95 Amazing Tips for Packing and Flying on a Long Haul Flight: I Learned This the Hard Way So You Don't Have to

My mother lives in Buffalo, NY, my father lives in Washington, my husband’s family is in Germany. We live in China and love to travel. I pack a suitcase pretty often… My flight are also very long. You know, the kind of flight where you start to question wheather you have ever actually lived somewhere other than this airplane seat and if you are going to die of old age before arrival. But never fear. I have put together 95 useful tips for both packing your suitcase and your carry on as well as getting through that long haul flight

  1. Pack in the right size suitcase- you want to be able to got you things in but you also don’t want a ton of extra space. That is how things break. I have an expandable suitcase.I never have it expanded on the way to my destination.That is my space for things that I inevitable by.
  2. Invest in light luggage- The lighter it is the less likely that you will flirt with going overweight. 
  3. Pack small breakable items inside your shoes
  4. Wear shoes that you can take off easily- but also that you are wearing socks with.   Nothing is more gross then having to walk through security barefoot. 
  5. Neck pillows are your friends- you might get more than a few minutes’ sleep.  Try the neck pillow out first.  They are super individual.  You have to like how it feels.
  6. Eyemasks-  help you shut out your flight or just the funky light in your hotel room.
  7. Put your heaviest things at the bottom of your suitcase.
  8. Put all liquids in plastic bags- This will separate them from your other things.  The air pressure can make spillage much more of a reality than you might otherwise anticipate.
  9. Travel cubes- they make it super easy to rearrange everything without refolding.
  10. Bring about three tops for each bottom- clean shirts are a must but you can rewear your jeans.
  11. Find a hat that you love that packs well.  I am still on the search for the perfect hat. It has to actually shade your face, not embarrass you, and smush into your suitcase. I am looking into this one.
  12. Pack some sort of cross body day bag or back pack (if you are into that)- There is a large chance that you are going to be walking for hours and you need a bag that you can walk comfortable with.
  13. Samples- if you are an addict of Sephora (like me) you probably have a TON of samples laying around that you haven’t gotten around to using.  This is an incredible space saver.
  14. Sunsceen- bring it and wear it. 
  15. Several pairs of shoes- if you are on a holiday chances are that you are walking a ton.  Bring more than one pair of shoes so that you can rotate them and give your feet a break. I usually wear one and pack two.
  16. Scarves- Holy now these random separates are an outfit, batman.
  17. Friction stick- blisters are no good, my friend.
  18. Sunglasses- even if you aren’t going somewhere sunny.  You never know when you will need them.
  19. Lip balm- bring it on the plane with you.  It is best if you do not have to stick your finger in it.  Because planes are gross.
  20. Hand lotion- bring it on the plane with you.  I am pretty sure that it is possible to die of dry hands.  Unscented is best because you never know how sensitive the people around you are to smells.  They cannot get away.
  21. A black pen- if you are traveling overseas there is usually a form to fill out and some countries (I am looking at you, China) are very insistent upon black ink.
  22. More than one hair band- I have made this mistake.  Hair bands are fickle and will desert you to travel on their own.  And then where are you without a backup? 
  23. Pain pills, travel sickness pills, allergy pills- I am pretty sure that I a intensely allergic to something that they are cleaning the air with on an airplane.  Instant allergy attack which leads to instant headache. If you are sensitive to the planes jostling around travel sickness pills are a lifesaver.
  24. Keep your carry on liquids easy to access- nothing is more irritating than having to dig before going through security. 
  25. Tissues – travel packs=yay!
  26. Anti-bacterial wet wipes- much better than hand sanitizer and you can wipe off your tray.  Because…ew.
  27. Empty water bottle- in most airports you can find cold drinking water and you can get them filled on the plane as well. Don’t pack plastic.
  28. Line the bottom of the suitcase with small flat items- You can tuck them in between the bars of the suitcases handle.  Use every inch!
  29. Make sure your batteries are in the right bag- in some places your battery needs to be in your carry on and in some they need to be in your carry on. 
  30. Use small bags to keep charging cords from tangling into a crazy mess- and bring your cords.  The usually take up very little room and you can often charge them on the place and almost always at the airport.
  31. Bring something for the sound- the roaring on log haul flight can get to you.  Use sound reducing headphones if you have them, ear plugs if you don’t.  You will sleep better and generally have a more pleasant flight.
  32. Bring your own headphones
  33. Eyedrops- dehydration is a real problem, people
  34. Dress in light layers-  Sometimes planes are the temperature of a cold dead heart and sometimes they are the dry heat of a Saharran summer day.  You never know.
  35. Make sure that you are prepared for the outlets at your destination
  36. Pack dark clothes- they show wrinkles and stains way less.
  37. Use all the space- tuck small items wherever they fit.
  38. Weigh your luggage- save yourself the embarrassment of opening up your suitcase in the airport and sending six pairs of shoes home with your mother (not that I am speaking from personal experience.  Luggage scales are awesome and not too expensive but you can just use your bathroom scale by stepping onto it holing your suitcase in both hands. 
  39. Call ahead to know what your baggage limits are- I sweat these change daily and it is super expensive to figure that out at the airport
  40. Make sure that you can recognize your bag from afar- My bags are black like every one else on the planet but I have luggage tags on them that I can recognize from afar.  This is especially important if you need time to push up to the conveyor belt.
  41. Make sure your hand luggage fits under the seat- it isn’t useful to you if you have to go to the overhead bin every time you need something.
  42. Lay everything out on a bed or on the floor before you start packing-  this helps you see everything
  43. Cushion anything breakable with clothing- I once brought home two HUGE tagines from Morocco to the US as Christmas presents.  Only one of them survived the trip.  Learn from my pain.
  44. Deodorant-You know what no one ever tells you?  That it is extremely difficult to find a solid deodorant abroad. I am not an aerosol or roll on fan.
