Categories
Food & Drink In-Flight Experience Travel Etiquette

7 Foods You Should Never Eat on a Plane

Bringing your own food on the plane makes perfect sense, both for your taste buds and your wallet. But whether you’re packing your own snacks or buying a gate-side meal to-go, you should avoid these seven foods—for your sake and those around you.

Food You Can’t Finish

Pineapple on a plane

If you decide that a long flight is the time to tuck in to a special treat, more power to you. Just make sure you have time to finish it—or that you’re okay with throwing it away before you land. In most countries, you’ll have to declare any food (even packaged items) before entering, and something that you’ve opened up might not make it in.

Fresh fruits and vegetables usually won’t be allowed in, either, due to agricultural concerns. (The U.S. Customs and Border Control Agency offers this helpful guide, but other countries will have different rules.)

Instant Soups

woman eating noodles on a plane.

Some people will tell you to bring a cup of noodles or other instant soup aboard a flight and ask the flight attendant for boiling water during meal service. Although a mug of hot soup may sound enticing, it’s a bad idea to keep a cup of scalding liquid near your lap when turbulence could strike at any second.

Plus, many prepackaged ramen cups have close to half of your daily recommendation of sodium, which certainly won’t help you fight jet bloat.

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Noisy Foods

Man eating salad on plane

Crunch… crunch… crunch. Put down the chips or raw vegetables—your seatmate does not want to listen to you chew. Crunchy foods can sound louder than a jet engine when you’re basically chewing right in your seatmate’s ear. Remember that the person next to you has nowhere to go, so save the noisy foods for when you land.

Messy Foods

woman eating sandwich on plane.

If you’d struggle to tackle what you’re eating on a full-sized table with actual metal utensils, don’t attempt it on a tiny tray table with flimsy plastic forks and minimal elbow room. Airplanes aren’t given a deep cleaning between most flights, so you might be leaving crumbs or other leftovers behind for the next occupant of your seat.

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Smelly

In-Flight Meal

If you’re tempted to bring hardboiled eggs, tuna fish, or other strong-smelling food aboard, stop and think about whether everyone trapped in the small cabin with you wants to smell what you’re eating. (The airlines are big offenders on this one, too—often offering a fish option at dinnertime.)

Greasy Foods

Woman eating greasy food on plane.

Grabbing a fast food meal can be the cheapest and easiest airport option, but it’s really not the best choice for flying. A greasy meal ticks both the “smelly” and “messy” options, and the often-high sodium content of fast food options contributes to jet bloat.

[st_related]8 Foods You Should Never Eat Before Flying[/st_related]

Peanuts

eating peanuts on plane.

Tiny packets of complimentary peanuts have mostly disappeared from planes due to the growing number of peanut allergies in the world. Packing a peanut butter sandwich or bag of nuts isn’t just inconsiderate—it could also be dangerous if you have a severe allergy sufferer on your flight.

More from SmarterTravel:

Follow Caroline Morse’s travels on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline and on Twitter @CarolineMorse1.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
In-Flight Experience Packing

8 Wireless Headphones For Every Travel Budget

On the newest smartphones and other electronic devices, headphone jacks seem to be an endangered species. As more and more companies ditch the jack in favor of Bluetooth connection, it’s time to get with the program. If you’re wary of change, know that a pair of wireless headphones will simplify the way you travel: As you walk through the airport, along the beach, or on the trail, you’ll fall in love with the freedom of not having a cord tie you to your devices.

Wireless headphones come in all different models and price points. Here are some of the best options for every travel budget.

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SoundPEATS True Wireless Earbuds

If you prefer the subtlety of earbuds but worry about wireless earbuds getting easily lost, check out the SoundPEATS True Wireless Earbuds. Each pair of earbuds comes with its own charging case that can charge the earbuds up to 10 times before the case needs to be recharged. The earbuds come with different sized ear tips to fit a variety of ears comfortably.

Price and where to buy it: $32.99 on Amazon

Marshall Major III

If you want to connect to your music in style, Marshall, the iconic amp-maker touted by all your favorite rock stars, also makes wireless headphones. The recently released Marshall Major III headphones are extremely comfortable and convenient for travel since they include a cord to transform them back into a regular non-wireless pair of headphones. This is extremely handy should you find yourself on a long-haul flight unable to connect wirelessly to the in-flight entertainment system.

Price and where to buy it: $120.99 on Amazon

Wireless Headphone Hat

If you like the idea of wireless headphones but don’t really like the way they feel or look, check out the Wireless Headphone Hat. This beanie doubles as a pair of Bluetooth headphones that can sync to your phone, so you can stay cozy without missing your tunes.

Price and where to buy it: $59 on the Grommet

Yevo Air

These wireless earbuds from Yevo are extremely comfortable and secure, which makes them great for working out or on your more rigorous travel days. The carrying  and charging case is also very portable and these earbuds are equipped with HD premium sound, so you won’t miss out on quality.

Price and where to buy it: $129 on the Yevo Labs Website 

JLab JBuddies

For a more affordable pair of wireless headphones that still deliver sound quality and long battery life, check out the JLab JBuddies, which have 13 hours of battery life and fold up to for portability. Sized to fit kids, but great for smaller adults as well, these wireless headphones feature memory-foam cushion, which provides comfort on a long flight.

Price and where to buy it: $15 at JLab Audio

Jaybirds

If you like the idea of wireless, but really worry about dropping your wireless headphones and losing them, check out these wireless, but not 100-percent-cordless pair of earbuds like Jaybirds. Connected by a wire, you can enjoy a wireless workout without the anxiety of losing an earbud.

Price and where to buy it:  $68 on Amazon

RunPhone Wireless

If you don’t think a pair of wireless headphones or earbuds can make it through your workout, the RunPhone Wireless will give you the confidence that your headphones aren’t going anywhere. Though it looks like a regular sweat-band, there are hidden speakers that let you listen to music wirelessly.

Price and where to buy it: $100 on the Grommet

Sony 1000XM2 Noise-Canceling Headphones

If you’re looking for a top-of-the-line pair of wireless headphones to get you through a long-haul flight, try the 1000XM2 Wireless Noise-Cancelling Headphones from Sony. With high-resolution audio quality, 30 hours of battery life, and a noise-cancelling profile made just for the in-flight experience, these wireless headphones are worth the high price if you crave a quiet flight.

Price and where to buy it: $298 on Amazon

More from SmarterTravel:

Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.

Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.

Categories
In-Flight Experience Packing

J Pillow vs. Trtl Pillow

The J-Pillow vs. Trtl Pillow: both popular pillows have rave reviews online, but they have dramatically different designs. So I got one of each and brought them on 13-hour flight (using one outbound and one inbound) to determine: Which one actually let me sleep comfortably in coach?

J-Pillow Travel Pillow + Carry Bag - British Invention of The Year, 2020 Version with Increased 3D Support - Stops Your Head from Falling Forward.

J-Pillow vs. Trtl Pillow: Support

Winner: The J-Pillow. The J-Pillow nestled under my chin and rested on my shoulder, so I could lean my head to the side and rest on the pillow without letting my head nod forward or fall to the side. The design of the pillow curves around your neck, but as it’s worn on the side, so it doesn’t push your head forward. I found that the J-Pillow was the most effective at keeping my head upright while I slept. It was especially comfortable while used in a window seat (and leaning against the wall).

The Trtl Pillow mimics a neck brace, wrapping around your neck and using a plastic frame on the side (between your chin and your shoulder) to allow you to rest your head. However, no matter how I positioned the Trtl Pillow, I couldn’t get the right amount of support I needed to relax into sleep. 

J-Pillow vs. Trtl Pillow: Comfort

Winner: The J-Pillow.Made from a soft, squishy fiber filling and covered with an ultra-plush microfleece fabric, the J-Pillow was significantly more comfortable to lean on than the Trtl Pillow. Despite the Trtl Pillow’s soft fleece cover, I could still feel the hard plastic internal spine inside, which wasn’t comfortable to lean on.

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Want to Avoid Medications
[/st_related]

J-Pillow vs. Trtl Pillow: Portability

Winner: The Trtl Pillow. It’s about half the size of a standard U-shaped pillow, and wraps up for easy and compact storage. The Trtl Pillow won’t take up much space in your carry-on, unlike the J-Pillow.

The J-Pillow can be compressed into its (included) carrying bag, but it will still take up a decent amount of real estate in your carry-on or personal item.

The Trtl Pillow is also slightly more lightweight, weighing in at around 5.2 ounces vs. the J Pillow’s 7.5 ounces.

