how to survive an overnight flight

I have always loved traveling, so the thrill of visiting Europe for the first time ever helped to make up for the nerves I felt about going on a flight almost double the length of any I had been on before. Besides, I was ready. I had listened to all my mother’s advice and prepared for the long night above the ocean.

It actually did not go as well as I had hoped, partially because I had a panic attack before we even arrived at the airport and partially because, even as a tiny 4’11” flyer, airplanes are dang uncomfy.

Here’s what I learned.


The secret to a good overnight flight begins weeks before you get to the airport.

Book the latest red-eye you can find. Chances are, you’ll be tired when you board, and that will help you sleep. And if you can choose to pay a fee that allows you to pick your seat on an overseas flight, pay the fee. Just bite the bullet and remind yourself that you are paying for your own sanity (and slightly lessened jetlag, which will result in a better trip). Some people prefer an aisle seat, where they feel they have more fresh air (and people walking past them to get to the bathroom), while some like the window seat because it allows for beautiful views and a built in side rest. Just don’t pick a middle seat, unless you’re a monster. And if you’re traveling with one or more people, you can ensure that your partner, best friend or family is right by your side (or far, far away if they’re snorers).


Eat something hearty before boarding

Pictured here: Not airline food, that’s for sure. Try to eat something before getting on your flight– nothing too filling, and definitely not something greasy or full of sugar– to keep yourself from hitting the midway point on the flight and caving to that expensive and unfulfilling ham sandwich on the menu. Those pretzels alone won’t get you through the flight.


Speaking of airline food, don’t drink the coffee

Coffee is good! It’s just not the best option when, you know, you’re sharing a chemical toilet or two with hundreds of other people drinking said coffee. And you’re stuck on a plane with that toilet and all the people waiting in line for it for the next several hours. Not to mention the effects caffeine will have on your ability to sleep. May I suggest a nice herbal tea instead?


Invest in coziness

Wearing something comfortable seems like a no-brainer, but there are a few tricks to the trade. In addition to wearing shoes that can slip on and off easily for security checkpoints, I like to wear layers in all my clothing. I typically wear a pair of comfy leggings, and stash sweatpants in my carry-on for if it gets cold. Plus I always wear a nice cardigan that can be wrapped tighter or removed depending on the temperature in the plane. Consider a matching eye mask, if you have trouble with light when trying to sleep. Headphones or earplugs (or Airpods, I suppose) are an absolute must for drowning out the noise from passengers and hostesses. And as dumb as they may look, those neck pillows are a godsend. On my flight back from Europe, I woke up to find drool on mine, I had been sleeping so soundly.


Bring something to do

Chances are, you won’t be able to sleep the whole flight no matter how prepared you are. The snack cart will startle you, a baby will begin to cry, or someone will bump into you on their way to the bathroom after too much coffee. Something quiet and relaxing, like a book, movie or games on your phone will go a long way.


Finally, know where you’re going

Nerves may be running high, especially if this flight is to an entirely new place. To help yourself relax, create a plan for when you do arrive at your destination. It always gives me a sense of calm if I already know where my luggage will be, what train I’m getting on or where I’ll need to find a taxi as soon as I arrive.


This is not an exhaustive list, and everyone relaxes (or stays awake) in different ways. Just remember that this is just one flight, and in this case, it’s more about the destination than the journey.

Bon Voyage!

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