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Long haul, international flights are just a part of traveling. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to travel to different continents and explore places a long way from home. I’ve personally done my fair share after traveling over 50 countries, and I still dread them.
However, in that time I’ve been able to make these long haul flights far more enjoyable. From bringing certain items to preparing weeks before my flight, I can now get through a long international flight both in comfort and without stress.
That’s right, surviving international flights isn’t just about physical comfort. In fact, if you’re not prepared then stress can make a long-haul flight much worse!
So in this blog, I’ll not only share tips on making you as physically comfortable as possible, but also ensure you have everything you need so you can sit back and relax!
Related read: For important apps for flying and traveling, read our blog about the 17 best apps for traveling that you should have downloaded!
Things You Need Before Flying Internationally
1. Valid passport
This may sound obvious but there is more to it than just making sure your passport is valid. In fact, did you know that in most countries around the world your passport needs to be valid for an extra 6 months from the date you plan on flying? Without it, you won’t be able to board your flight.
This rule also applies to your return flight. So, if you’re going on a long trip, you need 6 months from the date of your last flight back to your home country. Otherwise, you’ll end up stuck abroad (if they even let you travel) trying to get an emergency passport – which is costly!
Depending on where you’re from and where you’re going, you may need to organize a visa in advance even if you’re just going on holiday. For example, when I traveled to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil I was required to get a visa before arrival that takes around 90 days to issue. Without it, I would be turned away at the border or not be allowed to board my flight into Brazil.
Most countries also require proof of onward travel, so if you don’t have a flight booked out of the country, you may need to book a bus, fake flight ticket (yes, they exist), or risk being denied entry.
Extra tip: Be sure to check the requirements for the country you are traveling to and also be aware that layovers in the United States and other countries require a transit visa organized before flying.
3. Make backup copies of your travel documents
This is something you should aim to go overboard with. Make digital and physical copies of your passport, driver’s license, flights (and return flights for visa), visas, vaccination paperwork, proof of funds (for visas), travel insurance, and even your hotel name and address for immigration.
4. Get up to date vaccinations
Depending on where you are traveling, you may need to get vaccinations for viruses such as Yellow Fever or Rabies. For example, when traveling from Bolivia to Brazil on an international trip I was required to have my Yellow Fever vaccination because I visited the Amazon.
Proof of the vaccinations comes in a little yellow book and are signed off by your doctor. I was personally never asked for the booklet but it was required. Also, getting your Rabies shots before you travel could save your life!
Of course, you should not take any advice from me when it comes to vaccines and instead go to your local doctor. Doctors can look up what vaccines are recommend in what countries and you can then make your own decision from there.
5. Documents for children
Some countries require children only traveling with one parent to show proof that the child is allowed to be leaving the country. This is usually as simple as a letter of consent from the other parent and this is the requirement in South Africa and strongly recommended in the United States.
6. Pack your bags correctly
Packing your bags is pretty straight forward, however, there are a few things you need to consider before getting to the airport.
Liquids: You are not allowed the carry liquids more than 100ml in your carry-on bag. At the security scanners, these will be thrown out. Also, all your liquids need to fit in a 1L bag at the airport.
Carry some essentials on you: Checked luggage gets lost all the time especially on long-haul and connecting flights. You should always carry some essentials in your carry-on such as medications, documents, and even things like contact lens solution.
Keep batteries out of your checked bag: Lithium-Ion batteries, as well as other batteries, are often not allowed in your checked bag. They can cause fires so airlines want them kept on your carry-on just in case. Be sure to keep batteries out of your checked bag and ask staff if you’re unsure.
Weigh your suitcase: Some airlines are really picky about the weight of your bag. Always check your allowance and weigh it before getting to the airport. This can be done weeks out and if needed, buy more weight or bags in advance as it’s much cheaper!
If traveling to the USA use TSA locks: If you are traveling to or laying over in the United States be sure to use TSA locks. These locks can be opened by airport security without damaging the lock. If you use normal locks they’ll simply cut the lock, or worse, your bag.
