Ask for water on your flight instead of coffee, tea, alcohol, or any sugary drink (pop/soda, juice). Water will keep you hydrated (because the air inside the plane is very dry), it’ll help you feel better on your flight, and if you want to avoid jet lag drinking water will help as well. On my long transatlantic flights to Madrid and from Frankfurt back home I stuck with water pretty much exclusively. On a shorter flight, a glass of alcohol can be a nice treat (especially if the alcohol is free – as I found out that it was on the short haul flights in Europe that I took). Just remember with alcohol 1 glass in the sky is like 2 on the ground. Pace yourself…no need to get stupid drink on a flight.
Wear Compression Socks
On past flights, I’ve had issues with my feet swelling badly. It’s been so bad on past trips that I’ve been forced to spend several days resting at my hotel because it was too painful to walk anywhere. That is a very lame way to travel, let me just say that now.
There are things to do to avoid from getting swollen feet. Drinking lots of water will help. As will avoiding sugary and salty food/drinks (including alcohol). Walking around on your flight every couple hours, and avoiding crossing your ankles will all help. The best thing, however, I’ve found to combat feet swelling (along with using the other tips I mentioned) is to wear compression socks.
Recently on my Europe trip I tried out a pair of plain black compression socks from Dr. Segal’s. I would put the socks about 20 minutes before boarding, and because they look like regular socks (albeit slightly thicker in the calf area) I did not feel self-conscious wearing them. When you order the socks online there is a size chart that asks for your shoe, ankle, and calf size so you will be able to get a pair of compression socks that fits well and is comfortable for the entire flight.
If you’re on a red-eye flight and need to try and catch a few winks of sleep, you will want to pack what I call “a sleepytime kit.” These are things that I find useful to help me sleep on a plane or in an airport when necessary (like I did during my 8-hour overnight layover in Zurich). My kit includes
- An eyemask
- Ear plugs
- My glasses case – because I don’t want to lose my glasses.
- Melatonin – I don’t normally take any sleeping medication, but I use about 5mg of melatonin to help me relax on a flight.
- Inflatable neck pillow.
- A big scarf/shawl that doubles as a blank
- Face wash, moisturizer, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste – to help me feel like a decent person when I wake up.
I kept my kit in a reusable shopping back in my carry-on bag, so it was easy to access when I needed it.
Sometimes Splurging is Good
Similarly, you might want to splurge too. I’m not saying buy everything in the duty-free shop, but if there’s something you feel will make your flight better then maybe look into it. That could be buying that neck pillow from that airport store, or staying at a nice hotel on your overnight layover. If there’s a little splurge (that you can still afford) that will take your airport and flight experience from grumpy to calm and happy, then it might be worth it.
The last thing you want on a trip is to be at an airport, but it’s part of travel. Be patient and calm, especially if there is a situation that’s causing problems such as a flight delay, a strike or bad weather. Of course, it’s also important to know your passenger rights (check with your airline carrier) in the case of delays, but screaming curse words at the flight attendants or gate agents probably won’t do you any good. Be calm, but assertive if you find you aren’t getting help you need. I’ve learned with traveling that things don’t always go as planned, but you will get to where you’re going. Just breathe.
What Are Your Tips for An Awesome Flight?
Disclaimer – I was provided a free pair of Dr. Segal’s compression socks to review for this post. All opinions within this post are my own and links are provided for informational purposes only.