15 Long Haul Flight Essentials: What to Take Onboard

Long haul flight essentials

I fly long haul a lot, so it’s a good job I’m one of those people who loves flying. Still, what you take on board a long haul flight can make all the difference to your flying experience. Here’s my list of long haul flight essentials.

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Long Haul Flight Essentials

1. A collapsable water bottle

If there’s one thing a long haul flight is guaranteed to do (apart from get you to your destination), it’s dehydrate you and those tiny bottles and cups of water they hand out on flights just don’t cut it. However, ask the cabin crew nicely and they will usually fill up a bottle for you. It’s one less job for them to quench your constant water supply and you’ll make a small difference to the environment by using less disposable plastic.

Buying tip: if you get a collapsible one, you won’t be stuck with a bulky bottle to carry around post-flight. The Nomader, above, is by far the most popular bottle with a sturdy, leak-proof design while being BPA-free, food grade. 

Another tip – think twice before you take your metal, insulated, screw top bottle with you. They’re great when you go from home to car to office but I find mine too heavy to take around on day trips. I’d rather go for a bottle that is lighter with more capacity. You’ll likely drink water more quickly in a hot country anyway so it usually won’t have a chance to get warm.

Buy it here: Amazon.co.uk Amazon.com

2. A pen

Sure, maybe you’ll find time and inspiration somewhere between your 2nd and 3rd Bloody Mary to start scratching out your memoir but a pen is a long haul flight essential for a different, far more dull reason. Chances are, if you’re flying long haul, you’re going to a country that’s not home and you’re going to have to fill in immigration and customs forms ready for landing. These are usually handed out in-flight and if you have them completed before you get off the plane, it’s usually quicker to get through the immigration queue. Advice: if you lend your pen to a stranger on your flight, keep a beady eye on them. The chance of getting a pen back on a flight is less than 10%.

Buying tip: You can obviously throw any old pen in your bag but at least make sure it’s got a retractable, leakproof ballpoint. Lids and ink go wild in packed bags. There are some great, low cost technical pens out there that are leakproof, write at any angle and can usually write on damp paper…in case your Bloody Mary ends up on the page. Rite in the Rain and Tombow Airpress Pens are my favourite.

Buy it here: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

3. Medication (essential and just in case)

Obviously, you’re going to be packing your essential medication but it’s wise to take a few just-in-case items on board too. Most airlines prevent their staff from handing out any pills on a flight so it’s best to pack your own. Dehydration can leave you with a headache, cabin pressure can trigger sinus problems, the lack of proper cleaning can set off dust allergies and strange food might give you stomach issues. Work out what you think you’ll need and pop it in a handy pill carrying case.

Caution: technically, you shouldn’t travel will pills out of their official packaging and, for prescription meds, you should have the prescription attached to the bottle. However, in all my years of carrying my non-prescription pills in a carrying case, I’ve never been questioned or stopped.

Buy it here: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

4. Hand Sanitiser

Have you any idea how filthy an airplane is? Want to find out – read this. If you don’t want to read the gory details, take it from me – the answer is disgustingly filthy. And while you’re unlikely to be allowed onboard a few hours in advance to sanitise the entire plane, you can take your own measures, in the form of hand sanitiser. The rule is simple – put some on your hands every time you’re about to touch something that will go in your mouth and you should be fine.

Buy it here: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

5. A Travel Organiser

I’m not a fan of passport covers because the second you need to use your passport, you need to pull it out of its (usually too snug) cover. However, one long haul flight essential for me is a travel organiser to keep all my travel documents and essentials together. Not only that, I find it far easier to pull out the whole organiser than fish around in my bag for that small piece of paper with my hotel booking on it that’s decided to form a strong bond with a squashed banana.

Buying tips: if your handbag is black, don’t buy a black organiser (like I did). You’ll have a near heart attack every time you look inside and think, just for a second, that it’s not there. Also, try to get one with a zipped interior pocket for keeping loose coins.

Buy it here: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

Do you need to pack a change of clothes in case your case goes missing?

In all my travels I’ve never packed as much as a change of underwear ‘on the off chance’ my bag might go missing. Why? Mainly because the chances of your bag going missing are slim – less than 1% – so that’s a lot of extra bulk for a small risk. Also: shops. Most places have them so you’re going to be able to restock easily.

The better thing to do: buy travel insurance

My bag has only gone missing once in all my years of travel and even then it went missing from secure storage with a yacht company, not an airline. Still, the best thing I’d done was buy travel insurance. Although I don’t travel with expensive items, bit by bit my lost stuff totalled over $1500, most of which I was able to claim back.

World Nomads is one of the most trusted travel insurance brands out there.