7. Bring a water bottle
Water is an important part of long haul flights, and without your own water bottle, it can get very expensive to buy. Of course, you can’t take your full water bottle through security (the 100ml rule) but you can take an empty one to fill up on the other side.
Most airports have fountains around that allow you to do this, however, I have traveled through ones that don’t. In that case, you’re going to have to buy it!
8. Carry a pen
I’ve never traveled through an airport without having to fill something out. Having a pen to fill arrival cards on the plane is a huge time saver as it means you can get to the immigration line right away without having to head to a booth to fill in your paperwork.
At busy airports, this can save you lots of time, especially if multiple planes are landing around the same time. I never travel without a pen!
9. Request a special meal if you need one
When booking your plane ticket make sure you tell the airline about any dietary requirements you have. Not only will the airline most likely be able to accommodate you, but you’ll also get your meal first.
If you do forget, then once onboard you can ask for a different meal. Most airlines carry a few spares! I actually ended up with a meal from first-class once!
10. Check-in online before
Checking in for your flight before you get to the airport saves lots of time. These days you can get to the airport ready with your boarding pass and only have to drop off your bag and get through security. Online check-in is usually available 24 hours before your flight is due to depart.
But it’s not only a time-saver and it could also save you if you’re late for your flight. You see, once checked in airlines assume you are going to board your flight, so, if you’re late, they’re more likely to hold the plane up and continue calling your name.
This is something you should avoid as the airline and other passengers won’t be happy when you do the walk of shame to your seat!
11. Select your seat
While checking in online in advance, be sure to select your seat if the option is available. Most often seat selection is first come first serve so the earlier you do it the better. Always avoid the very back seats on a plane as they often don’t recline. But other than that, it’s all personal preference.
I personally love the aisle because I have long legs and like to walk around a lot!
Related read: When traveling it’s common to encounter beg bugs even on planes. Here’s how to get rid of bed bugs while traveling.
Things to Make Your Long Flight More Comfortable
12. Consider getting lounge access
Lounge access isn’t cheap, but during a long layover on international flights, it might be worth it! Airport lounges give you a chance to not only enjoy a meal but also have a shower, get some sleep, and relax. This can greatly improve your overall health and reduce jetlag.
I’ve mostly done budget travel but some lounge accesses cost less than $50 and considering you often get free food, they’re worth it! My favorite thing though? The shower! Flying makes me feel oily and dry at the same time, and I hate it! A shower makes me feel refreshed and ready to fly again.
13. Dress comfortably
Comfortable clothing on long haul flights is a must! On flights over 6 hours, you need to make sure you’re wearing clothes that don’t irritate you, and you can layer up (if it’s cold) and layer down (if it’s hot). I always pack some warm clothes because some planes are freezing and you can’t sleep if you’re cold!
With that said, there is a limit. Remember you’re in public and traveling through airports in your PJ’s isn’t a good look!
14. Book flights with enough time on layovers
For connecting international flights I always allow for a 2 to 3 hours layover unless I’m flying with the same airline. Even then, you’ll be compensated but you could still miss your flight!
If you’re flying with two different airlines then 3 hours is a good amount of time. That allows for one flight to be slightly late and gives you enough time to get through customs and make it to your gate in time. In large airports or in countries with tight customs (like the USA) allowing extra time is always a good idea.
15. Bring something to help you sleep
I have a lot of trouble sleeping on flights. I can never get comfortable and it is so frustrating when you look around at people fast asleep. Like seriously? Some look like they’re sleeping better than I do at home!
For that reason, I always bring something to help me sleep. Most often than not it’s simply earplugs and a neck pillow. On the odd occasion, I’ll have melatonin but it’s hard to get in Australia as you need a prescription. If you’re Canadian though, you can buy it over the counter.
Some people may want something stronger but just make sure it’s not illegal to carry and if you need a prescription, carry it with you.
16. Drink lots of water
Flying dehydrates you without you even knowing. Most people who fly do not drink enough water and that can not only can that make you feel worse, but also increase the effects of jet lag.
Using the drink bottle you brought with you, aim to drink .25 liters of water every hour. Although you may need to go to the bathroom more, you’ll keep yourself hydrated and feeling better!
