I’m not a big fan of flying. It’s a means to an end though, and if a long flight means I can go somewhere amazing then I will suck it up in order to get there! Here are some tips for flying long haul, with some useful things that I’ve found to make the whole experience a little bit easier – my long-haul flight essentials, together with my top travel tips for what to pack for long flights, things to do on a long flight and general tips for how to survive long flights in economy or any flight class!
What is a Long Haul Flight?
Well first off let’s just check what I mean by a long-haul flight. Short-haul flights are just a few hours long, up to around 3 hours. For me, anything longer than around 4 or 5 hours is a pretty long flight, but when you get up to 8 hours plus that definitely counts as long haul!
Long haul flights usually mean you’ll be crossing several time zones so jet lag is likely to make you feel tired and out of sorts until your body adjusts to the new time where you are.
I’ve flown to and from the USA from Europe several times when I was younger, and then to South America and Asia, and most recently to Australia from the UK.
The longest haul flight I’ve taken was the direct flight from London to Perth Australia, which took just under 17.5 hours. I actually did ok with this one as I prepared, and managed to get some sleep on the plane which always helps!
While this isn’t quite as long as the longest flight in the world from New York to Singapore (which is 18.5 hours), it is pretty close, so after this, I’m confident I can help you prepare for your flight with these long-haul flight tips.
Long Haul Flight Tips
Long haul flights are a little different to short haul flights, so check out these long-haul flight hacks to help make sure you have the best possible experience in the air.
Tips for Booking Your Long-Haul Flight
Check Your Passport & Paperwork
Before you even make a booking, check that you have your passport and that it is valid, with the correct number of free pages and that the expiry date is well outside of the limit required by the destination. Check if you need a visa to enter the destination using iVisa or official government sources.
COVID regulations are also changing all the time, so follow instructions from your airline and the government regulations of the country you are visiting to make sure you have any test results or certificates with you.
Book Extra Leg Room
Thankfully the seats on long-haul flights are usually more comfortable than short haul economy seats, with more space to manoeuvre.
Even so, if you’re tall you might want to consider booking a seat with extra legroom so you can stretch out a little. Upgrading to Premium Economy, Business Class or even First Class might not be financially possible but maximising the space you have can really help your comfort.
You could also consider reserving an extra seat next to you, which can work out cheaper than upgrading class, but will give you double the amount of space!
Choose Your Seat Well
If you book your flight in advance you have a better chance of being able to select your preferred seat. It comes down to personal preference whether you choose an aisle or a window seat (I’m pretty sure no one prefers the middle seat!) but I am always a window girl as I like to see where we’re going and see some daylight when I can.
Aisle seats have the advantage of being able to get up and move around whenever you want, without waiting for someone else to wake up or having to clamber over them awkwardly!
I’d also suggest avoiding the very back seats as they are usually next to the toilets where you might have to contend with unpleasant smells and people standing over you while they wait in line for the toilet.
A seat towards the front usually means you will be able to disembark first, meaning you won’t have to wait as long in the passport queue at the other end!
If you know the type of aircraft you will be flying on, check Seat Guru to see what the layout of the plane is like, and which seats are where.
Book Your Transport to & from the Airport
Plan your journey to and from your arrival airport, making sure you leave plenty of time to arrive and check in your bags. If you’re travelling during busy periods like Christmas or holiday weekends give as much time as you can as there may be a lot of traffic plus long queues at the airport.
I also like to know exactly how to get to my accommodation at the other end, whether I’m picking up a hire car, hopping on public transport or catching a transfer. If you arrive late at night, consider booking a hotel at the airport just to get some sleep, especially if you have another long journey to reach your destination.
If you will be hiring a car in your destination, compare prices for car hire on a site like Discover Cars to find the best deal for you and confirm the pickup arrangements. Don’t forget you might need an International Driving Permit as well as your regular driving license.
Taxis are the most expensive way to travel from the airport, if I do want a transfer I’ll usually book one in advance.
Consider Travel Insurance
Boring I know, but things can and do go wrong when you travel, so consider getting cover for your trip as soon as you have booked your flight so you are covered right away. I am very glad I had insurance when my laptop and passport got stolen while I was travelling, and I never leave home without travel insurance!
Once you have bought your insurance, print off the details of what to do in case you need to make a claim and carry a copy with you, as well as an electronic version so you have everything ready should the worst happen.
How to Prepare for a Long-Haul Flight
Bring Something to Do
It’s easy to get bored on long flights so make sure you have plenty of things to do on the plane. Download entertainment to your devices like films, books and TV shows, buy a magazine or newspaper to read, and check out this list of things to do on a flight for more ideas.