  45. Chose a color palate- ideally you should be able to wear anything that you bring with everything else in your bag.
  46. Make a list- I swear it will help you remember everything.
  47. Get it wet- if you are going to a hot climate you are going to sweat.  Check whatever clothing that you are bringing to make sure that it isn’t going to be obvious.  Grey is not a good color for this.
  48. Consolidate as many cords as you can- If it charges more than one device then only bring one.  Same goes for USB Chargers.  I have one that takes 4 cords at once that my husband and I travel with.
  49. Plan what you are going to wear but bring less than you think you need.  Actually put together outfits.  You will be much happier later when you aren’t putting random seperates together because that it what is clean.
  50. Make a Photocopy of your passport info page and visa page (if needed)- you shoud carry these with you all the time.
  51. Insect repellant
  52. Umbrella-  Some of them fold up tiny but remember you will probably be walking around outside with it for most of the day.  If you think that it will rain bing one.
  53. Kindle- If you are a traveler you need one of these.  There are some really inexpensive versions. I am a true convert.
  54. Decant your toiletries into smaller bottles.
  55. Bring in extra pair of underwear on the plane just in case of delayed luggage.
  56. Wear comfy bottoms-  You would not believe how uncomfortable that your jears are going to be during a fourteen hour flight. 
  57. Make sure that you have a bra for every occation. You can usually rotate two.
  58. Don’t fold your bra inside out- I usually fill the cups with socks and tuck it in the curves top of my bag.
  59. Wear a sports bra on the plane.  More support and your underwire won’t set off the metal detector.  #avoidbeingsearched
  60. Remember that there are usually last minute toiletries from the morning that you should bring.  I have forgotten my hairbrush a few times.  Not a cute look. Make a list of what you use as you get ready in the morning- that way you will be less likely to forget something essential.
  61. Make sure that you don’t bring all cotton fabrics- They take forever to dry and when you wear and/or wash them they are never going to return to shape again without a dryer. 
  62. Layer outfits- this reduces the amount of “heavy” clothing you need and also means you can adjudt to the days weather. Make sure that you feel like yourself and are comfortable in what you pack. Think loose.  Welcome to the puffiness that comes with a long haul flight.
  63. Check the weather forcast
  64. A travel clothesline is invaluable if you are planning on handwashing anything.
  65. Travel wallet- Keeps all your documents together. I keep my passports, tickets, and any other travel documents together.
  66. Hat and gloves- If you are going somewhere that might even have the slightest chance of being cold.  They don’t take up much space and if you need them you need them.
  67. Pick your seat- if you can you should.  No one wants to be in the middle!
  68. Footrest- I am 4’6.  I cannot reach the floor when I sit in an airplane seat.  I travel with a folding footstool.  Mine is pretty big because I am pretty little.  If you are more than 5 feet tall you can find folding fool rests that are the size of a paperback book and are not much heavier.
  69. Accessorize- Individualize your look with small touches that don’t take up much space.
  70. Think weight- pack your heaviest things near the wheels and your lightest near the top of your suitcase.
  71. Use the pillow that is on your seat as a lubar pillow.  It will make a different in how you feel.
  72. Fly Foreign-If you are American book the non-US carrier.  The planes, service, and food are almost always better. You can still get your domestic miles with code sharing!
  73. Drink water- alcohol and caffine just dehydrate you more.
  74. Wear as little makeup as you are comfortable with.  I layer on night cream as soon as the flight takes off.  Ermahgerd I am dry.
  75. The “special meals”- they all tend to be better than the main meal. Plus you get to eat first.
  76. Bring a carry on that sits under the seat if you are checking luggage- this eliminate the worry of finding space and getting it again.
  77. Downy Wrimkle Release and Febreezer- comes in a tiny travel size and makes everything slightly more wearable.
  78. Pretty much everyplace that you are going to stay is going to have access to a hair dryer.  Leave yours at home.  Let’s expand that to heat styling products in general.  Let your hair be free.  Or if it misbehaves pull it back.
  79. Laundry basket upset- the week before I fly I start throwing things that I know I am going to bring together  in a laundry basket. 
  80. Put everything on a large flat surface- The floor or the bed.  Spread everything out and start to sort through what you need and what you don’t.  This way you can see everything and can organize it together.
  81. Makeup wipes- You can put your face back on at the hotel.
  82. Toothbrush- bring it on the plane with you.  If you fall asleep you are going to need it and even if you don’t it is an instant pick-me-up.  You will feel much less gross.
  83. Portable charger- so useful. Get one that uses USB because it will charge more items rather than a dedicated phone case for example.
  84. Bring a device that you can watch movies on- my last flight to Beijing there was no inflight entertainment and I didn’t have my ipad.  Much pouting ensued during the following 14 hours.
  85. Landry bag- separate your dirty clothes from your clean and make sure your clean clothes stay that way.
  86. Pack larger items first and fit smaller items around them.
  87. You pretty much never have to dress up- all black and a fancy scarf and you can get in anywhere.
  88. Button and zip everything- easier to fold and less likely to roll into a ball and wrinkle.
  89. Lable your luggage- insode and out and make sure that you can see it from a distance.  The entire planet has a black suitcase.  Make sure yours stands out.
  90. Enough underwear- enough for the trip plus a couple bonus pairs. Unless you are travelling long term just bring enough. 
  91. Flip flops- for the shower, hanging around the beach, or even around and about the city. 
  92. Put shoes in shoe bags (or just plastic bags/showecaps)- after you fill them with smaller items of course.
  93. Leave the laptop- if you can stand it.  I find that I hardly ever use it anyway and it just takes up space and sits there being heavy.
  94. Put your guides on a kindle, tablet, or phone. Those suckers are heavy.  BTW: I am very partial to a rough Guide/National Geographic Traveller combo.  The perfect amount of of background info.
  95. Make sure you have the converter you need- chances are you won’t be able to buy it there without a whole lot of trouble.
Actual photo of what happens when I start to pack. It is a process

