7 SANITY SAVING TIPS FOR SURVIVING INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL ON LONG FLIGHTS

International travel has the potential of many things going wrong. When it does, it’s always more than an inconvenience, it’s downright frustrating. It makes you want to curse and yell and break things.

But before you do that, follow this checklist for 7 sanity saving travel tips for international flights leading to a smoother journey and for making sure everything (and everyone) gets home in one piece.

Airport lounge access at London Heathrow
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By the way, these travel tips are great for long flights, not just international flights, and especially any flight to new destinations with a lengthy travel time. If you’re looking for amazing places to go, try one of these amazing international destinations.

PACKING CUBES FOR LONG FLIGHTS

Whether you’re Team roll v fold; tastes great v less filling; left Twix v right Twix; packing cubes are your friend. It keeps your items organized and you can pack a surprisingly amount of items in one packing cube. It will help you pack much stuff and save much space in your luggage. 

You can even use them in a backpack, duffel, weekender or any other luggage type suitcase. They are are also easily transferred to drawers if you use them.

Another benefit is that if airport security opens your luggage for any reason, not all your stuff has to be exposed (you know what I mean…)

You can also organize packing cubes into different colors and sizes so that you can pair things together. A  color for toiletries, a different color for causal outfits and a different color for dinner outfits. 

Or if you’re like me, I have a cube for “get in ma belly” goodies to bring home.

TRAVELER’S TIP: If you forgot a few chargers, the shaver sockets (you know the ones that usually say “Shavers Only”) are ubiquitous in Europe and Australia, and appear to offer an American-style two-prong socket that runs on 110V or 115V. So it can charge your best travel gadgets without a converter. You should however, avoid using shaver sockets on something that draws loads of power. Laptops, hairdryers, curling irons are a BIG NO as THIS would be dangerous! Otherwise, plug away…

BE COMFORTABLE DURING LONG FLIGHTS

First, to get comfortable on a long-haul flight, it’s a good idea to wear comfortable clothes. You’ll be there a while. Plane cabins can also fluctuate in temperature so wearing an extra layer of clothes will help when this happens. Further, if you have a connecting flight, you might be doing the long haul through the airport to get from one gate to another to catch your next flight.

Here are some of my favorite comfortable international travel outfits:

You should carry certain items with you the entire time to be comfortable. I’m not a fan of checked luggage anyway, but either way, it’s a great idea to pack items in an easily accessible carry-on bag so you have access to them the entire flight. DOWNLOAD MY CHECKLIST for the entire list that includes hand sanitizer, a good travel pillow, your own snacks and a water bottle.

Stay hydrated! The air on planes is notoriously dry. Use the water bottle to keep hydrated starting at the airport. Drink tons of water. The flight attendants are usually generous with handing out a bottle of water throughout the flight. (Unfortunately) you should only drink bottled water on a plane. A necessary evil of so much water is frequent trips to the lavatory. So choose an aisle seat!

Although airlines may provide headphones for the in-flight entertainment, the audio is poor quality and you can usually still hear everything that’s going on the cabin, including your snoring seatmate. A better option is to bring your own noise-canceling headphones if you want peace to enjoy your entertainment.

And packing your own ear plugs comes a long way when you’re trying to sleep for blocking out a crying baby, noisy conversations, and that seatmate! These ear plugs even alleviate nausea from motion sickness and air pressure.

Then where you choose your seat on a long haul flight definitely contributes to your comfort. Understandably, international travelers love the window seat to get the bird’s eye view of landing and take off. But another good reason to choose an aisle seat may be just that, easy access to the aisle.

Sitting for long periods of time can lead to deep vein thrombosis which is when a blood clot forms in a deep vein usually in the lower leg, thigh, or pelvis causing these body parts to swell and cramp. It can become a real threat to your health. An aisle seat allows convenient access to get up and get the blood circulating.

If you can’t let go of the widow seat, try sitting in an exit row a seat which usually offers extra leg room to stretch, stand or even have quick aisle access. Or use compression socks that apply pressure to your lower legs, helping to maintain blood flow and reduce discomfort and swelling promoting better blood circulation.

TRAVELER’S TIP: I’m sure it goes without saying that flying in a premium cabin, such as business class goes a long way to greatly increase your comfort. The lie-flat seats that basically turn into a bed reduce the risk of blood clots because you are not sitting for hours on end, and reduce jet lag by getting good rest before you enter a new time zone at your final destination. AND some airlines provide pajamas to make your plane ride even more comfortable! I have to admit…I’m kinda a pajama hoarder…

Airplane pajamas on Emirates airline
Etihad long haul flight with airline pajamas

PRIORITY PASS FOR AIRPORT LOUNGE ACCESS

Spending hours at the airport is not fun, especially when most airlines recommend checking in at least three hours before an international flight. So what to do with your time??? Airport lounges offer a place to have snacks, food, rest, and prepare for your next flight.

