How to Survive Overnight Flights

Marybeth Bond (a.k.a. GutsyTraveler) is a National Geographic author and blogger who has traveled to over 90 countries. Her award-winning twelve books have been translated into three languages and she has been featured in USA Today and the New York Times – not to mention a guest of “The Oprah Winfrey Show”. 

If you love to travel internationally, and if you’re like me and can’t afford to fly business class, here are my travel-tested tips – including those of friendly flight attendants — to help you arrive feeling and looking good.

  • Wear loose-fitting clothing, shoes and socks. Your best bet is comfortable slacks or long skirts so it is easy to cross your legs. Leave your panty or support hose in the suitcase: they can contribute to the formation of blood clots in your legs. Also avoid wearing tight socks or knee-high stockings. If they leave a mark on your leg, then they’re too tight to wear for long periods of immobility.
  • To minimize swelling in your ankles and feet and to increase circulation, keep your feet elevated. Stash your carry on luggage under the seat in front of you and rest your feet on top of it, off the floor.
  • Avoid drinks or snacks high in sodium such as Bloody or Virgin Mary’s, pretzels or peanuts. Read the labels! If you consume too much salt during a long trip, your feet may swell so much you won’t be able to put your shoes back on. I’ve seen people walk off the plane in socks, carrying their shoes!
  • When you enter the plane pick up a pillow and blanket. Place the small airplane pillow in the curve of your lower back to alleviate tension in your lower back.
  • Invest in quality sleep gear; neck pillows and eye shields. Every time I use the flat airline pillows to support my head while sleeping, I develop a sore neck. I’ve discovered that an inflatable pillow keeps the head up and prevents pulled muscles. If you don’t already own an inflatable neck travel pillow, buy one. Most international airports have a good luggage and accessory store. They are inexpensive and readily available.
  • Pack soft earplugs to mute airplane noises, the wailing of a baby or the rock music seeping from your punk neighbor’s C.D. The pellet-shaped foam earplugs don’t work as well as the soft silicone (or wax) variety that conform to the contours of your ear.
  • Drink lots of water and avoid alcohol and caffeine. Eight ounces of water an hour is the recommended amount. That may sound like a lot, but if you drink 6-8 ounces an hour, you’ll be forced to get up and use the bathroom, thus stretching and moving around. Carry your own water bottle aboard and ask the flight attendant to fill when they serve meals or snacks. If you store it in the seat pocket in front of you, you’ll drink more often and have it available when the lights are out and the flight attendants are nowhere to be found.
  • The cabin temperature during the flight can range from stifling hot to an arctic chill so dress in layers.
  • Carry cloth slippers or socks and wear them to keep your toes warm and let your feet breath.

Avoid Economy Class Syndrome

What’s that?  I thought it referred to dark circles under the eyes, cramped legs and sore necks that are part of the joy of long haul flights. Recently I learned that “economy class syndrome” is a more serious condition, described as “deep-vein thrombosis“, or the formation of a blood clot, usually in the legs, a rare but fatal condition that occurs as a result of sitting for long periods of time, immobile, on international flights.” Try these airplane stretches to avoid potential problems.

If you’re self conscious about doing these stretches in your seat and worry that passengers around you may stare or think you’re weird, then do them in the bathroom.

Airplane Stretches

  •  Shoulder Shrug: Lift the top of your shoulders toward your ears until you feel mild tension in your shoulders and your neck. Hold your shoulders raised to your ears for five seconds then relax and resume your normal posture. Do this 2-3 times every two hours.
  •  Head roll: Begin with your head in a comfortable, aligned position. Then slowly tilt your head to the left side to stretch the muscles on the side of your neck. Hold this stretch for 10-20 seconds. You should feel a good, even stretch. Don’t over do it! Then tilt your head to the right side and stretch. Repeat this exercise 2-3 times on each side.
  • Ankle twist: Point your toes and hold the stretch for five seconds, then stretch your feet up and back toward your knees and hold this position for five seconds. Next rotate your foot to the left, hold five seconds, and to the right and hold for five seconds. Repeat several times.

Marybeth continues to live the Gutsy Life. Two summers ago she biked 3,115 miles across the USA with her 22-year-old daughter. To learn more about Marybeth, visit:

Featured Image: Interior of Passenger Airplane (

Comments are closed.