Entertainment/treats for long-haul flight
February 27, 2018 4:13 PM   Subscribe

Looking for recommendations of things to bring for self-entertainment/comfort on a very long flight. I loathe flying and to make it up to myself I want to make the in-flight experience as luxurious and comfortable as I can without actually paying to upgrade my seat.

Ebooks, games (taking a smart phone), podcasts, and netflix downloads are already on the list though specific ideas are welcome. I tend to either get stuck on one thing for hours or move back and forth between multiple activities, and I hate being bored, so I need a good mix of engrossing + light and frothy. I plan to take some good chocolate and other snacks too. Any other ideas?
posted by bunderful to Travel & Transportation (40 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Sheet masks!
posted by sunset in snow country at 4:26 PM on February 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

In addition to a good selection of ebooks and snacks, I like a mini-spa bag including eye mask, earplugs, hand moisturizer (for a hand massage), face moisturizer, hand wipes, lip scrub and balm, muscle relaxing cream if not too smelly for a neck massage, a nasal inhaler (menthol), saline nose spray, tooth flossers, mini disposable toothbrush with built-in paste, and the like.
posted by RoadScholar at 4:27 PM on February 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

Going back and forth to Taiwan last year (a total of ~16 hours in the air each way) I took a pair of good headphones (we were going to be there a while). It was my first trip ever over the northern Pacific, and I spent a lot of time glued to the window staring at Canada, but otherwise I watched lots of movies on the in-flight screen (including lots of recent Chinese and Japanese releases not yet available in the US--I love foreign movies and having such a huge variety available was a treat). Having decent sound and noise cancelling was a big help.

I would also bring lots of bottled water, lip balm, and ibuprofen. When we deplaned in Tokyo on the way over, I had a really bad headache from spending 13 hours in incredibly dry air, and my lips were chapped. On the way back I bought two quart bottles of green tea, which I consumed along with whatever beverages we were served (there were three or four meal services as well as drinks) and felt much better when we got off the plane again in Chicago.
posted by filthy_prescriptivist at 4:31 PM on February 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

A light down throw (very packable) and a travel pillow of whatever stripe you prefer. Depending on the aircraft, possibly a footrest. Earplugs and an eyeshade. A travel tray or similar. A refillable water bottle. Charging cables. Compression socks. Wear comfy clothes. Battery pack in case seat power fails. A tablet stand/case.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 4:33 PM on February 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

I apologize if this is obvious to you but for the love of all that is good and holy be sure to Seatguru your flight and seat to the extent you have any control over it. One specific example, sometimes there are certain seats that don't have power for stupid reasons.
posted by ftm at 4:35 PM on February 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

One thing I like to do on super-long trips is go to a bulk store and get small quantities of a whole bunch of fun snacks. That way you have lots of little rewards, and choosing what to eat can be kind of an activity in itself.

Also, podcasts are a big one for me, since they come in all different lengths and tones, for any attention span or mood I may be in.
posted by ITheCosmos at 4:35 PM on February 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

I just finally downloaded Duolingo, the language-learning app. I haven't used it a ton but it seems pretty okay so far.
posted by mhum at 4:53 PM on February 27, 2018

Seconding compression socks.
posted by tobascodagama at 4:55 PM on February 27, 2018

I used to have a job where I had to fly cross-country (US) at least 8 times a year, and internationally (13+ hour flights) at least once a year. I used to hate long-distance flights but I learned to tolerate them, and then eventually view them as a time to really dig into some sort of good entertainment or pastime without distraction.

This blog post has some great ideas. I especially love her clothing and snack suggestions. Based on her advice and my own experience, my carryon (the one I have at my seat) always contains:
- A snack bag with an apple, cheese and crackers, something chocolatey, and some beef jerky. Sometimes I'll add a few tea bags or something like that.
- A water bottle (make sure it's empty when you go through security and then fill it up at the gate)
- comfy socks and light, comfy clothes to change into in the bathroom if I'm not already wearing something comfy (my go-to flight outfit is now leggings, a jersey t-shirt dress, and a cardigan).
- a kindle with a new book I'm excited to read (there is nothing like a long flight to get me started with a good, thick novel), iphone with a variety of music and podcasts downloaded.
- external battery pack in case my seat doesn't have an outlet.
- some sort of analog reading material just in case (usually a trashy magazine or two I pick up at the gate, or maybe the New Yorker if I'm feeling fancy).

