I took a poll on the Amateur Traveler Facebook page a while back and asked where people who love to travel but haven’t because of fear. I expected to hear people say Mexico which was in the middle of a drug war or Egypt that was still in chaos at the time after the Arab Spring. The number one answer was Australia and the thing that people were afraid of was the long flight.
First of all, that’s just crazy. They don’t make you row! You mostly just eat, watch movies and sleep. So of course what they were afraid of was sleeping on a plane. That I will admit is a learned skill, especially for someone like me who is 6′ 3″ tall and not petite.
As I have discussed in 10 Tips to Combat Jet Lag my biggest resources for sleeping involve:
- Get a window seat where people won’t bump into me on the way down the aisle and where I can lean against the window
- On a very long (8 hours or more) flight, take a mild over the counter sleeping pill (never take Ambien and fly, one well-known travel blogger, woke up in security with them telling him to swear never to do that again… to this day he doesn’t know what that was. There are lots of stories of people sleepwalking or disrobing on planes after an Ambien),
- Wear an eye mask to block out the light
- Wear earplugs and/or noise-canceling headphones to block out the sounds of crying babies
- Have a relaxation routine that you usually use. For me, it is counting backward slowly from one hundred to one. It helps to stop my mind from thinking about other things and focus on something so boring that sleep looks preferable
- Decide ahead how many hours you want to get. When I will arrive at night I want to arrive tired and ready for bed. When I arrive in the morning I want to arrive well-rested and ready to stay up. For me when flying west I like to sleep about one-third of the difference between the time zones.
Lots of people use a travel pillow, a travel pillow with a hood, or even an inflatable neck pillow to support their head while they sleep. I personally find the travel pillows to be bulky to carry and never fell in love with the inflatable variety.
I have recently tried out two different solutions for what if you don’t have the window to lean against. The first one was a Kickstart campaign called the Sleeper: The perfect sleep mask for travelers which failed to fund. Their idea was an eyeshade with straps that you could tie to the seat behind you. I had mixed results with it. Besides just looking funny it did not work well on some airline seats (like ones with a configurable headrest). You also don’t want to put the strap right across the entertainment system of the seat behind you. But it did help when I was stuck in a middle seat.
The second is a device called the NapAnywhere which was created by a doctor. It gives you something to lean your head against even in the middle seat. It is not as small as an inflatable travel pillow but smaller than the regular kind. It is a bit harder to set up when you are in the close quarters of an airline seat as you have to strap it around you. It did seem to be reasonably comfortable once you have it set up. I think I will stick with the window seat, but my wife loves the aisle seat so she has her eyes on my NapAnywhere.
The bottom line is that you can learn to sleep on a plane. Unless you have a lie-flat seat in business class it won’t be the best night’s sleep that you ever had, but it is certainly not something you should fear either.