6. A Sleep Kit

If you’re on a long haul flight, and you don’t want to set yourself up for jet lag, you’re going to need to get some sleep. Problem is, between children crying and your neighbour’s reading light, it’s hard to drift off. Cue: eye mask and ear plugs. Beware the ultra cheap kits – the masks will be so snug they irritate your face and the ear plugs are no better than cramming tissue paper in your ears.

Buy it here: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

What about travel pillows? I admit, I’ve never used one – the reality of carrying it around for the rest of my trip usually puts me off. Plus, on most flights, your headrest has corners that turn in to cradle your head. Failing that, a rolled up jumper works for me. However, if you’re committed to buying a travel pillow, these travel pillows get the highest star reviews on Amazon.

What about sleeping pills? I don’t want to cause undue worry but, personally, I can’t think of anything more dangerous than drugging yourself on a flight. If there’s an emergency, I want to be alert enough to function. And in a survival scenario, I wouldn’t count on others to helped a drugged, semi-conscious person off a plane. If you have problems with sleep (I used to), Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker is life changing.

But what if you really, really can’t sleep? Try something herbal like Kalms. I also love the meditation app, Calm, which you can use offline and includes beautiful, soothing sleep stories to help you fall asleep.

A tip on sleep and jet-lag: I get horrific jet-lag. I’ve tried everything – fasting, setting myself to the new zone when I get on the plane and keeping hydrated. Let me tell you, no amount of hydration is going to cure jet-lag. But I did find something that works. I bought a blue energy light box from Philips. Initially I bought it to deal with winter blues but when I looked at the manual I found it had tips on shifting your body clock for a trip. I tried it on my last few trips, sceptical, but it worked. You do need to use it a few days before your trip and it is portable (though I didn’t take it with me). Result: I bounced into China raring to go, like jet-lag-ness had become my new super travel power.  

7. A small bottle of essential oil

 Airplanes smell – of course they do, all those humans excreting their breath, body odours and worse, all locked in a compressed, confined space for hours. Toilets, despite the best efforts of the cabin crew, quickly become ‘scented’ and sometimes, even the smell of the plane food can leave me wanting to gag. The answer, I travel with a small (15ml) bottle of Decléor Arommesence Oil and whenever there’s an awful odour, I rub a few drops on the back of my hand, wrist or neck – horrible scent, solved.

Buying tip: if Decléor isn’t in your budget, any essential oil will work. Bodyshop has a good range. Just make sure you love the scent before you buy or you’ll be swapping one gagging experience for another.

Bonus: it’s good for keeping your skin hydrated and can freshen up your underarms, meaning you can get by with taking deodorant in your carry-on.

Buy it here: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

8. A stick of lip balm

Speaking of dehydration, another of my beauty long haul flight essentials is a stick of lip balm. My favourite is the 8-hour lip balm by Elizabeth Arden. Sure, it’s expensive but unlike it’s much cheaper counterparts, it isn’t designed to dry your lips, creating a long-term addiction to lip balm. I can use this product once every few days meaning is lasts much longer.

Buying tip: make sure you buy a stick of lip balm rather than one you apply with your finger. Planes and travel generally will bring your hands into contact with a lot of germs. You don’t want to transfer those straight to your lips.

Bonus: the Elizabeth Arden lip balm contains SPF so you can keep your lips sun-safe if you’re off to warm climes.

Buy it here: Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com

Want more travel packing tips? Check out my related posts

How to Pack Light: 25 Tips for Packing Light

My Ultimate Packing List: The Only Packing List You’ll Ever Need

50 Best Travel Books of All Time

The Best Bags for Travelling

The Best Shoes for Travelling

9. A travel hair brush (and hairbands)

There’s something about long haul flights that turn my normally lifeless, straight hair into something Medusa would be jealous of. Planes are also the ideal environment for causing hair static. A travel hairbrush and hair band can keep everything in place. I like these round travel compacts because they folds away, they’re tiny and lightweight and include a mirror – you know, just in case you want to check how terrible you look at 3 a.m.

Buy it here: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

10. A lightweight bag for beauty bits

Over the course of a long haul flight, you’ll probably spend way too much time ferreting around in your handbag. Keep your bag contents organised and you’ll find stuff much easier – something that’s especially helpful when you’re hovering in the aisle or searching your bag under your seat. I keep all my travel documents, pen and currency in my travel wallet and I have a separate, lightweight bag for my beauty bits like my essential oil, hair brush, pill pack, lip balm and hand sanitiser.

I love the Sea to Summit range of storage bags. Sure, you can find a prettier beauty-bag than this one but you can’t beat it for being ultra lightweight, which is vital when you’re packing your long haul travel essentials.

Buy it here: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

11. Your own headphones

Let’s face it, airline headphones are usually poor quality and if you’re going to endure a long haul flight, where you’re probably going to spend several hours glued to the in-flight entertainment system, it’s best done with your own headphones. Most modern airlines now have the standard jack instead of the weird 2-pin thing. 

