How to Survive Long-haul Flights and Jetlag

Darling, I have done a LOT of flying (including 5 flights in a row, several 16-hour flights and back-to-back long hauls of 11 hours, then 12 hours) but this is for the dear newbies, a conservative/ cautious explanation of how to survive/ thrive on long (non-work) journeys

before you go, get:

  • small container of Vicks
  • airplane booties (socks with rubber on the soles are ok)
  • shawl/ mini-blanket/ heavy sweater
  • money for airport fun
  • GOOD treats that you will want to eat even when you don’t want to eat (protein! think peanut M & Ms)
  • mini-kit for carry on (w/ sanitizer spray, earplugs, eyeshades, mini-toothbrush w/ toothpaste, comb and other essentials)
  • paperback book, best if it is part of series or by author that you know/ love
  • seat upgrades if you can
  • hotel reservations for at least the first 2 nights

in general:

  • make sure you can adjust your clothing for varying temperatures, i.e. from conservative tank top/ shorts or light pants to all bundled up
  • pack FEWER tops than you want to, can always buy a shirt along the way
  • don’t over-plan; it all looks lovely on-line but when you arrive buildings will be closed, bus routes won’t be running; pick some places you want to go to, things you want to see but realize most of your plans won’t work out


as soon as the plane takes off, put your watch/ phone on the time of the place you will land

night flight

  • get YUMMY dinner on the way to airport (so you are full/ not tempted to eat airplane food)
  • as soon as you are in your seat, snuggle in (spray sanitizer over everything, put on Vicks, booties, earplugs, eyeshade, blanket), start napping
  • NO screens until 3 or 4 hours before landing
  • try to eat something every 4 to 5 hours


  • go shopping! you need to move around and there are usually not ways to exercise in airports (some have pools, you can always check) so walk through all the stores
  • self-care! use your airport fun money for… a shower! a back or foot massage! get into an airline lounge!
  • basically you should only be sitting down if you are eating or waiting to board the plane, either stroll or go to empty gate and lay down – you sit enough on the plane, don’t sit in airports


early morning

  • get out of baggage claim and do NOT head to exit – head to bathroom: wash your face and brush your teeth (what? you did not put mini-toothbrush and travel toothpaste in your carry-on? sigh.)
  • get a coffee and little snack from arrivals hall café – yes, I know you are sick of airports and longing to go out to see the country but you are jet-lagged and heading for culture shock: foreign accents, foreign currency, foreign everything – give yourself a chance to breathe
  • go to hotel, oh look! you are fresh-faced and relaxed! you do not look like you are falling apart and miserable so you can be charming to the hotel clerk when you ask if there is any chance you can get into your room early [a big issue of travel is that everyone in travel industry has more lee-way and knowledge than you think, but the way it access their fountain of kindness and information is NOT with belligerence or looking like a lost puppy, competent and pleasant are your watch-words]
  • of course your room is not ready, ask for recommendation for a place to have breakfast and when you might come back
  • have a sit-down breakfast – get fortified and try to stay awake as long as you can (nap for no more than two hours)

middle of day

  • get out of baggage claim and do NOT head to exit – head to bathroom: wash your face and brush your teeth
  • get a coffee and little snack from arrivals hall café so that you don’t fall apart waiting for the bus/ metro
  • go to hotel, check in and take a shower, unpack a little, then head out – try to stay awake as long as you can (nap for no more than two hours)

at night

  • get out of baggage claim and do NOT head to exit – head to bathroom: wash your face and brush your teeth
  • get a water and little snack from arrivals hall café to-go as the hotel may not have food available
  • get to hotel in easiest way possible (yes to taking a taxi, no to taking 4 different subway lines)
  • if you feel hyped up when you get to hotel, check in, put luggage in room and check that everything works, then go back to clerk and ask if there is place nearby to walk, go for a short stroll
  • set your alarm for 8 or 9am, dim lights, put down your phone, take a shower, get in bed and read book – try to relax as much as you can which means no TV, no phone

hotel rooms

  • when you get in hotel room, always check that stuff words (like you are astronauts in new space ship!) try the hot water, sit on bed, open the closet
  • put dopp kit in bathroom, open luggage, toss your sleep shirt on yr bed, etc.
  • yes, this sounds stupid but wait until you are jet-lagged and discover the hot water doesn’t work or that you can’t figure how to turn off the lights, or come back after a great dinner and you are too tired to find your toothbrush – get organized FIRST

