Ask Allie: What to Pack for a Comfortable Flight

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I haven’t taken a plane anywhere in 25 years and my daughter is getting married in California this summer and I am flying there. What should I pack to be comfortable for a long flight across the country? Are there any things that are must haves or must not haves?

At my last job, I traveled quite frequently on business and got to the point where I had a second set of all my cosmetics and toiletries so I could keep them in my suitcase at all times, and had a carry-on bag almost completely packed and ready to go. Here’s some things that I had in my carry-on bag that made my flights more comfortable; I still carry such items when I fly:

what to pack flight carryon bag

Reading Material. I highly recommend a variety; if you get on board with just one book you may regret it. Jet lag, motion sickness, wedding jitters and more can make that page-turner of a crime novel too heavy or distracting. While I am a big fan of the Kindle app on my phone and adore e-readers and tablets, sometimes it’s enjoyable to physically flip through a glossy magazine. A few fun reads that are not your normal subscriptions can be fun; flights and pedicures are the only time I read gossip rags and they are so perfect for such situations. I also like magazines like Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and Entertainment Weekly for catching up on entertainment. If you have an e-reader, fill it up with more than one book so you have some variety and don’t end up without any material for your flight home.

Audio Entertainment. A bit of music can help calm nerves, lull you to sleep, or drown out the snoring guy in the seat next to you. As with reading material, have a bit of variety so you’re not trying to take a nap to GWAR.

While on this subject, have some headphones or earbuds that are comfortable for long periods of time – that means a pair that is NOT what came with your Smartphone. If you can afford it, consider noise-cancelling so you can enjoy your music at a reasonable level while drowning out the snoring guy in the seat next to you!

Writing Material. When I am on a plane and unable to surf the Internet or jabber on the phone with friends, I find I have time to let my mind wander and the mind thinks of some pretty awesome stuff. While you could type it out on your laptop or iPad, there’s something awesome about a travel journal and frantically writing on that fold-down tray. A retractable pen means no lost caps and no penmarks in your bag.

Creature Comforts. I have found a few things that take up little space in your carry-on bag but make a major impact in how comfortable your flight will be:

  • Pashmina – Way softer, better smelling, cleaner, and all around nicer than an airplane blanket. Loop around your throat for your travel outfit and remove to be a blanket or even ball up and use as a lumbar cushion or neck pillow.
  • Eye Mask – Also nice to have at the hotel or if sleeping at a friend’s house that has sheer curtains or skylights. An eye mask will let you sleep even if the plane has all the window shades up. Don’t be afraid of looking silly, half the plane will also be wearing them and the other half will wish they were.
  • Ear Plugs – If your headphones are comfortable enough, you may not need this. I personally find music to be too distracting when sleeping and headphones a bit uncomfortable. Ear plugs let me sleep comfortably and drown out most noise yet I can still hear the flight attendant if she speaks to me directly. I have this eye mask/ear plug duo and like it – the ear plugs are pretty standard issue, but the mask is quite comfortable and doesn’t press against my eyes so I can open, blink, and not mess up my makeup.
  • Inflatable Neck Pillow – My husband got one for Christmas one year and ever since we have fought over it. It has a soft velour cover, but inside is pretty much a beach ball that self-inflates with the twist of a cap. It folds down to almost nothing. It’s also great to have when sleeping in a strange bed, and even when lying out on the beach.

Personal Care. A plane is a dirty and dry place to be. I fill my TSA-approved Ziploc bag with as many TSA-approved mini bottles as possible to have my necessities on me in case they lose my luggage, but also to feel clean and hydrated during and right after the flight. My essentials:

