Your big trip is finally here. The one for which you’ve scrimped and saved and pored over dozens of pages in guidebooks and blog posts, researching all the things to see and do. The one you’ve been counting down to for months.
But then you land at your destination, and you’re beat. Your nose is running, your throat is parched, your backpack feels like lead and the locals don’t seem friendly at all. The next day, a full-blown cold hits. What a miserable start to your dream trip!
If you’ve never experienced this (really?!), good for you. On my first-ever solo backpacking trip to Scandinavia, I’d packed warm clothes and heat packs but didn’t realize how important it was to actually prep my body. Traveling to a different country is a wonderful experience for the soul, but a stressful one for our immune system: we’re forced to quickly adapt to different climates, daylight hours, and food. Needless to say, plane rides add to the challenge with filthy cabins, pressurized air, and cramped space.
Luckily, since that first trip (and dozens of flights later), I now practice some simple yet effective habits that help me stay healthy while flying. If you’re that unlucky soul who just can’t sleep on planes or resigned to suffering debilitating jet lag, try these air travel tips. I promise they’ll help.
1. Boost Your Immunity
To keep my body going strong, I usually pack a tube of effervescent multivitamins and pop one the day before I fly. I recommend Airborne as it includes a natural herb blend and has lots of flavors that taste better than other brands I’ve tried. Plus, fizzies will get you hydrated while adding some zest to plain ol’ water.
I confess: I’m a habitual last-minute packer. I often start less than 8 hours before leaving for the airport and squeeze in a 3-4 hour nap. This messes up the body especially if you’re taking a morning flight: insufficient sleep affects our body’s temperature-regulating abilities, so I often end up shivering in those chilly airports and planes.
It’s easier said than done, but try to get a full night’s rest before a flight, especially if you’re like me and can’t afford Business class seats!
3. Wear Compression Stockings
Despite a family history of varicose veins, it was only in the past year that I started paying attention to the few veins starting to pop out. I started wearing compression stockings for flying and it’s made a huge difference. Apart from reducing the risk of DVT, I sleep better in the plane and my legs feel loads lighter upon arrival.
It’s not necessary to get expensive medical-grade compression socks unless your doctor has prescribed them. I prefer footless or open-toed thigh-high stockings for maximum comfort – check the most popular brands and prices.
Nearly everyone I know prefers nonstop flights to get to their destination as quickly as possible, but it seems most cattle class seats are designed to destroy your posture. Well, not only are flights with stops cheaper, they also grant you the opportunity to stretch away stiff backs and in-flight meal bloat (and use a decent loo). Check out #airportyoga for inspiration!
5. Stay Away from Cold/Raw Food
See that smoothie that’s been sitting in ice for hours in the airport food court? Or that smoked salmon salad on your airplane meal tray? Don’t touch it. Not unless you want to be miserably bloated all through your plane ride (bloating feels a lot worse in a plane thanks to the lower cabin pressure) or worse still, end up with gastroenteritis or food poisoning.
The only exception I make is for yogurt, which the next tip explains…
6. Pack Probiotics
This is a great addition to your travel first aid kit that goes beyond plane travel. A serving of probiotics can provide much-needed relief when your gut isn’t behaving on the plane, or isn’t enjoying the exotic local cuisine as much as you do! Powders or capsules work equally well but these come in convenient blister packs and contain both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains.
7. Brush Your Teeth
Your mouth is the first place where germs enter and breed. After a long flight with meals, sleep, and restricted access to water, you can be sure it’s filthy. Pack a toothbrush and toothpaste in your carry-on for long-haul flights so you can refresh your breath and at the same time, wash your hands thoroughly – not with a lazy soaping but like this – to keep those nasty airplane pathogens at bay.
My Trusty Carry-On Packing List
This is not just a packing list for items to you can buy; it’s my actual packing list that I rely on so I can pack on autopilot for my trips without missing a thing. It does contain affiliate links to products I highly recommend, but also includes essentials like your passport and wallet. I’ve listed everything in reverse chronological order, so the last items are the last ones to pack into your carry-on bag.
You can also get this packing list as a handy PDF!
