Flight Packing Guide

Packing Right For A Flight

Pack Right For Your Flight.

Travelling by air can be very stressful. Today’s version of air travel differs greatly from that of only a few years ago. Today, people are crammed into an ever-shrinking seat with smaller amounts of legroom and more restrictions then entering Buckingham Palace. Today there are restrictions on when to arrive, what to carry, and how much ‘stuff’ we can take; as opposed to when travellers would show up, talk to an agent, carry on their paper ticket and check whatever luggage they thought they’d need.

I look forward to long-haul flights. I know it may sound strange, but it’s true. Once I can get myself to the airport, I let out a long sigh and know that the journey has begun. Once in flight, I’m stuck, but in a good way. There’s no office to go to, no chores to do, no errands to run, no hikes to go on, and (most of the time) no way to respond to those last minute emails. You’re officially tuned out. What you can do is enjoy this time to read what you like, watch what you like, play games, rest, snack, meditate, eat, chat and unwind. Let the pilot fly the plane while you get to go along for the ride.

What you pack for these flights will go a long way towards improving the experience and creating joy in the journey, whether it’s the food you bring or the comfort items that soothe you hours into a long haul flight, give some thought to the airtime on either end of your adventure, and pack specifically for it.

Packing for a Long Haul Flight
What’s a long haul flight? In my opinion, anything over 5 hours. That 15-hour marathon to Thailand with a crazy layover in Dubai certainly counts. When planning for a long haul flight, comfort is key.

The Basics
Channel your inner Guru: Make that packing list and be sure to check it twice. Essentials and necessities make the cut, the rest is optional. What do you throw on when you get home after a long day to be your most comfortable? Make that feeling your goal of in flight.

Comfortable, loose clothing
Extra layer for warmth on those often freezing flights or roll them into a pillow for sleeping comfort
Slip-on shoes that are easily removable for those security checkpoints and to allow room for in-flight swelling
Clean feet and clean socks: Smartwool for warmth or dryness or check out compression socks as a possibility
Eye mask and ear plugs for those moments of much-needed silence and darkness

Paperwork
No matter where you’re going or for how long your journey, you need proof of who you are. Grab those forms of identification and make copies of everything from your passport and credit cards to your driver’s license and health cards. These copies should be in your hand luggage you have with you on the aircraft. Don’t make the mistake of checking them in your hold luggage. Some travellers even store an extra copy on their smartphones. Don’t forget to call your banks ahead of time to add those travel notifications and double check that you’ll have no fees abroad.

Passport
Driving License
Boarding pass
Copy of itinerary
Copies of important documents
Extra passport photos
Petty cash
Debit card/credit card(s)

Entertainment
Netflix and chillin are relative in flight. Whatever lessens your anxiety, puts your mind into the mellow zone and helps you while away the hours, that’s what you should bring for your journey. Remember that not all planes still have seat-back entertainment. Some now have streaming options to your device. Which means you have to have (or rent) a device. Double check through the airline website whether or not you need to download an app or join an airlines reward program to have full access.

You might want to pack:

Books, Kindle, e-book, magazines
Music (on your device or using that provided by the carrier)
Movies on your iPad
Laptop anything (plus chargers and/or power strip)
Keep in mind that not all airlines have wifi capabilities, so download whatever you need before you board
Colouring books, crayons and coloured pencils
Brain games of all kinds (i.e. Sudoku, word searches, crossword puzzles)
Journal & pen (and if you’re not the journaling type, bring the pen anyway – you’ll surely need it to fill in those customs forms)

Toiletries
Most airlines have done away with their overnight packages that used to be delivered to your seat during long-haul flights. If you want to have a way to remove the gunk from your teeth, the sleep from your eyes, the smell from your underarms and make yourself look presentable for whatever happens when you arrive at your destination – pack a small toiletry kit for the plane.

