Get comfy with these long haul flight essentials. Know exactly what to pack in your carry on and download your long haul flight checklist to keep track.
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Long Haul Flight Essentials + A Flight Checklist
As a professional travel writer, I’ve been on hundreds of flights. I’ve made every mistake going and then I’ve made a few more. While you can simply turn up to a long haul flight with nothing but a boarding pass and your innate charisma, the whole experience will be a lot more comfortable if you remember to bring more than that. And that charisma may last longer, too.
Here’s my tried and tested list of long haul flight essentials for business travel, baby travel, solo travel and beyond. Plus, a long haul flight checklist you can download for free.
Long Haul Flight Essentials at a Glance
In a rush before your trip? I hear you!
Choose the right carry on
- A small stylish backpack if you have luggage in the hold
- An indestructible rolling suitcase like this
- A Trunki for children
- A rolling backpack, like this one from Osprey, for the adventurers.
Buy these ahead of time
How to Decide What to Pack in Your Carry On
Although this article is thousands of words long, it all boils down to the following three points.
1) What you NEED during the flight and at the airport
This includes things like medication, water and snacks.
2) What the airline MAKES you pack in your carry on vs checked
Hello camera gear, laptops and other electronics.
3) What would spoil your trip if the airline lost your checked luggage
No-one wants sunburn on their first day of a trip.
This collection of carry on essentials for long haul flights will see you sorted.
Just because. Handy if you ever get stuck and they’ve run out of paper. Useful to mop up any spills as someone passes a drink across you to another passenger. Handy to have something that smells nice, as above!
Freshens the breath, helps with a dry mouth, can stop your ears from going pop on take off and landing. Just don’t be obnoxious with it, on behalf of your fellow passengers. As if you would.
A Fold-Flat Bag
Tote bags are are useful for so many reasons. They’re handy to carry about town, once you’re on the aircraft you can use them to separate the things you actually want on the flight from all the other equipment you needed in your carry on. And if you lose your luggage and have to shop for more things, at least you already have a bag to put these things in to.
Folding bags take up next to no space but leaves you with plenty of options.
In case the airline loses your luggage. You can still go for a swim!
OK, so you won’t end up ill without these essentials in your carry on. But they do help make everything much, much easier.
Blisters abound in different climates when you’re often walking more often than usual and wearing different shoes. Compeed changed my life (alright, it’s a slight exaggeration but it’s not too far from the truth!)
These second skin stickers cover the blister and cushion the surrounding skin from further damage. Best of all, you can easily fit three into your passport holder or travel wallet so that you always have them ready on the road.
This is even more important if you’ve lost your luggage and have to tackle new or poorly-fitting shoes in a new climate. Sorted.
A Scarf or Pashmina
A scarf not only keeps you warm on a breezy plane, but it covers hair on streets, shoulders in temples, and can double as a skirt for the day if your luggage disappears en route to somewhere bright and breezy.
You may need this more than you think: even in Rome, you need to cover up in order to enter the Vatican and Swiss Guards are on standby to check you have the right attire.
- Check out the gorgeous Speakeasy Travel Scarves made by friend and colleagues. They have a secret compartment for your cash or passport and so they’re quite simply brilliant!
Some people find sleeping on a plane easy. Then, there’s the rest of us. These long haul flight essentials will increase your chance of a decent zizz.
Sleep Mask: For some reason, I fought against eye masks for years. Why?! They’re brilliant! Lightweight, useful, only mess up your hair a little bit ;-)
Ear Plugs: Foam ones work fine. So do using headphones and a background sleep app. Anything you can to help combat jet lag.
Warm Clothes: Planes can get cold and if you’re sitting still, so will you. Some airlines provide blankets but not all do. So, either enlist your scarf from earlier or make sure you have a jumper with you.
Inflatable Pillow: Yes, you feel a little ridiculous but who really cares? Alternatively, you can buy pre-filled travel pillows that can clip onto your luggage but they’re quite bulky. Only use if you have the luggage space.
Foot Rest: Use a toiletries bag and fill it with a blanket or jumper once you’re on the plane. Use it as a foot rest to help take the weight off your back and wedge yourself into position for sleep.
Warm Socks: It gets cold up in the sky. Add an extra pair of socks to your list of long haul flight essentials. Extra points if they’re warm and snuggly.