J-Pillow vs. Trtl Pillow: Cost

Winner: Tie. At the time of testing, both the Trtl Pillow and the J-Pillow retailed on Amazon for $29.99.

J-Pillow vs. Trtl Pillow: Cleanliness

Winner: The J-Pillow. The entire J-Pillow can be machine washed in warm water, and then dried on low heat, making it easy to clean after each trip.

You can remove the Trtl Pillow’s fleece covering and wash it separately in the washing machine, however you’ll need to hang dry it and then reinsert the internal support (which can’t be washed), making it a more complicated cleaning process.

[st_related]
Sleeping on Planes: 13 Tips for
Travelers

[/st_related]

J-Pillow Travel Pillow + Carry Bag - British Invention of The Year, 2020 Version with Increased 3D Support - Stops Your Head from Falling Forward.
trtl Pillow - Scientifically Proven Super Soft Neck Support Travel Pillow – Machine Washable

J-Pillow vs. Trtl Pillow: Overall Winner

Winner: The J-Pillow won in almost every category, earning high marks for comfort, support, and cleanliness, making it our overall winner.

More from SmarterTravel:

Caroline Morse Teel is a Principal Editor for SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @travelwithcaroline for travel photos and advice.

Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.

Categories
Arts & Culture Entertainment Experiential Travel In-Flight Experience Travel Technology Travel Trends

12 Popular Podcasts to Discover Right Now

Podcasts are perfect entertainment. Pop in your earbuds and you can keep up with the latest headlines, learn something new, or have a laugh. Here are 12 of the best podcasts to binge on next time you find yourself with some down time.

Armchair Expert

Armchair Expert

Join celebrity actor/comedian Dax Shepard as he interviews famous actors, actresses, comedians, and more public figures from, you guessed it, his armchair. Armchair Expert is nearing its 200th episode (at the time of writing) and has featured guests from Ashton Kutcher to Monica Lewinsky.

The Daily

The Daily

The New York Timesmost popular podcast makes it easy to stay up to date on U.S. politics on the fly. Journalist Michael Barbaro interviews a different Times reporter every podcast to talk about the latest news in 20 minutes or less. From updates on the White House to environmental disasters, The Daily provides expert news analysis and tells you everything you need to know. 

The World Wanderers

The World Wanderers

This travel podcast features two young adventurers who share their advice for making the most of a trip. If you’re looking for more destinations to add to your bucket list, this is the perfect podcast for you. Each episode highlights a new location (think Iceland and Guadalajara) or discusses how travel can lead to a happier life. 

Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness

Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness

Queer Eye fans, take heart. Jonathan Van Ness brings his curiosity and delightful sense of humor to this informative podcast. Van Ness explores a new topic in each episode, from female entrepreneurship with Reese Witherspoon to what white people need to know about racism with Andrew Ti. Listen carefully and you’ll also hear Van Ness’ hilarious attempts to speak in British and Australian accents.

Science Vs

Science Vs

Are vitamins effective? Is veganism good for the environment? Science experts answer all these questions and more with witty commentary and interesting stories. This podcast makes science easy and fun to learn on the road. You might even find that the conversations about vaccines and the Zika virus are helpful during your travels.

Skimm’d from the Couch

Skimm’d from the Couch

The two co-founders of theSkimm, a popular daily newsletter for young people, discuss female leadership and entrepreneurship. From interviewing Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, to Arianna Huffington and the Today Show’s Savannah Guthrie, theSkimm’s founders will make you want to start a business as soon as you get home from your trip.

Death, Sex & Money

Death, Sex & Money

There are some conversations that are rarely discussed in public, and those are the focus of the podcast Death, Sex & Money. Host Anna Sale talks to journalists, a Supreme Court justice, and actors about tough topics like fertility and heroin addiction. This award-winning podcast will make you think deeply during and after your travels.

Invisibilia

Invisibilia

Invisibilia will leave you contemplating the meaning of life, relationships, and more. This NPR podcast explores the unseen forces that control human behavior. From how we create emotions to the societal expectation to pursue money and happiness, this podcast will change how you see the world.

The Habitat

The Habitat

Imagine giving up everything you own for one year to live in a tent on a remote Hawaiian mountain. That’s what six strangers did when they pretended to live on Mars for a NASA experiment. Discover the difficulties, triumphs, and evolving and devolving relationships of these strangers isolated on a fake planet. After you finish the episodes, check out the other addictive podcasts from Gimlet, the company behind this series.

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Serial

Serial

With three seasons available to binge, this riveting series is the podcast that started it all. As one of the first podcasts of the modern podcast era to earn critical success, Serial talks you through unsolved murders, the story of Bowe Bergdahl, and more. Host Sarah Koenig engagingly narrates tales of deception and desertion. Give it a listen and see why millions of fans tune into this hit podcast.

Wild Ideas Worth Living

Wild Ideas Worth Living

The podcast brought to you from outdoor retailer REI Co-op takes a deep and thoughtful look at what it means to be outdoors and travel. Most episodes are interviews that tell a unique story about the outdoors, whether it be singer Mike Posner’s trek to walk across the U.S. or a man who trains a donkey to be his running partner.

Women Who Travel

Women Who Travel

What started as a Facebook group for female travelers to connect and share stories has become Conde Nast Traveler’s wildly popular podcast. Women Who Travel tells the stories of female entrepreneurs, travelers, and pioneers in the industry. Episodes are released weekly by staff editors.

How to Listen

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018 and has been updated with the latest information. Ashley Rossi contributed to this story.

Categories
Arts & Culture Frequent Flyer Historical Travel In-Flight Experience Packing Road Trip

10 Engrossing Audiobooks for Travelers

Stuck at home, in a car, or on a long flight? There’s no better way to pass the time than by enjoying a book hands-free. Here are some of the best audiobooks for travelers.

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True West, Sam Shepard

Heading west on a road trip? Kick off the adventure with True West, a dark comedy and American classic about a sibling rivalry that plays out in the California desert. A screenplay about a film script, True West might be a better listen than it is a read, and it doesn’t hurt that actors Kit Harrington and Johnny Flynn are the narrators.

Length: 87 minutes

What People Are Saying: “Kit Harington (Games of Thrones) and Johnny Flynn (Beast) smolder and burn as sparring brothers in Sam Shepard’s darkly comic 1980 drama. The Cain and Abel conflict is a showdown of sibling rivalry, to be sure, but also bears witness to a legacy of booze-fueled family brawls.”–Amazon

Heads Will Roll, Kate McKinnon

SNL fans and comedy connoisseurs alike will love and laugh at Heads Will Roll by Kate McKinnon and Emily Lynne—which is not to be listened to within earshot of kids. The SNL star and her sister steer this 10-episode theatrical audiobook comedy with the help of big stars ranging from narrator Tim Gunn to Meryl Streep.

Length: 4 hours

What People Are Saying: “The series stars McKinnon as a malevolent monarch and her sister, Emily Lynne, as a scatterbrained minion. It appears to poke fun at tired tropes of the evil queen and the hero’s journey while also relishing in their theatrical value. In terms of plot, the story focuses on McKinnon’s character, Queen Mortuana of the Night Realm, who catches wind of a potential peasant uprising and realizes that in order to put down the rebellion, she and her assistant JoJo (played by Lynne) must go on a quest.”—PopDust

The Buried, Peter Hessler

The telling of the most recent Egyptian revolution through the lens of ancient archaeology, The Buried: An Archaeology of the Egyptian Revolution is authored by New Yorker writer Peter Hessler, who moved to Cairo with his family just before the Egyptian Arab Spring began in 2011. History, politics, and cultural norms converge through the lives of the locals Hessler meets, and link today’s Egypt with ancient times in a satisfying explainer of Egypt’s rich past and complex present.

Length: 16 hours, 44 minutes

What People Are Saying: “Seen from afar, tectonic political shifts often look as if they consume a society. But have you ever been someplace in the middle of momentous political events and found everyone around you getting on with daily life? Few reporters seem better placed to fathom the complexities of this dynamic—ripples of disquiet permeating routine existence—than Peter Hessler.”—The Wall Street Journal

The Pioneers, David McCullough

History buffs can revel in the years during which the first band of settlers set out from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin to conquer the American Northwest, with David McCullough’s The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West. The real-life accounts are drawn from rare diary entries by the subjects of the novel.