Actual photo of what happens when I start to pack. It is a process


Bonus book tip! I always download 5 or 6 books about my destination.  Sometimes fiction sometimes not.  I love reading about a place while I am travelling there!

Whew!  That was a lot to get through!  High Five if you make it all the way through.  We are now officially super friends.  Don’t make it awkward.  Just relax and go with it. Anyway,  I hope you found something useful or new!

What are some of your best travel tips?

The Search for Authenticity in the night markets of Zhangye

You will probably be surprised to discover it but authenticity is often difficult to find while visiting China.  I am in no way saying that China is not authentic or that the Chinese are anything but genuine.  But if you go where the tourists are (and let’s face it that is why you are travelling in China in the first place) things are often a but surreal.  Take the Great Wall in Beijing.  It is amazing but if you go to the wrong spot it has been overly restored and is being patrolled by sullen teenagers in period costume.  It can feel a bit like the idea of China rather than actually being China.  A little bit like when you go to Disney World and walk down Main Street, USA.  There is this heightened/idealized quality to it.

The Chinese government has been pushing development of the Silk Road for the last few years.  This part of history has tended to be ignored since the revolution and China is now ready to explore it’s past.  That has meant developing tourism and funneling money into restoration.  All well and good.  But sometimes you need things to look a little imperfect in order to fully take them in.  That impeccable wall in Beijing is hard to reconcile with the 2000 year history that I know that it has.

Tourists in China are mostly domestic.  There is now money to spend on travel and people are anxious to see their country outside of their own part of it.  But there is an aspect of “on the bus off the bus” tour group mentality that seeps over into the sites themselves.  Shuttle busses, queue guides, and actual piles of accessories that some women are carting around to be photographed with (not exaggerating.  It is surreal)

That is why the Night market in Zhangye was such a delight.  There were no other tourists.  Not only other foreigners but no domestic tourists.  Zhangye is supposed to have 1.3 million people in it (a small town by Chinese standards) but it felt deserted.  Row after row of strangely empty apartment buildings and wide streets with no traffic. 

By this point in our journey were were all desperate for something that wasn’t the same Chinese food over and over.  I don’t know if you have ever had Chinese food 15 meals in a row but we were looking for something different.  Specifically, we were looking for something familiar that we didn’t have to think about. 

We found a café that didn’t serve coffee (we seemed to have left that luxury back in Beijing) but did seems to boast some western fare.  There were six of us and we ordered steaks and pizza.  It wasn’t the best meal of my life but it wasn’t the worst.  The wait staff was so nervous about serving us and there was a couple of boys eating outside the window next to our table who pretty much stared at us the whole time as if we were zoo exhibits. 

