Travel Hindsight Experiment: Tips for the optimal flight experience

Last week I embarked on an experiment of sorts in hopes of discovering which tips, among those that I had obtained from other travellers, would actually create the optimal in-flight experience and which ones weren’t worth the time or effort to follow.

Normally when I pack for a trip there is very little planning or forethought. As far as packing a carry-on bag goes, I usually don’t. My philosophy has always been to have very little with me – I’m not interested in lugging stuff around and would much prefer to check it all. Typically, I have my purse with my wallet, my phone, a book and occasionally, if I’m really lucky, my ear buds. That’s it. BUT, I will admit that I have suffered through many a flight needlessly. A little foresight and a few small items could have made a huge difference to many a crappy flight. And hence this experiment.

On Friday afternoon I flew to NYC and put into practice all of the tips and recommendations that I had accumulated from reading other travel blogs. Here’s how the experiment played out.

The Experimental Process

I went shopping. I’ve never shopped for a flight before but I was committed to doing what I had set out to do so, off I went to purchase the necessary items from my list. My trip to NYC was going to be a short one but I made sure I covered off every tip before we set off to the airport and boarded our flight, ready to test them all out.

1. Before boarding the plane, use the washroom!

Who can argue with that one? In the past, I’ve neglected to consider how much coffee I’ve had only to find myself on a flight with too much turbulence for the pilot to turn off the seat belt sign long enough for me to do anything about a full bladder. Not this time! I visited the ladies room before I even made it to our gate.

2. Bring a carry-on bag and consider packing the same items in the same pockets of the bag each time I travel. If possible, leave the items in the bag afterwards so there’s a few less things to think about for the next trip. I’m going to add that the bag should fit easily under the seat in front of me – I have no interest in digging in the overhead bin every time I need something.

This was actually great advice. My ear buds were still in the small zippered pocket of my bag from a previous flight and that’s the only reason that I had them with me – I had forgotten to actually pack them. My phone charger was in there too (amen!).

3. Bring hand sanitizer to protect yourself from all the germs that find their way onto planes. Use a little to wipe down the arm rests and tray table before the flight takes off.

I must admit, I was a little embarrassed doing this. I thought people might think I was a germ freak but I did the quick wipe while the plane was still boarding so most people were too busy getting themselves settled into their own seats to notice me. My husband chose to sanitize his armrests and tray too. This isn’t a bad idea but I don’t think it’s necessary and I probably won’t do it again. Having a little sanitizer on hand is great after visiting the lavatory, especially on a long flight with an in-flight meal or when you’re travelling with children but wiping down the armrest and tray seemed a little excessive, to me.

4.  Bring an empty water bottle to fill up at the airport (cost saving!!) and packets of powdered drink mix like Emergen-C (contains nutrients, electrolytes and vitamin C) to help keep hydrated, energized and boost the immune system.

I actually really enjoyed this one. I felt like a rebel going through security with the water bottle even though it was empty so I wasn’t actually doing anything wrong. I filled it up before boarding and then handed it to the flight attendant to discard after drinking the water so I didn’t have to carry it around beyond the flight. The Emergen-C was delicious and ended up making a huge difference to my day. I had a late liquid lunch on a patio that day so in addition to hydrating me, the powdered drink on the plane also sustained me with its nutrients until dinner time. Hydration during a flight is huge – I highly recommend following this tip!

5. Bring your own protein bar or trail mix – airline snacks are typically salty and not particularly healthy.

We were handed a small packet of pretzels. Salty, salty, salty. Plus, they expand in your stomach and make you feel bloated afterwards.  Bloated was NOT part of my NYC plan! I skipped the pretzels and pulled out my healthy whole food energy bar (with gluten- and wheat-free vegan ingredients). It satisfied my hunger and boosted my nutritional intake. This was the healthiest part of my entire day.

6. If flying for an extended period of time or overnight, bring a sleep mask to help trick my brain into thinking it’s nighttime. Ear plugs are a good idea too.