I don't bother with stuff to help me sleep because I just can't really sleep on planes anyway. But if you are able to sleep on planes, you might want an eye-mask and a neck pillow.

Specific entertainment recs: I loved the game Monument Valley and its sequel. Between the two of them, you could probably pass a few hours. I also recently started doing crosswords on the NY Times app and that is good for a few hours as well. For $3.99/month you get access to the entire archive.

Podcasts/Netflix: I won't give specific recs here since I don't know your taste, but I would advise you to do a good mix if you tend to get restless. Instead of movies, for instance, I'd do a few episodes each of a few different shows. Same with podcasts - mix it up.

Finally, think about if you have any stationary (as in sitting still) projects, especially things that involve writing or brainstorming, you've been wanting to tackle. I once spent part of a 6 hour flight setting up a new bullet journal and thinking through some goal-setting in it - I wound up using that journal almost every day for a few months and I was really glad I had taken the time to do that. You could also write postcards/letters to people. Or if you have a decision or some life planning you've been putting off, use a bit of the time to do some of that. I find the lack of distractions on a plane is really conducive to that kind of stepping back.
posted by lunasol at 5:38 PM on February 27, 2018 [8 favorites]

Travel slippers, a lightweight shawl/sarong, 2nding a collapsible bin of some sort to keep your possessions contained, esp if it has a clip to hang off the cup holder, a spare plastic bag for misc trash.

The most comfortable-looking women I've seen on overseas flights are all wearing leggings/yoga pants and sweater hoodies with pashminas wrapped around their necks.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:38 PM on February 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Oh, two other things: 1. If it's an international flight or a nice American airline, there will probably be a huge selection of free movies to watch, so that can supplement your own entertainment. 2. On most international flights, they also have free alcohol. This can definitely help you loosen up and feel less restricted/restless, but can also make it harder to sleep, make you have to pee more, and make you feel crappier at your destination because of dehydration. So I always err on the side of one drink with dinner and that's it.
posted by lunasol at 5:42 PM on February 27, 2018

Inflatable neck ring pillow, compression socks, eye mask, ear buds, slipper socks, toothbrush, tooth paste, Kindle, hand cream.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:42 PM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh! One more thing! If it's a long-haul cross-ocean flight, it will probably be one of the planes with two seat rows on either side and five-seat rows in the middle. TRY LIKE HELL to get one of those two-seat pairs to yourself if you're traveling solo. It makes SUCH a huge difference to not be crammed in with strangers for 16 hours, to not have to apologetically climb over someone every time you need to pee, etc. Those long-haul flights are usually not full so you may be able to swing this.
posted by lunasol at 5:44 PM on February 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Download a white noise/nature sounds app for your smartphone. When you've grown tired of movies and ebooks and podcasts and just want to put on that sleep mask and zone out, an unchallenging audio blanket can be very mellow-making. I like several of the meditation "scenes" in the Calm app — rain, rivers, forest stream, etc. — for dampening the engine roar. They're part of the free, non-subscription elements of the app, and no actual meditation is required. (I find Calm's whispered "sleep stories" to be creepy af, on the other hand, but yasmrmv.)
posted by mumkin at 5:45 PM on February 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Based on the Wirecutter travel guide (which has been updated recently), I bought the Nidra Sleep Mask. It looks like a bra for your eyes, but it is very comfortable and keeps all the light out. I've used the el cheapo masks you get in a business class amenities kit and a more cushy/expensive mask, and the Nidra mask has them both beat. I also bought Wirecutter's recommended travel pillow, but haven't used it yet. I can attest to the fact that it does compress into the included stuff sack. I echo mumkin's recommendation for a nature sounds app -- I like listening to the ocean sounds.

Have a great trip!
posted by elmay at 5:56 PM on February 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Noise-canceling headphones were a total game-changer on a recent 24-hour multi-leg journey. It's amazing how much less wiped out I felt at the end of the trip thanks to these babies. I bought them used. Worth every penny!
posted by ottereroticist at 6:01 PM on February 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

I have no idea if you knit, of course, but if you do, or for other readers later: it turns out that knitting needles* and the small scissors that tend to be in knitting tool kits are both allowed on planes - I've taken them through security with no issues in several airports in at least three countries in the last few years, though I did have one security agent in a small Spanish airport pull the scissors out to inspect them and comment with amusement that they were "por ninos" (for children).