Read more about how to sleep on a plane here.
Remember that travel size bottles aren’t just about keeping weight down. Most airlines have a limit as to the volume of fluids (liquids, gels and pastes) you can take through security at the airport. Less is more when it comes to this.
Lip Salve: Planes get dry and lips get sore. Either pack a dedicated lip balm, otherwise plain vaseline tubs can also treat blisters, sore noses, sunburn and all sorts.
Toothbrush and Toothpaste: For long international flights, it’s nice to be able to brush your teeth after all those hours. Just remember to keep toiletry sizes SMALL because of the airport security checks.
Other Lotions and Potions: Some people need a raft of toiletries to keep their skin in good condition. If that’s you, you’re probably better off buying a DIY travel toiletry set like this which allows you to decant your own toiletries into travel-sized bottles. If you’re on a really long haul flight, then consider deodorant, baby wipes and a change of underwear and socks as well.
These days, who doesn’t travel with tech? Whether it’s iPads for the little ones, full video gear for the vloggers or “just” a smartphone for maps and the grandkids, we all have batteries with us. Which means…
Chargers and Adapters: Security rules change all the time but one of the latest updates is that you have to be able to turn any device ON when asked. So, remember your charger!
I have two tips for this: a worldwide multi-adapter if you travel frequently and a multi-plug piece of kit or plug to multi-USB kit. This helps charge many devices at once while travelling. Portable chargers and power banks also become essential for long flights with connections.
Headphones: Firstly, if you plan to watch something on your phone or tablet, make sure you have headphones that fit it.
Second, many swear by noise cancelling headphones on a flight. This is something that has never really bothered me but Mr Travel Lab loves them. You can also get headphones for children that come with a noise limit (for the programme, not the child, alas ;-) )
A Protective Laptop Case: DO NOT put your laptop in the hold. Have it with you in your carry on, with an easy to access case as you’ll have to remove the case at airport security.
Laptops, Tablets and Kindles: As a travel writer and old time travel blogger, a lot of my work takes place on a plane. And you don’t need to be in travel for that to be the case. MacBook Air has built a name for itself as being the lightest computer on the market. I’ve now upgraded to the MacBook Pro to keep weight down but it’s still pretty light.
As for reading, I’ve found that nothing beats a Kindle. The Kindle Paperwhite is lightweight and the screen is easy on the eye. Although you can read books on your phone, the eye strain is too much for me. Grab a waterproof Kindle and you can even try your luck at the pool once you land.
Health & Wellness
When it comes down to it, essentials do not really include a toothbrush and a clean pair of pants. These are easy to replace, should the worst happen.
Essentials are anything specific to you that would make you feel ill or supremely uncomfortable without it and which are difficult to replace.
- Prescription medication including antimalarials, travel sickness tablets and anti-histamines.
- Contact lenses & glasses
- Snacks if you have dietary restrictions
- Prescriptions or letters that explain why you have to have these things with you!
- Tampons and other sanitary products. A 20 hour flight can feel very long without them.
- Compression socks to protect against DVTs (blood clots) on long haul flights.
- Hand sanitizer and mask to follow Covid regulations.
- Travel insurance details. Sure, you won’t need those in flight but they are handy to have if the airline loses your luggage.
How to Prep to Avoid Blood Clots (aka DVTS)
Let’s be grown up and deal with facts, ignoring the fears for now.
Long haul flights increase the risk of blood clots in your legs (deep vein thrombosis.) On their own, they’re uncomfortable but the real risk is that they fly off and lodge somewhere more important. Like in your lungs. Having trained and worked as a doctor, I am keen to spread the word about this because there are plenty of steps you can take to reduce the (overall fairly small) risk. While ideally, we’d all be flying first class, you can still take action to protect yourself if you fly in economy.
Low Dose Aspirin: Aspirin affects how easy it is for platelets in your blood to stick together by altering the function of cyclooxygenase and the production of prostaglandins. Another way of describing it is to say that they make your blood less “sticky.” With the caveat that you should always check with your own doctor first rather than with someone on the internet – if you have a long haul flight, it is wise to take a low dose aspirin in the hour or so before it. Do not do this if you have suffered from an allergy to aspirin or have a history of intestinal bleeding. As I say, check with your own doctor first.
