International flight

Preparing for A long International Flight – complete Guide 2024

With tickets in hand and excitement soaring, the countdown begins to embark on an exciting journey across the pond! You’re probably feeling a mix of excitement, nervousness, and maybe some anxiety about the extended flight. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or this is your first time preparing for a long international flight, get ready to elevate your travel game as we prepare you for the flight ahead and what to do once you land. We are always mindful to make our long travel days as fun and stress-free as possible and you will be too after reading this blog!

It all starts with preparation (and anticipation)! We plan and prepare and we even have a countdown on a whiteboard that we change every day watching the days tick down to travel day! We start packing well in advance because many times we are scrambling to finish up the last bits of work and house prep before our trip begins. We’re dropped off at the airport, quickly get through security and the first stop is…the lounge. We sit down, order a drink, and take a big sigh of relief…our trip has begun. 🥂 

airport lounge
airport lounge

Please note: This post is primarily written for International flight travel from the US to Europe but can be useful for any long flight.

The flight is not something to, ‘get over with’ or to ‘get through’. Getting to our destination is an experience to be enjoyed as part of the journey and it should planned as intentionally as you plan the days of your trip. So let’s get right to it!

Choose flight times carefully on an international flight

We like to choose an evening flight to go over. This allows you to sleep as much as possible on this flight and set yourself up for success the next day. Once onboard, dinner is usually served within the first 2 hours, and then try to get as much sleep as possible until you land. Flight times don’t sound like a big deal but being mindful of which flight times you prefer can help with jet lag! More on that later! 

On the return flight, we prefer a morning flight. With the time change, that puts us back home in the evening. Just in time for dinner and bed! 

Choose your Seat

Whether you are flying first class or economy class, select your seat at the time of booking your flight. Check back on this occasionally before your flight because if the airline changes planes, they will change your seat! We’ve had this happen a few times recently. 

Move over ‘window seat’ because if you are traveling alone we think an aisle seat is the best choice. If you’re flying with a partner, our favorite economy plane configuration is a 2-4-2 and we pick a window seat and an aisle seat. However, if that is unavailable we like to book the middle row. We book an aisle seat and the one next to it. This way we don’t have to step over anyone to get up or get to the restroom. Choose seats towards the middle to the front of the plane if possible.

Keep in mind the middle row of seats usually has more airflow and often feels more spacious than the side seats. You do give up the window view but we find it’s a worthwhile trade-off for economy class!

If you are lucky enough to fly first class or business class, still choose your seat! But most of the other stuff above doesn’t apply. Any seat will be an excellent selection and you’ll have the added benefits of more room and a lay flat seat!

What to wear on a long flight

luggage and airport outfits

Even though this sounds obvious, it pays off to plan and be thoughtful about what you will wear on your long international travel day. We know we will be in the same clothes for up to 15 hours!

Layering is great because sometimes it’s cold and other times it’s warm. Slip-on shoes are comfortable and practical. A scarf can double as a throw over the shoulders or even a pillow.

After much trial and error, we finally found what works for us. I’ve worn jeans several times and then changed for sleep on the plane. However, for me, jeans can be uncomfortable on a long day of travel. My new favorite is a body con midi dress, long sleeve or sleeveless, depending on the season. Layer it with a sweater and it’s the perfect combo. Soft and comfortable, yet stylish enough for going through the airport and arriving at your destination.

Remember that rompers and jumpsuits are difficult and gross in airplane bathrooms. I know from short-flight experiences 🤪.

The airlines always provide a small blanket and pillow waiting in your seat when you board.

Scott’s favorite travel brands are Rhone, Lululemon, and Bylt. They can be expensive but they are comfortable, practical, and stylish!

You can change for sleep after dinner, as we’ve done in the past, but it is easier if your outfit can be stylish yet comfortable enough for both awake and sleep time. 

Beyond Yoga Spacedye Icon Midi Dress
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GAP Crewneck Cardigan
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TSA Pre-check / Global entry

Having TSA pre-check and global entry is a game changer! We each have credit cards that reimburse us for this expense. You can apply for pre-check separately but Global Entry is around $100 and it includes TSA pre-check, so 2 for 1! Be sure and check your credit card benefits to see if this is an offer that is available for you! It’s a simple process to apply and when you are approved you will receive your KTN (known traveler number). When booking your flights you will see this as an option to add to your check-in process and then your boarding pass will reflect this!

With TSA Pre-Check you get to skip the normal security line in any U.S. Airport. You have a separate, short line to go through security. No removing your shoes or taking out toiletry items to go through the scanner. Usually, the whole process from standing in line to getting to the other side is less than 10 min! Sometimes we’ve waiting in a normal security line for up to an hour! So this is worth it!

boarding pass with TSA Pre-Check

Global Entry is used when you are returning to the U.S. from an International flight. It’s a fast track through customs in most airports!

At the airport

At the airport

If we are in an airport with a lounge, we head straight there. This is another benefit of having the right credit cards. Lounge access with complimentary food and drinks can make travel day much smoother and cheaper. Say goodbye to $15 cocktails and $20 burgers at airport restaurants!

>>> If you are an Amex cardholder you can sign up for ‘Priority Pass’ which allows access to some of our favorite lounges. Here is a link to that card. Amex also reimburses you for Global Entry!

Now it’s time to collect your thoughts, calm your mind, and prepare for the flight.

