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The Essential Toolkit for Surviving a Plane Flight

On every overnight flight I’ve ever been on, the flight attendants would cruise past, just as chipper and polished as ever. It was clear I needed to learn their ways — so I did.

I used to accept that overnight flights were some black hole that sucked from me any semblance of routine and self. I binged on mediocre month-old blockbusters and let myself get away with things I consider unacceptable on the ground, like having gum be my sole form of dental hygiene (gross), just waiting for it all to be over. Obviously, I always landed looking frumpy and feeling groggy — in other words, terrible.

But it turns out the key to staying and feeling fresh mostly comes down to packing right. Certain items, like toothbrush/toothpaste and socks, can make a world of difference when you’re a coach couch potato for 11 hours. Here’s what I make sure to pack for the plane, copied right from flight attendants.

Neck Pillow

Neck pillow or fitful sleep with excruciating neck pain? Those limp pillows the plane hands out are best used for some extra lower back support (also picked that one up from a crew member) if anything. Definitely BYOP. I used to leave my neck pillow behind in order to carry one less thing because I always felt a bit like a noob wandering around in an airport with one. Then I discovered there are some state-of-the-art blow-up ones like this Lewis N. Clark pillow, which take up almost no room when deflated.

Eye Mask, Earplugs

I need it to be pitch black to fall asleep. Like blackout black. And because someone’s always got their TV screen or reading light on all the time, my eye mask is my saving grace for sleep. While you might be lucky enough to get a handout from the airline or have stashed a complimentary hotel one, it’s worth investing in your own. For $20 max—here’s a slew of them on Amazon—you can get a quality mask that’ll be so much more comfortable and effective than some piece of cloth. One friend made fun of me when she first saw my intense-looking purple foam sleep mask with raised pockets around the eyes and adjustable strap. (Admittedly, it does kind of look like a face bra.) But after trying it on, she got her own face bra.

The same goes for ear plugs. Even when the cabin is quiet, it’s still really loud, what with the engines roaring and the plane ripping through the sky. At the very least make sure you have a pair, any pair, but you also can spend a little to get some good ones.

Basic Toiletries

I no longer ignore basic habits like washing my face before bed and after waking up. And even if it’s just because I went through the motions like normal, I really believe I look and feel better for having done it all.

Facial cleansing wipes, travel toothbrush and toothpaste are compact enough to be a necessity. Keep deodorant on hand. The air is dry up there, too, so make sure you have lip moisturizer, hand lotion and face cream. If you want to make life easy for yourself, pack it all together. The key is for this to be as easy as possible at 30,000 feet up in the air, over a cramped sink.

Socks, Extra Clothing

Personal experience has led me to believe it’s physically impossible to fall asleep with cold feet and it’s always so, so cold on planes. Besides, when your bed for the night is essentially upright, something like a cozy, warm pair of socks feel like the world’s greatest luxury. I know some people who make sure to pull on compression socks or stockings to keep blood circulating during long flights and, being of the might-as-well mentality, I have a pair of my own.

Layers are the key to combating frigid cabin temperatures that sometimes suddenly and inexplicably rise. I have a big cashmere scarf I always use in lieu of the scratchy airline one. It’s always a good idea to throw in extra undergarments, too.

Small Lock

I know someone who had all of her valuables swiped from right above her head on a cross-continental flight: wallet, passport, everything. Have an extra small padlock with you to secure your carry-on bag, even if it’s right under your feet. It’s a bit of an extreme situation but hey, better safe then sorry.


Grab a couple of everything you might need: your choice of magic sleeping pills, ibuprofen, pink bismuth like Pepto Bismol, even a couple of cold and allergy pills for if you start to feel lousy. I often forget to take my regular vitamins when I’m flying, so those, too. I usually have something like Emergen-C with me too if for nothing else than a satisfying placebo effect.

If something starts to go amiss during the flight, don’t forget that the flight attendant has access to the medical kit onboard. Don’t hesitate: It’s one of those things that you can still ask for free on a flight.

Water Bottle, Snacks

I chug water when I fly. Having my own bottle keeps me from having to request countless small cups of it from flight attendants, which is annoying for everyone. While you might not be able to bring a full water bottle past security, you can still very much bring an empty water bottle through no problem.

I always have a few granola bars on hand or trail mix, too. While produce is ideal, be careful. Inadvertently crossing borders with a banana almost got me slapped with a $250 fine at customs.

The Essential Toolkit for Surviving a Plane Flight via @maphappy
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