Backpacker’s Guide to Surviving Long Haul Flights

spellbound travels surviving long haul fights

It’s no secret that most people dread long haul flights. Anything from 8-18 hours on a plane sounds less than ideal – that is unless you’ve mastered the skill of surviving long haul flights.

After many 16 hour flights to and from Australia, accompanied by other long legs to each journey, I’ve discovered some unique ways to survive many hours on a plane. 

1. Carry on Essentials

Packing your carry on for a long flight can feel like packing for a whole separate trip on it’s own. What do you really need and what can be left behind?

  • Hygienic Items:

From my experience there are a few non-negotiables when it comes to hygiene such as chapstick, deodorant, a toothbrush & toothpaste and hand sanitiser!

I honestly don’t go many places without hand sanitiser easily accessible partially because I’m a bit of a germaphobe but I think most people would see it’s relevance on a long flight. Is there a sick person beside you? A baby with snot on it’s hands? Lather that hand sanitiser all over you and your arm rests to avoid catching their germs or the germs of the person who was in your seat prior.

Another gem I came across was a small travel spray bottle for your perfume/cologne. Obviously you don’t want to spray yourself on the plane when taking other people into consideration but this really comes in handy when you get off the plane and want to feel a little more fresh before you get to your hostel and have a chance to shower! These are also great for saving space when it comes to bringing your favourite fragrance with you when you’re backpacking and space is limited. You can find them on Amazon here

dreamingofelsewhere travel sized perfume spray bottles

  • Neck pillow:

I found one that can clip onto my carry on for easy access. I’m not sure how people sleep on planes without these, they’re absolutely a necessity!

  • Portable chargers:

In today’s modern world, no one goes anywhere or does anything without their phone. If your plane doesn’t have a charging port by your seat and you get off the flight with no battery, you’re going to waste heaps of time running around the airport looking for a place to charge it and then waiting for your phone to charge.

Come prepared with portable chargers that have a few charges available so you can avoid that problem altogether! If you don’t have a portable charger already, I’d recommend getting one that already has a lightning cable (if you’re an iPhone user) attached to it so you don’t need to worry about pulling an extra cord out of your bag on the plane.

  • Pens:

I never really saw the relevance in keeping pens handy until recently. Now, my rule of thumb is to always pack a pen or two and store it in an easily accessible pocket. Why, you may ask? Because I’ve been on many flights where you need to fill out immigration forms and there’s nothing worse than waiting for your neighbour to lend you there’s before everyone fights their way off the plane. 

  • Extra headphones:

I also just recently discovered how important it is to have TWO pairs of headphones with you on a long flight or backpacking trip. I can speak from experience when I say that headphones break and when they do, you may not have access to a place to buy new ones and you DON’T want to be on an 8+ hour flight without music, podcasts, movies, etc. This is even more important for my fellow iPhone 7 and newer iPhone friends, as many people will offer your their normal headphones that won’t work because your phone has no auxiliary port. So please learn from my mistakes and pack an extra set of headphones!!

  • Healthy snacks:

I always keep some healthy snacks handy such as nuts, dried fruit, granola bars etc., as airplane food is horrible and usually pretty expensive – and that’s not backpacker friendly!

2. Comfort is Key

I’ll never understand the type of people who step onto a plane with jeans, heels and other uncomfortable clothing, especially for a long flight. Nothing is worse than being uncomfortable for that long!

I basically wear the same exact outfit every single time I fly, no matter how long or where I’m going:

  • Flip flops: Okay, this doesn’t work well if you’re flying to a cold destination (me when I flew home to Canada and stepped into a foot of snow), but 9 times out of 10 it’s the right choice. Why not just wear running shoes? Because I bring my favourite pair of slippers to slip on during the flight to keep my feet warm and it’s much easier to make the flip flop to slipper transition than it is, running shoe to slipper. I highly recommend bringing slippers you can wash after the flight on board because you’ll be on a whole new level of comfort!
  • Leggings: There’s really no philosophical reasoning behind this one. Leggings are the most comfortable pant choice, so leggings are the pants I wear!  
  • Backwards hoodie: Before you get confused, let me explain. Airplanes are cold so usually it’s a good call to bring a sweater with you. Not one that’s too thick because you don’t want to be too hot, but not one that’s too thin either. You need to find the perfect balance. Once you have the perfect hoodie selected, put it on backwards. Yes, you read that correctly. This will be your sleeping mask and warm and cosy nook all in one. Whenever you’re trying to sleep on the plane, pop that bad boy up and you’re in your own secluded space! This has hands down been the best thing I’ve started doing whenever I’m on a flight. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!

3. Get on the Flight Last

You know the type of people who hear that their zone for the plane being called to board and they jump up to wait in line? DON’T be one of those people. You’ll just be waiting in line for no reason when you can be charging your phone or another device while you wait. But more importantly, if you wait till the last possible second to get on the plane, you’re left with many advantages that other passengers won’t have:

  • If the plane isn’t full, you’re able to scope out a better spot. Let’s face it, no one likes the middle seat and sometimes it’s unavoidable as a backpacker. We can’t all pay for seat selection and that’s just the reality, but we can wait it out to see if there are window or aisle seats available.
  • Once you’ve assessed the seating situation, get friendly with your nearest flight attendant. If you happen to get on the plane while people are still boarding and can’t tell if there will be any open seats, go talk to the flight attendant nearby. I simply wait till they aren’t busy assisting someone else and ask “is there any way I could switch to a window seat please?!”. If you’re nice they’re more inclined to help you find a new seat. This has had a 100% success rate for me and I’ve even gotten a whole row to myself a few times. A pro tip when it comes to surviving long haul flights!

4. Stir Up Your Sleep Schedule

One of the best ways to prepare for a long flight is to get yourself EXTRA tired. I personally don’t like taking sleeping pills or using unnatural methods to help me sleep so I do the math and figure out if I need to stay awake the night before a flight so that I’m tired enough to sleep through most of it.

This trick doesn’t always work if you’re a backpacker on the go and have a flight at an unusual time, or if you’re working the day before flying out. With that being said, I’d definitely recommend trying to stay up late or get less sleep before your flight so that you’ll be more tired when you step aboard the plane. This has helped me tremendously on long haul flights as it often cuts down the flying time in half or more while I’m fast asleep!

5. Entertainment

If you’re a true backpacker, you’re probably used to airlines with no entertainment system on the seat ahead of you. Luckily, most long flights have a tv screen, but you never know so it’s good to come prepared!

I recently discovered the magic of downloading Netflix shows or movies on my phone ahead of time and I’m never looking back! Have a few episodes of your favourite series or movie ready to go and the time will pass like no other.

If you’re more traditional when it comes to entertainment, a book is always a solid option. One book. Not more, because you’re not going to have room for that! When you’re finished with your book, leave it at a hostel and grab a new one from there. Most hostels have a book drop off and you can choose a new one for yourself! This saves you the time and energy of finding one at the airport, as well as money.

Cards also come in handy for the plane. You never know who’s going to be sitting beside you, so why not have some cards handy? I try to find a mini pack to bring on flights to save space in my carry on!

As a backpacker, it’s important just to have the essentials with you for long flights but you also need to take your personal comfort into account! Follow these tips and you’ll definitely have a much easier time on your long flight to your next destination.


I’d love to hear if you have any other unique or unusual tips for surviving long haul flights. Leave a comment below or connect with me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter!

Check out my previous blog post for tips and tricks to getting the perfect pictures as a solo traveler!


Amy xx

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