Length: 10 hours, 23 minutes

What People Are Saying: “McCullough tells the story through five major characters: Cutler and Putnam; Cutler’s son Ephraim; and two other men, one a carpenter turned architect and the other a physician who became a prominent pioneer in American science. They and their families created a town in a primeval wilderness while coping with such frontier realities as floods, fires, wolves and bears, no roads or bridges, and no guarantees of any sort, all the while negotiating a contentious and sometimes hostile relationship with the native people. Like so many of McCullough’s subjects, they let no obstacle deter or defeat them.”—Amazon 

Life Will Be the Death of Me, Chelsea Handler

The latest memoir by talk-show comedian Chelsea Handler surprises audiences with its rawness that transcends comedy by addressing the state of American politics. Life Will Be the Death of Me … and You Too is Handler’s sixth book.

Length: 5 hours, 25 minutes

What People Are Saying: “You thought you knew Chelsea Handler—and she thought she knew herself—but in her new book, she discovers that true progress lies in the direction we haven’t been.”—Gloria Steinem

Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin

HBO’s hit show might be over, but you can go back to the beginning with Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1. Or choose from the entire series, which are some of the best audiobooks for road trips even if you’re new to the saga—although you will need a lot of time to get through them all.

Length: 33 hours, 46 minutes (Book 1)

What People Are Saying: “There have been many fantasy sagas published in the last half century, but few can boast the scope, depth, and attention to detail of A Song of Fire and Ice.”—Common Sense Media

From Scratch, Tembi Locke

Travelers of all backgrounds will appreciate this romance about cross-cultural boundaries, love at first sight, family, food, and death. From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home also ends with a collection of recipes (included in text form).

Length: 10 hours, 17 minutes

What People Are Saying: “The writing in From Scratch is sublime. Locke allows her readers to revel in the sensory experiences of Sicily. She offers a peek into her deeply satisfying relationship with her daughter, her husband, and their family.”—The Associated Press

The Night Tiger, Yangsze Choo

A book-club favorite of late, The Night Tiger: A Novel follows a hardworking dressmaker whose small Malaysian village encounters a series of puzzling deaths and rumors of men who turn into tigers. It’s a dense but fantastical tale that makes it one of the best audiobooks for road trips spanning many hours.

Length: 14 hours, 8 minutes

What People Are Saying: “Choo narrates this richly complex novel herself, her gorgeous writing delivered in a voice that is deep and precise and lovely, both British and not quite. Her tone and words transport us.”—San Francisco Chronicle

Elizabeth II: Life of a Monarch, Ruth Cowen

Queen Elizabeth’s early private life and public reign still read like a blockbuster movie, whether or not you’re headed for the U.K. anytime soon. Elizabeth II: Life of a Monarch is written by British journalist Ruth Cowen and narrated by respected British royal correspondent Jennie Bond.

Length: 3 hours, 47 minutes

What People Are Saying: “Wife, mother and head of state, who is the real Elizabeth? What do the headlines hide? How close to reality are the television interpretations? … Admired by many, she has reigned through a period of unprecedented change, steering the monarchy through the end of an empire, public scandals and private losses.”—Goodreads

Before She Knew Him, Peter Swanson

A tale of paranoia and unsolved murder in a suburb of Boston,  Before She Knew Him: A Novel is a complex crime novel that will keep you guessing as to what’s reality and what’s not.

Length: 10 hours, 15 minutes

What People Are Saying: Before She Knew Him is a wicked thriller that does not disappoint. Peter Swanson has written another gem that pulls the reader in and never lets go, even as the story comes to a close. This is a book that will keep you up at night and haunt your thoughts. A fun, chilling read.”—Manhattan Book Review

More from SmarterTravel:

SmarterTravel Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Instagram at @shanmcmahon.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Airport In-Flight Experience Packing Travel Technology Travel Trends

10 Best Inflatable Travel Pillows

The best inflatable travel pillows allow you to fall asleep even in a packed economy section. If you’ve tried basic U-shaped inflatable travel pillows with no success, you’ll want to read about these revolutionary options that actually prevent the dreaded head-bob.

Inflatable Travel Pillows to Get the Best in-Flight Sleep

These pillows all have unique features that address the most challenging upright-sleeping problems.

Eagle Creek Exhale Neck Pillow

It’s amazing that a tiny little buckle can make such a big difference in comfort—Eagle Creek’s Exhale Neck Pillow takes the standard U-shape neck pillow and adds a small clip in the front that draws the two front ends together, thus eliminating that awkward empty spot that allows your head to fall forward and wake you up. It’s pretty genius.

Travelrest Pillow

If you’re a side sleeper, the Travelrest is the best inflatable travel pillow for you. This unique design looks like a cushioned seatbelt—it can be attached to the side of your airplane seatrest, headrest of a car, or just worn across your body. Even though the pillow is large, it inflates quickly and deflates into a small package that’s easy to pack.

Xflyee Inflatable Travel Pillow

Xflyee’s Inflatable Travel Pillow is designed to provide neck support and is easy to store when not in use. The pillow is also slip resistant, so you don’t have to worry about your head sliding around in the event of turbulence.

Travelon Self-Inflating Travel Pillow

Don’t love blowing up your inflatable pillow on a crowded plane? Travelon’s self-inflating travel pillow fills with air with just a quick twist of the side vent. Its bow-tie shape makes it one of the best inflatable travel pillows if you’re looking for back/lumbar support.

HOMCA Travel Pillow

If you just want to put your head down and go to sleep, the HOMCA Travel Pillow actually allows you to do that (assuming the person in front of you hasn’t reclined all the way back). It inflates to a height of 21 inches, so you can rest your head face-down. There’s a face cradle in the top (like a massage table) that allows you to breathe, and arm holes in the side, so you can hug the pillow to keep it in place.

AirComfy Inflatable Travel Pillow

This insanely comfortable pillow from AirComfy has a removable micro-velvet case for easy washing and comes with a handy carrying case for easy packing. This product also features a built-in air pump, so you can inflate it without having to blow into a tube.

Maliton Inflatable Foot Rest Pillow

So far we’ve covered the best inflatable neck pillows, but we’d be remiss not to mention this inflatable foot rest from Maliton. This pillow’s height can be adjusted to fit any body type and is designed to align with the dimensions of an airplane seat.

Hoodie Pillow

The Hoodie Pillow feels like sleeping in your favorite sweatshirt—if your favorite sweatshirt offered an eyeshade and neck support. A cozy hood with adjustable drawstrings can be pulled over your eyes to block out light and keep your head warm (and also separate you from a less-than-clean plane or train seat), while the attached inflatable pillow supports your head.

Inflatable Camping Pillow

Looking for the best inflatable travel pillows for camping? This one from Trekology is ultra-lightweight (just 3.1 ounces) and folds up to be smaller than a soda can, so you will barely notice it in your pack. It inflates quickly to be a full-size pillow, and is ergonomically designed to cradle your head while you sleep.

Klymit Pillow X

Upgrade your airplane seat with the Klymit Pillow X, which makes for a much more comfortable seat cushion. The Klymit’s x-pattern also makes it a great camping pillow, as it centers your head and will prevent neck pain.

Check out more inflatable travel pillows on Amazon. For other pillow options, see The Best Travel Neck Pillows from Tripadvisor, SmarterTravel’s parent company.

More from SmarterTravel:

Caroline Morse Teel can’t sleep on a plane without one of these inflatable travel pillows. Follow Caroline on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for style and travel photos.

Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.

Categories
Frequent Flyer Health & Wellness In-Flight Experience

Sleeping on Planes: 13 Tips for Travelers

Not enough legroom. People climbing over you. Noise from movies and video games and screaming children. Sunlight pouring in your neighbor’s window at 35,000 feet. With all the distractions and hassles of air travel, sleeping on planes can sometimes feel impossible.

If you struggle to get some shuteye each time you take to the air, you’re not alone—but choosing the right seat, bringing the right gear, and making a few small changes in your flying habits could help you sleep better on your next flight. Read on for our travel-tested tips for sleeping on planes.

Choose Your Seat Wisely

Asian girl sleeping in her seat on the plane near the window in a mask and with a pillow to sleep

Your seat location could be one of the most important factors in how well—or how poorly—you sleep on a plane. Try to get a window seat if possible; it will give you something to lean against and get you out of the way of other folks in your row, who won’t have to scramble over you each time they need to use the bathroom. You’ll also have some control over the window shade.

Think twice about bulkhead or exit row seats. Sure, the extra legroom is great, but some exit row seats do not recline (so that they won’t be an obstruction in case of emergency), and some bulkhead seats have armrests that can’t be raised. Sleeping in one of these is like sleeping in a straitjacket, especially if the seat next to you is unoccupied, or worse, the entire row is empty (as happened to me on a flight from Australia—14 hours in the air, an empty row, and the worst flight I’ve ever had). What could have been a nice sleep nook is now more like, well, an airplane seat.