During connections, you can grab a last minute shower to change into more comfortable clothing or just relax and recover from sleep deprivation. Take advantage of all the free service such as wi-fi, the business center and usually alcoholic beverages. It can be a life saver on a long trip.

International flight with lounge access at the airport in LAX

Priority Pass is a paid program that allows you entry into certain airport lounges. It has a network of over 1300 lounge in 600 cities in 148 countries worldwide. There are several credit cards that offer membership with Priority Pass for having the card, such as: 

  • Platinum American Express
  • Business Platinum American Express
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • Hilton Honors Aspire
  • Hilton Honors American Express Surpass card
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant
  • Citi Prestige

Priority Pass isn’t restricted to an airline, a class of ticket or destination. There are three membership tiers:

  •  Standard ($99): For the occasional traveler. However, you still are charged a $32 fee for access as a member and any guest with you.
  • Standard Plus ($299): For the regular traveler. Members receive 10 free visits per year, and after that, it’s a $32 fee per entry.  It’s a $32 fee for any guests with you.
  • Prestige ($429): For the frequent traveler. All member visits are free per year, and a $32 fee for any guests with you. 

You can not pay cash or credit for the entry fees, your card on file will be charged. If you obtain membership via a credit card, your *free* membership will most likely be Priority Pass Select, which is similar to Priority Pass Prestige. One difference I’ve noticed is that my Select membership usually offers one free guest entry with me. 

The benefits do not stop at just lounge access. It offers discount dining at select restaurants for some airports that usually equals the value of the lounge entry fee ($32 per members/sometimes $64 for member and guest), with no minimum purchase and no restriction on adult beverages. SCORE! 

It doesn’t stop there. Priority Pass also offers discounts at some airport retail stores, airport spa treatments and sleep ‘n fly pods. And from time to time, Groupon offers membership for a discounted rate.

Downloading the app will detail all your specific benefits and include your digital card for access or discounts.  Hope to see you in a lounge and we’ll share some fine airport wine!

TRAVELER’S TIP: If you obtain membership through a credit card and have an authorized user on your account, each of  you are able to have a personal membership, and can double dip if you travel together- CHA CHING! 

USE CREDIT CARDS FOR INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL

Travel credit cards provide so many benefits designed to enhance your travel experience. This is my best tip to traveling swanky for no extra money!

Book your flight with travel credit cards and you’ll get access to so many generous perks like seat upgrades, early boarding, and free checked bags to name a few. These luxe perks even include no foreign transaction fees (yay!) and reimbursement for the TSA pre-check or CLEAR application.

Priority boarding means you’ll be one of the first up in the boarding process so extra time on the plane allows you to comfortably place hand luggage in the overhead bin, get seated, and any checked luggage will usually also be priority at baggage claim.

It also means no more sitting at the back of the plane and pre-selecting your seat from the seat map.

Business class cabin on Qatar long haul flight
Business class on Qatar Airways
American Airlines business class for long haul flights
Business class on American Airlines

The best thing about travel credit cards to me is that you earn reward points through everyday purchases where you can redeem them to upgrade your travel, such as getting a seat in the coveted BUSINESS CLASS!

Amenity kit on Japan airlines first class international travel flight

Speaking of comforts, a seat in premium cabins includes amenity kits. These kits can themselves be a lifesaver as the staples usually include a dental kit, comb, sleep mask, lip balm, moisturizer and socks. All these items are in a small bag that’s yours to keep.

Some airlines, such as Japan Airlines, goes above and beyond by providing an eye mask and face mask to keep even your face hydrated.

TRAVELER’S TIP: Use the ATM at your travel destination to obtain local currency. Open a separate travel account and your bank with a separate debit card. Then connect it to your main bank account. Only fund the travel account with what you need for the trip. If you get pick-pocketed or it gets compromised, it’s much less of a headache. AND you can easily transfer money from your main account if necessary to continue to make it RAIN!!

USE MOBILE MAP APPS FOR INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL

HERE WeGo maps app and map

No one carries old school maps anymore. GPS uses loads of gigs if you have a limited data plan (and most likely you do), and even more so if you are utilizing an international data plan.

Maps that can be easily downloaded and used without an internet connection are great for navigating where you need to go without constantly trying to ask someone or taking a screenshot (what if you wander off the screenshot??? Oh NO!!)

My favorite is HEREWeGo and is one of the most popular as it has maps in more than 100 countries and even provides audible guidance. It also has bus, subway, and taxi information. It has a user friendly interface and best of all – it’s FREE – so get that extra glass of champagne! 

USE GLOBAL ENTRY/MOBILE PASS FOR INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL

Passport and travel documents including Global entry when traveling

Global entry is a U.S. Customs Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States.” In short, it allows you to bypass the infamously horrible immigration queue upon returning to the United States. 

