Do you have what it takes to mentally endure a long-haul? Read on for what it’s like to travel for over 24 hours straight, complete with tips and tricks to help you survive on a packed plane for over a day.
My 24-Hour Travel Journey
This is what it was like to travel for 24 hours-plus in packed economy class to get from Boston to Malaysian Borneo.
Hours 1 – 2: I arrive at the airport in the morning for my first flight. This is my first of three flights to get to Borneo and I’m only going from Logan to JFK. I have spent the past week preparing for this trip, so I’m excited it’s finally here and I can stop stressing about whether I’ve packed everything I need. This flight is only 45 minutes, a breeze for me; this is the easiest part of the journey. I do feel a little out of place with my carry-on backpack, as this is more of a commuter flight.
Hours 3 – 5: I am now on my layover for two hours waiting to board my second flight to Incheon, South Korea. This next flight should be about 15 hours. The Norwegian Air flight at the gate across from me is delayed almost five hours, so there’s a lot of unhappy fliers to watch. Also, the Emirates flight arriving at JFK is all over the news for being quarantined—I wonder if I’ll see Vanilla Ice.
Hours 5 – 7: I am flying on Korean Air on my first double-decker plane. The boarding process is well-organized and super easy; why can’t all flights be like this? I kind of feel like I’ve gone back to the Golden Age of Air Travel; there’s a massive grand staircase separating the two levels, and even economy seems luxurious. I score an empty middle seat in my row. Almost one hour in, we get our meals. I ordered a vegetarian meal ahead of time and I’m happy to know what I’m eating, tofu and Udon noodles with a glass of red wine. This isn’t so bad.
Hours 7 – 10: Movie time. I watch not one, but three movies to kill some time. There’s a huge selection of British, American, and Korean movies.
Hours 10-12: I manage to doze off here and there. Almost half way done with this flight.
Hours 12-15: I take a natural sleeping pill so I can get some more sleep. Having a hard time getting comfortable. I can’t believe there are still five more hours.
Hours 16-18: Boredom and exhaustion are setting in. I don’t know how much longer I can do this. I have definitely reached my mental breaking point for one flight. Don’t think I’ll be attempting the world’s longest flight (which is four hours longer than this) anytime soon.
Hour 19: Finally we land, but we’re late due to altering the flight path because of weather. I already had a tight connection, so this is going to be tough.
Hour 19-20: As I’m getting off the plane, my connecting flight is already boarding. I need to sprint through the Incheon airport to make my final flight to Kota Kinabalu. Unless I commit and run the entire way, I won’t make it. Incheon is a great airport for international transfers, so I’m able to easily switch terminals without going through customs or a long security line. After transferring terminals, I need to check in at the gate, which couldn’t be farther away. I am dripping sweat and out of breath—and am almost ready to give up—when I see the line for my flight. I finish my mini-marathon and check in for my flight just in time. At least I didn’t have to wait any longer on a layover … trying to stay positive.
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Hours 20-24: Why is this flight full? I’m on an Asian budget airline and it’s super uncomfortable but am so far beyond tired I am able to pass out.
Hour 24: I have landed in Borneo. It is now the following day around 11 p.m. so I can’t wait to fall asleep in a bed and wake up refreshed. Thankfully, I have an airport transfer to the hotel pre-arranged and it’s only about 20 minutes away. I never want to get on a plane again, but eventually I have to get home. The silver lining is that I have 12 days to explore all Borneo has to offer before I have to worry about that.
How to Survive a 24-Hour Travel Day
#1: Plan your flight path. When looking at different flight options to Borneo I chose to arrive late at night so I could get a full night’s rest and be ready to start my group tour the next day. I also left my origin airport at a normal time so I could somewhat replicate my normal daily routine on my flight.
#2: Research your airline. Not all foreign airlines are created equal. Korean Air was clean, efficient, and the flight attendants spoke English and were friendly.
#3: Pick your transfer airport wisely. Incheon has a whole website dedicated to airport transfers, an airport lounge, and a hotel if you do happen to get stuck there. I was able to view the process on YouTube ahead of time so I could quickly go through the transfer process, which ultimately was the reason I made my final flight. I also recommend purchasing a day pass to an airport lounge if you have a long layover or a layover at an airport with few amenities.
#4: Have a glass of wine. One glass won’t dehydrate you too much, and it can help you fall asleep and relax.
#5: Find some source of a sleep aid and stick to a routine. There’s no easy way to fall asleep in economy class. I travel with melatonin, but herbal tea, and other sleep-aids will do. It’s helpful if you can trick your body into adjusting its circadian rhythms by following your normal sleep routine.
#6: Comfort is key. Wear layers that are comfortable and moisture-wicking so you can adjust to different temperatures.
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#7: Drink water. Korean Air provided bottled water, which made it easy to stay hydrated. Bring your own bottle and ask the flight attendants to fill it up for you.
#8: Research your inflight amenity kit or make your own. I recommend a blanket, neck pillow, socks, facial mist, toothbrush and toothpaste, hair brush, snacks, eye mask, wipes, essential oils, over-the-counter medicines, deodorant, lip balm, and a light sweater, outer layer, or scarf.
#9: Order special meals ahead of time. There’s nothing worse than airplane food’s mystery meat. Since I wasn’t super familiar with Korean cuisine and knew the inflight meals were my only option, I was happy I ordered a vegetarian meal. You also get your meal before everyone else so you don’t have to wait to be served if you want to fall asleep.
#10: Pick your seat or ask to move. Long hauls are rarely fully booked, so when you’re selecting your seat, choose wisely. I like to pick a window seat in a row where someone has already selected the aisle. This way you have a better chance at an empty middle seat in your row. Korean Air also showed where babies were seated on the seat map, so you could avoid sitting near one if that’s important to you.
#11: Arrange an airport pickup. Trust me, you will thank yourself later. Having one less thing to think about when you’re exhausted and getting off the plane is worth more than the money you’d save on figuring out public transportation at your destination.
#12: Pack your own headphones and backup entertainment. I didn’t think it was possible, but there’s only so many movies you can watch. Also, the headphones they give you on flights are super uncomfortable after one re-run of Friends.
#13: It’s ok if you smell. You’ve been in the same clothes for over 24 hours, there’s not much you can do.
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#14: Talk a walk and stretch. Not only is this a healthy thing to do on any flight, but it can be dangerous to your health if you don’t get up during a long-haul. Wear compression socks as an extra precaution to prevent blood clots.
#15: Be polite to the flight attendants. This is a given, but they’ve had to work for 24 hours straight, so be nice and they’ll be nice to you.
More from SmarterTravel:
- • The 15 Items You Need to Survive a Long-Haul Flight
- • 8 Best Airlines for Free Stopovers
- • How to Find a Free Stopover—or Even Save Money By Taking One