Travel writer Andrea Rotondo also cautions against bulkhead seats because they “are often reserved for families traveling with babies or young kids, [and] can be noisy.”

Another area to avoid is the last row of the plane. Again, the seats may not recline, and they’re often located right near the lavatories—where both noise and odor could be an issue. See The Worst Seats on a Plane (and How to Avoid Them) for more info.

Aside from the very last row, there are pros and cons to sitting near the front of the plane vs. sitting near the back. Seats near the rear of the plane may be noisier due to the planes’ engines and clink-clanking from the galley, but it’s also more likely that you’ll have a couple of seats (or even a whole row) to yourself back there—and the extra space could make up for the extra noise.

To help you choose your seat, check out SmarterTravel’s sister site, SeatGuru.com, which offers color-coded seating charts for nearly every plane on every airline.

Cut Down on Your Carry-Ons

If you have two full-size carry-ons, one might end up under your feet, limiting your legroom and making it harder to sleep. Instead, pack lighter so you can fit everything into a single bag. Keep a few small necessities near the top of the bag—a book or magazine, a snack, a bottle of water. Before you stow your bag in the overhead compartment, pull out the important items that you’ll need during the flight and put them in the back of the seat in front of you.

Editor’s note: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cautions against the stowage of personal items in the seatback pocket for safety reasons, but states, “If small, lightweight items, such as eyeglasses or a cell phone, can be placed in the seat pocket without exceeding the total designed weight limitation of the seat pocket or so that the seat pocket does not block anyone from evacuating the row of seats, it may be safe to do so.” Keep the items you stow in the seatback pocket to a minimum, and be aware that flight attendants may ask you to put the items back into your carry-on bag.

Skip the Caffeine

Especially on a daytime flight, where even the view out the window can be a distraction, you’ll find it much harder to sleep if you have caffeine coursing through your veins. Avoid the temptation to have a cup of coffee or a soda before boarding, and stick to water or juice when the drink cart comes around.

Try a Sleep Aid

I am not a doctor and will not attempt to advise you on which drugs you should take as sleep aids. Consider asking your own physician about the following medications.

Over-the-counter options include Dramamine (bonus: it will also help if you have motion sickness), melatonin (a hormone that can help with sleep and prevent jet lag), any antihistamine containing diphenhydramine (such as Benadryl), and medicines designed for insomnia, like Unisom or ZzzQuil. One editor at SmarterTravel’s sister site, What to Pack, swears by valerian tea.

Be sure to test-drive any pills you’ve never taken at least a few nights prior to your flight—medicines can have the opposite effect for some people.

If you’re truly desperate, ask your doctor for a prescription sleep aid. Be warned, though, that medicines such as Ambien have side effects that include memory loss, hallucinations, “sleep-driving,” “sleep-eating,” and other adverse reactions—something to think about before you pop one at 30,000 feet.

For more information, see Natural Sleep Aids to Try When You Want to Avoid Medications and The Best Over-the-Counter Sleeping Pills for Long-Haul Flights.

Stake Your Claim on Blankets and Pillows—or Bring Your Own

blanket pillow flight plane seat

There never seem to be enough blankets and pillows to go around. Board early and stake your claim. If there isn’t a set in your seat, immediately ask the flight attendant for one.

Better yet, bring your own. Even if you are offered a blanket, it may not be a clean one, as many airlines reuse them without washing them between flights. I recommend packing a travel blanket. You’ll feel toasty warm and be able to rest comfortably. If your plane is overheated, rolled-up blankets can double as lumbar support, pillows, or even a footrest.

Bring a Neck Pillow

Many travelers swear by their supportive neck pillows. Personally, I’ve found few neck pillows that really work the way they’re designed. They are too big in the back, which tilts my head forward, and then offer no support under my chin to hold up my noggin that has just been pushed forward. I turn them around; this works like a charm.

Are you a stomach, side, or back sleeper? Pick a travel pillow that allows you to most closely recreate your sleeping style in a limited space. For example, if you’re a stomach sleeper who has no shame, you might want to consider the Skyrest Travel pillow, which should let you sleep peacefully, perhaps unaware of the mocking laughter from other passengers. Side sleeper? Try the unique Travelrest pillow. And back sleepers can try the Travelon First Class Sleeper.

Free Your Feet

This is a controversial subject. Some people slip their shoes off as soon as they get on a plane; others wouldn’t dream of it. Further, there’s the issue of keeping your circulation flowing; going barefoot permits your feet to swell.

Take care of your dogs and wear clean socks. Opt for shoes you can slip on and off easily—this way you’re not pulling at shoelaces and flinging elbows mid-flight. On long overseas flights, consider wearing compression socks to encourage circulation.

Use Headphones with Discretion

Save yourself the five bucks and catch some more winks by passing on the airline’s headphones. TV and movies can keep you up the entire flight. On one transatlantic flight a few years back, I sat awake until three in the morning watching Man on the Moon; I laughed out loud and definitely enjoyed myself, but the next day in Europe, I yearned deeply for the two hours of sleep I lost to Jim Carrey’s depictions of Andy Kaufman and Tony Clifton.

On the other hand, listening to soothing music can help tune out distractions and lull you into a peaceful sleep. For best results, try Bose’s popular noise-canceling headphones; they’re pricey, but they’re the best product on the market for frequent flyers looking to escape engine noise and other in-flight distractions. (Ear plugs are a less effective but much cheaper alternative.)

Make Sure You Won’t Be Disturbed

Jayne Bailey Holland, a former airline staffer, recommends notifying your flight attendant that you want to sleep—that way he or she will know not to disturb you when the drink or snack cart comes around. If you’re under a blanket, be sure your seat belt is buckled over top of it so the belt is visible at all times.

Dress Comfortably

Will your flight be hot or cold? It’s impossible to predict, so wear layers. Don’t wear anything tight, as that can restrict your circulation (which is already at risk in a tight airplane seat). If you’re on a long-haul flight, consider bringing pajamas to change into—you might find it easier to fall asleep in your usual jammies than a business suit.

Recline Your Seat—But Be Courteous

woman reclining seat flight plane window

On a night flight, expecting someone not to sleep is like asking them to put down their window shade during a flight over the Grand Canyon or Haleakala. Ideally, everyone has the same idea and seats will tip backward soon into your flight.

However, you should always look behind you to make sure the coast is clear before pushing the button to put your seat back. It gives the person behind you a heads up if they have coffee in front of them or have their head down on the tray table.

Simple common courtesy applies here.

Stay Away from the Light

The animated flash of movie screens, reading lights, cabin lights, sunlight bursting in on an eastbound flight—all can disturb your slumber. Get yourself an eye mask. Some airlines provide them, but it’s best to keep one in your traveling kit just to be safe.

When It’s Time to Wake Up …

The worst part of sleeping is waking up, I always say. It’s even worse on a plane, when you’re waking up to fluorescent lights, luggage carousels, and sunshine so bright you can practically hear it.

If it’s a long flight, consider setting a watch or cell phone alarm for 45 minutes before you have to land. That gives you time to go to the restroom, gather your gear, tie your shoes, watch the approach to your destination, drink a cup of coffee, and walk off the plane fully awake.

Reaching your destination fully rested, whether you indulge in a short and sweet nap or a full rack en route, always beats lurching around an airport tired and crabby. Grab your 40 winks (and then some) in flight, and you’ll be a happier traveler.

Must-Buy Items for Catching Some Z’s

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

Whether you’re headed across the country or around the world, don’t forget to pack these essentials for a restful in-flight snooze.

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Caroline Morse Teel contributed to this story. A previous version of this story had the incorrect title of a 1999 film about Andy Kaufman. It has been corrected.

Categories
Fashion & Beauty Health & Wellness In-Flight Experience Packing

15 Tiny Travel Products to Help You Stay Healthy on Vacation

Cramped planes, tainted water, jet lag, and general exhaustion: Travel brings plenty of opportunities for you to get sick. You’ve waited all year for your vacation—so why ruin it with something preventable? Up your chances of staying healthy while traveling by packing these tiny travel products designed to help you feel great.

How to Stay Healthy While Traveling

There’s one essential item for healthy travel that you won’t see in this list: medicine. You can find recommended remedies in Must-Pack Medications for Travel and 9 Over-the-Counter Medicines You Should Pack for Every Trip.