  • Simple Makeup – A tinted lip balm that can double as cream blush and a compact foundation or powder so you can refresh quickly once you get to your destination. Many pack more, I find these two to be the minimum to not look like death after a flight.
  • Lip Balm – Apply it regularly. I like fresh’s Sugar because it tastes like lemonade and is really creamy; choose one that feels good, smells good, and tastes good even if you’re feeling under the weather or nauseous.
  • Face Mist – I swear by Body Shop’s Vitamin E Face Mist. I have had a bottle or two in my possession since I worked for the company over a decade ago. It’s a TSA-approved size, has a faint smell of roses, will provide hydration without smearing your makeup. When I worked for The Body Shop, flight attendants would come in my store and buy this spray by the case because it’s so great for flight. When not on a plane, use it to prep skin before makeup and to set applied makeup; stick in your fridge for a nice pick-me-up on a hot day.
  • Hand Cream – Planes are dry, choose a hand cream that is low on smell and not too greasy. My sister turned my on to Glysomed, I keep a bottle at my desk at work and another in my purse.
  • Face Wipes – Target always has a travel pack of Neutrogena face wipes in their travel section; I not only keep these in my carry-on bag, but I even put one of these packs in my purse. Small, can fix smeared mascara or wash your entire face. I have been known to use one of these wipes to freshen up under the arms, along the bra wires and between the breasts when on a long flight or a very long day away from home.
  • Travel Toothbrush and Paste – I have a kit similar to the one shown – a very tiny tube of toothpaste I only use for flights so it won’t empty quickly, and a tiny toothbrush. On a long flight I will brush my teeth on the plane to feel refreshed, especially after a nap. No matter the length of a flight, as soon as we arrive at the airport I brush my teeth to feel more refreshed.
  • Brush/Comb – At least a small one will help clean you up after a long flight. I have one of those small combs you get on Picture Day back in grade school which will smooth frizz, straighten my bangs, and clean up a fuzzy ponytail.

Plane Preparation. Target also has small packs of Clorox or sanitizing wipes in their travel section – a pack of these are great to wipe down armrests and trays on the plane, and for once you’re at your destination if you have to deal with gross bathrooms or grimy situations. Also bring a pack of gum – not only does it help freshen your breath but it can also help with ears popping from the altitude change. Finally, bring some cash – good to be prepared if you need to catch a taxi at the airport.

Additional Suggestions:

  • If you’re on an especially long flight, a pair of slipper socks or travel slippers can be great. Your feet may swell and anyway it’s easier to nap and relax with happy tootsies.
  • If you’re on medications, be sure to have those in your carry-on bag.
  • If you’re checking luggage, make sure you have a change of clothes and basic toiletries (contact lens solution, deodorant, etc.) in your carry-on in case your luggage is lost or delayed. While at it, pack any non-replaceable things like jewelry in your carry-on as well.
  • Many flights have dropped meal service so be sure to pack at least a snack. While you can grab something at the airport food court, it’s cheaper and healthier to make your own sandwich or buy a granola or protein bar at your neighborhood grocery.
  • A friend of mine packs one of those collapsible water bottles and fills it at a water fountain once she gets through the security checkpoint. She refills on the flight with cups of water the flight attendants offer, and then has the bottle available for her vacation.
  • I was on a flight once when a man asked the flight attendant for a cup of hot water and he dipped a dry washcloth in it and wiped his hands and face with it to feel refreshed. I can’t say I have ever done that but I found it utterly brilliant.
  • I have such things in my Purse Survival Kit, but it’s smart to have a stain remover, some safety pins, and some anti-nausea or anti-diarrhea pills in your bag in case of wardrobe or digestive malfunctions.
  • Since the plane is so drying, it’s pretty smart to pack some moistening eye drops and saline nose spray.
  • If you wear contacts, have drops, your case, and a pair of glasses handy. I know my contacts give me major trouble on flights and I usually just decide to wear glasses from the get-go.
  • If you’re a frequent flyer, consider an adapter so you can use your headphones with the plane’s audio/TV system.
  • Just because you're on a long flight doesn't mean you should dress in your pajamas and sweats.  Fabrics like ponte, stretch denim, merino wool and matte jersey can have you look polished and still be comfortable.  And you never know, your sophisticated outfit may help you get upgraded!

What are your essentials for a comfortable flight?

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