Charge Your Electronics
Make sure any electronics are fully charged up before you take that flight. Phones, tablets, laptops, Bluetooth earphones, and anything that you might need on a long flight. Bring the charger cables with you so you can charge up while you are in flight if there are USB sockets available, or a small power bank can come in handy to top up if you have a layover somewhere.
I also like to bring my universal adapter so I can plug into sockets on the plane or at the airport.
Bring Your House Keys, Car Keys, Money & Other Valuables in Your Carry-On
NEVER put these in your check-in luggage. You never know when a suitcase might go missing, so keep all of your valuables with you either on your person or in your carry on. Expensive jewellery, watches and anything else you would be upset to lose should go in your hand luggage.
Instead of carrying a lot of cash with me, I use a Wise travel card which I top up with the appropriate currency before I travel – that also comes with me in my carry-on bag and I have an electronic credit card with Wise too that is available on my phone.
If you’re not sure whether you can bring certain items with you, the TSA has a useful list of everything you might want to bring – and you can email them to check if it doesn’t appear on the list!
Use the Timeshifter App
I used the Timeshifter app to help with my jet lag and it did seem to help me regulate my body clock faster than usual. It uses circadian rhythms to help plan when to have access to bright light and when to sleep in order to best prepare your body for the time change.
Leave Plenty of Time to Get to the Airport
I always advise this for any flight, but for long-haul flights it is even more important to leave more time to get to the airport. Allow time for traffic or delays en route, and for extra time at the airport for security or document checks. Whatever you do, don’t miss the flight. Rearranging a short-haul flight is much easier and cheaper than trying to rebook a missed long-haul flight!
Don’t Forget Your Passport & Tickets!
Whatever you do, don’t forget these as you’re not going anywhere without them! I also like to have a photocopy of my passport and any visas, as well as a scanned electronic version stored on my phone in case it gets stolen.
What to Wear on a Long Haul Flight
I’ll hold my hands up here and say I am not a fashionable person. My long-haul flight outfits definitely prioritize comfort over looks, and I’d advise you to do the same. If you’re going to be sitting in the same position for hours at a time you definitely want to be comfortable!
If you’re meeting someone at the other end and want to look your best you can always change at the airport when you arrive, there’s no point suffering for the whole duration of the flight. You also need to consider what the weather will be like when you arrive so you don’t end up sweating buckets or freezing when you land.
Whatever you choose to wear, you can’t go wrong with comfortable layers.
I am a big fan of elastic waistbands that offer some flexibility after meals and while seated for long periods on a flight. Loungewear and soft materials are best – avoid anything with a tight waistband or material that could rub your skin and make you uncomfortable.
A Warm Jumper
I find the temperature on flights can vary, especially if you have the air blowing in your face, so I always take a warm layer with me. If you don’t end up wearing it you can use it as a pillow or as a cushion for your back.
Deep Vein Thrombosis or DVT can be a risk on long haul flights, so compression socks may be useful for you. They’re tighter than usual socks, and the pressure they create helps to keep your blood circulating through your legs when you’re seated for a long time.
Put them on just before you board the plane, as they are quite tight you might struggle to put them on while seated.
For me, high heels are a no-no for long flights, both for the actual flight itself and for the airport. If you have to run to make a connection its much easier to do that in sneakers or flat pumps than six-inch heels! Whatever you choose, make sure they’re comfortable, but you can always take them off during the flight to let your feet breathe.
Flip Flops or Sandals
Flip flops or lightweight sandals are great for slipping on when you go to the airplane bathroom so you don’t have to step on a dirty or wet floor in your socks!
Money Belt / Travel Scarf
While I certainly don’t recommend packing any valuables in your check in bag, I’m also very wary about putting everything together in my carry on.
To avoid losing everything should your carry-on get stolen (I’ve heard of it happening in busy train stations and on public transport), I’d also suggest having a money belt and/or a travel scarf with a hidden pocket where you can stash your money and passport.
I love my Waypoint travel scarf, it comes in a variety of colourful patterns and helps me to feel safe in the knowledge my passport and cash are safe too!
Remember to Bring a Change of Clothes
At the very least make sure you have a clean set of underwear, socks and a clean t-shirt or top to change into. If you have a long flight or layover, being able to freshen up and put on clean clothes is instantly reviving and will help you get through the journey.
Also, there is nothing worse than a delayed flight and being stuck in dirty, sweaty clothes for way longer than you want to! I remember having to sleep in my clothes after a cancelled flight, and didn’t have anything to change into the next day – it was grim!