I usually just travel with my (old, with a jack) iPhone headphones, which work perfectly, but there are some great noise cancelling headphones on the market if you want to drown out the snoring noise coming from the inebriated man in seat 12c.

Buying tip: I love my B&O cans but they don’t leave the house but not only are they wireless and therefore unlikely to connect to the movies on the plane, they’re too expensive to break or lose and I don’t want to carry them around for my whole trip.

Bonus: By taking your own, you’re again helping save a little bit of plastic going into landfill. Just pick a wired pair for the wi-fi reason I mention above.

Buy it here: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

Get some EarPlanes to stop painful ear popping

If you suffer from painful ears on flights (I do, thanks to an underlying ear and nose problem), pick up some EarPlanes. These ear plugs are specially designed for flights and stop your ears from popping during take off and landing. I can’t tell you the number of times these little pieces of soft silicone have made the difference between a pain free flight and me wanting to rip the cabin door open to relieve the pain when I’ve forgot to pack them. They are available for both adults and children.

Buy them here: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

12. Some entertainment

I have a maximum 1-movie tolerance on a flight, which on a 12-hour trip leaves me with 10 hours to play with. I can consume a few hours sleeping, but realistically, the rest of the time I’m awake and twiddling my thumbs. Usually, the stranger next to me isn’t too keen to play ‘let me draw a moustache on you while you sleep’ so I pack other entertainment because we all know the devil makes work for idle hands.

For me, reading is my favourite way to kill time, making my Kindle one of my long haul flight essentials. It’s less bulky than a paper book, allows me to carry a whole library of books on board and the in-built light means I don’t need to upset my neighbour by shining the light in his eyes.

Everyone’s entertainment needs will differ but everyone will do well to pack something to pass the time.

Buy it here: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

Travel reading inspiration

Looking for some books to get you psyched for your trip? Check out my list of the 50 Best Travel Books of All Time

13. A portable battery charger

Yes, it’s the 21st century and most of us travel with more electronic devices than we do changes of underwear. However, not all airlines have caught up and you won’t always find a USB charging port at your seat. Or, at all. So, if you think you’re going to run out of juice on your essential travel gadget, make sure you put a portable charger in your carry-on. I love the Anker mini – it’s small enough to fit in my handbag without noticeable weight but powerful enough to give my iPhone at least one good, full charge.

Buying tip: the Anker (below) comes in a range of funky colours. As with your travel wallet, steer clear of black if your handbag interior is black.

Packing tip: don’t forget to pack the associated cable for charging your device.

Buy it here: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

14. A pair of soft, thick socks

You don’t want to spent a long haul flight with your boots/trainers/high-heels on; trust me. But you also don’t want to have to grapple under the seat every time you want to walk up and down the aisle. The solution: a cheap pair of comfortable socks. There’s a reason airlines used to include a pair in the amenities kit back in the day. An extra pair of socks will keep your feet warm and give some sense of protection against the filth of the floor.

Tip: fluffy socks or not, I’d still recommend popping your shoes on to use the bathroom.

Buy it here: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

Prefer slip on shoes?

I love my Butterfly Twist ballerina shoes. The slip on easy and fold down into their travel pouch.

Need compression socks?

There’s a huge market for compression socks because, well, DVT is a scary idea. However, some people are more at risk than others and you should meet with your doctor before you fly if you think you might be at risk. Regardless, compression socks do decrease your chance of DVT. You can find more information about DVT, flights and compression socks here.

To find a list and read reviews of the top-rated compression socks on Amazon, click here.

15. A toothbrush and toothpaste

Another item that used to be given out for free by airlines for good reason – if you’re facing a long flight with a stint of sleep in between, you’re probably going to want to brush your teeth. You can take a standard toothbrush on board but I haven’t yet found a cover that keeps the toothbrush head covered enough that it doesn’t leave gunk inside my beauty bag. Instead, I travel with a slim sonic toothbrush, which keeps my bag (and teeth!) clean, is much smaller than my regular electric toothbrush and is powered by a battery that lasts my whole trip.

Buy it here: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

You can find these items in a handy list on my Indiana Jo Amazon Store. I’ve also got other travel packing lists there so check it out.

Bonus – extra suggestions for long haul flight essentials

I wrote this post a while ago and it’s become very popular so I’ll keep it updated every few months. And part of that is adding any new tips I’ve got for you.

Neck Gaiter

This is a tip I got from a flight attendant. After far too many doses of flight flu, I now pack a neck gaiter. They’re brilliant for travel anyway – can double as a hair bandana, hair band, sun protector, sweat absorber and neck warmer. For flights, pull it over your nose and you’ll reap two benefits: filter out some of the coughs and sneezes shared by others, and keep your nasal passage warm. Wait, what? This might seem like an odd thing to do but when our noses get cold, the common cold thrives. Given airlines keep long-haul flights frigid (to stop people from passing out, apparently), it’s good to pack your own toasty face protector.