My flight was a midday one and a short one – Toronto to NYC – so I had no need for tips on catching a few zzz’s but I’m sure these items would have been quite useful if I’d had the need to sleep and neither take up any room in a carry-on so why not give them a try?

7. Bring moisturizer and apply frequently to prevent skin from getting dehydrated AND a face wipe to freshen up with at the end of the flight.

Honestly between the hand sanitizer and the moisturizer I think I just broke even as far as keeping my skin hydrated goes but my hands did smell good! I have lots of friends who always have a little moisturizer in their bag and for them I’d say “carry on”. I don’t typically have hand cream on me and probably wouldn’t remember to use it even if I did but I do think I could benefit from having a face moisturizer accessible during a long flight. The good news is that travel-sized moisturizers are easy to find.

8. Bring your own headphones so you’re guaranteed to have a working set and save a few dollars (some airlines charge a fee for headsets).

I accidentally HAD mine because I inadvertently followed tip #2 above. Turns out I didn’t need them because it was a short flight and I chose to read but my husband forgot his and borrowed mine to enjoy a particularly amusing episode of ‘Modern Family’. Good tip!

9. Make sure your carry-on bag has a pen in it so you can fill out immigration/customs forms at your leisure rather than while standing in line.

This was useful for the return flight when the customs forms were handed out. No need to bum a pen off someone else.

10. Bring an activity to help entertain yourself (or to help rescue yourself from a chatty fellow passenger) – e-reader, real book/mag, tablet with movies/music

I packed my book and also grabbed a few complimentary magazines from the airport lounge we visited before our flight.  I don’t normally buy magazines so I spent the whole flight reading (and enjoying!) the magazines.

11. Wear loose clothing for maximum comfort. Consider dressing in layers – it can get chilly and there aren’t enough blankets on most flights for everyone. Avoid tight socks.

I wore a scarf in case I needed a little extra warmth with my jacket off and my yoga jeans to make sure I was comfortable but also somewhat stylish since I wasn’t going to be changing clothes before heading out ingot he city upon arrival in NYC. This is a no-brainer really. If you’re physically uncomfortable, you’re going to have a miserable fight.

12. Take off your shoes. Bring slippers or flip flops to put on during the flight.IMG_5206

Well, my flight was short so there was no need to bring slippers or flip flops and I didn’t need to visit the washroom as I took care of that before boarding so I simply took off my shoes. For me, this makes a big difference and is a must. I didn’t inherit great feet though so I suppose others may disagree.  I’m a ‘shoes off during flight’ girl  – I DO put them back on if I wander down the aisle or visit the washroom though!

13. Move around during the flight  – do a few seat exercises and/or walk the aisle from time to time.

I suffer from restless leg syndrome. If you haven’t heard of it before then let me just tell you that while not life-threatening it does have the ability to drive you CRAZY. I never know when its going to strike but I pray it doesn’t happen during a flight when I’m limited in my ability to relieve myself of its annoying symptoms. Over the years I’ve learned a few exercises I can do in my seat to help overcome the irresistible urge to move my legs and provide some relief. Some movement during a flight, especially a long one, is crucial for me. If not doing a few static muscle exercises in my seat, I get up and walk the aisle for a bit.  Movement during a long flight is recommended for anyone to help get the blood circulating to prevent blood clots.  Sound advice I say.

14. Choose flight times in agreement with your sleep schedule.

This flight was perfect. It was short and in the middle of the day so my sleep schedule was not affected at all. My husband and I have weighted flight times very high on our list of priorities when it comes to our travel plans, especially when our girls are travelling with us. Having to get up at dawn to catch a flight (or arriving very late at night) just isn’t worth the cost savings that are sometimes associated with these flights. They wreak havoc on our vacation time while we try to make-up for lost sleep. We’d rather pay a little more and have optimal flight times than lose sleep and deal with grumpy moods for 3 days. To each his own though.

15. Bring your own travel pillow. The covers on those little pillows they hand out on planes are apparently NOT clean.

Again, my flight was short so a pillow wasn’t necessary but I do own a neck pillow and would consider bringing it for a long flight.