Lost luggage can also be a problem, so I now make sure I always have at least one change of clothes in my carry on, even if I am checking in a bag.
Long Haul Flight Essentials
If you’re wondering what to take on a long haul flight, this list of what to pack for a long flight is quite similar to my carry-on essentials, with a few extra long flight must-haves to help you get through! You can read my full carry on packing list here.
If you are flying with a carry on only, you’ll probably need to bring more toiletries to last your entire trip, but even if you’re checking in a bag make sure you have the basics so you can survive a long light, a layover or lost baggage comfortably!
Liquids need to be in containers of 100 millilitres (3.4 ounces) or less, and need to be placed in a clear quart-sized bag for screening. Having travel-sized containers to decant your own toiletries into is a fabulous space-saving trick, as well as reducing pointless plastic use when buying mini-sized toiletries at the airport.
I always take the following carry on toiletries in my hand luggage for long flights, as well as a face cloth, so I can freshen up during the flight or on the layover:
- Bar of soap in a container
- Folding toothbrush
- Toothpaste tabs
- Travel hairbrush with mirror
- Moisturizer & lip balm as cabin air dries out my skin
It’s amazing what a difference just washing your face and brushing your teeth can make while on a long flight, especially after waking up.
Don’t forget that the recycled air on planes can dry out your skin and lips, so even basic long haul flight beauty essentials like moisturizer and lip balm will help to keep your skin soft and supple.
I also bring these useful travel toiletries for trips when I’m not checking a bag so I have them handy in my carry-on.
- Perfume in a refillable mini bottle or free samples
- Reef-safe sunscreen
- Mini Razor
- Solid shampoo and conditioner bars from Lush (in tins)
Microfibre travel towels are quick-drying, easy to wash and come in a variety of colours and sizes.
If you’re travelling somewhere hot and want to pack an ultra-light carry on bag you might get away with a sarong instead of a quick-dry travel towel, but personally, I can’t do without a microfibre towel! They also double up as a blanket or pillow on long flights so for me are worth the space.
If you take any kind of medication on a regular basis, pack it in your carry on and make sure you have enough to last the flight and several days of your trip in case your check in bag goes missing. You may need to bring your prescription or note from your doctor for certain medicines, and it helps if they are labelled clearly and in their original packaging. Check the TSA website for more information about what you can bring.
As I suffer from motion sickness I always bring travel sickness medication on flights, as well as acupressure bands and some minty chewing gum which helps to settle my stomach.
Hand Sanitizer, Wipes & Facemask
Even if face masks are no longer required (check the rules for your flight) I’d still recommend wearing a facemask when you are flying as you are sitting close to other people you don’t know.
Face masks aside, airplane seats and tray tables are notorious for being full of germs, so some anti-bacterial wipes and hand sanitiser will help you to feel clean and safe in your seat.
I hate having to buy food on the plane as it is always expensive and usually terrible! Flight snacks are an essential for my cabin bag, as I also hate being hangry. Solid snacks such as apples, crunchy biscuits, healthy snack bars and nuts last longer than soft fruits like bananas which often get squashed on their way through the airport.
Chocolate has a tendency to melt so it can get messy, and try to avoid anything too salty as it will make you thirsty.
If it is a long flight I will either pack my own sandwiches (sausage and cheese is a favourite for morning flights), or I buy a meal deal sandwich at the airport. What you can get at the airport varies greatly depending on where you are – in the UK I love Boots for cheap and relatively tasty sandwiches and pasta salads.
Remember that some long haul destinations will have restrictions on what food products you can bring into the country. Only bring as much food as you can eat on the plane as you may have to dispose of it before you pass through security. Australia and New Zealand for example have very strict bio-security rules.
Reusable Water Bottle with a Filter
Water-to-Go is the bottle I use everywhere which filters 99.9999% of illness-causing contaminants, including those as small as a virus. You can drink water from taps, rivers, streams and any freshwater source wherever you are, without fear of a dodgy stomach or waterborne disease.
All Tales of a Backpacker readers can get 15% discount on a Water-to-Go filter bottle with the code BYORB
Inflatable Travel Pillow
You can buy earplugs from pharmacists in packs of two or three, or bulk buy online before you travel, safe in the knowledge that these little guys will help you sleep soundly on your flight.
Having a travel case to put them in is also really useful to keep them clean and dry while you’re on the move. I like to use simple foam earplugs like these, which I trim down to size (they’re often too long and make sleeping on my side uncomfortable, but snipping a bit off the end solves that!), although there are lots of different designs and materials to choose from.
