(Fodor's) We often forget that flying is a luxury and a privilege. A coach ticket to Europe can costs as much as the average annual income in some of the world’s poorest countries and most people on earth have never been on a plane. As travelers, we love to complain about delayed flights, bad plane food, and dehumanizing TSA screenings, but in reality, we’re extremely lucky to be able to see the world and be surprised and delighted by cultures, foods, and landscapes that are vastly different from our own. Still, unless you’re flying first class, it’s not about the journey—it’s about the destination. But all it takes is a few tweaks in your attitude (and a bit of spending at the airport) to make a flight turn from horrific to heavenly. Here are our tips for staying positive and having a good time on your next flight. Remember, you’re on vacation after all.
Wear Something You Wouldn’t Mind Being Photographed In
While it may seem obvious to some and totally nonsensical to others, clothing has a funny way of affecting the way you feel. The key to having a happy airplane experience is to wear something that makes you feel confident and put together, while still letting comfort reign. Some people can pull off a stylish sweatpants look, but unless you’re Rihanna (are you? Rihanna, if you’re reading this, please email us), you should probably stick with something that feels like a sweatsuit but looks like business casual. Athleta’s Tribeca crop pant is a favorite with in-the-know travel writers, but stick with things that are wrinkle resistant, loose, and dark (just in case that turbulence makes you spill your wine).
This one may seem simple, but it’s often forgotten—turn on your “out of office” automatic message and stop checking your work email before you get to the airport. On the flight, don’t pay for WiFi. Pry yourself away from social media and the 24-hour news cycle with a forced digital detox. Once you’re over the initial anxiety of being unconnected, you’ll realize that you’re free to ignore your boss for the duration of the flight. It’s a small but sweet luxury.
Check Your Bags
In basically every major airport all over the world, baggage claim is a nightmare. I’m not going to argue about that. Losing your luggage can be extremely frustrating and has the potential to ruin a trip. But next time you’re flying overseas and you have a layover (or two or three), consider checking your bags. Cutting down on the schlepping increases your chances for fun and discovery in any airport, and nobody has to wait at the gate with the bags while you take turns buying snacks or using the bathroom.
Get to the Airport Really, Really Early
It seems like a terrible idea—why would somebody want to spend more time at the airport than absolutely necessary? But in reality, it’s a great way to avoid the stressful and frustrating moments that go hand in hand with travel. Traffic? No problem. You can relax and avoid getting frustrated and stressed because you’re late for your flight. And you can also rule out the possibility of running through the terminal barefoot because your flight is boarding and you didn’t have enough time to put your shoes back on after security.
Have an Actual Meal at the Airport
Even tiny regional airports have some sort of restaurant in the terminal, so why not take advantage of your last possible chance to eat non-airplane food? If you’re on an overnight flight to Europe, the Middle East, or South America, one real meal at the airport before you leave can tide you over until you reach your destination—no plane food necessary! These days, airports in major transit hubs are stepping up their food game, with national chains and dining options helmed by celebrity chefs. Bonus points for restaurants that will serve you a martini and/or a bottle of wine.
Do a Little Retail Therapy
It’s a proven fact that buying something frivolous and fancy can give you a temporary high—and that temporary high might even be enough to put you in a good mood until you land (or at least until you settle into your seat). You don’t need to buy a $400 pair of designer sunglasses, but a $25 lipstick, tech gadget, or bottle of booze from duty-free is something you can look forward to using when you reach your destination.
Stock up on Print Media
There’s something about reading a copy of Vogue or The New Yorker that makes you feel instantly high-brow. Depending on how long your flight is, stock up on all the prestige print you can carry (and don’t forget a copy of National Geographic, AFAR, or Condé Nast Traveler to really get your vacation vibes going). If gossip rags are more your thing, we’re not judging. Read whatever makes you happy (perhaps even a Fodor’s guidebook to your destination?).
Bring Your Own Snacks
Hit up the airport shops like you’re a stoner with the case of the munchies. Airplane food is a bummer, and since you’ve already eaten, you just need a few things to get you to your destination. Make sure to have a range of sweet and salty; fresh and fried. Dried fruit, nuts, popcorn, cookies, and maybe some hummus or yogurt should do the trick.
If you have a long flight ahead of you, it’s not a bad idea to pack your own snacks from home. Prepare something simple, delicious, and TSA-approved that can go for hours without a refrigerator and be eaten at room temperature. Some ideas for you: a pasta salad with tomato, arugula, and mozzarella; a quinoa tabbouleh with kalamata olives, feta, and cucumbers; or a Parisian ham and cheese sandwich on a crispy baguette–the kind of underdressed sandwich that won’t get soggy. Don’t bring any liquids or semi-liquids, and for the sake of everybody else on the plane, step away from the fish.
Waiting in a long line is a good way to counteract any positive vibes you’ve curated by acting like a rich person at the airport. You’ve already checked your bags, so there’s no need to fight for space in the overhead bins. Take a seat near the boarding area, have one last bathroom break, and read about the latest celebrity divorce or political scandal while you watch everybody else line up with frowns on their faces.
Savor That Glass of Wine
Did you know that most international flights serve free wine and beer? While some are stingier than others (we’re looking at you, Air France), in most cases, you can have as much wine as you want. Just don’t drink so much that you become a nuisance to your neighbors or, worse, spend your first day of vacation with a hangover.
Settle in for a Night at the Movies
It is essential that you check beforehand to see if your flight will have seatback entertainment consoles before you get to the airport. If not, you must provide for yourself by downloading movies or TV shows onto an iPad or laptop before you leave (and if you’re traveling with a companion, don’t forget a headphone splitter). Next, you’ll want to make sure you BYO headphones. (If you don’t have a nice pair, they sell them at duty-free—retail therapy!). Once the plane is at cruising altitude, get cozy, break out the snacks, chug some wine, and watch that movie that you meant to see in theaters but never got around to. Pretend it’s a Saturday night and you’ve canceled all your plans to hang on your (extremely uncomfortable) couch, which is truly the ultimate luxury.
Have an Outrageous In-Flight Beauty Routine
One way to help pass the time and feel a bit fancy while doing so is to channel your inner beauty vlogger and experiment with an over-the-top beauty routine. Start with an exfoliating cleansing pad by Dr. Dennis Gross before moving on to a K-beauty sheet mask by Innisfree. Finish it all up with a bit of vitamin E oil for your extra dry spots and an ultra-hydrating sleeping mask by Tata Harper. If your lips tend to dry out on planes, you can perfect your pout with Bite’s overnight lip mask with lanolin and agave. It’s an easy way to kill time, give yourself a mini spa experience, and land looking fresh.
Try to Get Some Sleep
Sleeping on planes is not easy, but there are a few small things you can do to maximize the possibility of drifting off to sleep and having a more relaxing flight experience. Make sure you have a pillow and blanket, bring an eye mask and earplugs, and opt for the window seat. Even if you can’t fall asleep, it’s nice to snuggle up and let your mind drift.
Don’t Fly Alone
Flying with friends and loved ones is the simplest way to turn something tedious into something fun and frivolous. Things that might be annoying if you’re alone become funny once you have somebody to complain with, and splurging on overpriced drinks and a meal with somebody is an easy way to fend off the feelings of impending doom that some people get before boarding a tin box that’s somehow suspended in the air. Flying together brings a bit of enjoyment—and extravagance—to an otherwise drab experience.