Seat Sitters Airplane Seat Cover, Tray Table Cover, and Face Mask Kit

seat-sitters-seat-cover

It’s no joke just how dirty and germ-infested planes are. One of the most contaminated areas—and the one most likely to touch your food—is the tray table. Defend yourself with the Seat Sitters Airplane Seat Cover, Tray Table Cover and Face Mask Kit. These machine-washable, super hygienic covers can easily slip on and off your seat in seconds.

Hand Sanitizer

person applying hand sanitizer.

You might not always have access to clean running water and soap, so always pack some travel-sized hand sanitizer. Use it before you eat, after using the airplane bathroom, or anywhere else you encounter germs. For the sake of the people around you on the plane, we recommend an unscented hand sanitizer.

Sanitizing Wipes

sanitizing wipes

Hand sanitizer is great but doesn’t work as well when you need to clean a hard surface, like a tray table or the seatback screen on a plane. In your hotel room, use an antibacterial wipe to clean the TV remote and the door handles. Individually wrapped sanitizing wipes won’t dry out and work on pretty much any surface.

Want more expert tips and vacation inspiration? Subscribe to SmarterTravel on YouTube!

Saline Nasal Spray

saline nasal mist

Did you know that healthy travel often starts in your nose? An airplane cabin’s desert-like air can dry out the mucous membranes in your nose, which are essential in preventing illness. Keeping these delicate tissues hydrated with a saline nasal spray during long flights could help you fend off germs from the guy coughing behind you. Ayr is one travel-size option worth considering.

USB Humidifier

As another weapon against dry air, pack this handy portable mini travel bottle-cap air humidifier so you can breathe in clean, moist air no matter where you’re staying. This is one of our favorite tiny travel products because you use your own water bottle with it—so you don’t have to pack a bulky unit when any basic water or (empty) soda bottle will do.

Microfleece Travel Blanket

microfleece blanket

Airline blankets aren’t always washed in between flights, so who knows what kind of nasty germs you’re snuggling up with? Rest easy under the World’s Best Travel Blanket, a 100 percent polyester fleece-knit, travel-sized blanket that’s soft, cozy, and easy to clean.

Flight Ear Plugs

ear plugs

For flyers who experience ear pain during take-off and landing, ear plugs that help regulate pressure can be vital. Many travelers also find them helpful when driving through changing elevations in mountainous regions. EarPlanes and Flents are two popular brands.

First-Aid Kit

First-Aid kit

A small first-aid kit stocked with bandages, antiseptic wipes, and other medical necessities is always a wise thing to have on hand, particularly if you’ll be spending much of your vacation outdoors without easy access to a doctor. Surviveware offers a well-stocked kit that won’t take up too much space in your suitcase. An even more compact option is this 66-piece kit, which weighs less than half a pound.

If you’re flying with a first-aid kit in your carry-on, remember to double check it for any items that might not make it through airport security. Small tubes of antibiotic cream, for instance, should go into your quart-size plastic bag of liquids and gels, while sharp items such as lancets or large scissors could be confiscated. Small scissors (with blades shorter than four inches) are fine.

Water Purifier

Water purifier

Headed to a place where there isn’t potable water? It’s still important to stay hydrated. Bring along the LifeStraw water bottle and you’ll be able to turn any water into something drinkable, thanks to the built-in filter that removes bacteria and parasites (it is not effective against viruses; if those are a concern, upgrade to the the self-cleaning LARQ Bottle). Another good option is the GRAYL, a reusable bottle that works a bit like a French press to remove viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and some chemicals as you force water through it.

Back-country hikers and travelers in developing countries where the water isn’t safe to drink might also like the SteriPEN, a UV light that destroys bacteria, viruses, and protozoa.

Pill Organizer

Pill organizer

It can be tricky enough to keep track of your medication schedule at home; add jet lag, a different daily routine, and a new time zone, and having a pill organizer can literally be a lifesaver. Stuff Seniors Need and Ezy Dose offer travel-friendly pill cases that don’t take up too much space.

Sunscreen

Sunburn not only causes pain and unsightly skin but can also contribute to heat exhaustion. (“Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool itself,” according to the Mayo Clinic.) That’s why it’s important to throw a bottle of sunblock into your bag, especially if you’ll be traveling in warmer climates.

Note: If you’re planning on snorkeling, do the environment a favor and choose a reef-safe sunblock; chemicals found in most sunscreen brands, particularly oxybenzone, contribute to coral damage. Banana Boat offers a set of three travel-size bottles that will keep you, your travel companions, and the reefs protected.

Insect Repellent

Insect repellent

Mosquitoes, ticks, and other creepy-crawlies can transmit nasty diseases ranging from malaria to Zika. Traveling to an affected area? Stock up on insect repellent to use during your trip, and consider treating your shoes and clothing with permethrin before you leave. 3M offers a travel-size insect repellent with DEET in a lotion or spray form.

Portable Toothbrush Sanitizer

Portable toothbrush sanitizer

Sometimes you have to subject your toothbrush to less-than-ideal conditions on the road—using it in the airplane bathroom, for instance, or storing it in a dubiously clean hotel bathroom cup. Before you put in your mouth, sanitize your toothbrush with this Rechargeable Toothbrush Case, a portable case that uses UV light to kill the bacteria lurking on your toothbrush.

Compression Socks

Got a long flight, drive, or train ride coming up? You could be putting yourself at risk for blood clots, which can occur any time you’re sitting still for long periods of time (not only when you’re at 30,000 feet). If such a clot spreads to the lungs, it could have life-threatening consequences. Compression socks can help stimulate blood flow, reduce swelling, and prevent deep vein thrombosis. (Note: If you have certain medical conditions, your doctor may recommend custom-fitted compression stockings.)

Cell Phone Sanitizer

Do you open the public bathroom door using a tissue to protect yourself from germs? You should actually be using one to save yourself from your dirty cell phone, as studies have found that most phones have more bacteria than a public bathroom door handle (and more than the toilet seat). Think about how many times you’ve snapped a photo of your meal with your phone and then dived in to eat without washing your hands in between. Gross. Keep your phone clean with PhoneSoap Go, which sanitizes and charges your phone at the same time.

Traveling? Consider Bringing These:

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

More from SmarterTravel:

Caroline Morse Teel never travels without hand sanitizer, one of her favorite tiny travel products. Follow her adventures around the world on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline and on Twitter @CarolineMorse1.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Sarah Schlichter and Margaret Leahy also contributed to this story.

Categories
Booking Strategy Health & Wellness In-Flight Experience

Avoid Getting Sick on the Plane By Choosing This Seat

True or false?: It’s the recirculated air on commercial aircraft that’s responsible for travelers’ propensity to get sick when flying.

False. It turns out that more germs are spread by human movement throughout the aircraft cabin than are spread by recirculated air.

That’s according to a study published in 2018 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: “Behaviors, movements, and transmission of droplet-mediated respiratory diseases during transcontinental airline flights.” That finding leads directly to a surprisingly concrete recommendation on how to avoid germs on the plane: To minimize the chances of contracting an air-borne illness when flying, you should sit in a window seat. And to be even more careful, you could remain there for the duration of the flight to avoid most of the germs passing through the cabin.

“With over 3 billion airline passengers annually, the inflight transmission of infectious diseases is an important global health concern … air travel can serve as a conduit for the rapid spread of newly emerging infections and pandemics,” the study noted. “Despite sensational media stories and anecdotes, the risks of transmission of respiratory viruses in an airplane cabin are unknown. Movements of passengers and crew may facilitate disease transmission.”

“The window seats are a little less risky than the aisle seats,” Vicky Hertzberg, a scientist in charge of the study, told NPR.

The study simulated the transmission of pathogens in a plane cabin to conclude as much: “On 10 transcontinental US flights, we chronicled behaviors and movements of individuals in the economy cabin on single-aisle aircraft. We simulated transmission during flight based on these data. This data-driven, dynamic network transmission model of droplet-mediated respiratory disease is unique,” the study states.

You won’t get sick from using the air flowing through the nozzle above you, as many travelers mistakenly believe. You’re more likely to get sick from other people and items passing through the cabin. And sitting by the window means being further from all the germ traffic.

To put the fear of airborne germs into some perspective, the study notes that on a plane with 150 passengers, one of whom is contagiously sick, only one additional passenger is likely to be infected. The passengers most likely to be infected are the 11 sitting closest to the sick person.

How much of a concern is getting sick when you pick your plane seat?

