Some international flight tips

Having flown a lot recently I’ve discovered that whilst it isn’t super-fun, it is no longer terribly uncomfortable. Maybe the crutches I use are useful to someone else.

Water – it turns out that if you buy water in Duty Free they will bag it and carry it onto the plane for you. This avoids having your water confiscated at security. Bizarre but true. Useful for budget flights if you’re not sure what the service will be like.

Neck pillow – I carry a simple blow-up pillow, it offers enough neck support that I can sleep on a plane and it packs down to a tiny size. I don’t have a specific recommendation, just make sure you try it before buying. Some I’ve tried offer very little neck support which (for me) makes them useless. Most do seem to support the neck well (normally you can try them at the airport). I see this one in Amazon which has one of the highest ratings – I’ve never used this (it might be overkill!) but the reviews are probably a good starting point.

Hearos Xtreme Protection Ear Plugs with plastic carry case – the most effective noise-blocking ear plugs I’ve found, they’re soft and can be cut to size (so they don’t fall out of your ear). I find sleeping with these to be super comfortable (they only irritate if used several nights, all night, in a row). They’re way more comfortable than wax earplugs and they have the highest noise-blocking rating that I’ve found (so they cut out more noise than the other types). If you know of even more effective ear plugs I’d certainly be open to suggestions. The plastic case is great on a plane so you don’t lose them (they stop them being squashed during storage which can stop them expanding properly).

They’re recommended for use in construction (!) and cut out most of the noise of people talking, babies crying etc. They block some of the low frequency engine drone (enough so that I can sleep) but don’t entirely remove it. They’re cheap and seem to work for anyone who has tried them. If you’ve only tried the free earplugs on a plane then you should know that these are significantly better at noise blocking.

Jasmine Silk Filled Eye Mask – the most comfortable eye blinds I’ve ever used (significantly more comfy and light-blocking than the freebie ones from an airline).They’re really comfy (Emily uses them now too), block almost all the light even on a bright day and I’m about to buy a second pair (after a year the elastic has stretched and they’re now a bit loose). I use these in hotels that have rubbish curtains – great for jet lag when you need the dark.

Diphenhydramine based sleeping tablets (like these Nytol One a Night). Personally I use sleeping tablets to help with jet lag and to sleep on planes. I’m not recommending you do the same (specifically I’m not making a medication recommendation), I’m just saying what works for me. Diphenhydramine is a first generation antihistamine which just happens to make you sleepy. It takes about 15 minutes for me to feel groggy and typically I can sleep on a plane for 4+ hours with one tablet. Without a sleeping tablet I never sleep on planes (and getting half a night+ of sleep is a great way to kill time and feel fairly-ok at the other end). The downside is that you’re not alert on the plane which isn’t ideal if there’s an emergency.

Kindle wifi – Emily and I carry our Kindles everywhere. Great for fiction, reasonable for PDFs (e.g. some science papers – but not brilliant as the reformatting isn’t very strong), it is super easy to buy new eBooks via the Amazon site or through the device. We just use the wifi version (we rarely need to buy ‘on the go’ with 3G). The click-to-select keyboard (you use a cursor to ‘type’ on a virtual keyboard) is fairly rubbish but since you rarely use an ebook reader to type, that’s not a problem. It runs for weeks, is visible in most lighting conditions, is small and ‘just works’. We really like ours.

I also use Foursquare at airports to figure out where the good food is to be found (along with wall sockets and free wifi). Staff are often quite helpful if you need a recommendation, particularly in explaining how to easily move between terminals if they have a favourite cafe.  WikiTravel and TripAdvisor are also useful to learn about travel+safety and recommended locations too.

Update@natbat recommends TripIt for travel organisation (along with @seb_ly and @plo). Nat also suggests Melatonin – I used to use it as it helped get me to sleep faster (as in – within 5 minutes) but they didn’t generate a deep sleep (so I prefer an over the counter sleeping tablet for a flight now). The comments at Amazon on Melatonin products seem quite varied – do your reading.

Update – flightfox runs competitions to find the lowest flights e.g. this one is for <$2000 round the world travel. This seems to be an interesting site to try to shave money off of complex flight requirements.

Update – this NYTimes article (“How the Tough Get Going: Silicon Valley Travel Tips”) has a bunch of tips including lightweight clothing and ways to be more time efficient with US travel.

Ian is a Chief Interim Data Scientist via his Mor Consulting. Sign-up for Data Science tutorials in London and to hear about his data science thoughts and jobs. He lives in London, is walked by his high energy Springer Spaniel and is a consumer of fine coffees.


  • Nick Burch
    Rather than buying water in duty free, I suggest bringing your own bottle and refilling it after security. You're not allowed to take a bottle with any water in it through security, but an empty one is just fine. Drink/dump any water just before security, go through, then hunt out a water fountain (there's almost always one) and re-fill before the flight.
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