Travel Tips for Long Haul Flights

Here in Australia it takes us over 14 hours to fly to America and over 20 hours to Europe. Additionally, no matter how far you are traveling, geeks like me need to carry a laptop and other “e-paraphernalia”. There are a few little wrinkles to help make the trip a bit easier. There are of course many other sites on the Internet with further suggestions:

Cartoon of an airplane

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Many years ago I wrote a couple of blog posts about traveling long distance, particularly for work. Some of the content has dated, and some hasn’t. I’ve smashed it all together in a new post.

Packing for your trip

  • NOTE: When traveling, even with carry on luggage only, assume you will loose access to your suitcase for 24 hours and need to work/live as best you can from your backpack.

  • I am not including any packing lists (beyond a few technology suggestions) as I figure that the contents of your baggage will be very specific to you. If you are looking for help with a packing list then Google is you friend. Here I am concerned with the mechanics of traveling and keeping your technology working.

Cartoon of a backpack

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  • Invest in a good quality laptop backpack. It will save your spine from being pulled to the side¬†with a shoulder bag, and leave the hands free for other things. Business travelers can now get smart, professional looking, backpacks. It should have a padded laptop compartment, or use a laptop sleeve. In addition make sure that the bag has enough additional space for your other travel essentials. e.g.

    • If you use it, a paper notebook (I use a Moleskine1 notebook because it has handy pocket to keep expense receipts if needed)
    • Pen
    • Basic toiletries. If possible these should be the only toiletries you need for the trip, because you need to travel light
    • A tablet (I prefer ChromeOS tablets) so that you can read and consume media more conveniently than with a laptop
    • Anything else that supports your travel and work flow. For example: cables and other electronic needs (e.g. power bank batteries, needed on some long distance trains).
    • Slip on sandals (see below)
    • Possibly a sweater, depending on your destination and the coat/jacket you are wearing
    • Paper reading material
    • Your medications if needed.
Cartoon of a backpack

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  • Invest in some decent carry on luggage so you don’t need to wait at the luggage carousel. It can be a long wait and, if you have a domestic connection after clearing customs, that’s twice you need to wait for your luggage. I carry a laptop backpack and a small suitcase – I can live for weeks from that. Note that it is becoming harder to take carry on items when flying budget airlines, so your millage may vary.

  • Using carry on luggage means packing light. I work in IT and never need a suit or tie these days anyway. A couple of pairs of slacks or smart black jeans will often do for casual and smart business attire. I also take semi casual coloured button up shirts that can do similar double duty. But again Google will provide better inspiration.

  • Pack a pen, maybe two. I used to carry a spare for other people, but I’m not sure if that would be welcome in the new world.

  • Buy a security cable for laptop. I prefer a combination lock to avoid having a key to lose. Get one with as long a cable as possible as anchor points sometimes need a stretch. It’s much easier to leave your laptop secured attached to the furniture while you quickly go to the toilet in an airport lounge. (There are certain places I would still pack everything up and take it with me, just trust your gut).

  • If you travel abroad then a universal mains socket adaptor is required. However make sure it’s as robust as possible because sometimes they can be a little fragile.

  • Modern laptop trackpads have improved a lot. But if you prefer a mouse then consider if you could pack a smaller model – it could save you getting RSI using the built in trackpad or trackpoint all the time. But a really small laptop mouse may be too small for prolonged use, or larger hands, so check before buying.

    • If you do pack a mouse, then add small mouse matt. Hotel room desks etc. are often covered with glass (or worse dirt) and will not work with laser mouse so get a small mouse mat. Pack it so it stays flat (e.g. in your laptop case in such a way it can’t get bent).
  • Don’t take power adaptors for all your USB devices. Find a way a charge them from your laptop overnight, or take a USB “power brick” that can charge several devices at once.

    • If you are lucky your devices mostly take USB-C cables, but don’t forget the “funny” ones (e.g my FitBit device needs its own special cable).
  • Speaking of power adaptors, avoid wrapping the power leads tightly around your power bricks – it stresses the cables, in particular where the power cords join the power adaptor, and causes failures (I had a colleague who did it all the time)

  • Have small bags (for example a packing cube) to place your cables and mouse in. It makes finding things a lot easier. Small plastic food bags will do when you can’t get nylon or cloth, but don’t last long.

  • Noise cancelling headphones can be very useful on the plane, as well as listening to media and making VoIP calls throughout the trip. I don’t recommend USB headphones as they may be bulky and take up a sometimes precious USB connection. But you need to experiment to see if a bluetooth headset works for you. For many years I only used cheap headsets, but they were not noise cancelling, and broke after 12 months or so. More recently I purchased a pair of Sony WH1000XM41 noise canceling wireless headphones which have worked well. I am very careful to look after them and keep them in the case when not in use. So far they have survived a trip to the Northern Territory, and daily use in the office, listening to podcasts during daily walks, and so on.

  • Have a specific order and place for all your items in your luggage. Do it enough and you won’t have to think about it and you’ll know where everything is.

Before you leave

  • Download the details of your passport, flight number (or use your boarding pass), return dates and hotel address into your phone so that you can fill in your immigration and customs documentation. Note that cloud storage services may need you to mark specific documents as available “offline” on your device.

  • Don’t eat too much before flying. It can make for an more uncomfortable flight and takes longer to recover from jet lag.

  • Check in online before you leave for the airport.

On the plane

  • Stay hydrated and don’t drink too much free booze! Your body will thank you later.

  • Ask the cabin crew if you can get your any customs or immigration forms as quickly as possible during the flight. It’s easier to fill when you are fresh and less tired. NB This usually doesn’t work – they have a process and you can’t upset it!

  • Take one (or two) plastic carrier bag with you and put your shoes (or boots) in it, then place in overhead luggage bin. They are out of the way for the rest of the flight, easy to find at the end and you don’t upset other passengers rubbing your dirty footwear on their luggage.

  • Invest in some slip on sandals (without a toe post) that you can wear with socks. You can wear them over your socks when you’ve removed your footwear and you won’t have to put on your shoes when you go to the toilet. TopTip: try to avoid a pair with thick comfortable soles, it takes up a lot more room in the backpack.

  • Collect as many of the travel amenity kits as possible whenever you travel and carry one or two in your hand luggage. This is useful for two reasons:

    • You can change out of your shoes and into flight socks before settling down and before the kits are issued

    • Far fewer flights now offer these kits anyway, so having your own can be useful.

  • Try and sleep if possible. There are some tips here.

  • I always find it hard to work in economy, so make sure you don’t have expectations of getting lots done, unless you have are traveling in the posh seats and have more space.

  • Use a lip salve, moisturising eye drops, and skin moisturiser if needed. In the past my lips have dried and cracked badly, although it does it does not seem to be such a problem now. Not sure if my body has changed or it’s better air conditioning on the modern planes.

  • Consider wearing trousers with large patch pockets, that have zip or button down tops, so that bulky items (e.g. wallets and passports) are located at your knees. It can be very uncomfortable sitting on them for 14 hours in your back pocket.

Other Tips

Get Through the Airport in Record Time with This Checklist, tips on getting through airport security faster.

  1. Full disclosure. That’s an affiliate link. ↩︎ ↩︎

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