After deplaning, you make your way to the Global Entry kiosks and get your picture taken for facial recognition. Then off you go! After retrieving any checked luggage, you hand the printout from the kiosk to the Border Patrol agent, and then off you go again!

Travelers must be pre-approved for this program by applying at cbp.gov, then undergoing a background check complete with an in-person interview. The cost of the program is $100 for five years and as an added bonus, it automatically enrolls you in TSA precheck. There are several credit cards that cover the cost of Global Entry, such as:

  • American Express Platinum Card ($550 annual fee)
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450 annual fee)
  • Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard ($450 annual fee)
  • United Explorer Card ($95 annual fee, waived the first year)
  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card ($95 annual fee, waived the first year)
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express ($450 annual fee)
  • IHG Rewards Club Premier Card  ($89 annual fee)

Remember though, you have to charge the Global Entry fee to one of the above cards to get the credit. 

A lesser known FREE program similar to Global Entry is Mobile Pass. You download the app and complete the details upon (or right before) landing. You answer a few questions on your phone, take a selfie, and bypass the Immigration queues. However, you must clear Customs within three hours of submitting all your information on the app. 

Instead of handing a printout to the Border Patrol agent, the agent will scan the QR code from the app on your phone, and you’re off!

For $14.99/year, you can upgrade Mobile Pass to store your photo and passport information, otherwise, you will need to enter it every time you use the app. I personally don’t think it’s worth the upgrade.

NOTE: Upon arriving in the States, you must choose either Global Entry OR Mobile Pass to clear customs. You can not do both at the same time.

GET TRAVEL INSURANCE FOR INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL

Travel insurance is a nice back-up plan. Travel insurance will reimburse the cost of your trip including prepaid and nonrefundable costs. It also provides assistance for missing luggage or missed travel connections.

Travel insurance companies are now offering pandemic-related coverage. Although it can be pricey, you can travel with peace of mind. Policies range from medical expenses, trip rescheduling, and quarantine expenses.

Consider comparing quotes and reviews at insuremytrip.com or squaremouth.com. In fact, Forbes put out a list of Best Pandemic Travel Insurance plans. My personal favorites are Allianz and World Nomads.

BONUS: ECO-FRIENDLY TOURISM AT INTERNATIONAL DESTINATIONS

Eco tourism in Thailand with elephants
Visiting an elephant sanctuary in Thailand
Koala habitat in Sydney Australia
Koala habitat in Sydney Australia

When I first started traveling, I used to follow what everyone else suggested, including tourism  books, to do what I thought was maximizing my experiences…until I found out THE TRUTH

The truth about elephant riding, swimming with dolphins, pony rides, circuses and animal selfies. Now, I take the time to do my research because I feel it’s definitely my (and really all of our) responsibility to travel compassionately and ethically. And to take memories while not hurting or contributing to the harm of living beings and leaving the lowest environmental impact. 

More and more businesses and local tourism boards have become more attuned to this and have adjusted accordingly.  BUT you still have to do your homework. As always, there are still places that say they have ethical practices, however a look at online reviews such as Tripadvisor, their own websites and reputable conservation websites prove otherwise.

On October 2, 2019, Tripadvisor (and its sister company, Viator) made the statement that it will no longer sell tickets to, or make money from, any attraction that continues to contribute to the captivity of whales and dolphins.

Some “sanctuaries” have elephants doing tricks such as playing basketball or painting for guests. Other “sanctuaries” claim that the dolphins you swim with were rescued injured from the wild and will be released when healed. Yet, different “sanctuaries” drug tigers to be docile to take picture with tourists and then sell them to canned hunting facilities. It does take some work to be a responsible traveler, but here’s a good tip:

“As a rule, if you can ride, hug or have a selfie with a wild animal, you can be sure it is cruel.”

Fran Kearney, World Animal Protection

As you do your research, you will definitely find positive wildlife and natural habitat experiences that are also great low cost experiences. Some great places to start your research are WWF and WESSA.

Trust me, your experience will be exponentially better observing wildlife where they belong AND you will sleep better at night. The animals and future generations THANK YOU

FINAL THOUGHTS ON TIPS FOR INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL

These are my top tips for handling long flights during international travel. Traveling to a foreign country and through different time zones, especially if this is your first flight, can be overwhelming.

Hope to see you in the lounge or bypassing the immigration queues as we swap eco-friendly tourism stories.  Let me know what’s YOUR favorite tips to survive international travel. 

Now that you have these sanity saving tips, why not take a long flight to an international destination:

Originally posted October 1, 2019

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Andrea Capone
2 years ago

These tips are very helpful. Thank you for sharing. I’m Pinning this so I can refer to it again before my next trip.

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