I’m not a jetsetter who flies all over the world constantly, but I do fly domestically an average of four times per year. I don’t love flying, but I don’t really mind it either. I’d rather sit on a plane for ninety minutes than sit in a car for eight hours to reach the same destination. For short flights to see my parents, I don’t do much preparation aside from packing. I hate checking my luggage, so I always cram everything I will need (regardless of the weather or the length of my trip) into one rolling suitcase and one additional bag (ranging in size from a backpack to a medium sized duffel bag). Three days in the summer, two weeks at Christmas? Same baggage. Since it’s such a short flight, I usually bring one snack item (like a granola bar or some cookies) and a large bottle that I can fill with water once I get past security. Longer flights, however, require a bit more effort. Since I just got back from a loooooong international flight, I decided to share the awesomely essential things that made fifteen hours in coach slightly less painful.
I get queasy very easily, so I take Dramamine no matter how long the flight. Even though it sucks to be woozy and off kilter for a whole day, I take it even for a ninety minute flight to see my parents. Once when I didn’t take any Dramamine, we were stuck circling the airport for over an hour waiting for the fog to clear and I almost puked. Sadly, there was no vomit bag in my seat back pocket so I did that classic grip the armrests and concentrate on not barfing mind over matter technique. After that, I decided it was worth it to be groggy to ensure that I wouldn’t throw up. I’ve tried different acupressure wristbands, but none of them seem as effective as Dramamine.
A water bottle is essential for me because I’m always thirsty, but also because being on a plane is very dehydrating. I hate waiting for the drink cart to get to me, so I’d rather be self sufficient and have my own water. I bring my insulated Klean Kanteen with me so that the water will stay cold as long as possible, but be careful if you take a metal bottle. I know I sometimes get a little clumsy when juggling all my luggage, so I occasionally drop things. If you already have a metal bottle that’s a little banged up, bring that one instead of your shiny new one so that you won’t get upset if you whack it against anything. Just a warning: on my recent international flight, all of our bags were searched for liquid and they told me that I couldn’t bring the water I had JUST BOUGHT so I had to chug 20 ounces of water on the jetway.
For any flight longer than three hours, I bring a neck pillow. I used to laugh at how silly they looked, but a few years ago, my friend and I were walking to our gate and saw a gift shop sign that said their neck pillows were on sale. Who were we to turn down a bargain? If only we’d known that getting two neck pillows for $20 was already the regular price. Suckers for marketing! We were on the return flight from a trip across the country, so we’d already experienced our heads lolling about as we fell in and out of sleep during the seven hour flight. As soon as I put my neck pillow on, I was sold. Even if I ended up not falling asleep, I was excited about the neck support. I’m short, so my head gets pitched forward at a weird angle when I sit in most plane seats. When I got home, I amused Mr. Awesome by wearing my neck pillow while sitting on the sofa. Maybe it’s just the way I sit (or I have a weak neck and need to do the neck exercises football players do by pushing their foreheads against the palms of their hands), but I loooooove my neck pillow.
There are a lot of tiny variations in neck pillows. The first one is the filling inside. Mine is filled with cotton batting, which is the white fluffy stuff you see being crammed into the animals at the Build a Bear workshop. My sister’s neck pillow is filled with tiny little balls (also used for stuffed animals). Some neck pillows are filled with buckwheat or millet hulls. I prefer the cotton batting because although it will eventually get mashed down, it’s easy and cheap to refill. My neck pillow has a zipper to make this possible, but my sister’s has no opening at all, which means if she wants to refill hers she will have to cut it open and sew it shut. She said she preferred my pillow because it was firmer. Although you might think the little balls would make for a firm pillow, they shift around inside when you put pressure on the pillow, meaning that when she leans her neck back into the pillow, the balls push forward into the shoulder area. There are also inflatable neck pillows, which are convenient since they are really small and flat when deflated, but I’m far too lazy to blow up even the smallest pillow while I’m traveling. My advice is to get a firm pillow, regardless of the filling. The whole point is for this thing to provide support, so why get a mushy one?
The second variation is the material used to cover the pillows. This might sound like a minor aesthetic issue, but when it’s touching your neck for seven to fifteen hours, the material makes a difference. My first neck pillow (which now belongs to Mr. Awesome – more on that later) was covered in a smooth velvety material. My sister’s pillow is covered in a nylon fabric which I think ended up being hotter on her neck. Remember that a neck pillow surrounds your neck so it ends up acting like a scarf, meaning you will get warm. The last thing I want on my hot sweaty neck is a synthetic fabric that is going to make me sweat even more. If the cover zips off, then you can throw it in the washing machine. Not that you would ever drool or sweat all over your neck pillow, right?
The third neck pillow variation is where the two ends meet. The first one I bought had nothing there, which I didn’t even think about, but when my sister bought hers at the airport last week, it had a snap! Not only will this keep the pillow from shifting around while you sleep, but it also allows you to clip the whole pillow to the strap of your carry-on bag so that it doesn’t take up valuable space!
I was so jealous of this new innovation that I ended up buying a new pillow and giving my old one (which, in all fairness, I’ve only flown with on ONE trip, so it’s still in good shape) to Mr. Awesome. Before you judge me for buying a new pillow just for the snap, wait until you see how freaking awesome this new pillow is. How could I NOT buy a Love Piggy neck pillow with a curly little tail? And for even less than I bought my original neck pillow! I could not resist!