*at least the circs I always use - long straight needles might get more attention.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 6:07 PM on February 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Noise Canceling Headphones also cancel irritation. The constant squeal of the engines is the opposite of soothing.

Another irritant is dry air. I wear a cloth surgical mask so each inhale contains some of the humidity of the previous exhale.
posted by Homer42 at 6:14 PM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I get a lot of mileage out of a jigsaw puzzle app. Word search is another that you can play offline.
posted by irisclara at 6:15 PM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Earplugs, earplugs, and earplugs.
posted by Rash at 6:33 PM on February 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

I just got back from a long flight, and for the first time took (prescription) sleeping pills. Amazing! Such a difference. (It helps that as an insomniac I've used them before, my doctor prescribed them, etc). I brought a cool but not too challenging knitting project, to keep my hands occupied while I binge watched movies. My needles and scissors were fine me, but my tiny crochet hook I use to pick up dropped stitches was confiscated. I have no idea why, so don't bring valuables.

Also earplugs and eye mask. Nonnegotiable.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 6:43 PM on February 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

This footrest makes a huge difference on a long flight. I'm 5'5" or so and I Do Not Fly Without It.

For me the biggest aggravation factor on planes is noise and I am sorry to say it has gotten a LOT worse in the last year or so as the social taboo around playing personal devices aloud in public has eroded. The last few flights I have been on, there have ALWAYS been people near me watching/playing games on their phones with the sound up and no headphones. I have been much happier since carrying earplugs everywhere I go, and I will be asking for a serious pair of noise canceling headphones for my birthday.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:44 PM on February 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Prescription sleep aid (I have trazodone), ear plugs, eye mask, hoodie. Good night.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:20 PM on February 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm a plane sleeper, too, and enjoy my neck pillow, eye mask, ear buds, and comfy slippers. If that appeals to you I'd heartily recommend the Game of Drones episodes of the Sleep With Me podcast to accompany everything else - I've had the same 5-6 episodes with me for the last year or two of flights, and I still don't think I've made it all the way through a single one without drifting off.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:44 PM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh man, you don't realize how loud an airplane is until you get noise-cancelling headphones.
posted by radioamy at 7:57 PM on February 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

Noise cancelling headphones are fantastic for dialling down what the plane generates, but they are next to useless at dealing with the sound of noisy passengers. You may want to try a headphones/earplugs combination.

Not technically things you can bring, but frankly, the two factors I've found that make long-haul less intolerable have been flights at times that let me sleep according to my natural cycle and seats in the last row, so no knees in my back.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 8:27 PM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I like to do origami on planes. A pack of paper is very thin and stores nicely, and I can make additional squares out of colorful pages I rip out of magazines. (I like to waste time in the airport picking a magazine with the most origami-friendly interiors, normally this is a home & garden type deal or national geographic, either way I read it before tearing it up.) Modular origami takes lots of time and once you have the basic fold memorized it's very low-key but keeps you physically engaged. I sometimes download images of new folds to try onto my phone before I take a flight, this can be pleasantly challenging. I also do crochet on planes, but if you're not already very comfortable with a fibercraft a plane ride is not the time to learn. Origami is, I think, easier to get started, and the teeny tray table is enough room.

As for games I like a solid point and click adventure game for flights. No timing and they're easy to take breaks from but they're captivating and let you metaphorically escape the confinement of the plane. Anything by Amanita Design is beautiful and weird and cute with fantastic sound. Depending on your device for a more intense game you could check out Primordia. But adventure games are a genre where you ask one person and you get three opinions - there have been a few askmes about them you could look for, iirc.
posted by Mizu at 3:37 AM on February 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

Valium and this memory foam neck pillow. The neck pillow packs down into a super small little bundle, so you don't have to inflate it, nor do you need to have it clipped to your carry on. The valium is self explanatory.
posted by nerdfish at 5:03 AM on February 28, 2018

