This is an updated version of a former post, see the original here.
I recently celebrated my sixth Berlinerversary. I moved here in late 2011 for a 2-year master program with the plan to return stateside afterward. Little did I know how much I would grow to love life in this city. Now that Berlin has really become home, I've made friends with the fact that the 7+ hour stretch over the Atlantic is something I'll regularly have to endure.
It seems that the older I get, the more flight anxiety I have AND the more exhausting flying becomes (what is it about airplanes and airports that is so exhausting?). But that doesn't stop me from taking all measures to travel comfortably, minimize jet lag and try to stay healthy - even after hours spent traveling 40,000 feet above Earth.
Here is a list of important things I've learned after doing it all the wrong way.
1. Pack light (meaning your carry-on)
The last thing you want to do after checking your baggage, going through security and walking ages to find your gate is to struggle with your hand-luggage once you board the aircraft. Trust me, I've done it all the wrong ways: with an overweight rolly suitcase that I can barely lift to the overhead bins, to the massive backpack that I just know will fit under the seat in front of me (bc who needs leg room?). Instead pack lightly, chances are you won't write in your journal, work on your computer or read through four novels on your flight, no matter how motivated you are. After all, they do show free newly released movies!
Now I travel with one book, one large bottle of water and my iPhone (for podcasts or music) - all stowed in a normal sized bag that actually does fit under the seat in front of me.
2. Get comfortable (the right way)
Skip the travel pillow all together - I'm still not sure why they exist. You're already sitting in an uncomfortable upright position, why you'd want to put something behind your neck to further upright you is beyond me. I have zero positive experiences with travel pillows. I like to carry a big scarf instead that I can bunch up or wrap around for comfort.
Don't cross your legs. This might sound weird but circulation is problematic when you're jammed into a tiny seat and crossing your legs can worsen the situation and make them fall asleep. It's also better for your back and hips if you stay in a neutral position.
3. Dress appropriately
You guys, once I was crazy enough to think that wearing a maxi dress (!) on a 14-hour journey was a good idea. It might have been the most uncomfortable I've ever been. I spent the whole flight fighting the scrunch and jumble of my dress and getting caught up on the seatbelt. Don't do this. Wear comfortable and sensible clothes for your next long flight. Now I opt for comfortable jeans/pants with a loose top and sweater. Layers are important bc if you're anything like me, you can go from sweating to freezing in 2 seconds flat.
Don't wear contact lenses. The air is recycled during flights and therefore is desert dry. This is bad for your lenses and can result in irritated, itchy eyes. If you must forgo actual glasses, be sure to carry eye drops.
4. Plan to freshen up
Depending on which airline you fly, you might get a small toiletry kit with things like earplugs, an eye mask and a travel toothbrush. A lot of time and money have gone into researching flights and what makes passengers comfortable. The toothbrush made the list for a reason. Nothing is worse than having the aftertaste of your chicken curry with 5+ hours until your destination. Go brush your teeth.
I also pack facial wipes which help me "get ready" for sleep - similar to how I'd wind down at home. It's also nice to use these shortly before landing to freshen up and feel awake.
5. Skip the booze and coffee
I know, I know. This can be a toughie when the cabin fills with that wonderful coffee-bean aroma or better yet, when your flight attendant asks if you'd like free wine - you'd be crazy to say no, right? Wrong. It's proven that flying dehydrates you. Even though the free, seemingly unlimited cups of Sauvignon Blanc are tempting, they only dehydrate you further. Plus, once the warm fuzzy wine feeling has dissipated, you're likely left with a headache and slight hangover feeling. This is because alcohol affects your body differently at different altitudes.
Stay healthy and feeling good by drinking water. I always get a large bottle after clearing security that I can carry onto the plane. It saves you from having to ask for a million little cups of water throughout the flight.
6. Move around
Stretch when you can and get up from time to time. I probably get up 4-5 times on a 7-hour flight. Walking around the cabin, or even just standing (where there is space) near the lavatories, can help with circulation and keep your body feeling good.
Those are my tips for staying healthy and traveling like a boss. Do you have travel rituals that you swear by? Let me know in the comments below.