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I really don’t fly that often, but when I do it’s usually a looooong trip. Going back and forth between Seattle and Thailand takes me 25-30 hours with about 18 hours of that being spent in the air. In the past year I’ve made roundtrip flights between Bangkok and Rome, Seattle and Paris, and Chiang Mai and Seattle. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t pay attention to the amount of time it’s going to take to get from Point A to Point B, because there’s nothing I can do about it and, no matter what, it’s going to be a while.
I have, however, become more proactive in preparing for long flights. I hate the airplane cabins’ super dry air and sitting for what feels like days so have collected a number of little tips, tricks and habits over the past several years to help keep active and stay healthy during international flights.
Okay, so I don’t do so well at this as I seem to always be scrambling to tie up loose ends at the last minute before a big trip (before I came back to Thailand I think I got a grand total of two hours of sleep before waking up at 3:45 am to head to the airport…not smart), but it’s really important to be well rested before traveling. Don’t trick yourself into thinking the more tired you are, the easier you’ll fall asleep on the plane – it never actually works that way! Instead you’ll arrive at your destination even more sleep deprived and groggy. Traveling can wreak havoc on your immune system, but being well rested can help your body combat any germs it comes across on long travel days.
Drink lots of water
Lots of it. Not soda, not tea, not coffee, definitely not alcohol, but water. Bring an empty, reusable water bottle with you then find a water fountain to fill up when you’re through security and ask the flight attendants for refills during your flight. You’ll save money by not using the airport’s expensive bottled water, reduce plastic waste, and ensure that you always have water on hand instead of getting stuck waiting for the flight attendants to come through the cabin with the next round of drinks. Remember to drink plenty of water before and after your flight too – you don’t want to start out your journey dehydrated.
Move around – before, during and after your flight
I always try to work out or go for a good walk the day before a flight knowing that I will soon be sitting for hours on end. During flights, I’ve been making more of an effort to stand up during the flight – I choose an aisle seat whenever possible for easier in and out access and the opportunity to stretch my legs into the aisle – and will spend my layovers walking through the airport instead of just waiting at the gate. Whenever I reach my destination I make sure to do some basic stretches, like these, and yoga poses, including lying on my back and bring my knees into my chest, or resting with my back flat on the ground and my legs up against a wall, to help relax and reactivate my muscles.
Mitigate the causes of swelling and deep vein thrombosis
Low cabin pressure, dehydration and simply the fact that you’re siting in cramped quarters for hours all can lead to possible swelling, blood clots and deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot that develops in a deep vein usually in your legs). While some people are more prone to these health concerns than others – you should check with your doctor about your risk level and what steps you should take to prevent clots – it’s not good for anyone to be sitting so long and moving so little.
Fortunately, there are several small things you can do that help make a big impact for your blood circulation. Of course, standing up and walking around the cabin is important, but in reality, between food carts blocking the aisle, being stuck in a window seat or having the fasten seat belt sign up, it’s often difficult or not possible to walk as much as you should. In your seat you can do series of simple toe and heel raises, roll your ankles or tap your feet to contract your calf muscles and get the blood moving.
Additionally, wearing compression stockings, therapeutic socks that are tightest at the ankle then gradually become looser, can help limit swelling. I’ve noticed my feet and legs swelling up after flights the past couple of years, especially when I touch down in a hot and humid place, so finally wore (cute!) compression stockings on my most recent long flight from Seattle to Bangkok and saw a huge difference – my ankles weren’t swollen and my legs didn’t feel as lethargic as when I flew before.
RejuvaHealth has created several lines of attractive compression stockings (some could even be called sexy…) and leggings for both women and men, plus a range of other compression items, that help your blood circulation while not making you feel like you’re wearing hospital garments.
Do you find yourself just eating different versions of carbs during long flights? I do. I don’t trust the meat found in airplane food so pick around it which means I usually just get bites of bread, overcooked pasta or reconstituted mashed potatoes. And it doesn’t feel good. Eating lighter meals with real fruits and vegetables isn’t just all around healthier, but it’s better for your immune and digestive system as well. Think ahead and bag up some fresh fruit and veggies, along with some dried fruit and nuts, before heading to the airport to combat the carb-heavy airplane meals.
I also try to keep this in mind the day before I’m flying and make sure I get in a lot of fresh produce and vitamins before I get on the plane. (But also, the truth is that if I run out of snacks while stuck in an airport I normally stick with familiar fast food options as I refuse to pay $12 for a bruised banana and soggy sandwich…)
Wash your hands
Obviously you should be doing this anyway, but there’s something about airports (and doctor offices) that makes me want to scrub up more regularly. Keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer or anti-bacterial wipes on hand to easily clean your hands before eating and after being in the tiny airplane bathroom.
…blanket that is. And neck pillow. Being able to surround yourself with your own comfort items instead of a scratchy airplane pillow and blanket just feels better all around…and who knows where those pillows or seat covers have been. I always travel with an extra large scarf that can double as a blanket (or wrap, or towel) and usually use the airplane pillows as support for my back rather than my head.
What do you do to make yourself more comfortable and stay healthy during a long flight? Are you an obsessive hand washer or do you disconnect from the world with your ear plugs and eye mask? Do you choose the window or aisle seat?
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Note: I received a free pair of knee high compression stockings from RejuvaHealth but all opinions are my own and I’ll definitely be wearing them on every flight and long car ride from now on.