Noise cancelling headphones make a huge difference to me. Gin. Diazepam, if I can get any. Sudoku on my phone is good for getting me through the next 20 mins. Then the next. Then the next...
posted by corvine at 6:58 AM on February 28, 2018

Noise cancelling headphones and earplugs are a must for me. Lots of nice lotions and potions to give myself a mini spa treatment on the plane. At least a nice moisturizing mask. I avoid anything with a strong perfume for other passengers comfort.
posted by wwax at 8:24 AM on February 28, 2018

Just thought of something else - you're getting a lot of great suggestions here, but packing all this stuff may be a challenge. Two suggestions: I just got this collapsible water bottle to save a little space (I've actually ended up keeping it in my backpack for school and really love it), and if you get a memory foam neck pillow (which you should because they're delightful), you can squish them down and fit them into a big ziplock bag so they're more compact.

Also, just in case flight anxiety is at all contributing to your hatred of flying, I heartily recommend talking to your physician before you fly - my little bottle of Ativan makes all the difference in the world. I mean, like, holy cow - I almost even look forward to flying now (not quite but almost).

Happy travels!
posted by DingoMutt at 2:11 PM on February 28, 2018

Not sure if you are man or woman--

Here is woman-oriented comfort advice: Don't wear makeup during flight. This allows you to moisturize skin & eyes. Accordingly, bring moisturizing eye drops and rose-water & glycerin spray to spritz on your face, hands, neck. Your hairstyle should not involve a lump on the back of your head-- like the twist and claw clip. If you can make a side ponytail or two pig tails you will be able to rest more comfortably. Don't wear underwire bra or restrictive underwear. I wear sports bra and very stretchy underpants. I also recommend pantiliners, changing to fresh at your destination.

N-thing advice about eye mask, ear plug, battery pack, neck pillow, pashmina wrap, chapstick. Snacks-- always have abundance of filling, satisfying food. Chewing gum is helpful to relieve pressure at take off and landing.

Crafts to occupy your hands while you listen to podcasts or audiobooks make the time fly past! I like kumihimo braiding, which seems to attract fascinated attention from spectators.

Have a couple thin plastic bags rolled up into tiny bundles. You can collect your trash and keep your area tidy and organized.
posted by ohshenandoah at 4:42 PM on February 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

I recently moved into a new position that averages 1-2 international roundtrip flights from the US each month, so I've definitely learned how to make myself happy (or at least less miserable) on airplanes.

Lots of good suggestions here, but I'll add a few more:
- Good noise-cancelling headphones are so, so worth it. I use these, which are not cheap but are way more comfortable than the big over-the-ear headphones. They take up less luggage space too!
- Neck pillows help! I prefer inflatable to save space. The little economy pillows they provide on long flights suck, but they do at least make for good lumbar support.
- Seconding bring a small toiletry kit (toothbrush, deodorant, hand wipes, etc). It's as good as anything you get in those business class amenity kits.
- Bring some spare clothes in your carryon, just in case your luggage doesn't make it.
- Take snacks (I usually go with crackers, granola, and a bag of unsalted cashews - filling and they travel well). I'd be careful carrying fresh fruit if you're traveling international. If you dont eat it on board it could cause issues at customs (ask me how I know...)
- Drink lots of water! I always buy 1-2 bottles before boarding, better to have too much than not enough.
- Dramamine is great if you're motion-sensitive like me. Great for sleeping too - that and a glass of wine and I'm out like a light.
- Melatonin is awesome for jetlag (doesn't eliminate it, but makes a huge difference), however dosage timing is really important for it to work properly.
- Seatguru is great for seat advice, Flyertalk is great for everything else.
posted by photo guy at 5:04 PM on February 28, 2018

Hydrate within reason, pee right before boarding, but remember that a glass of wine at altitude tends to be well worth the markup.

Two glasses, and you’ll find me appeasing the crying babies in the neighboring rows with a “puppet” I made out of an airsick bag. This is how I unwind; YMMV. The parents seemed grateful. It did wear me out though.

Clothes: avoid jeans and anything similarly constricting; make your layers and shoes easy-on/off, and avoid gaps (trousers vs socks, sleeves vs pockets, midriff vs waistband, buttcrack) where cold can sneak in. Ankle socks are not socks for these purposes. Do wear things that look more put-together than a velour jogging suit — grubbies will make you feel grubby by the time you touch down.