16. Avoid carbonated, caffeinated and alcoholic beverages.

While I did manage to avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages during the flight, I ordered a club soda when the flight attendant came around with drink trolley. I figured it was extra water and I like the bubbles.  No harm no foul. It was small and I added the Emergen-C to it. Avoiding caffeine is crucial if you have any hopes of sleeping on the plane and you’ll help your body stay hydrated too – caffeine is a diuretic.

17. Ensure carry-on bag has a few tablets of my headache medicine-of-choice (some may also choose to include sleep-meds)

Given the short trip, I had everything with me. I didn’t check any luggage so, if required, I could have remedied a headache while on board. Thankfully, since I had followed a few tips above, I wasn’t dehydrated and didn’t succumb to a headache.

18. Gum – you never know when you’ll fall prey to that horrid ear popping pain during take-off or landing.

My 4-year-old had her first bad experience with this just a month ago. On a flight to Dominican Republic she started screaming and cupping her ears just moments into our take-off. She was in so much pain. I felt helpless. Her ears had never been sensitive during flights before. Other passengers quickly starting handing us gum and the flight attendant brought us hot compresses to hold against her ears. All of this helped and once we were at our flying altitude she was ok. I never want that to happen again. On our return flight we were prepared. Bring the gum or anything else to chew on, just in case. The alternative is too unpleasant to risk.

19. Ziplock bags – they have multiple uses:  for your small permitted liquids/barf bag/laundry bag/sea-shell collecting bag

I had my trusty ziplock filled with my permitted amount of liquids and was glad I did. It seems that there are a few new requirements when going through security to New York and not having to hold up the line to use one of the zip locks they provide was beneficial. I was busy enough taking off my shoes and plucking the lint out of my jean pockets before entering the scanning machine.  Yes, I was told to remove any lint from my pockets before entering.  Thankfully, my ziplock bag did not need to double as a barf bag onboard.

20. Overnight sundries ….just in case I beat my luggage to my destination.

Check. I had everything onboard with me as I’d chosen not to check any luggage but I see the value in this tip regardless. Even if you do have checked luggage its wise to add a few essentials to your carry-on bag just in case your luggage does a little wander-lusting of its own before meeting you back at your hotel.  Many of these items are available in travel-sizes so they don’t take up too much room. Plus, while a hotel can provide you with a disposable comb, toothbrush and paste, they may not have a pair of underwear you’re willing to wear :)


So there you have it. That’s the low down on my insight from the hindsight of other travellers. In a nut shell, if you use the washroom and wash your hands before boarding and avoid the caffeinated beverages while flying then you WON’T need to visit the washroom onboard and thus will have limited need for hand sanitizer. The real travel essentials are the same as life’s essentials – be prepared to hydrate and feed yourself and to do whatever it takes to get some sleep when required. Beyond that, everything else is just nice to have.

Now tell me… you wipe down the armrest and tray table when you fly?







6 responses to “Travel Hindsight Experiment: Tips for the optimal flight experience

  1. I have not tried the sanitizer wipe down yet…but I think it’s a great idea! The tray tables should in theory have been wiped before the flight when the plane was cleaned, but I’m not sure the arm rests would have got the same treatment. I’m no germophobe…but the prospect of being sick on holiday is not something I would invite. Great post as always, and glad you had safe travels. :-)

    • I would have thought the trays were cleaned between flights but when I wiped my down I removed a fresh coffee cup stain. I think the wipe down might be a good idea, especially during flu season. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. Awesome experiment. I’m glad you liked mi tip of brining an empty bottle ;) It’s even better for longer flights with connections, I refill at every stop and have free water at connections and in-flight at my own convenience.
    I would also feel embarrassed to wipe everything but I did read an article that the main reason people get sick in-flight is not because of the air and tight space (the air gets recycled and cleaned constantly), but because of the germs in seats, trays, etc… so, maybe the embarrassment is worth it. I haven’t tried it though.

    • I have a friend who swears by wiping down the tray and armrests. She said she hasn’t gotten sick after a flight ever since she started doing it. I think I may start doing it….especially for my daughters. Thanks for the comment!

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