Travel is my happy place. I find so much joy in the adventures, memories, and self-discovery that comes with travel.
But sometimes I could do without the actual traveling portion of travel. As I wrote about here, I’m a card-carrying member of the motion sickness club.
Figuratively, the journey may be more important than the destination. But in reality, my body would much rather be at the destination.
Even if you don’t suffer from motion sickness, traveling can have a physical and mental toll on your body. Those impacts are especially present when flying.
Follow my tips below to help minimize the impact that flying takes on you the next time you travel.
1. Book an aisle seat
“But Pam,” you’re saying, “I’m a window seat person!”
Well, so was I. Until that fateful 11-hour flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg when my seatmates slept for 6 hours straight and I was too cowardly to wake them up so that I could go to the bathroom.
Even if you’re not as cowardly as I am, you’re still likely to sit for longer periods of time if you book a window seat.
With an aisle seat, you can go to the bathroom at your leisure, get up to stretch your legs on occasion, and grab some water from the galley whenever you’d like. All these things are essential for your physical and mental health during the flight.
“But Pam,” you’re saying, “What about annoying seatmates who are constantly asking me to let them out?
I’ve been surprised at how infrequently my seatmates ask me to get up. During a recent 14-hour flight between Houston and Auckland, my seatmates got up once. One time. In 14 hours. Even as I got up and strolled around every hour or so, they stayed in their seats.
2. Wear comfortable clothing
Comfortable clothing is essential to having an enjoyable, healthy flight.
Clothing that is too tight can give you acid reflux and indigestion. Clothing that is too hot or too cold will leave you miserable. Clothing that is uncomfortable will have you shifting around the whole flight (something your seatmate could do without, too).
Aim for clothing that you’d want to wear while lounging on your sofa all day…but slightly more presentable to meet social norms outside of your home.
I usually wear some type of athleisure clothing.
For pants, I usually wear long pants (I don’t like my legs touching the seat) that are loose around the waist.
I’ll wear a light, long-sleeved shirt and bring along a scarf for added warmth if the plane is chilly.
For my shoes, I wear shoes that can easily be slipped on and off. I can slip the shoes off when I’m lounging in my seat and slip them back on when I head to the bathroom. (You don’t want to go shoeless to the bathroom!)
3. Keep an open space underneath the seat in front of you
On domestic flights in the U.S., you often have to pay to check a bag. To skip the added cost of checking a bag, some of us have gotten in the habit of jamming as much as possible into the overhead bin and underneath the seat in front of us.
This might be fine on a shorter flight, but on longer flights, you want to be able to stretch your legs out underneath the seat in front of you.
I like to carry on a relatively thin bag that I can lie flat underneath the seat in front of me. Then I can rest my feet on it in an elevated position (which I find is key to getting good sleep on flights).
4. Practice your ankle pumps
After hip surgery in 2016, I had an elevated risk for blood clots. At the time of the surgery, the nursing staff recommended that I do “ankle pumps” to keep my blood flowing and to avoid blood clots.
Because sitting in a cramped, immobile position for an extended period of time can increase the risk of blood clots, I continue to practice my ankle pumps whenever I fly.
You can join me in my ankle pump routine, too:
- Extend your leg so that it’s as straight as possible
- Lift your leg 1-2 inches off the ground
- Point your toe
- Flex your foot
- Repeat several times
I repeat this process every hour or so. Because I leave an open space underneath the seat in front of me, it’s easy to stretch out my legs fully for my ankle pumps.
5. Wear compression socks
Another piece of advice I got while recovering from hip surgery was to wear compression socks.
Like ankle pumps, compression socks can help increase circulation and reduce the risk of blood clots.
They also have the added benefit of providing a little extra warmth on a cold plane. I like to slip my shoes off once I get seated and compression socks keep my feet warm and comfortable the whole flight.
Because compression socks can feel restrictive when I’m walking around the airport, I usually pack the socks in my carry-on and slip them on after I’ve sat down in my seat.
