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The difference between an annoying flight and an enjoyable one usually comes down to one’s level of preparedness.
For instance, during a long flight, I know I’ll be alternately fatigued, cranky and dehydrated. Besides the stress of navigating security lines, layovers and delays, there’s the mind-numbing time spent in the air. Hunger makes me grumpy. Twisting in my seat and rifling through my carry-on bag aggravates me.
Heading off those pain points makes all the difference in boosting my mood. I don’t step foot on an airplane without a stockpile of snacks and a robust library of podcasts, movies and TV shows downloaded on my tablet. I also make sure to have a few key products at the ready so I can deal with anything — intrusive noises, boredom, my own funk — and step off the plane relaxed, hydrated and well rested.
With that in mind, in collaboration with Wirecutter, a New York Times company that reviews and recommends products, here are five cheap(ish) items to make your next long flight more bearable.
(And if you’re looking to load up on the sturdiest travel supplies, read more in Wirecutter’s guide to the best gear for traveling.)
A great pen is one of the most underrated items you can pack for your trip. I’m all for zoning out during a long flight, but after passively listening to an audiobook and watching a few episodes of a Netflix show, you might want to switch gears. Number and word puzzles can engage (and energize) your brain and help pass time when the onboard Wi-Fi is spotty. You might also need to fill out forms or keep track of important information, so a reliable pen is essential.
Wirecutter recommends the Pilot Precise V5 RT. This retractable ballpoint pen writes smoothly, and it’s affordable enough that you won’t be too bummed if you misplace it during your travels.
Airplane air is notorious for sucking the moisture out of skin, so protect yourself against the inevitable dryness coming your way.
Wirecutter recommends the hydrating Eos Smooth Sphere Lip Balm for most people. It’ll keep lips moisturized and the tingly, sweet mint flavor is pleasant enough that both my husband and my 9-year-old niece enjoy using it. It’s also available in stick form, which is perfect for stashing in pockets and purses.
Noise-cancelling earbuds are great if you’re serious about retreating into a silent cocoon during your flight. However, if you don’t mind a little background noise filtering in (and don’t want to drop a lot of cash), a pair of foam earplugs will do the job just fine. They’ll tamp down children’s tantrums and inescapably loud conversations so you can grab needed shut eye.
Wirecutter recommends Mack’s Ultra Soft Foam Earplugs because they stay snug in your ear and have a noise reduction rating of 32 decibels. They come in a tub of 50 pairs, so feel free to share.
After the anxiety of catching the flight and boarding the plane, I’m usually ready to take a snooze cruise. Sometimes I drift away easily. Other times I struggle when the person in the seat ahead of me has their window shade up and sunlight is flooding in. Just to be on the safe side, I always keep a sleep mask handy so I can sleep when I need to, not when conditions allow.
Wirecutter recommends the Nidra Deep Rest eye mask for travelers because it’s weightless, adjustable and its contoured cups won’t put pressure on your eyes.
When I flew from New York to Melbourne, Australia, my carry-on toiletry bag was the superstar of the trip. Having my hygiene must-haves — hand cream, dry shampoo, contact lens case and solution, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant — in one convenient place made me feel 100 percent less grouchy during my excruciatingly long 26-hour trip. I’m sure my seatmate appreciated my efforts, too.
Wirecutter’s pick is the lightweight, spill-resistant Sea to Summit Travelling Light Hanging Toiletry Bag. If your favorite products don’t come in travel-friendly sizes, decant lotions and potions into reusable bottles. Wirecutter recommends the Sea to Summit Travelling Light set which conforms to T.S.A. regulations. It’s a smart way to bring a little bit of home wherever you go.
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