We wandered up and down the two streets of the market winding in and out of the locals dining out and the vendors preparing for the evening.  This was real life.  There weren’t actors playing the part of locals or tourists taking endless selfies.  These were just normal people going about their normal lives. And for a moment we got to be part of it.

A Collision of Worlds: Jia Ya Guan Fortress, where the Great Wall of China and the Silk Road Collide

jia Ya Guan Fortress cover

We spent a lot of time in a bus today driving from Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park (click here to read more) along the Hexi Corridor (I thought that they were saying “Hershey” until I saw it written if that helps you understand how it is pronounced.  Fun fact: in Mandarin the “x” makes a soft “sh” sound.*) on the way to the Jaiyu Pass.  What is so important about this pass you may be asking yourself.  I will tell you. 

Jia Ya Guan Fortress and the  Western end of the Wall**. 

Not to mention the only access to water in a thousand square miles. It is kind of a big deal.

Western Great well cover

The Great Wall of China and the Silk Road Collide

Let’s just take a moment to let the fact sink in that Jia Ya Guan Fortress is both the western starting point if the Ming dynasty version of the Great Wall of China (over a thousand miles from Beijing) but also a vital crossroads on the ancient Silk Road.  The fortress and this section of the Wall don’t meet us anymore.  The remains of the wall of south of the city center and the fortress is in the north. 

It was built during the Ming Dynasty (like much of the Wall) around in the late 12th century.  For hundreds of years it served as one of the greatest waypoints of the Silk Road. We were told that over 80% of the Jia Ya Guan Fortress was original. That it hasn't been restored.  If that is true then the preservation has been incredible.  Most of what we were walking around and on looked and felt new.  Well, maybe not new but at least not ancient.  The steps were even (unlike in the Great Wall of Beijing) and everything was level.

Gobi dessert

A different kind of Wall

The wall here looks completely different that the four other sections that I have seen in Beijing.  In Beijing the Wall is built with smooth grey stone blocks and the gatehouses that jut up every hundred yards or so are built on square straight up and down lines.  The wall in are sand colored, perfectly blending into the desert landscape they are traversing.  The gatehouses are vaguely trapezoid shaped and have a much more central Asian feel to them. The wall extends all the way to the Beida River Gorge.

An oasis

There is a small lake fed by a spring in front of the fortress forming an important oasis.  Today is a magnet to for everyone who wants a picture of the fortress reflecting in it but it is the historical basis for its location. This spring fed lake along with the Beida River gave the Ming government almost total control of the water in the region.  With no access to water it was impossible to an army of any size to attempt to take the Fortress/ invade China.  It was strengthened at one point to deflect a the army of a war chief who basically died of old age while planning his invasion of China. 

Visiting it now is a slightly jarring experience.  There were thousands of people milling along the paths with us not to mention a few hundred actors in traditional costumes playing the part of soldiers marching around.  But yet again, once you got to the top of the wall of the Fortress it was easy to imagine the world as it was a thousand years ago.  The Gobi desert stretch’s in front of you impenetrable and you are flanked on either side by mountain ranges. It is as if the planet itself is funneling travelers to this one point.  You can almost feel the relief of the Eastern bound travelers upon seeing the fortress or hold your breath in fearful anticipation with the Westward travelers about to go forth into the Gobi.

Jia Gua Fort

A note on crowds and Golden Week

Travelling in China isn’t usually this crowded.  Unfortunately, one of the downsides to working in China is the fact that my breaks from teaching are exactly when the rest of the countries are as well.  “Golden week” actually happens twice a year in China.  Once during Spring Festival/ Chinese New Year and one for National Day (October first).  Chinese workers are given three days of paid leave connected to a weekend so that everyone has seven days off. During Spring Festival most people return home to see their families in the countryside.  During the National Day holiday, they travel.  There are over 580 million people travelling during Golden Week this year.  It makes the sheer numbers of people in the crowds make sense.  Pro tip: Do not visit China at this time if you cannot handle crowds.

My husband and I ended our trip by walking a bit into the desert, past the crowds, past the camels carrying tourists, and looking out into the distance as if we could see the echoes of those long ago traders.

*I realized that it is dangerous to throw out 90% of one’s entire knowledge of a language into one blog post but I am reckless like that.

**the fort is transliterated about 10 different ways. I am using the spelling my friend Hunter gave me because he is Chinese, is teacher of Mandarin, and speaks excellent English. Let’s all just agree that the spelling is debatable and move on. 

Click here to read about starting out on the Silk Road Click here to read about day two on the Silk Road and the Terracotta Warriors

Western wall

Would you travel in China during Golden Week?