More from SmarterTravel:

Traveling? Consider Bringing These:

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

Editors note: This story was originally published in 2018 by SmarterTravel’s Tim Winship. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Health & Wellness In-Flight Experience

Hand Sanitizer vs. Hand Washing: Which Is More Effective on a Plane?

While washing your hands in the tiny airport bathroom, you may have noticed a little sign by the sink telling you not to drink from the tap. If airplane water isn’t potable, does washing your hands in it really make them any cleaner? I asked an expert to find out.

Hand Sanitizer vs. Hand Washing on a Plane

According to the CDC, it’s recommended to “Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.”

Janilyn Hutchings, a Certified Professional in Food Safety and food safety specialist of StateFoodsSafety.com, weighs in: “In general, washing your hands in non-potable water isn’t very effective in cleaning your hands. The three crucial ingredients of good handwashing are using soap, scrubbing for 15 seconds, and rinsing in clean water. When clean water is available, always wash your hands with soap and water—it’s much more effective in killing germs than using sanitizer. However, if you know for a fact clean water is unavailable, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer may be your best option.”

If you’re on an aircraft that has potable water, washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water would be the best option. If the water isn’t safe to drink, you’re better off using hand sanitizer after using the restroom.

Don’t forget to use hand sanitizer before you eat on a plane and to disinfect your airplane tray and seat. You’ve likely picked up germs from the seatbelt, arm rest, tray table, and TV screen. Using hand sanitizer will give you clean hands without having to get up.

According to the CDC, alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing 60 to 95 percent alcohol are the most effective. Purell is a good option. Rub the sanitizer over all the surfaces of your hands, front and back, until your hands are dry. Here is a list of products pre-approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “for use against emerging enveloped viral pathogens.”

Products to Help You Stay Healthy While Traveling

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

How to Make Your Own Hand Sanitizer

Whip up a batch of DIY hand sanitizer with household items already in your medicine cabinet. Want more expert tips and vacation inspiration? Subscribe to SmarterTravel on YouTube!

More from SmarterTravel:

Caroline Morse Teel is a Senior Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for travel inspiration.   

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Booking Strategy In-Flight Experience Packing Travel Etiquette

18 Easy Ways to Have a Better Flight

As aircraft seats become harder, closer together, and more likely to be full, getting comfortable in coach has grown into a nearly impossible challenge. Fortunately, there are little ways you can take control of your in-flight experience, from choosing the right seat to bringing the right gear. The 18 tips and tactics below will help you maximize your comfort and have a better flight.

Check SeatGuru

seatguru screenshot

The first step in having a better flight is having a better seat. Keep in mind that a window or aisle seat isn’t guaranteed to be comfortable; there might be something blocking the leg space, or the seat might not recline, or there might be no window in that row. Check SeatGuru, SmarterTravel’s sister site, to make sure your sweet seat isn’t actually a lemon.

Reserve One Aisle and One Window Seat

This is an old travel trick. When you are traveling with another person on a flight that places most seats together in groups of three, book one person in the window seat and one in the aisle seat, leaving the middle seat open. Subsequent passengers will try to avoid middle seats, so if the flight isn’t full you might get the row to yourselves. If someone does book the middle seat and you prefer to sit together, the other passenger will almost always happily surrender the middle seat to either of you.

Think Hard Before Booking the Bulkhead

Bulkhead seats, with their additional legroom and option to pin your feet against the wall to stretch, can seem attractive. But the absence of underseat space means that you can’t have a personal item at your feet during takeoff and landing (as well as time spent taxiing, which can be considerable). This means keeping everything in the overhead bins (if there is room), and getting up after takeoff and before landing to retrieve and restow them.

Choose a Window Seat if You Plan to Sleep

Teenage girl looking at plane window during flight.

Most people find it easier to sleep in the window seat; you have something to lean on, less risk of falling over onto someone, and no one asking you to get up so they can get out of the row.

Block Noise to Make Your Food Taste Better

Noise-canceling headphones can help you avoid the chatter of your annoying neighbor, but they can also improve the way your meal tastes, according to an Oxford University professor. It turns out that the drone of engine noise can actually make travelers less sensitive to the taste and smell of their food.

Pack Compression Socks

Compression socks make your legs and feet more comfortable by encouraging circulation—and may even help prevent deep vein thrombosis, a serious condition associated with long flights.

Test-Drive Your Neck Pillow

Male passenger of airplane listens to music and enjoys pillow for sleeping in chair

A neck pillow can make your in-flight experience significantly more comfortable—but don’t leave it up to chance. Before a recent trip to Europe I purchased a self-inflating, collapsible neck pillow at the airport. It was pretty much useless from the moment I opened it up; maybe a rhino’s neck would have been supported by the giant and overly flexible opening, but for me it was just a waste of space. Try out your new travel pillow in advance to be sure it’s worth the packing space in your carry-on.

Try Sleep Aids Before You Fly

Speaking of testing ahead of time, you don’t want a long overnight flight to be the first time you try a sleep aid medication. Many people have adverse reactions to these drugs, so you could end up feeling awful or being wound up when you are trying to slow down. For suggestions, see The Best Over-the-Counter Sleeping Pills for Long-Haul Flights.

Pack an Eye Mask

If you want to try to sleep before the flight crew decides to dim the lights in the cabin, or keep snoozing once they’ve turned them back on, an eye mask is a must.

Kimkoo Cotton Sleep Mask

Product Pick:

Kimkoo Cotton Sleep Mask

Use a Soft Bag for Your Personal Item

A small, pliable carry-on bag will give you less grief when jammed into the ever-shrinking space for your legs on modern planes. Having even a few more inches of legroom can make for a better flight.

Dress in Layers

senior couple walking through airport pointing wearing scarf and sweaters

Some airplanes are hot, some are cold, and some go back and forth. Dressing in layers you can add or shed easily will give you more control over your comfort.

Bring a Portable Charger

Bringing a device with a depleted battery onto a plane is setting yourself up for a miserable in-flight experience. A small, fully powered portable charger in your carry-on can help get you through even the longest flights with enough juice to spare for phone calls on arrival.

Avoid Carbonated Drinks

According to flight attendants, drinking carbonated soda or other beverages can lead to bloating and discomfort in the pressurized air of an airplane cabin. Your best bet for staying hydrated (and comfortable) is always water.

Fly in the Morning

sunrise man boarding plane rolling luggage

Planes generally encounter more turbulence as the day goes on and the ground warms up, according to Reader’s Digest. You’re also more likely to encounter thunderstorms in the afternoon. Take a morning flight for a gentler, better flight.

Sit Over the Wing

Similarly, the least bumpy seats in the plane are those over the wing; as pilot and author Patrick Smith notes in the Reader’s Digest story above, “A plane is like a seesaw. If you’re in the middle, you don’t move as much.”

Move Around

For comfort, health, and safety (as well as something to while away the time), do exercises in flight. Try these in-flight exercises that aren’t totally embarrassing.

Roll a Golf Ball Underfoot

For an in-flight massage, drop a golf ball on the floor below your seat, slip off your shoes, and roll the ball under each foot.

Ask for the Whole Can

To stay hydrated as well as enjoy the limited refreshments available, ask your flight attendant politely if you can have the whole can instead of just a cup of your preferred beverage; many will oblige.

What little things do you do to have a better flight? Let us know in the comments.

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Fashion & Beauty In-Flight Experience Packing

What Travel Editors Wear on the Plane

Who better to ask for airplane outfit advice than those who travel on planes the most frequently? From non-stretchy denim (yes, you read that correctly) to our go-to headphones, here are six outfits curated by our editors for some plane outfit inspiration.

Anne's Go-To Airplane Outfit

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Here’s a hot take: I’m all about flying in non-stretch denim. Hear me out! I love leggings and stretchy jeans as much as the next person, but both are too slippery on plane seats for me to get comfortable. Plus, I can wear my Wedgie jeans throughout the trip. My preference for lace-up shoes over slip-ons might seem equally radical, but I find sneakers better for mad dashes across the terminal, as well as all-day sightseeing once I’m in my destination. My beloved Comrad compression socks keep my poor calves from puffing up like two little balloons on the flight. And finally, this lightweight jacket helps me save space in my carry-on—those secure pockets accommodate my phone, Kindle, wallet, lip balm, face mist, hand cream, and boarding pass, with room to spare.