1. Tissue paper, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, sunglasses
These essentials should always be in your carry-on bag.
2. Water bottle
I take a water bottle with me everywhere I go in order to minimize my consumption of plastic bottled water. In fact, I’ve been using the same bottle for 10 years now (and really should replace it as it’s made from #7 plastic :O) + a Sawyer Mini water filter when I’m traveling to places where water should be filtered. This keeps my pack weight down.
The GRAYL water purifying bottle, however, is an excellent upgrade for conscious travelers and has been raved about by thousands of experienced adventure travelers. Its built-in water filter is easy to use and filters viruses in addition to bacteria and protozoa, so you can fill up from virtually any source. I’m definitely getting this water bottle next!
3. Medical kit
Pack essential medications in a pouch. I include the following: paracetamol (general inflammation), cetirizine (antihistamine), pseudoephedrine (more effective decongestant than phenylephrine but is typically a regulated drug), loperamide + activated charcoal + Po Chai Pills (diarrhea), probiotic chewables, effervescent vitamins, water purification tablets, band-aids, packet of biscuits (emergency snack for blood sugar dips)
4. Earphones or Noise cancelling headphones
However, for true peace and quiet to survive long flights in economy class, you’ll need active noise cancelling headphones like the highly popular Bose QuietComfort 35.
5. Travel pillow
- Look for neck support, not head support. Find a traditional u-shaped pillow that fits snug around your neck. The bigger the center hole, the looser it’ll be and the less likely it will comfortably support your neck.
- Memory foam is overrated. A great pillow I tried was a cheap, firm polyester fiberfill pillow that felt uncomfortable when I tried it on my couch, but was perfect on the plane. You really want that neck support.
Now here’s a mind-blowing travel hack if you want to pack light: get a u-shaped travel pillow with a removable washable cover like this one, preferably one with a hood that can cover your eyes. Remove the inner and stuff a heavy-duty down or fleece jacket into the cover instead. Use your stuff sack/travel pillow on the flight and pull out the jacket for use during your trip!
5. Travel documents, notebook/journal, pens
It’s always safest to have a printed copy of important documents like your passport, visas, and flight details – especially if you are traveling somewhere less modernized. I use an A5 size plastic document sleeve to hold these. I also always travel with a notebook in a Ziploc bag + several pens to record observations and thoughts.
6. Facial masks, toothbrush+toothpaste, lip balm
One of my favorite long haul flight tips for women is to slap on a face mask: it truly keeps your skin hydrated in dry airplane cabins. I’m a fan of Mediheal sheet masks from South Korea; each one is drenched in essence that you can also apply to your neck and hands. If you’re worried about looking like a serial killer, try the soothing lavender-scented Laneige Water Sleeping Mask (apparently only available in Asia or on Amazon).
As mentioned earlier, brushing your teeth during a long-haul flight or when in transit can help keep you feeling fresh and healthy. Most airlines will also provide toothbrushes and toothpaste on long-haul or red-eye flights, but you can bring your own if flying on a budget airline.
I also carry a lip balm with SPF protection to protect my lips from chapping and sun damage wherever I go.
4. Laptop, camera + accessories, charging cables
Your laptop, camera, and other valuables should always go in the carry-on – check out the camera gear I take with me on every trip. Power banks are also carry-on only. I pack only a USB charging cable for my phone on shorter flights, but also include my laptop charger for long-haul flights.
I carry an external SSD to back up all photos. SSDs are more expensive but much faster and more sturdy than spinning hard disk drives.
5. Compression stockings, sweater/jacket
7. House and luggage keys
4. Passport, wallet, phone
These are the last three things to always check for in your carry-on, because they’re the most important! You’re also likely to your wallet and phone right up to the point you leave the house. Wallet: make sure you have cash, credit and debit cards, driver’s license, name cards. Phone: make sure you download your e-ticket, offline maps, reservations, itineraries.
Integrate these essential health habits into your air travel routine, and I guarantee you’ll no longer land at airports feeling like the cold, stale bun on your meal tray.
Of course, there are plenty more air travel tips to make flying more comfortable, such as investing in a good travel pillow or face mist. What habits do you have to optimize your health before a trip?