Compression Stockings: You can buy compression stockings from most chemists or online here. They are not the sexiest of garments but they aren’t too bad once you get used to them. And, hey, if they save your life, they’re worth it! They’re particularly important for babymoons as pregnancy increases the risk of blood clots. I wore them every time I travelled while pregnant and they’re really not as bad as they look!
A Reusable Water Bottle
You can just about get away without a water bottle but life is easier if you have one. Many airports and airport lounges offer refills and it’s easy to ask the cabin crew to refill your own bottle than to keep asking for separate glasses of water. Even more convenient involves bringing your own collapsible water bottle, like this one.
Food & Drink & Dietary Restrictions
Airlines should be able to cater for you and so should your hotel. But let’s face it. Things go wrong and I’ve lost count of the number of times when I haven’t had the special meal required. So, my advice? Always pack some handy snacks.
Handy carry on snacks don’t make a mess nor grow fungus mid flight. Useful snacks are things like flapjacks, energy bars, apples, and rice cakes. Messy and unsuitable snacks include things like chocolate, bananas and mousse.
Pack even more snacks if you are travelling with children. You can thank me later ;-)
Inside tip: pack some packets of dehydrated couscous meals that just require boiling water. A real carry on essential for those with dairy allergies, lactose intolerance, vegetarian or vegan diets. Try rice cakes for a gluten-free option.
Carry On Essentials For Children
Travelling with children requires a bit more preparation but it’s perfectly doable and not as awful as you might imagine! I’ve written some specific articles here:
Extreme Weather Conditions
What if the airline loses your luggage?
If you’re heading to somewhere similar to where you came from, you can muddle on through in the same clothes you’re wearing for a day or two while you sort yourself out. You may feel icky beyond the threshold of ick but you can do it.
However, if you’re heading somewhere much hotter or colder then life can quickly become miserable, with blistering sunburn and excruciating frostbite. So here’s how to avoid that.
Hot Weather Essentials
So, for hot weather, in your carry-on make sure you have:
- A mini tube of sunscreen
- A hat. Either fashionable and wicker or crushable and practical, depending on what you need to do when you reach your final destination. You can buy the folding travel hat with strap shown in the video here.
- Flip flops or other lightweight shoes that can help you cool down. I love these Fit Flops for women because they can work as day or night wear and they are VERY comfortable.
- Bug spray if there’s any hint of insect-borne disease. Buy an insect repellent with DEET if mosquito-borne illnesses are a concern. Here is a travel size DEET laden bottle.
Cold Weather Essentials
For cold weather:
- Carry your ski jacket onto the plane, with the pockets filled with the following
- Gloves, hat, scarf/snood, thermals
- Wear your heavy snow shoes
- Squeeze any salopettes into your cabin luggage
- Still remember the sunscreen and sunglasses
What Items Are Not Allowed on a Plane in Hand Luggage?
You are not allowed to bring anything into the cabin that could easily and feasibly be used as a weapon. That includes knives and guns, obviously, but knitting needles, antlers and Viking hats could also be confiscated.
For the same reason, liquids are limited at the security point (although you can usually buy fluids once airside.) Some bright spark tried to make an explosive out of various liquids during the flight and so now we are all restricted to 100mls or less of any soup, baby food, water or anything else that could qualify as a gel, paste or cream.
Travel Tips for Long Haul Flights
It’s not just what you pack into your carry on which affects how comfortable your long haul flight is. You have other things to consider as well. Whether it’s your first long haul flight or you’ve notched up more hours in the giant metallic cigar than you have in a real bed, everyone loves some good long haul flight tips.
Over a decade of professional travel, I’ve accumulated plenty and yet I’m always keen to hear more.
Why? Because a good flight is the key to happiness. Plato and the other ancient Greek philosophers were just too early to know.
But in all seriousness, a good flight makes sense. You can hit the ground running in your new location and transition back to home life as well. Whether travelling for business or pleasure (and there should always be room for both) there’s simply nothing to be gained from being uncomfortable and miserable.
The idea is to be well rested, replenished and revived with a zest for life, right? Or at the very least, less haggard than when you began.
Yet all too often, the result is frazzled, frumpy and thoroughly, er, fed up with mankind.