6. Make liberal use of disinfecting wipes
I’ll spare you the details and just say that your seat and the surrounding area serve as the home for many germs from previous passengers.
Give your immune system a helping hand and make liberal use of disinfecting wipes to disinfect as much as you can.
Wipe down everything that isn’t fabric: tray table, armrests, leather headrests, vents, TV screen, etc.
And maybe bring an extra disinfecting wipe or two for your seatmates who will want to join the disinfecting fun.
7. Stand up & walk around
Like ankle pumps and compression socks, standing up and walking around can help with your circulation.
I like to stand up and walk around every hour or so on long flights.
I used to have really bad swelling in my legs and ankles after long flights. Now that I do my ankle pumps, wear compression socks, and walk around every hour or so, I don’t notice any swelling after even super long flights.
8. Drink lots of water
Water is your friend. Drink lots of it. And by drinking lots of it, you’ll fulfill the requirement of standing up and walking around (to the bathroom!) every hour or so.
When I’m dehydrated, I see a noticeable increase in my lethargy and a noticeable decrease in my thinking prowess.
And I just generally feel icky. I’ll often get a headache and sore throat when I’m not properly hydrated.
So drink up! I bring a refillable water bottle with me to the airport. A lot of airports have water bottle refill stations and flight attendants are usually happy to top you off with water from their drink carts.
In addition to hydrating while on your flight, I recommending hydrating before and after your flight. For me, hydration is key for keeping away the sniffles.
9. Skip salty or sugary foods and mind the alcohol
If there are certain foods that make you feel “blah” after eating them, avoid them before and during flying.
For me, these are really salty and sugary foods.
As much as I love, love, LOVE my nachos and Skittles, I avoid them at the airport, because I know I just won’t feel great after eating them.
Since your body is already under stress from flying, you don’t want to add more stress by eating foods that you know aren’t going to make you feel great.
While I love a glass of wine after a long day, I usually avoid the wine while flying. My stomach and head are already a little uneasy dealing with my motion sickness, and alcohol just doesn’t sit well with that.
If you’re not sure how alcohol affects you while flying, take it easy at first to see how you feel before considering a second glass. If you’re worried at all, play it safe and stick to water.
10. Discuss any medications you plan to take on the flight in advance with your doctor
To combat my motion sickness, I take Dramamine before each flight. I also take a small amount of Aspirin as a blood thinner to further reduce my risk of blood clots.
But you should stick to the usual recommendation of discussing all medication with your doctor before taking it.
Flying reeks havoc on your body and medicines you take without any problem on solid ground may have a different impact on you while flying.
Put in a quick call to your doctor’s office to get squared away with any medications before flying.
These are the items I use to help increase my odds of staying healthy during and after long flights:
- Loose clothes – While flying, I wear pants that are loose at the waist. I also wear a light, long-sleeved shirt and bring along a scarf for warmth.
- Compression socks – These socks give me more peace of mind that I’m getting an extra circulation boost.
- Shoes that slip off and on – I wear shoes that I can easily slip off and on, so that I can have them off while at my seat, but back on for trips to the restroom.
- Inflatable neck pillow – I love this neck pillow because it takes up almost no room in my carry-on and keeps my neck from getting the dreaded head-bob cramps.
- Water bottle – Perfect for in-flight hydration.
- Travel wipes – Good-bye, germs!
- Thin carry-on – I stow this underneath the seat in front of me and prop my feet on top of it for added comfort while flying.
- Noise-cancellation headphones – Game. Changer. My brother (whose Master’s thesis was about acoustics) recommended these headphones to me. If you haven’t tried noise cancellation headphones yet, you need to try them now. They’ll block the excess noise so you can sleep better (essential for travel health!) and save your eardrums when watching a movie or listening to a podcast.
I hope these tips help make your next trip much more enjoyable and healthy!
Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.