Bring a silly little throw blanket even if you don’t plan to sleep, and sunglasses and headphones to signal “sorry, not here to chitchat” in case you end up seated next to That Guy. Have lozenges or gum, in a flavour you actually like — it’ll help with ear pressure from altitude changes, and also that gross mossy-mouthed feeling. Have hand sanitizer, tissues, lotion...ew, those look bad together. But they’ll help you feel more human. (Related things I always carry on, that might or might not apply to you: eyeglasses, extra pair of contact lenses, Rx pills, nail glue, eyebrow and face powders, lipstick, antiperspirant, tampons, a comb.)

Getting up to pee/walk around? Steady yourself by touching the overhead lockers, rather than jostling the headrests of other passengers. This is mostly for THEIR comfort, true, but it’s also one of those little things that makes you look and feel more like you belong on a plane. Blending in can really help take the edge off travel stress.
posted by armeowda at 10:32 PM on February 28, 2018

Melatonin: useful for in-flight sleeping. I take it just before I plan to sleep. (Also just before bed the first few nights in the destination.)

Order an 'asian vegetarian' meal: I swear by this. It can have various names - I've seen 'hindu vegetarian' recently. It's often curry based, and so copes with the re-heating better than other meals. I find lentils and vegetables easier on the stomach when flying, and it has more flavour than the generic vegetarian option does. Also, getting a 'special' meal often means you are served earlier than other people, which means you can go use the bathroom after your meal / before sleeping, while everyone else is eating.

Good soft tissues: so you can blow your nose, and cry at bad movies, in comfort. (What is it with flying & crying in movies? Definitely a thing.)

Something nice smelling: I hate the smell of planes, so maybe a sachet of lavender? Or a beloved soft toy? Something with a comforting smell, anyway.

Painkillers: because airlines often won't be able to give this to you. Just in case.
posted by yesbut at 1:04 AM on March 1, 2018

These are great ideas and I appreciate everyone taking the time to share them.

I love the idea of wearing something as insanely comfortable as leggings, but then I cringe imagining the inevitable yeast infection after wearing them 20+ hours. Any ideas on how to achieve the comfort of leggings without regretting it later? I want to look put-together enough to be taken seriously if I need to argue with anyone, but feel like I'm wearing pajamas.
posted by bunderful at 7:11 PM on March 1, 2018

The uniform for comfy travel is a stretchy knee-length dress in a fabric that is thin enough so pushing up the sleeves isn't uncomfortable but thick enough to have a bit of structure to the cut, like a mid-weight knit; a hoodie or cardigan sweater for when it gets cold, but not a pullover so it's easy to pull on and off in your seat and preferably having pockets; leggings that are mostly cotton; squishy socks; shoes that are slip-ons like casual loafers or pull-on ankle boots; a bra that is more comfortable than shaping. I wear this outfit all the time when traveling and it feels like pajamas but I look like an adult woman, little do they know! Especially if I'm wearing a cardigan and not a hoodie, but that's a personal thing.

I'm not sure how leggings will give you an inevitable yeast infection if they're made of a breathable fabric, not some sort of weird slick polyester. But it can be nice to bring an extra change of socks and underwear in your carryon, you can change into them in the bathroom halfway through the flight. You can get little individually packaged wet wipes and carry those in too so you can really freshen up your bits if you'd like. You could also wear yoga pants under a dress or skirt if they're more comfortable for your shape. Honestly nobody but you will know the difference.
posted by Mizu at 3:26 AM on March 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I guess I was assuming that breathable, mostly cotton leggings are not a thing. Thanks!
posted by bunderful at 5:08 AM on March 2, 2018

(Some of us have an uncomfortable relationship with undergarments or snug garments for the pelvic region that are not 100% cotton).
posted by bunderful at 5:15 AM on March 2, 2018

I like target's basic black cotton leggings, they're like, 95% cotton and something else for some stretch, but they definitely breathe and aren't clingy, and are like $12ish. If you have a budget I highly suggest channeling your inner middle aged white woman and shopping at a j. jill for leggings and a casual dress - I'm not sure that they sell leggings that aren't made of at least a primarily cotton blend.
posted by Mizu at 6:03 AM on March 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

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