So. Let’s sit down and share some secrets…Our best long haul flight tips.
I’ll go first.
Book the Seat You Want
These days, more and more airlines allow you to book your seat in advance – at a price. When you book your ticket, pay attention to this, especially if you have long legs, a dodgy hip, have to have an aisle seat, are travelling together and so on.
Sometimes, theses seats are only available at a certain time. Check early and checkc often.
Insider Long Haul Flight Tip
If you are hoping for a bit of extra space (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) and you don’t want a window seat then here’s a little trick that’s just between you and me.
- Go for the aisle seat on the middle section of the plane, not the one near the window. The middle of the middle is the worst seat in the plane (other than the one at the back that doesn’t recline.) That means, if the plane is not full, you have the chance to dump all your stuff there or curl your knees up or stretch out. Striking gold! Just don’t tell everyone else, OK?
- Oh, and on that note. Try to avoid the seats with the toilets just behind them. Seats often don’t recline and once the game of sky recline domino begins further ahead, you will be left very cramped indeed.
- If you need to make a hasty getaway once you land, then book closer to the front, on the left. The left hand side of the aeroplane is closest to the door and so the queue moves faster.
- Finally, run your choice through the seat guru checker. This site lets you look at the layout of the plane in advance and highlights key issues that aren’t always obvious (such as lack of space under the seat in front of you or location of baby bassinets.)
If you can’t book your seat, there are a few things you can do to maximise your chances of getting what you want.
Firstly, check in as soon as you can. Secondly, ask at check in. You never know. Sometimes airlines reserve seats and only release them closer to the flight time.
Tips For Boarding the Plane
Aeroplane aisles are narrow and everyone acts as though they’re in a desperate rush. The pressure is on to have it together and sit down quickly (although the world won’t end if you need to take your time.)
It’s a good idea to move to your seat quickly, and put your hand luggage in the overhead bin as soon as possible. You can ferret and fumble around with your things after take off.
A handy hint is to have a smaller bag that contains the things you KNOW you will need mid-flight and just whip that out before you board.
During the Flight
- Get up and stretch: Set a timer if you have to. It helps to fend off blood clots and general aches and pains.
- Drink lots of water to feel better: Bring your own bottle and top it up regularly.
- Follow their schedule: There’s no point in fighting it. Eat when they serve food. Try to sleep when they turn off the lights. Chatter and watch TV (or work) when it’s all go, go, go. I fought this for years, trying to work to my own schedule but it never worked.
- Be strategic about the restroom before food is served: When cabin crew are serving food, it can be difficult to make your way along the aisle. Just after the dinner service is busy and you need Houdini like skills to get out from underneath your table with an empty food tray on it and then squeeze past other passengers in the same situation. Try to time a quick stop just before food starts and laze back laughing afterwards…
- Also, be strategic just before landing: As soon as you hear the pilot say “cabin crew, prepare for landing,” leap out of your seat. Use the restroom if needed and pack up your carry on luggage in the overhead locker. Nothing but queues await after this point – either on the plane or in the immigration area when you land. Carpe diem!
What to Wear On a Long Haul Flight
Even in the flashiest plane seat in the world, you’re going to have to stay in the same place on a long haul flight for a long time (hey! The clue is in the name!)
Belts, seams and constricting clothing will annoy you.
First and business class often offer pyjamas so you don’t need to bring your own but even then it’s useful to wear something loose and breathable.
What Should I Wear On a Long Haul Flight in Economy?
- Think comfort first and foremost.
- DO wear loose clothes in breathable fabrics.
- DON’T wear jeans, tight leggings, short skirts or shorts or restrictive bodices.
- A huge slouchy cardigan or sweater helps to balance the temperature changes mid flight. A scarf is helpful too.
Inside Tip: I have a pair of loose trousers that are great for flying in and simply require a black T shirt to go with them. I pack a second one for the return flight and that’s two days of “outfit planning” done in one as well.
On a long haul flight, you’re also at risk of skin irritation from the fabric of the seat. Long sleeves and trousers avoid this. If you’re heading somewhere hot, loose clothes are breathable. If you’re heading somewhere cold, your skin is covered and you can throw on a jumper and coat.
How to Pack For A Long Haul Flight
In addition to all those long haul travel essentials, here are some tips to add to your packing list.