17. You can never be too early
Ok, so this is not technically true. You can be too early for a flight, but what I’m getting at is even if you are, it’s better than being late.
For international flights, it’s recommended by airlines to arrive 3 hours before. This is actually when most airlines will begin letting passengers check-in for their flight. Before this, you may have to wait depending on the airline.
The same goes between flights at boarding gates. Get to the gate as early as possible. Once you’re there you can head off and explore, but always find it first!
18. Noise-canceling headphones aren’t just for music
Noise-canceling headphones are a lifesaver on international flights. They make listening to music and movies so much better by blocking out the sound of the plane’s engines and the people around you.
However, they’re not just for listening to music or movies. Noise-canceling headphones in general, make flying much quieter and they are great for sleeping.
So, even if you don’t listen to much music when you fly, noise-canceling headphones will make flying more comfortable.
19. Always carry USD, GPB, or Euro
When laying over in airports it’s always a good idea to carry some cash. Some airports don’t accept cards or your foreign card might not work. It can be a nightmare!
When carrying cash it’s always best to carry a trusted currency that’s widely used all over the world. Currencies like USD, Great Britain Pound, and the Euro can pretty much be changed into local bills anywhere in the world. Just be sure the bills are new (produced in the last 5 years) and in really good condition with no tears or fading. Lots of countries won’t accept old or damaged bills.
I myself, always carry USD in my travel wallet. It has saved me on more than one occasion!
20. Bring your own snacks
Airports and planes are so expensive. Most items will be twice the price in an airport or on your flight, so it’s always good to bring your own snacks in case you get hungry.
When it comes to picking snacks, go with healthy nut bars that will fill you up. Also, something with sugar will help wake you up between flights so you can actually function properly! Just make sure your snacks are in sealed packages with the ingredients listed. Things like fruit or meat often aren’t allowed through customs.
21. Pack some toiletries in your carry on bag
You wouldn’t normally go 24 hours without brushing your teeth, so you really shouldn’t do it while you’re flying. But a toothbrush and toothpaste are just two of the toiletry items I always carry on me. Other things include face cream, mouth wash, and deodorant.
Altogether, I have the ultimate travel pack to deal with the feeling of dry skin, bad breath, and how I smell. This makes traveling much more enjoyable, not only for me, but for Bailey too!
22. Lock your bag in the overhead storage
Theft isn’t common on flights but it does happen. For this reason, I always lock my bag closed when it’s in the overhead compartment. Not only does it keep the honest people out of my bag, but it gives me peace of mind. That in turn helps me sleep better and enjoy my overall flight experience.
23. Get up and walk around
Sitting down for long periods of time not only isn’t good for you, but it doesn’t feel good. There are obviously risks to your health when it comes to deep vein thromboses too so it’s best to keep moving.
Walking around the aircraft, stretching in your seat, wiggling your toes, and taking regular toilet breaks are ways you can do this on a plane. However, you can also get moving on your layovers by not sitting or laying down. Instead, take a walk around the airport – your legs will love you for it!
24. Bring a battery pack
Most planes these days have charging points in the seats, however, you’d be surprised how many airports don’t! To save the hassle of having to leave my phone at one of those charging booths, I always bring a battery pack with me.
A battery pack is an essential travel item anyway, so you may as well get one for your long haul flight!
25. Download some entertainment
Last but certainly not least is to bring your own inflight entertainment. I find the selection on airplanes to be pretty good but, on some airlines, you may end up with movies in another language. Instead, download a few onto your phone before using Netflix or Amazon Prime Video.
Music is a huge one too! Most planes carry pretty cringe-worthy albums and sometimes I’d rather hear the roaring of the engines! I use Spotify for my music and love the download feature. That way, I have good tunes everywhere I go.
Before you go…
Long haul, international flights don’t have to be uncomfortable. With the tips above you can enjoy a stress-free, relaxing flight, and arrive at your destination feeling pretty good.
Thanks so much for reading this guide to surviving international flights. I really hope this guide has helped you plan your upcoming adventure and let’s hope these tips work for you. If you have any questions please leave them below otherwise browse around on our blog for lots of great guides and travel tips or check out the related blogs below!