*instructions are for hotels because if you are newbie to long-haul flights and/ or new to the country, you will want a hotel with people to ask for assistance and information: nothing is nicer than a good concierge. Youth hostels (if you must) are also ok. I know you want to get an apartment rental and use your phone for all information – that’s what you do when you have some EXPERIENCE. Unless you have done a lot of traveling, for the first time in-country, make sure you have some built-in help for the first few days.

jet lag

some people aren’t affected (yeah you!) but most have some kind of dizziness/ loopyness which results in making wonderfully terrible bad decisions (no, I will not give you examples from my life) and falling asleep at the wrong time. The worst kind is when you feel fine/ wonderful/ on top of the world, then suddenly all your strength is gone. For the first few days in country, keep to the astronaut metaphor: always have something to drink and eat at hand or nearby and never get too far away from your spaceship (hotel room). No major museums or long hikes for the first 2 days – stick to smaller goals!

rest of trip

  • buy postcards – for you (as mementos) and to send to people (especially much younger and much older relatives). You won’t be able to find your social media posts 10 years from now, so try to buy a few postcards each day – if you are really motivated, write the date and a few general impressions on the back of each one. In ten years, that stack of cards will be a precious reminder. And relatives LOVE getting postcards with foreign stamps – easy to do and wins you many brownie points.
  • trust your instincts – even if you have paid for hotel room or sat down in restaurant, if you feel like something is wrong: get up and go. In your home space you can understand your surroundings; in foreign countries, you have to rely on your lizard brain; you have to learn to follow your feelings, even when they don’t make sense.
  • use your words, even if you hate being chatty with strangers, you need as much help as possible so add data to your questions/ explain more than you usually would. Don’t ask: “when is the next bus to Mousehole” (answer: tomorrow at 9am); do this: “I am trying to get to Mousehole to meet my sister there, can you tell what the best way is?”

last day

  • pro-tip 1: pack EARLY b/c then you know if you will have extra room, i.e. you can buy something extra – people who pack right before they go to airport usually end up with extra space or not enough space in their bags
  • pro-tip 2: wrap everything that should not be washed in a bag or put in one section of your luggage so that when you get home, you can unpack in 3 minutes:  dopp kit in bathroom, everything wrapped on a shelf to deal with later and everything else in the washing machine
  • if your plane leaves at night: get up late, go get breakfast and bring it back to the room, make yr bed and throw all your stuff on it, then pack carefully, next take a shower – you want to laze as much as possible b/c you will be in motion for a long time
  • if your plane leaves first thing in the morning, pack and organize the afternoon before, then have a nice dinner – make sure you set at least 2 alarms

two details

  • I don’t mention sleeping pills because that depends on your body and temperament – some people can fall asleep at will, some need horse tranquilizers. Do whatever works best for you with the caveat that NEVER try new medicine of any kind when you are jet-lagged in a new country
  • you know that stewards/ stewardesses have a maximum legally permitted time to be at work (depends on country) and long-haul flights have places (upstairs or blocked off areas) for them to sleep, but there is still a time-limit so if the plane is too late taking off, the whole crew will need to be replaced. For example, on one flight the “legal time” was only 3 hours after the scheduled departure time. We left at 2 hours 50 minutes late – if it had been ten more minutes, we would have had to de-plane and wait for new staff (or the flight would have been canceled). If you are delayed, ask someone about the legal time as most airlines don’t have back-up long-haul flight crews on hand and you will need to figure out what your plan is