Check Your Luggage Allowance
Some tickets give you enough luggage to move house like Marie Antoinette.
Check at the time of booking, packing and certainly before you head to the airport. This is an occasion where it’s really important to read the small print. Airlines are becoming increasingly awkward about this and it is expensive, annoying and time consuming to have to solve the issue at the airport.
Organise Your Stuff
Whether you’re travelling hand luggage only or have checked in a bag, it’s still annoying to have to forage around for things during the flight.
The lighting may be low, the space is reduced and, if you’re a decent person, you’re often trying not to bump into or annoy anyone else.
- Use packing cubes like this or brightly coloured toiletry bags to segment things.
- Fill one packing cube with things you are unlikely to need but have to pack in your carry on. This includes things like prescription medication, spare contact lenses, battery packs and so on.
- Fill another with your gadgets. Include a spare battery and charging wire.
- Make sure you can easily remove laptops, liquids, gels and pastes at airport security without needing to unpack everything out.
A Note About Liquids, Gels and Pastes
In case you missed the memo, there are strict regulations on how many liquids, pastes and gels you can take onto a flight (at least for now…)
The most annoying part of this is that you won’t be able to take drinking water through airport security and so will have to buy some once you get through (so much for avoiding plastic.) Update – many airports now have water fountains, so if you bring your own collapsible water bottle, you can refill it after security.
Think strategically about what you will actually need during a long haul flight. And make sure that you have travel size bottles and that they all easily fit into the plastic bag required at security.
If you’ve left it too late to sort out miniatures, don’t stress. Airports sell most things in travel sizes.
Things to Do at the Airport to Improve Your Long Haul Flight
Breeze Through Security
Put your most valuable item through last. If you get pulled over or the trays start to crash into each other after they’ve gone through the machine, your valuable items are more protected.
If travelling with kids, this is a whole new ball game as pushchairs, baby food and all the rest need to be dealt with separately. I’ve written whole posts on travelling with a baby and travelling with a toddler to address that.
Top Up Your Power Supply
Many flights now have at-seat charging points, even in economy. Many more still don’t. You need to be able to turn your device on if questioned at security and if you are relying on your phone for boarding passes and transfer information, it goes without saying that it’s kind of helpful to be able to turn it on.
Look For Lounge Access
Lounge access doesn’t only apply to business class travellers. Many airports now have pay-as-you-go lounges and many others accept membership cards like Priority Pass.
Is it worth it? It depends. If the airport is decent and quiet, probably not. If it’s heaving, you have a long layover, you need a meal or a shower or are travelling on your own, it can be.
Particularly as a solo traveller, it’s great to be able to move around with ease, leaving your gadgets plugged in and getting a meal quickly without needing to queue for food.
As you Come in to Land
By the end of a long haul flight, everyone is fed up and ready to get off. This is the prime time for losing stuff. I once left my passport in the back of a seat and had to beg, borrow and steal my way back onto the aircraft to get it. Don’t let this happen to you.
- As soon as you hear the announcement, start packing your bags.
- Make sure you have your passport, customs and immigration paperwork handy. Check your pick up instructions or directions to your first hotel so you can appear calm and confident when you leave the airport and face any hawkers.
- Depending on your phone provider, turn off your mobile data to avoid hideous roaming charges.
And, that’s it! Hope you enjoyed these long haul flight tips and that they help you have a smoother journey.
Carry-On Essentials For Short Flights
When it comes to short haul flights, perhaps you’re thinking you don’t need anything at all? Think again!
Sure, you could get lucky but remember this handy guide:
Three main thoughts should guide your packing:
1) What you NEED during the flight and at the airport.
2) What the airline MAKES you pack in your carry on vs checked.
3) What would spoil your trip if the airline lost your checked luggage.
So, while what you need on the flight may vary (wave goodbye to the DIY sleep kit) you are still going to need to pack items to cover situations two and three.
So, download the long haul flight essentials checklist anyway and perhaps dial down on the snacks and toiletries on your packing list.
More Travel Resources
Enjoy our packing lists and other travel essentials below:
- Don’t miss an insomniac’s guide to sleeping on a plane
- And make sure you have the right carry on luggage to begin with.
- Find our best packing tips with this free travel checklist.
- Creative travel journal ideas for your next trip.