Remember that you’ll have to abide by the Security rules for liquids and pack everything in a Ziploc bag

Consider including:

Travel size toothbrush and toothpaste
Face wipes or face wash to replenish those dried out pores
Non-aerosol deodorant will help keep that long-haul flight plane stink at bay
Lip balm (remember all that re-circulated air you’ve been breathing for hours?)
Unscented Moisturizer (skin and face)
Unscented antibacterial lotion
Tips for Toiletry Packing
Now standard worldwide and as long as your liquids fit in that Ziploc bag – it’s a go. Medicines and baby formula can remain separate.

Abide by the Security rules
Use smaller travel size containers of your favourite products (this saves you money so you don’t have to buy whole new bottles – squirt some of the product you already have into these handy, little containers)
Use contact cases to store makeup (moisturizer, eye cream, cover up)
Consider squeezable bottles for those liquids like shampoo, lotion, and sunscreen
Try travel-friendly products (check out what comes in travel sizes to try those at home before purchasing)
Consider dry versions of usually wet things, like shampoo and conditioner bars, to free up space in your bag
Think wet wipes or baby wipes for makeup removers

Snacks on Flights
Tummy rumbling isn’t fun in a meeting and certainly not on a long haul flight. Drink water, limit alcohol, and since takeout doesn’t deliver at 35,000 feet, you might want to bring some of your favourite snacks on board.

Choose foods that are dry, non-perishable, non-liquid, non-stinky, not too crumbly, and if you can (for the sake of those highly allergic travellers sharing that circulated air with you) try to limit those nuts or Nutella. Think small size, finger foods that can withstand the flight. While you can buy food at the airport, packing your own food from home is healthier and less expensive.

Do your best to stay hydrated before, during and after the flight. Consider bringing an empty water bottle that you can easily ask to have filled for you or do so yourself at water fountains or in the airport bathroom.

Consider these possibilities for your in-flight snack bag:

Pack items that are safe for room temperature (or eaten immediately)
Hydrating foods are always a bonus (i.e. cucumber)
Muffins (fruit, corn, or chocolate)
Quinoa salad
Dried fruit
Smashed avocado/hummus with crackers or pita (be sure the avocado/hummus is in an under 3 ounces sealed container)
Courgette chips
Fruit, veggie, cheese box
Popcorn
Veggie Slices
Cereal
String cheese (to be eaten right away)
Sandwich (do your best to stay away from nuts)
Crackers, pretzels or carrots
Granola bars
Crisps/cookies

Tips for Packing Snacks
Packing for in-flight snacking is much like packing your picnic feast without that refrigerated cooler. Use what you have, repurpose what you can, and be sure you have a way to eat the deliciousness inside the container.

Think small space: Use collapsible Tupperware that can store flat when empty
Think eco-friendly: Use reusable bags that can be repurposed
Think user-friendly: Use camping or travel cutlery instead of relying on single-use items

Personal Item Packing
There’s a difference between travel backpacks and personal items. The carry on backpack is your main piece of luggage if you’re choosing not to check a bag.

A personal item is a second, smaller item that fits under the seat in front of you.
Which bag you choose depends on what you’re carrying and how you’re travelling. If you’re travelling with a laptop. Has it got a designated computer sleeve, beef up the padded back panel and shoulder straps to make the heavier carry more comfortable, ensure it’s waterproofed, so there’s no weather worry.

If you’re just carrying your in-flight essentials and planning for some urban sightseeing on your journey, then a small packable daypack is perfect. As an added bonus have one which folds into its own pocket and tucks away to almost nothing in your travel backpack.

A duffle bag is perfect if you’re looking for a stowaway bag for bringing extra souvenirs home or are a minimalist traveller who needs very little. I find the duffle and a daypack combo plenty for most trips of a week or less. Organise the duffle with a set of packing cubes and feel the freedom!

Personal Item Packing List
This is as close to a ‘go bag list’ as possible. If you’re flying this stuff should be in your personal item and underneath the seat in front of you where you have easy access to it for the entire flight.

Include:

Wallet
Smartphone
Book for reading
Extra set of clothes and underwear
Important medical needs (prescriptions, glasses, etc)
Sunglasses
Empty water bottle to fill after passing through security
Headphones
Gum
Mini first aid kit
Laptop, or tablet, for watching movies or working on the flight
Charger for laptop, tablet, & phone
Snacks

How to Pack a Backpack as a Personal Item
Think about weight distribution, what you’ll need to access most often, and what needs to remain well padded, or what needs to remain uncrushed.