This is a good time to ensure you have water and snacks! (next tip)

Take Water!!

I think this is our number one travel tip of all time. Whether we are on a train, a plane, or just going across town, water is the number one priority!

Even though all food and drink are included on your international flight, it can sometimes take a LONG time to get your first cup or bottle of water in Economy. The longest we waited was 2 hours on one flight. We were dying of thirst, and I may have been a little cranky as well 😉.

It is SO important to hydrate when flying! Bring a refillable bottle or buy a bottle of water at the terminal before heading to your gate. Having your bottle when you board the plane is a must!

Side note: We always like to bring a few snacks of our own as well in our carry-on bag like a cliff bar, an extra pack of peanuts, etc.

Board as soon as possible and get your space organized

Air France Business Class

It’s time to set up your seat for the most comfort and ease for your flight. Stow personal items under the seat and keep out any items that you will want for easy access in the seatback or next to you.

This is a great time to check out the in-flight entertainment. One of our habits is to pick a comedy movie so we can have a few laughs and keep our spirits light.

Keep These Items handy:

You will likely be provided with a travel kit on board that includes a sleep mask and earplugs. If you’re flying first class you will get even more goodies along with a welcome drink!

Enjoy the flight

Meal service is a fun experience. It always feels like such a treat when the flight attendants come by. First, they roll out the drink cart. A glass of wine or a cocktail before dinner always sounds good. Following the drink cart is the meal. Normally it’s a choice of meat or a pasta dish. Surprisingly, the food almost always tastes good!

Air France meal service
Air France appetizer in Business Class

If you’re lucky enough to be in first class, you’re in for a much different experience! Champagne is delivered as soon as you board, tablecloths over your tray table, real silverware, top-shelf drinks, and usually amazing food! Not to mention a lie-flat seat ensures you’ll get a good night’s rest.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate. Higher altitude will cause dehydration and you need to combat that by increasing your water intake. This will increase the number of visits to the bathroom, but you’ll feel much better in the morning!

Before and after dinner service, we like to catch up on some fun movies/shows. Travel days can be tough and the laughing is definitely good for you.


Finally, it’s time for some sleep. The flight attendants will dim the cabin and everyone starts preparing for some rest. Grab your blanket and eye mask, recline your seat as much as possible, and drift off to sleepy land. Don’t forget, all of this experience is part of the trip so enjoy it as much as possible!

Read More>>> 5 Things You Must Do On Vacation in 2024

Arriving at your destination

arriving at your destination

First up is Customs. If possible, use the lavatory on the plane soon before landing and grab some water. If you can get straight to the line for Customs it can be less tedious and shorter lines. Stopping for a potty break as soon as you get off the plane can put you at the back of the line. Sometimes it’s hot and stuffy in line so grabbing that extra water before getting off the plane can be a life-saver.

Maybe you will still get that sought-after passport stamp but a lot of countries are now just doing facial recognition with your passport. It’s faster, but I’m old-fashioned and like that stamp in my book.

Freshen up

Once you get through customs, it’s a great time to stop at the restrooms and freshen up. We take an easy-access toiletries bag in our carry-on that includes: toothbrushes/toothpaste, eye drops, face wipes and face serums/lotions, deodorant, or body spray, etc.

Find an atm in the airport

Next, we find an airport ATM to grab some cash. We find this is easier than getting to your destination and scrambling to find money. The atm charges a small fee. When the money is disbursing, Scott always says, ‘We won the lottery again!’😂

Tip: We always take several debit cards. Sometimes an ATM will reject one and take another. It’s always a good idea to take U.S. cash as well.

Getting to your hotel

Often we take a taxi from the airport to our hotel or Airbnb to drop off bags. Even though trains are usually a much cheaper option, hopping in a taxi after getting through customs and sitting down to take a breath in silence is nice and worth the money for us! 

First Day: Jet lag sets in, now what?!

You’re finally here! You’ve arrived at your destination!! Check ahead of time to see if your Hotel or Airbnb will allow you to drop off your luggage early. When you take an evening flight, you often arrive at your destination before it’s time to check-in. When we drop off luggage, we will change shoes or even slip into something cooler or warmer in the lobby restroom, depending on the day. Make sure and carry a bag or purse with you when you leave your luggage that’s big enough to take your passports and cash with you.

It’s time to hit the streets! Find a sidewalk cafe to grab a cappuccino or a beer! Day 1 is a day we plan to take slowwww. Jet Lag usually sets in mid-morning and you might feel like you’ve been hit by a bus, figuratively speaking. This can be a good day to plan light activities, like a big bus tour of the city.

Next, eat a big lunch! Then head back to the hotel for a nap, but not too long!

Plan ahead of time where you will eat the first night

We like to choose a place to eat dinner that’s close to our hotel. We will look at Google Maps and Trip Advisor and find a place with good reviews and within a short walking distance of our lodging. Sometimes we eat at the place we picked out but often find something else along the way. Having that plan makes for a stress-free night!

Go to bed Early  

A sleep aid is sometimes helpful to allow your body and muscles to relax and get a deep sleep. Getting a good night’s rest on the first night helps you wake up on Day 2 feeling fresh and ready to explore!

The bottom Line

You don’t have to dread preparing for a long international flight! With a little planning and following some of these tips, you’ll set yourself up for an incredible vacation!

Cheers

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