—Anne Bauso, Editor at WhatToPack.com, @anneolivia

Carol's Go-To Airplane Outfit

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I tend to feel a little claustrophobic and constricted when on a flight, so I try to dress as comfortably as possible while still remaining stylish. An easy-access wallet for my essentials limits the number of times I have to squeeze my carry-on out from the seat in front of me and lightweight, high-quality wireless earbuds let me relax even in a loud cabin. The best decision I’ve made for long-haul flights is investing in a pair of quality men’s sweatpants—they tend to be a little less fitted than women’s sizes, and this pair has plenty of pockets for snacks!

—Carol McPherson, Video Editor/Creator at SmarterTravel.com, @cj_mcpherson

Ashley's Go-To Airplane Outfit

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

I often have trouble regulating my body temperature on the plane, and to top it off, I get swollen ankles on almost every single flight. So I invest in layers (and comfort) for my airplane outfit. Lunya’s Restore pocket leggings and these low-cut compression socks work wonders to help alleviate both of these problems. Of course, staying hydrated is a must, so I always include a packable and reusable water bottle as a part of my “outfit.”

—Ashley Rossi, Editor at SmarterTravel.com, @ashley_stravel

Tyler's Go-To Airplane Outfit

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I will never be the type of guy to wear anything other than loungewear on an airplane and for that, I am not sorry. Sleepwear trumps casualwear any day! I’ve been obsessed with SAXX’s Snooze Pants for quite some time now because of their soft, durable, yet airy quality. It feels like nothing’s on and you can’t beat that. Topped off with a cozy hoodie and a pair of my favorite noise-canceling headphones, and my outfit’s complete. Apart from what I’m wearing, I can’t board a flight without a blanket, which normally crowds at least half of my carry-on. Investing in a travel kit with an included blanket is going to change the game for me, so I’m excited. Lastly, I’m 100 percent for taking your shoes off on a flight, so an easy pair of Allbirds’ Wool Loungers are perfect to slip on and off in the air. I’m realizing after writing this that I’d never want to be the person sitting next to me—so my dearest apologies to everyone that’s ever had to.

—Tyler Schoeber, Production Specialist, @tylerschoeber

Shannon's Go-To Airplane Outfit

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I tend to focus on the fabrics that are going to get me through a flight because I don’t want to be uncomfortably warm or thinking about looking wrinkled when I get off the plane. I’ve recently relied a lot on Amour Vert’s tops and jumpsuits made from their beechwood fabric, which is silky smooth but also breathes incredibly well—and won’t wrinkle. I also love pajama-cozy pants that are more tailored, like Eddie Bauer’s Departure Pants. For shoes, I go for something close-toed that’s also slip-on, like Cole Haan’s cushiony Cloudfeel Flats—which I usually take off in flight and replace with some treaded Dr. Scholls fuzzy socks for more comfort mid-flight (these even promote moisturizing with vitamins and lavender in the material—perfect for a dry plane cabin). I top it all off with a soft oversized scarf that looks cool and can be used as a blanket, or as extra lumbar support when rolled up.

—Shannon McMahon, Editor at SmarterTravel.com, @shanmcmahon

Sarah's Go-To Airplane Outfit

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I like to keep things comfy and casual on the plane—which means jeans that have some stretch and aren’t too tight, lightweight Saucony shoes with a memory foam bed that makes wearing them feel like walking on air, and a scarf to keep me warm in chilly airplane cabins. I hate to waste precious suitcase space on massive headphones, so I use simple but comfortable earbuds to block out the world.

—Sarah Schlichter, Senior Editor at SmarterTravel.com, @TravelEditor

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Categories
Family Travel In-Flight Experience Miscellany Oddities

The Turbulent Rise and Fall of the Kiddie Wing Pin

How one mini freebie illustrates the story of the airline industry at large.

As a kid, I loved to rummage around the bottom of my father’s sock drawer, where, among the loose change and rolls of breath mints, he stashed his collection of little airplane wing pins. For decades, these were handed out as mementos to child passengers, but my business-traveler dad (ever a 10-year-old at heart) was never above grabbing one for himself. I found his collection of pins compelling then, and today they still fascinate me. In many ways, wing pins have been a weathervane of the airline industry, showing what direction the winds of change are blowing.

Aficionados can often recall their first pin. Tracy Stewart, Managing Editor of Airfarewatchdog (SmarterTravel’s sister site), remembers the exact brand. “It was given to me by my dad. He gave me a Delta pin, and I thought that was the coolest thing.”

Likewise, Cameron Fleming, advertising copywriter and creator of the site Fly the Branded Skies, recalls his modest collection as a kid. “I would keep them in a jam jar. I had maybe 12.” As an adult, he now owns 636 pins, which are stored in an industrial filing cabinet and documented methodically on his site. Fleming is in good company. More than 1,300 eBay listings are currently selling junior wings, ranging from a plastic Western Airlines pin going for $2 to a 1940s United Airlines one for $125.

Three airline wing pins on a map.

Wing pins and commercial flight took off in tandem. As early as the 1930s, airlines gave out tiny metal airplane-wing pins to their youngest travelers—usually kids flying for the first time. In those days, these tiddlywink-type handouts were a huge badge of honor; only about one percent of Americans in the 1930s had boarded a commercial flight, and very few were children. “The Civil Aeronautics Board always had the final say in how much airlines could set seat prices,” Stewart says, “and you didn’t see a lot of discounted fares or even youth fares.”

In that era, air travel and the accompanying souvenir would have been quite exotic. “Having that Pan American ‘junior pilots’ pin on the playground would be quite something,” Fleming says. In terms of bragging rights, “it would be like you went to the moon.”

These wings became treasured keepsakes for kids, like baseball cards or marbles, and they fostered similar attachments. Some pins were marked “pilot,” “crew,” or “stewardess,” allowing children to role-play and recreate their flights during play-time. In those days many airlines doled out pilot pins to boys and stewardess ones to girls, proving that even 30,000 feet in the air, there’s still a glass ceiling.

Production of these “junior wings” or “kiddie wings” continued through the decades and peaked in the 1980s. Those years were also a boom time for air travel; propelled by the industry’s deregulation in 1978, the number of passengers doubled to 1 billion in the decade from 1975 to 1985. “Finally, airlines were able to set their own fares and they could be more competitive,” Stewart says. And with rising competition came the drive for airlines to set themselves apart. It’s in this moment “you start seeing airlines giving out lots of freebies like wing pins.”

Fleming also notes that wing pins were a way for new-to-market brands to legitimize themselves, essentially acting like wearable business cards. “It was a marketing symbol that the airline was open for business. Once it had the wings that it could give out to kids, it had arrived.” It also helped that new, cheapie plastic versions of these pins made significantly less of an impact on the bottom line than the costlier metal ones. At the high point, 73 airlines were doling out wings to their youngest clientele.

TWA Junior Hostess Wing Pin.

Of course, these were just part of a fleet of airline-branded items that included playing cards, matchbooks, and keychains. But kiddie pins were singular in that they targeted the next generation of travelers, which put them in an ethical gray zone. A 1978 report by the Federal Trade Commission, the same year as airline deregulation, confirmed that children under age 8 couldn’t differentiate between an advertisement and a personal message. This meant that children saw the pins as toys gifted to them, no different from a faux sheriff badge or secret decoder ring. As such, the pins fostered nostalgia as powerful as any other childhood plaything, but specific to an airline. This was not unlike the branded toys from McDonald’s Happy Meals, which kicked off in 1979. That pairing has met it share of criticism for using Disney characters, Beanie Babies, and the like to entice kids into a lifelong relationship with unhealthy food.

Fleming, however, doesn’t see pins as a “nefarious” act on the airlines part to hook the next generation. “I guess depending where you were in your development, it could mean a lot to you as a kid, and some of those residual feelings would carry on into adulthood.” But ultimately, he sees the pins as an excuse for playtime in a less-than-playful space. Stewart also thinks “it’s just a way of putting kids at ease,” and compares wing pins to a free lollipop at the bank. “For kids, it’s an act that helps soften up an otherwise boring, adult necessity,” he says.

Wherever they fall on a moral spectrum, wing pins have taken a nosedive since their heyday in the 1980s. The early 2000s was a low-point for pins; only around four airlines continued to dole them out. Once again, the pins reflected the larger turbulence in the marketplace. “In 2000, the industry was dealing with a bad economy—nine airlines went bankrupt—and then 9/11 happened and everything went down the tubes,” Stewart says. “After that, you start seeing successful budget carriers springing up. Legacy carriers were forced to mimic the model used by the low-cost carriers to survive.”