Next on my list of necessities for long flights is an eye mask. I’m not one of those fancy ladies who sleeps with a pink satin eye mask (think: Holly Golightly) so I’ve never bought an eye mask before. Mr. Awesome, on the other hand, has sleep issues. He was lucky enough to grow up sleeping in a room that faced toward the backyard (with no neighbors), so he is accustomed to having complete darkness and silence. Unfortunately, that means most other places are too bright and too loud for him to sleep well. I don’t think he has had a good night’s sleep since he moved out of his parents’ house for college. Every once in a while, we see some sleep masks and he looks at them, sometimes even going so far as to put them near his face, but he never buys them because he says he can tell they won’t be comfortable.
Usually if I fall asleep while flying, I’m so zonked out from the Dramamine that any light (whether from the cabin or the windows) doesn’t bother me. Right before I left for my trip, however, Holly at Nothing But Bonfires recommended this sleep mask, the Sweet Dreams eye mask by Dream Essentials, so I decided to ordered two from Amazon.
It might look weird, but it is AWESOME. The eye contours allow you to open your eyes with the mask on. If you’re one of those awful people who insist on telling me how your long luxurious eyelashes are always bumping against the inside of your sunglasses, you may not love this eye mask as much as I do (finally a reason to be glad I have stubby eyelashes), but it’s still better than all of those non-contoured sleep masks that mash down on your eyelids! The shaped nose also blocks light from reaching your eyes from the bottom of the mask.
It worked great on the plane, but after I got back from my trip I decided to see how much light they really block. I mean, really, blocking out some ambient light once the lights on the plane were already dimmed couldn’t be that tough, right? I went outside in broad daylight and put this mask on and it was pitch dark, not even the tiniest bit of light coming through.
My next test was wearing them to bed. There is a street light that shines into our bedroom window. It doesn’t bother me, but it drives Mr. Awesome insane. Although I wasn’t really concerned with blocking out 100% of the light, I really wanted to see how comfortable this sleep mask was. I am a crazy sleeper. My preferred position is for my head to be turned to the side, upper body face down, and my hips and legs twisted to the side. I’ve been trying to slowly move towards being a side sleeper so that my body isn’t contorted the entire time I’m asleep, but I know that most of the time I sleep with my head to the side which can be an issue with a lot of sleep masks. I started on my back. No light leakage at all. When I turned over onto my side, my face moved the mask a little bit. With my eyes closed, I didn’t notice any light but when I opened my eyes, I could see the tiniest bit of light coming through the bottom of the mask. I adjusted it very slightly and voila, no more light. I started falling asleep, but I took the mask off before I was completely asleep because I like the sun to wake me up, which I knew wouldn’t happen with that mask blocking out every bit of light.
The mask has two elastic straps, one on each side. The ends have velcro so that you can adjust how tight or loose you want it held against your head. The mask is soft, so you can fold it in half and put it in the little drawstring pouch it comes in. Mr. Awesome and I have very differently shaped faces. Our eyes, noses, and cheekbones are very different, but the masks fit both of us well and blocked out the light. Totally worth $8. They also include a pair of ear plugs, although you won’t need them if you get my next travel necessity!
I have been coveting the Bose noise canceling headphones for years, but I always wondered how well they worked. A few years ago, my boss bought some for a trip to Japan and he said they were worth every penny. I loved them in theory but couldn’t justify spending $300+ since I don’t fly constantly. Mr. Awesome did some research and found the audio-technica QuietPoint ATH-ANC7 headphones, which retail for $200 but can be found for about half that price if you are willing to do a little searching on the internet. I don’t remember exactly how much we paid for them since we bought them a while ago, but suffice it to say that Mr. Awesome loves a bargain and would never pay $200 for headphones.
The earpieces flip so that the headphones can be stored flat inside the accompanying case (although I’ll admit that I’m lazy and usually just throw them in my carry on bag without the case). You can also use them to listen to music on your ipod/MP3 player, if that helps you justify buying them. When we’re not traveling, we also use these headphones with our computer. They are great for listening to music, and they are noise canceling when you listen to music as well. If you use them without music, they really block out the roar of the engines, which is the most important thing to me. This is by far the priciest thing on my list, but well worth the money if you fly often or fly long distances. If the cost is too much to rationalize, you can download a white noise app instead. FYI – they were not compatible with the headset jack on our international flight, so we had to use the airline headphones to watch movies.
I always bring a bag of small items, most of which are nice for any length flight but really necessary for long flights. My goodie bag includes: food that won’t melt, spoil, or get squooshed easily (don’t worry, I still bring chocolate no matter what!), lotion/moisturizer, lip balm, eye drops, mints/gum for when you wake up from that nap and the inside of your mouth both smells and feels like a kitten died inside, a tiny bottle of over the counter medication like antacid, Advil, etc. (I usually use an old Dramamine bottle since they’re so small), a Wisp mini toothbrush so I can freshen up without needing to rinse, CleanWell hand spray, a travel sized packet of tissue (I can’t tell you how many times the bathrooms at the airport AND on the plane were out of toilet paper – this is especially likely near the end of the flight), some music, and a book to read. I tend to favor books I’ve already read so that in the very likely event that I fall asleep, I won’t have to make much effort to remember what happened when I start re-reading an hour later.
The important lesson I learned on this trip was to have a small bag for these in-flight necessities that you can cram under the seat. I made the mistake of putting all this stuff in the bag I was going to put in the overhead bin and then realized that I didn’t want to keep getting things out of the overhead compartment (in my defense, I was originally going to put that bag under my seat, but I got stuck with the seat that housed all the entertainment components so the space under my seat was about half the size of Mr. Awesome’s). I ended up cramming everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING, into the seat back pocket. There’s nothing like having headphones, books, mints, hand spray, and everything you planned to use over the next fifteen hours stuffed into that little seat back pocket. I could barely get the tray table down! I ended up buying a cheap tote bag for the return flight so that I didn’t have to resort to having an overflowing seat back pocket.