Chris Blattman

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10 things to bring with you into the sky

I’ve discovered one of the subtler pleasures in life: sleeping in the same bed for more than 3 nights in a row. I’ve just gotten back from 6 weeks of travel, and flew roughly 200,000 miles in the past 24 months. I’m *very* happy to say that I don’t expect to get on an overseas flight for four or even six months.

To make flying a little more bearable, I’ve honed my in-flight travel gear. I’ve blogged before about what to bring for field work (parts one and two) but here’s what I think you need for the sky:

1. First, a little zippered pouch to carry items 2 to 8. In my experience, the easiest way to get this is to nab one from a first class seat on your way from cattle class to the exit.

2. Eyemask

3. Earplugs

4. Folding travel toothbrush and travel toothpaste.

5. Meds for any developing country revenge that could hit you on your 36 hour flight home. I carry ibuprofen plus a few pills for malaria, nausea, diarrhea, indigestion, and flu. Plus our all-purpose pal: Cipro.

6. Sleeping pills. The humanitarian worker’s (secret) best friend.

7. Travel-sized moisturizing cream. Because the airlines seem to have made the planes even drier (who would have thought it was possible?), probably because carrying the extra water is expensive. After two 12 hour flights n a row, I otherwise emerge flaky.

8. A doohickey that gives your personal pair of earphones two prongs instead of one, so you can enjoy the movies with nicer sound.

9. Empty plastic water bottle (with a wide neck). Because you never get enough water to drink. It can go through security empty and is easily filled by water fountains and stewards.

10. Energy bars, in case you sleep through a meal, find one particularly inedible, or are accustomed to eating more than one square inch of lasagna.

I don’t go in for the neck pillows but I am considering a silk blanket after seeing a seat-mate pull one out. The airline ones are usually too small or too few. Silk is packable and warm. And if you usually finagle your way into an exit row seat (as I do) you need the warmth–exit rows and bulkheads are much colder because of the door seams.

Eric Green recommended an inflatable pillow thing that you hug and lean on. Looks promising, but I have yet to try. Jeannie did, and did not love it, but Eric swears by it. A little bulky for me.

I hope this brings you some measure of joy. I met a despondent Indian man having his Evian bottle seized at Thai airport security. I gave him idea number 9 and I think he wanted to hug me.

8 Responses

  1. Here are the eternal questions I struggle with:

    1. What goes overhead and what goes under the seat? I hate trying to get into the overhead bin during the flight, but the stuff I’d like to have accessible during the flight (book, Bose noise-canceling headphones, water bottle, etc.) is too bulky to put under the seat.

    2. Aisle or Window? Aisle offers easier bathroom access and the ability to get up and stretch, but it’s a guarantee that if I’m asleep in the aisle seat the guy with the window seat will have to get out.

  2. Took me a few years on the road to figure out the eyeshades/earplugs routine – for long flights that’s usually enough to guarantee a few hours of shut-eye. I also use a water pouch (rather than a bottle) because when I have to empty it for security, it rolls or folds away into my bag until I can refill it. Plus I don’t have to worry about BPA or leaching chemicals by re-suing a disposable. Also, in-ear headphones (with squishy tips like earplugs) do triple-duty: 1) with your two-prong adapter thinggy you can watch movies with decent sound (though be ready to yank the cord whenever they make really loud cabin announcements) 2) you can listen to your own music, not jet engine drone, and 3) when you’re tired of music/movies or your batteries have run out, they double as ear-plugs. I have Shure 210s that are nice. Plus they don’t require batteries to maintain the noise-cancelling effect.

  3. Instead of 9, just bring a Platypus bottle – much lighter and takes up much less space in the luggage. Taking out a jacket seems more reasonable than hauling a blanket around with you. Better still, even if you’re in economy, it’s not unusual to be able to use miles to upgrade your seat the business if you’re flying with one of the major alliances – a nice compromise of flying comfortably without being one of the aid types who spends 5k on a flight.

    In general, whenever “maybe you should bring” is mentioned for some object, you shouldn’t bring it. I took a 7kg, 22 liter pack this summer going to a location 3 days walk past the end of the road, and that weight/size included ultralight camping gear. However light you’re packing, it’s possible to pack even lighter and still not miss much…

  4. If you can get over the personal shame of purchasing something from SkyMall, the skyrest will serve you well. I like it because it allows me to lean forward to sleep; neck collars don’t work for me. Tip: inflate fast and you will be ready for a nap. Not great for bulkhead seats or exit row without another seat 2″ from your nose.

  5. I am a fan of the ‘Releaf’ neck rest. Kind of like a c-collar. Much easier to use than the huggy things (which are nearly impossible to set up once the person in front of you has reclined the seat backwards).

  6. Another must in dry airplanes for those of us with contact lenses: some kind of eye drops (less than 100mL, of course), to avoid having the lenses permanently fused to your eyeballs. Either that or skip the lenses and wear glasses…

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