The rise of online flight shopping and easy price comparison tools drove a race to rock-bottom prices. With more and more price transparency, airlines couldn’t rely on emotional connections forged by kiddie wings and other paraphernalia to help sell tickets. Nor could they justify raising the price to absorb the cost of those branded items, when even a $10 difference could send travelers to the next airline on search results.

The heyday of wing pins was officially over.

Or was it? In the 2010s, airlines have again risen in profitability, and the wing pin has started to make a few glimmering reappearances. “Delta has them. United has them. American has them,” Fleming says, listing the wing pins that could be currently circulating somewhere above our heads. Delta, Fleming recalls, brought its pins back with a lot of fanfare. “They are so strongly associated with the golden era of air travel that bringing them back really does send a strong signal of company health,” he explains.

Virgin Atlantic Airline Wing pin.

Tellingly in these last few years, pins have popped up outside fuselage walls. On a flight back from London, I ran into a familiar sight: the wing pin. This time, it was being handed out in the airport terminal by a Virgin Atlantic rep next to a “selfie wall.” The pin, on a millennial-pink card, declared, “You’re a future flyer” and came with a postcard instructing travelers to snap a picture and post it with the hashtag #VirginFutureFlyers.

In a way, that’s a return to form for the wing pin. “What’s interesting about them is that they’re an invitation to participate in the brand,” Fleming says. “The idea that you can, on some basic level, be part of the crew is exciting.” Just like in yesteryear, these new wing pins are encouraging interaction, playtime, and “joining a crew,” though now all of that takes place in a virtual world.

It’s not surprising that, in our last decade, wing pins have left the current dreariness of the plane cabin and slipped down the escape ramp of social media. In the past, Stewart jokes, “You’d have a huge hulking seat, like a La-Z-Boy, and the flight attendant would be, say, carving a ham next to you.” Now he says, “the reality is that you’re trapped in a plane with very little legroom.” In other words, in the middle seat of economy, everyone’s wings are clipped. But online, the fantasy of jetting off into the sunset still lives on. And it’s on that runway that airline pins could take off again.

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Categories
Frequent Flyer In-Flight Experience Packing

12 Cozy Travel Blankets to Bring on the Plane

It’s tough to get comfortable—much less sleep—on a long-haul flight, especially if you’re stuck in coach. And a thin, possibly dirty airplane blanket isn’t much help. Give yourself a fighting chance by bringing your own soft, cozy travel blanket from home instead.

Below are the best travel blankets at a variety of price points. Many that can also double as a scarf, poncho, or pillow. Stuff one into your carry-on for a more comfortable flight.

Parachute Merino Travel Kit

Parachute Merino Travel Kit.

This kit from Parachute includes not only a luxe travel blanket made of fine merino wool, but also a matching eye mask and a carrying kit. The elegant design and antimicrobial (and therefore anti-odor) properties of the merino wool make this one of the better luxury travel blanket options. 

E Marie Travel Packable Travel Blanket

E Marie Travel Packable Travel Blanket.

This generously sized travel blanket from E Marie Travel, measuring 82 by 36 inches, was chosen by Oprah for her 2019 Favorite Things list. You can use it as either a blanket or a scarf, then pack it into its own carrying case. It’s machine washable for easy care between trips. 

Cocoon CoolMax Blanket

Cocoon CoolMax Blanket.

The CoolMax Blanket is made of a lightweight material that breathes well and wicks away moisture. It comes in a wide variety of colors, folds up into a compact drawstring carrying pouch, and is machine washable.

White and Warren Travel Wrap

White and Warren Travel Wrap.

For a luxury travel blanket that also serves as an ultra-soft scarf, try the White and Warren Travel Wrap. It’s pricey, but that’s because it’s made of 100 percent cashmere that feels indulgent and looks elegant in any travel situation. One of White and Warren’s bestsellers for more than two decades, it comes in 19 different shades. 

Comfort Plus 3-in-1 Premium Travel Blanket

Comfort Plus 3-in-1 Premium Travel Blanket.

Made of soft microfleece, this affordable three-in-one item can be used as a travel blanket, a pillow, or a neck roll. It folds away into a carrying pouch that can be strapped to the handle of your suitcase or personal item for easy carrying. 

Zestt Organics Cotton Travel Set

Zestt Organics Cotton Travel Set

This travel set from Zestt Organics features a matching organic cotton travel blanket and eye mask, complete with a carry bag that attaches to your luggage handle. The set comes in your choice of four classic colors: navy, charcoal, light gray, or birch. 

Travelrest 4-in-1 Premier Class Travel Blanket

Travelrest 4-in-1 Premier Class Travel Blanket.

Versatile and reasonably priced, the Travelrest 4-in-1 blanket is designed in a pullover poncho style, so it won’t slide down while you’re drifting off on the plane. It’s made of plush fleece that always feels soft, and it has a zipper pocket where you can stow small items during a nap. Fold it up into its stuff pouch to use it as a pillow for your neck, head, or lower back. 

World’s Best Cozy-Soft Microfleece Travel Blanket

World’s Best Cozy-Soft Microfleece Travel Blanket.

If you’re looking for a comfy fleece travel blanket at a bargain price, consider this option from World’s Best. Made of machine-washable polyester, this blanket measures 60 by 50 inches and is warm without being bulky.

Sofia Cashmere Romagnia Suede Travel Set

Sofia Cashmere Romagnia Suede Travel Set.

Looking to splurge? Treat yourself to the cashmere travel blanket, eye mask, and zippered carrying case that make up the Romagnia Suede Travel Set. This indulgent kit will make you feel like you’re in first class even if you’re stuck in a middle seat in coach. 

BeWell Packable Travel Blanket

BeWell Packable Travel Blanket.

For an affordable, eco-friendly option, try the BeWell Packable Travel Blanket. It’s made of 100 percent bamboo fiber, one of the more sustainable fabrics available, and is both soft and lightweight. It zips into its own carrying pocket. 

Etsy Personalized Travel Blanket

Etsy Personalized Travel Blanket.

Add your name or initials to personalize this plush travel blanket from seller MissMarisasMonograms on Etsy. The blanket can be used as a pillow when it’s folded into its carrying case, and is made of lightweight polyester. This makes a great gift for yourself or a frequent-traveler friend.

Pavilia Fleece Travel Blanket Pillow

Pavilia Fleece Travel Blanket Pillow.

Unfold this fleece travel blanket to keep you warm on a plane, or fasten the zippers on each side to turn it into a pillow or hand warmer. Choose from various solid-colored options or pick up the blanket in a cozy-looking red plaid.

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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration. Tyler Schoeber contributed to this story.

Categories
Entertainment In-Flight Experience

The Best Airlines for In-Flight Entertainment

In-flight entertainment can make the difference between a tolerable flight and a miserable one in the main cabin and can add to the enjoyment of a trip in a premium cabin. CableTV.com, a TV-Internet consumer information resource, recently ranked the in-flight entertainment experience for the 10 largest U.S.-based airlines.

Best Airlines for In-flight Entertainment

The rankings are as follows:

  1. JetBlue
  2. Delta
  3. United
  4. American Airlines
  5. Alaska
  6. Southwest
  7. Hawaiian
  8. Allegiant
  9. Frontier
  10. Spirit

Here’s what makes each one the best:

JetBlue

The nation’s leading low-cost carrier earned a top score on its in-flight entertainment through a combination of factors. Among them are above-average legroom, live TV—36 channels on A320a and E190s, more than 100 channels on A321s—at-seat USB and power outlets, and free Wi-Fi, with a few more extras in the premium cabin. “Overall, it’s a cozy and convenient company that caters to your comfort,” the report points out. This is no surprise: JetBlue consistently shows up at or near the top of most overall ratings of U.S. airlines.

Delta

Another no-surprise result: Delta has been consistently outperforming its two giant legacy competitors—American and United—in passenger ratings. It earned high marks for in-flight food and drinks, along with screens at each seat on most planes and other features. Delta loses the top spot to JetBlue mainly because it charges $16 for WiFi. And Delta offers “really good grub” even in the main cabin.

United

The second legacy line offers much the same as Delta. Its Wi-Fi is a bit more expensive, but in provides a free media “library” you can access by laptop or smart phone and DirecTV on “selected” flights. It got dinged a bit because not all flights have power outlets or screens.

The Others

Alaska, American, and Southwest offer paid Wi-Fi, and those three plus Hawaiian offer at-seat screens on most planes. At the bottom end, lack of both Wi-Fi and at-seat screens doomed Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit to last-place rankings.

Note: Most of my conclusions came from the CableTV.com study, but I checked features with SeatGuru (SmarterTravel’s sister site) where possible.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most recent information.