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Photo: Benson Kua

The journey towards our ultimate destinations can be very tedious especially when it spans multiple continents.

TRAVERSING THE WORLD MEANS having to travel much longer distances to get to those off-beaten paths and less touristy locations. As much as I love to travel, I am dreading my upcoming 17 hour flight from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York to Bangkok, Thailand, so here are ten tips I will be using to survive my long haul flight.

Catch up on movies

Long flights are a perfect opportunity to catch up on the movies on your “must-see” list. Chances are your must-see list is at least six months old, and the probability of the airline playing the movies on your list is pretty high. Whether it’s watching the movie 300 for the 300th time or finally watching that foreign movie you had always wanted to see, you can easily pass four to five hours perusing movies on board. Headsets are always handed out on long haul flights, but do bring a backup set if you’d prefer.

Learn a couple phrases in a foreign language

The fact that you’re flying hours over two or three continents to your destination probably means that a different language will be spoken on arrival. Your long flight is an opportunity to read your phrasebook, learn a few words in the local language, or brush up on your language skills if you’re more than a beginner. If you bring along your own audio device like an iPod, MP3, or CD player, you can bring along an audio phrasebook as well. Before my flight, I invested in a $50 MP3 player on to which I transferred Swedish and German audio lessons so I could catch up on my studies. Ideally, audio lessons in the language spoken at your destination may be more beneficial.

Sleep like a baby

A 17 hour flight is a great opportunity to catch up on much needed sleep. If you cannot force yourself to sleep, taking a sleep aid or pill can help relax your body, make you drowsy, and get you into pure sleep mode. You can always ask for a pillow, sleeping mask, and earplugs if you need them.

Stretch your legs

Every two hours or so, do get up and move around the cabin. Make multiple laps down the length of your cabin to get the blood flowing again. This will help avoid blood clots that come with immobility. The back of the plane provides an ideal spot for stretching as well. Strolling around the cabin is also a great way to people watch, and observe the various ways others are surviving a long flight.

Strike up conversation

Of course, this depends on who you find yourself sitting next to. I recently shared a row with an Olympic sailor who represents the Netherlands. Many lasting friendships are forged through random conversations started on airplanes. You could start by commiserating on why you’re both on a 17 hour flight, what you both plan to do once you arrive at your destination, how long you’ll both be staying, and much more. You just might meet your next travel buddy or next career opportunity. On a trip back from Pamplona two years ago, I ended up sitting next to and sharing bull running footage with a Belgian businessman who ran his own consulting firm. By the end of the flight, I had received a job offer to be an international IT consultant.

Read a book

Grab a book at one of the airport stores before you board if you didn’t pack any. There are tons of excellent books and travel stories from writers such as Pico Iyer, Ted Conover, and Bill Bryson just to name a few you can read to wile away time. Travel stories are a great way to keep your excitement up and help your escape once the restriction of the airplane starts to bear down on you. For the trip, I purchased the award winning “Sand in my bra” collection of travel stories, edited by Jennifer L. Leo.

Write in your journal

Long flights back provide the perfect opportunity to reflect on your travels and jot down your feelings, observations, and experiences. You can catch up on missed journal entries, finish your sketches, jot down ideas, or begin the draft of an article. I usually carry a few pastels and sketch out ideas that become paintings later on.

Listen to music

Airlines play a decent eclectic collection of music on many channels and you’re bound to find one you like. To be safe, you can bring along your own audio device and groove to your own beats.

Play games

Crossword puzzles and Sudoku are great distraction from a long tedious flight. A deck of cards might come in handy if your seatmate is a great sport and knows a few card games. Based on your personal packing restrictions, you could bring along handheld electronic gaming devices such as portable Sony Playstations or Nintendo.

Track your flight progress

Once the “Are we there yet?” feeling hits, switch over to the GPS tracking system on your seatback monitor to track your plane’s progress and see if you need to start using your long haul flight tips all over again.

Transportation Guides


About The Author

Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström

Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström is a MatadorU faculty member and Network contributor. Her work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Vogue, BBC,, and many more. Follow her photoblog at

  • Jen Leo

    Hey Lola –
    Thanks for picking up my book! Hope you got some laughs out of it.

    I like your site!


  • Tim Patterson

    “Pico Iyer, Ted Conover, and Bill Bryson”

    3 of the very best.

    Nice piece, Lola.

  • Joe

    Your suggestions are excellent. Check out the Dreamhelmet, a combination sleep-mask pillow, which addresses most of the traveler’s sleep needs. Dreamhelmet has secret pockets for safe storage, provides earplugs, converts to a muff, and now even provides a free alarm watch with a compass – thought you’d like to know.

  • Lola Akinmade

    Jen – Thanks!. Sand in my bra is fantastic! I just checked out your site and saw that “More sand in my bra” has hit the shelves. Gotta get it now.

    Tim – Gracias! I’ve got tons of reading to do.

    Joe – Way to plug Dreamhelmet ;)

  • LaskaNenova

    I loved the tips! 

  • Rachael Crawley

    I know that KLM has language learning courses built into their entertainment systems, and some other airlines probably do as well. Very useful, I learned phrases in Dutch and Spanish just killing time. 

  • Frequent Flier

    This has to be one of the worst articles I have ever read. Who DOESN’T do these things? I thought I was going to learn something from this article. Sleeping on a flight does not count as a tip. 

  • Rachel Howdy

    Great that sleeping is an activity. How about sleeping in airports? Think comfy lounge chairs by the viewing decks, or at a cafe in the airport? 

    Check out these airports where you can snooze at – assuming you’re on transit flights :) 

  • Bill Mertz

    Fly first class! Expensive, but well worth it.

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