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How to Prepare for a Flight

Airplane rides are tricky pieces of meat. When traveling somewhere such as Thailand, the items necessary to bring onboard often completely contrast what will be used for the rest of the trip. It can seem like a waste of space to pack something warm for the ride when it will just sit in the bottom of your backpack as a heavyweight for weeks.

It can seem like this, but trust me, it definitely is not. The transportation period overseas can last a full day, and sitting in a cramped seat for such a length of time already isn’t the ideal situation. It’s important to pack well for this leg of the trip.

These are my go-to tips when packing a carry on bag:

1. Double up on socks. Wear two pairs on the plane. This will keep your feet warm, as everyone knows that air conditioning is on full blast. This is better to do than bringing fuzzy socks because you can put them to use again in the hot weather no problem.

2. Bring a light jacket. But only bring one with you on the trip. If you want to swap this out for a sweatshirt, that’s fine; just know this will be your one warm piece of clothing for the next month, so plan it wisely. It will be used later on train rides and inside air conditioned rooms, so one jacket is not a waste of space, no matter how warm the destination.

3. Pack snacks. I usually bring unsalted trail mix, fruit snacks, goldfish, two granola bars, and dried fruit. Save money by avoiding overpriced airport food and eat what you really enjoy. Everything needs to be in a sealed bag, but other than that just grab something portable and filing.

4. Earbuds! Grab these even if you don’t particularly enjoy music (which is a completely foreign concept to me, although I acknowledge your existence). Airline headphones are never as comfortable as your own, and you’ll want to use them without your ears hurting when watching a provided movie or TV show on the long ride. These are small and work much better.

5. Have a blow up neck rest pillow. You can buy ones with fabric lining at Walgreen’s. I used to view neck rest pillows as too boujee for backpackers, but my search for minimalism went a little too far. Get the foldable version, and you can pack them away easily and then pull them out during long train or bus rides along the way. I’ve spent a lot of nights sleeping in dining cars or regular seats overnight during my travels (these are the cheapest tickets to purchase when moving from city to city, while additionally deducting one night’s hostel cost), and this would have been a lifesaver in just those situations. I now have one for this trip.

6. Make sure your carry on bag secures well. Just as this bag will be a carry on for the plane, it should also be used to store your more valuable or easily-accessible items (phone, wallet with only cash inside, food, glasses, etc) when traveling via bus or train later on the trip. There is no need to bring two large bags with extremely similar purposes. This should also zip closed, as most people get their stuff stolen during transportation and you will need definitely something secure. In my experience, the best option is a small backpack, although I have seen large purses work. During the overnight trips mentioned above, you should be sleeping with your arms wrapped around your bag or with your head resting on it and arms slipped through the straps to prevent your important items from being stolen. Backpacks provide the most comfort for such uncomfortable nights. When walking to the plane or train with your bigger pack as well, put the smaller one on your front. It might feel silly, but we’re not in this for the looks.

7. Grab travel-sized lotion and chapstick. Planes just suck all water out of you. Also available at your local Walgreen’s, pick up these necessities for the long travels in the drying plane.

8. Have a big water bottle. I prefer a 32 oz Nalgene. I personally used to get very sick on long flights, and I realized in the last couple of years that it was because I was dehydrated. The cups flight attendants pass out are basically made for a kid’s doll set, and access to more water is important for your health. Make sure it’s empty when going through security, but after you can fill it up at a water fountain inside the gates without spending a dime. On the plane, ask the flight attendant to fill your Nalgene up with their water instead of the smaller cups. It might feel awkward at first, but it is so worth it when you’re practically swimming and the person next to you has to wait until the flight attendant comes around for a refresher.

9. That said, drink lots and lots of water the day before departure. You can drink all you want at the airport, but it won’t be as effective if you don’t start early. Drink way more than you think you need while packing or doing any other last-minute tasks at home to stay hydrated the following day.

10. Also avoid sleeping the night before. This is not the most common advice, but it is something I will stand by. This is the best way to get accustomed to the time difference. If you don’t sleep, or only get a few hours, you’ll be able to A. sleep easier on the plane, thus making time go by faster and B. go to sleep at odd hours, say 11 a.m. instead of the usual p.m. By avoiding sleep the night before, you’ll end up spending less time napping during the trip and being awake at a time when nothing is happening. Every hour counts during backpacking trips, as you often only have a few days to see a city. Just make sure you drink lots of coffee when heading to the airport -- you still need some cognitive functioning to go through airport security before passing out in your plane seat.

11. Fold up a change of clothes. Luggage is often lost traveling overseas, especially when there are several connecting flights. It’s best to prepare for the worst and grab extra shorts, a shirt, underwear, and socks. You only need one pair this time -- just re-wear the outter-most pair of socks from before if necessary. Sounds gross, but if you’re cold and limited on space, this will be welcome advice.

12. Wear your pajamas. Not literally your pajamas (I said we weren’t going for looks, but if you wear flannel pants with printed sheep on the plane, it definitely cannot be per my guidance). Wear comfortable clothes that will double as your pajamas later during the trip. I have leggings and a loose t-shirt, which is also my non-traditional sleeping gear. I also have a comfortable pair of shorts for hotter nights, but the leggings are important for air conditioned sleeping conditions, which includes the plane ride. It saves space once again when packing.

13. Carry a portable charger with you. If someone can please explain to me why it is so hard to find a proper outlet at airports, I would much appreciate it! There are often outlets on planes nowadays, but they don’t always work. Bring a charger just in case.

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