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10 ways to survive an international flight in coach

Airplane interior
Airplane interior
Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

I love exploring the world but I hate flying. Over the years, I've learned some tips to survive long-haul international flights in coach class. Here's some advice to help you survive your next flight so that you arrive at your destination feeling like a normal human.

Choose an exit row. Exit rows have ton of extra space and are often available for an extra fee. This extra fee is well worth the price to ensure your legs aren't crushed by the person in front of you.

Use an eye mask and ear plugs. Depending on the time of day your flight takes off and the direction you’re flying, it might be bright outside, making it difficult to fall asleep. It’s also challenging to fall asleep when there’s constant conversation, babies crying and noise from the meal service. Many international carriers give out a free amenity kit that includes these items. If your airline doesn't offer an eye mask and ear plugs, it’s definitely worth investing in a set.

Don’t eat the airline food. Airlines offer meal service in economy class on most long-haul flights. The meals are typically loaded with sodium, which can make you dehydrated and bloated. Avoid the complimentary meal and bring your own healthy food. Another bonus: You’ll get to eat when you want and won’t be woken up in the middle of meal service. Bring your own bottle of water on board and make sure to drink it frequently to stay hydrated. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which only make you more dehydrated.

Bring a sweater or an extra blanket. Airplanes are usually freezing and while blankets are still included in coach cabins on international flights, they’re so thin that they don’t provide much warmth. Travel with a warm sweater or a small travel blanket so that you’ll be comfortable during the flight.

Move around. Sitting for long periods of time can increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis. Larger planes usually have space in the back to stretch. On my last flight from Seattle to Amsterdam, I stood in the back with the flight attendants twice for 30 minutes.

Get comfortable. Wear a super comfortable outfit for the plane. My favorite outfit for long-haul flights is a pair of stretchy leggings, a cotton tank, a long-sleeved tee, a fleece jacket and a scarf to use as a blanket or a pillow. If you need to look more presentable once you land, you can always pack an extra outfit to change into once you arrive at the airport.

Pack an inflatable pillow. The pillows provided by the airplane are really only useful as lumbar support. If you intend on sleeping on the plane, pack an inflatable neck pillow.

Bring your own entertainment. Whether it’s an iPad full of movies or a Kindle loaded with books, make sure you have enough in-flight entertainment to survive the flight. The in-flight entertainment systems often fail and there’s nothing worse than a 15-hour flight where you can’t sleep and you don’t have access to movies or books.

Use a sleep aid. Sleeping aids range from all-natural melatonin to prescription sleeping pills. Regardless of what you plan on using, make sure you test it out before you leave home. You don’t want to have a bad reaction to your sleep aid during your flight. You’ll also need to pay close attention to dosage and time it correctly with the duration of the flight.

Pack your toiletries. Brushing your teeth, rinsing with mouthwash, brushing your hair and applying makeup can help you feel like a new person. Pack your toiletries in a kit or a Ziploc bag and keep them within easy reach. If your checked luggage is delayed, at least you’ll have access to your essentials.