Layer items by weight with heaviest at the bottom
Stand long or tall items on end so they take up the least amount of space
A wallet can go in the outside zippered pockets for easy access (put them as far down as possible to limit access of pickpockets)
Laptops & tablets lay flat against the back (consider using clear, plastic Ziploc bags to keep them together)
Put snacks in a ziplock bag and keep in the outer pockets for quick access
Extra set of clothes in a packing cube for cleanliness and organisation and slide it down the side of the backpack
Lay your book and any other items you’d need in flight on the top of the space
Use a litre size Ziploc bag for your liquids and place on top for quick access at security

How to Pack a Messenger Bag for a Personal Item
Since weight is not ergonomically distributed when carrying a messenger bag, proper and even distribution within the bag is important. Consider swapping sides with the bag instead of carrying it on the same shoulder all the time.

Balance is key: place items of equal weight on each end
Keep laptop or book in the middle and run them along the back of the bag

How to Pack a Handbag or Tote for a Personal Item
Rather than a bucket type bag or tote, go for something with a decent internal organisation to help keep your items easy to access in lineups at the airport, or mid-flight.

Use pockets to your advantage
Keep valuables deep inside the zippered centre
Balance the weight as evenly as possible

How to Pack a Briefcase for a Personal Item
Business travellers can travel light by maximizing the space inside a briefcase instead of carrying another bag as a personal item. Here are some tips for the savvy traveller:

Use laptop sleeve for computer
Assign functions for each pocket (one for pens, one for chargers)
Extra clothes and liquids in larger compartment (packing cubes help to lessen wrinkles)

How to Pack a Nappy Bag for a Personal Item
If you’re travelling with small children, the odds are good that your personal item is going to be a nappy bag. Use packing cubes to keep similar items together for quick and easy access (nappies in one, wipes in another, clothes in a third and another for snacks). Don’t bring the only one of baby’s favourite items on the road (buy two or three and leave one at home). Throw in a wet/dry bag to contain those inevitable messy kid emergencies on the road.

What should go in a personal item to ensure a smooth flight with a baby?

Washable, or disposable, changing pad
Blanket
Nappies for 2-3 days: Plan for using more on the flight rather than fewer
Baby wipes
Burp cloths for young infants
2/3 Changes of clothes
Snacks (if the baby is old enough)
Breastfeeding scarf or drape (if nursing)
Toys (if the baby is old enough)
Pacifier (if it’s what you choose – could help with teething and change of air pressure)
Calpol (helps baby sleep on the flight — always check with your doctor before giving your child any medications)
Children’s paracetamol (always check with your doctor before giving your child any medications)

Invest in the Right Gear
Ever spent a redeye flight with your jacket balled up as a pillow and arrived with a serious cramp in your neck? Lesson learned: Pack a travel pillow. The key to comfort on a long flight can be the right gear. If you fly often, or if you’re flying a long way, it can be very worth it to make the investment in some of the essentials.

What should you consider?

Travel pillow
Eye mask
Travel blanket or scarf
Compression socks
Noise cancelling headphones (these changed my life)
Earplugs (at least)
Water bottle
Portable recharger for your devices
Trust me, you won’t be sorry.

Travel isn’t always easy, but flying doesn’t have to be hard. Don’t let the anxiety of a flight, or what to pack, overshadow the joy of the travel adventure itself. Pack for your flight with the same care that you pack for your destination.

Comfort is key
Invest in the right gear
Always carry your primary documents and copies with you
Pack a toiletry kit for the plane
Check rules and restrictions with your air carrier and Security equivalent
Plan for food & entertainment
Stay hydrated
Maximize your personal item with careful planning and organization
Always pack that extra pair of underwear

Have a great journey!

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About John Holt

John Holt has worked in the travel industry for over 14 years and comes highly recommended by Trip Advisor for his practical and candid talks on travel destinations. Spending 18 months as a "Local Interest Specialist" for a leading tour operator John has become known as having more practical information than Google.

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