Buying tip: some neck gaiters are designed for snow and are fleecy. Pick one that works for your destination or go for a thin version that packs small. 

Buy it here: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

I’ll keep adding to this list. As of September 2019, I’m about to hit the road of full-time travel again so I’m sure I’m going to stumble into new suggestions. 

And don’t forget, you can find this list of all these products on my the Indiana Jo Amazon Store. 

CLICK HERE TO PIN THIS PACKING LIST

So, that’s my list of 15 long haul flight essentials and what to take on board. Did I miss anything? What are your long haul travel essentials? Let me know in the comments below. 

My other packing guides you might like…

How to Travel Light: 25 Quick Swaps for Packing Light

The Only Packing List Template You’ll Ever Need

Best Bag for Travelling – The Ultimate Guide

Safari Packing List – Just the Essentials

What Are The Best Shoes For Travelling?

What Is The Best Mosquito Repellent?

The 10 Travel Gadgets I Wouldn’t Travel Without

The Art of Packing Light

The 10 Travel Essentials I Wouldn’t Travel Without

Trekking Kit – 10 Essentials for Every Long Hike

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These 15 long haul flight essentials can make the difference between a comfortable long haul flight and hours of discomfort and frustration mid-air.

Article written by

Jo Fitzsimons is a freelance travel writer who has visited over 60 countries. www.indianajo.com is the place where she shares destination details, travel itineraries, planning and booking tips and trip tales. Her aim: to help you plan your travel adventure on your terms and to your budget.

22 Responses

  1. Maggie M
    Maggie M at | | Reply

    Given that carry on cabin luggage weight is usually restricted to only a few kgs, as much as I find these tips great, I’m not sure all the items would fit in a handbag? With food, snacks, socks, underwear, travel chargers and cables, kindle, hair brush, toothbrush, toothpaste, cleansing wipes, soft shoes, hand cleanser, essential oil, decoleur cream or similar, water bottle, sleep kit, pill box, shawl or neck gaitor, ear plugs, phone, light box, and probably a few more things I’ve missed, that’s one heck of a big handbag I’d need and would be pretty weighty.

  2. Sharon Brown
    Sharon Brown at | | Reply

    Hi Jo
    Been reading all these messages, I have found this very useful, I am going to Grenada next month on my own which I am finding daunting as I haven’t been abroad alone before.
    Have you anymore tips?

  3. Sophia
    Sophia at | | Reply

    Great list! I always take my kindle with me on long journeys, reading is one of my favourite ways to pass time! I would also recommend bringing a range of snacks, sometimes the meals they serve onboard either don’t cut it or taste horrible! Having food of your own means you can guarantee you won’t too hungry before landing!

  4. Kate
    Kate at | | Reply

    I always take spare undies. I have had my checked luggage part company with me three times now……
    I now also take a photo of my checked luggage on my phone. It makes communicating with the airport officials about what exactly is missing much simpler.
    And I wear a shawl. Acts as a blanket and you can wrap it around your head if your neighbour is using their light, or just rather too chatty……..

    Kate.

  5. Jenny
    Jenny at | | Reply

    Very useful tips! Carrying a Kindle has made taking long-haul flights so much more enjoyable. I also won’t get on a plane without an eye mask. Love my Airplane Mode mask which I got from Amazon! – https://amzn.to/2r8D0mX

  6. Christine
    Christine at | | Reply

    My bag always has wet wipes and no I’m not a mother of toddlers anymore. Freshen your face and hands when feeling jaded Also a pack of mints. I didn’t think of essential oil but lovely idea. I like the idea of lavender for sleeping which i can never do on planes, but nap all time at home (makes no sense) and maybe peppermint or eucalyptus for waking up Is fluid allowed ?

  7. Shashank Misra
    Shashank Misra at | | Reply

    Hi,

    I am “Buttock challenged”. Rather thin or non existent ones as my friends tease me.

    I travel frequently on. 14-16 hr flights from Toronto – Delhi. By 3-4 hours, they start hurting. And then there is frequent just shifting weight from right to left and so on..Any practical suggestions?

    Have already tried car seat cushions. No avail.

    1. Broxton
      Broxton at | | Reply

      I have this also! it may be pressure on your tail bone that causes all sorts of pains around the hips. I got one of these and notices an immediate difference.

      [Memory foam seat cushion for back, sciatica and tailbone pain]

  8. Jade D'sa
    Jade D'sa at | | Reply

    Great list! I always leave out the socks and they are such a small, but significant item that adds to comfort.

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