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12 Ways to Survive Long Travel Days

12 Ways to Survive Long Travel Days

Travel Planning

Thirty. Eight. Hours. From leaving the house at 4:30 AM to arriving at an Airbnb flat almost 2 days later, that’s the approximate amount of time that Jeremy and I spent traveling from San Antonio to Madrid.

I’m not going to sugar coat it: it was brutal. In a few years, I’m sure we’ll decide that a couple of 6 hour layovers and an additional 2 hour layover, 4 planes, and a day and a half worth of travel time are in no way worth saving hundreds of dollars on airfare. But right now, we’re young, crazy and (sort of) frugal. So! The nightmarish layover battle began.

What saved us in this journey (other than the exhaustion that allowed us to pass a huge portion of it dozing off), was our prior experience with long travel days–long flights, long layovers, and general airport hustle and bustle. If you feel like braving a complex flight path to save some money (or, if it’s the only option for where you are going), here are my suggestions for making that experience as bearable as possible.

Long Travel Days

1. Sleep on the plane(s).

There’s plenty of debate about this in the travel world, but I fall solidly on the side of sleeping every chance you get during long travel days. Sleep is your friend. You’ll be sore in the morning, but that’s what stretching and ibuprofen are for (not to mention the distracting ecstasy of your exciting destination).

I like to try to plan my long flights for leaving in the evening of wherever I’m exiting, and arriving the morning of my destination. This supposedly helps with the jetlag, but more importantly, just like when you were a kid on a road trip: nothing passes semi-uncomfortable time like a good sleep. My personal airplane sleep position is to lay down right on the tray table. Jeremy isn’t so gifted, and he will usually take the window seat to sleep on the wall.

2. Bring socks and a jacket.

Those two items will save your comfort in the constantly changing temperatures, every time. Plus, the jacket makes for a convenient pillow.

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3. Ladies: no makeup.

Having spent plenty of time wandering through airports laden with women dressed to the nines in order to squish into tiny airplane seats, I’m fully aware that plenty of people disagree with me on this. But hear me out: it’s going to wear off. Your skin is going to dry out and get itchy. You’re going to break out. Just, don’t.

4. Moisturizer.

To follow up on #3: bring moisturizer. Yes, men too–you’ll be glad you have it. Airplane air is hard on the skin. I slather my moisturizer onto my face about halfway through a long flight, and I have never appreciated the stuff more than in those moments.

5. Water.

Water, water, water, and more water. Best, of course, is to bring an empty, reusable water bottle to the airport with you and fill it up after security and before getting on the plane, and. If you neglect this (or you’re somewhere that the water isn’t safe to drink and/or water fountains don’t exist)–I promise, you’ll agree that it’s worth the $4 highway robbery to buy a bottle at the airport.

Even if you’re flying with an airline that provides complimentary drinks, and the attendants are liberal with the refills, those tiny plastic teaser-sips of water are just torture after a while, and nothing says dehydration like hours out of your normal routine at 30,000 feet.

Long Travel Day

6. Mouthwash.

I promise, brushing your teeth in an airplane bathroom is just… not worth it. On a layover, maybe. But before that: nothing smells quite like travel breath after a solid 8-12 hours in transit, some of that including sleep. It is not a good smell, and your travel companion(s) will thank you.

7. Entertainment.

Books, Kindle/Nook, headphones, music, Sudoku puzzles, blank notebook and pen, charged phone with offline apps (or the willingness to buy wifi, which I just can’t bring myself to do)… whatever floats your boat. But bring something.


8. Bring an external battery charger.

Sometimes you don’t know the next chance you’ll get to charge your phone, and while many airports have places where you can charge, often you won’t have the several hours to camp out at a specific spot. A much better plan is to always bring your own charger. They are relatively cheap, can charge multiple devices at once, and can be a lifesaver while you are on the road and need to turn on your phone that has the only copy of your boarding pass on it.

9. Stretch during the long flights.

Okay, I’ll admit, this one may just be me. But. You’re going to get stiff and sore. It’s inevitable. Walk when you can, but for obvious reasons, the flight attendants aren’t terribly thrilled with passengers clogging up the aisles with their stretching, even with the fasten-seatbelt sign off. I have found my best method of stretching is in the bathroom.

During my bathroom breaks, I’ll take a little extra time: stand on my toes, stretch my arms above my head, and do a set of 20 squats or so. A little weird, yes, but I feel so much better afterward. Call me crazy, but in hour 6 of your next long-haul flight, try it and thank me.

Long Travel Days

10. Take long walks during your layovers.

All the better to work out the kinks from sleeping in awkward positions, plus, this is a great way to people watch. Even in my deliriously exhausted state by the time we got to Stockholm, sometime around hour 28 of travel, we still had fun looking at the Swedish shops (and prices). I always feel better physically after taking some time to move around when possible.

11. Pack food.

Nothing says a comfortable flight like a severely overpriced greasy meal, right? Or, not. With one exception (a “good bye USA” cheeseburger around dinner time on day one of travel), we stuck with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, dried fruit, nuts, and a batch of chocolate chip cookies. More money to spend on tapas, yay!

12. Have a plan for when you land.

This goes double if you’re headed to a new place on one of your long travel days, and triple if you don’t speak the local language. You don’t necessarily need to know every metro stop, but an address for your lodging and a general plan (bus/metro/rental car/where are you going to meet your transportation) is a must. Fifteen minutes of preparing this before leaving home can easily save an hour or more of worn out confusion once you arrive.

Long Travel Days

When you start getting physically and mentally worn out during long travel days, and when the frustration settles in, just remember: you’re using a tiny metal tube to rocket across the globe to visit a destination that, just a few generations ago, people from your location could only realistically read about or maybe visit once (with a lot of time and money spent) in their entire lives. Embrace that feat of engineering and try to relax on these long travel days–when you’re crammed in the plane and daydreaming about your adventure starting, just remember: it has already begun.

Long Travel Days

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Kate has been traveling the world full-time for more than 3 years. She tries to keep a balance between going on new adventures and exploring favorite destinations (like Italy!) in depth, and is always on the lookout for the next beautiful overlook and delicious meal.

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