Eye Mask / Sleep Mask
If you are a light sleeper like me, then anything you can do to help block out noise and light will help – that’s where an eye mask can make a huge difference – especially when you’re on a long-haul flight with variable lighting. Sleeping at the right time will help you to beat jet lag and get some much-needed rest on your flight.
I love this eye mask which is soft and comfortable, and you can adjust it around the nose so it fits closer to your face and blocks out more light. It also has a handy little carry bag too to keep it clean and safe.
In Flight Entertainment
I am usually fine with my phone and laptop and don’t bring anything extra with me, but I do make sure I have some TV shows or movies downloaded and ready to watch on my phone and/or laptop. Make sure they are available offline and remember you’ll need to switch Airplane Mode on for your devices before you take off.
You could take magazines, newspapers or books with you, or puzzle books and travel games can help to keep you or children entertained if you’re taking a long flight with kids.
Noise Cancelling Headphones
Do not under any circumstances watch a movie or listen to music without headphones on a flight. Not only is it incredibly rude for your fellow passengers, but you won’t get the best sound experience either! Having noise-cancelling earphones will also help to drown out the plane noises around you too.
There is a wide range of headphones and earbuds available so you can choose whichever works best for you. I have Anker Soundcore headphones which are good value and get great reviews too.
Airfly Bluetooth Transmitter
Notepad & Pen
Often overlooked, I actually can’t do without a good old fashioned pen and paper. You never know when you might need a pen – but when you’re travelling you could be filling in all sorts of paperwork such as passenger arrival forms when there are never enough pens to use!
If you bring your own notepad you can also write down accommodation addresses, restaurant recommendations, or start a travel journal.
Hardcover journals are more sturdy, so if you plan to keep it as a souvenir then go for a hardback or leatherbound journal although it will add more weight and bulk to your backpack. If it is just for jotting down useful information then any old notepad will do.
Travel Plug Adapter (with USB Sockets)
Something like this universal charger socket is bulkier than individual adapters, but the USB ports are very useful for hotels where plug sockets are few and far between.
What to Do on Long Flights
It can be hard to fill the time on long flights, especially if you’re an active person and aren’t used to sitting still for that long! Here are some ideas for things to do on long flights to keep you entertained and help the time pass as swiftly as possible:
I love sleeping on flights as it definitely helps the time go more quickly! However, bear in mind the time difference of your new destination, and try to sleep according to your new time zone to reduce jet lag when you arrive. That is easier said than done of course, but using an app like Timeshifter can help you to plan your sleep times.
Long-haul flights offer a variety of in-flight entertainment, from movies and TV shows to games and radio programs so there are always fun things to do on a long flight. Catch up on new releases or those long epic films you haven’t had a chance to watch yet, or watch something about the destination you’re heading to.
Track Your Progress
I also love checking out the flight locator to show where the flight currently is, although on a very long flight, it doesn’t seem to move as quickly as I’d like!
Sitting in the same seat for hours on end can take its toll on your body. Get up regularly to move around and stretch your legs to keep blood flow moving and to stop you from getting stiff.
Some long haul flights also have exercises you can do at your seat, check the in-flight entertainment to see what is available on your airline. Simple movements like rotating your shoulders or extending your feet and wiggling your toes can also help to keep you limber.
I always have my laptop with me on flights so I can crack on with writing a new blog post, but you don’t have to write anything to do with work. Write postcards home or catch up with your journal. Feeling creative? Write a letter to someone special or write a song or a poem about your travels – you could even draft something for a book!
Use whatever format you like – sometimes a good old-fashioned paper and pen will get your creative juices flowing more readily than a laptop keyboard.
Delete and/or Edit Photos
Not having access to the internet means you have some time to spend clearing some space on your phone – perfect if you are flying somewhere on holiday where you’ll be taking lots of pics! Take a look at old photos to see what can be deleted, or if you’re on the way home choose your favourites to post on social media or create a photo book filled with memories.
Read a Book
Take advantage of not having the distraction of the internet by catching up on your reading. Have a good book that you’ve been meaning to read for ages? Bring it with you! It doesn’t have to be a paper book either, a book on a kindle or an audio book are just as good!
Want more ideas for things to do on a plane? Check out this article for more tips.
Enjoy the Flight
I hope this long haul flight essentials list was useful for you, and now you know exactly how to prepare for a long haul flight. If you have any questions about this long flight packing list or any other long-haul flight tips please leave me a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!
Want More Flight Tips?Check out these blog posts filled with more flight tips for your trip, or click here to read all my travel tips.
Want More Packing Tips?Check out these blog posts to help you decide what to pack for your next trip, or click here to read all my packing tips.