Prior to embarking on a flight, there are several useful things a business traveler can do to have a healthier, more enjoyable flight and be energized for post-travel activities. This preparation is important to ensuring a smooth transition to being productive once you’ve arrived at your destination!
The day/night before your flight:
- Start making sure you’re well-hydrated (see the Hydration section below). Add in an at least one extra glass of water to your day.
- Prepare your carry-on bag (see next section). Getting your bags packed ahead of time ensures you have everything you need and also helps reduce stress!
- The night before your flight, get a good night’s sleep so your body is rested and adequately prepared for the busy travel ahead. Quality sleep is important because an airplane environment often makes travelers feel tired/sleepy. This is because a plane’s cabin pressure is much higher than sea level, meaning your body will absorb less oxygen than usual and low oxygen levels tend to make people feel drained or sleepy (see here).
- If you have a long-haul flight crossing multiple time zones, and plan to stay in your destination for a while, it’s beneficial to begin adjusting your sleep schedule days ahead of the flight, with gradual adjustments toward your destination’s time zone. Since you’re then better accommodated to the local time, when you arrive you’ll be more energized and productive with the people around you. It generally takes your body one day to adjust to each 1-hour difference between your time zone and another.
- A tip for when choosing a flight is to consider timing that best fits with your typical sleep schedule. For example, if you’re flying overnight from the U.S. to Europe, pick the departure time closest to when you normally fall asleep.
- The morning or day of your flight, try to drink 1-2 liters of water before you board the plane.
- Before your flight it’s also a good idea to have a nutritious meal. You’ll want to eat healthily so your body is fueled for travel. Aim for a meal that is rich in color (fruits and vegetables), showing it has vitamins and antioxidants that support your immunity. Fruits that are high in vitamin C are particularly helpful, such as citrus fruit, berries, and kiwis. Also, as the changing air pressure inside a plane causes some travelers to feel bloated or have gastrointestinal issues, it’s best to avoid greasy, ‘fatty’ foods or any other foods you know could make you feel bloated.
It’s a good idea to prepare a carry-on bag of items that you’ll use during the flight. Make sure to pack your carry-on to include everything that you’d need to survive if your checked luggage gets lost, or if your travels get delayed. This does happen pretty frequently, so it’s best to be prepared.
Check with your airline regarding their sizing requirements for carry-on bags, and also be mindful of standards such as the limitation that each carry-on can only have a quart-sized bag of liquids, in ‘travel’ containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item. Some examples of carry-on bag items include:
- your own water bottle to drink
- important documents (passport, ID, wallet, travel documents)
- key electronics (cellphone, laptop, etc.) and their chargers
- important medical items (prescriptions, medications, etc.)
- toothbrush, toothpaste, and other basic daily toiletries
- a sweater (as planes can often get chilly)
- a change of clothes – it’s comfortable to wear loose-fitting, casual clothing while flying. If when you land you’ll need to wear nicer clothes, pack these in your carry-on. It’s also wise to bring an extra outfit (of any clothing) as a backup in case your luggage gets lost
- a book, music and headphones, or other materials to pass the time
- snacks - this allows you to personalize what you eat and to fuel your body appropriately (as the timing of meals may be unpredictable)
- hand-sanitizing wipes or gel
- eye drops – saline drops can help your eyes feel more comfortable in the dry cabin air
- gum – you can chew this to reduce the pressure if your ears “pop” or feel uncomfortable with the changing air pressure
Flying can often be stressful for travelers (understandably!), so before and during your flight you may benefit from engaging in breathing exercises for relaxation. Here are a few! (For more ideas check out this site)
- lengthen your breath (simple, but effective) - sit up straight and inhale deeply through your nose, as long as naturally possible. Exhale slowly through your nose (instead of your mouth), for 2-3 seconds longer than the amount of time you breathed in. Do this for 60 seconds to feel instantly calmer.
- “square” breathing – breathe in through your nose for about 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, then exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds, then hold for 4 seconds. This is the “square”. Continue this until you feel calmer. You can adjust the lengths of the intervals as you feel comfortable – it’s common to lengthen the intervals of the exhalation and breath holding (so the pattern is 4-7-8-4 seconds).
- alternate nostril breathing – gently block one nostril with your thumb and inhale until your lungs are richly full. Hold your breath as you shift your thumb to then close off the other nostril instead. Exhale slowly. Repeat this process, continuing to breathe through only one nostril at a time.
Keeping yourself hydrated is especially important before, during, and after flying. This is because the airplane environment of a ‘pressurized’ cabin has much lower humidity than comfortable typical indoor humidity, and can lead to dehydration (see here). Aim to drink about 250 milliliters (or just over 1 cup) of water per hour when flying.
Remember that some beverages, such as those containing alcohol or caffeine (think coffee!), can negatively impact you by increasing dehydration. Try to keep these drinks to a minimum. Dehydration can cause problems ranging from mild discomfort to fatigue/lethargy (these are common), headaches, dizziness, and even more serious issues such as difficulty breathing. The low-humidity environment also has the downside of increasing your risk to catch a respiratory virus such as a cold. The importance of hydration cannot be stated enough!
Eating during the flight:
To arrive at your destination feeling refreshed, limit the amount of food you eat during the flight. As with your pre-flight meal, stick to basic or simple foods and avoid heavy, fatty ones (or carbohydrate-dense) that are harder to digest. A light meal would be best, as it makes you more likely to arrive free of jet lag.
Sleeping and napping:
Getting adequate sleep will help you prevent jet lag. If your business trip will be short (e.g. 1-2 days), it’s usually best to try to stay on your usual sleep rhythm and time zone. For longer business trips, it may be more convenient to try to switch your sleep schedule toward the local time zone (as discussed above; and if you’re flying during the time when it’s nighttime at your destination, try to sleep on the flight). Try to follow your usual bedtime routine for how you usually wind down (e.g. meditation, stretching, breathing exercises).
You also may want to pack a few extra things:
- For long flights crossing multiple time zones, you could bring supplements to help you sleep, such as melatonin or valerian root (make sure to get advice from your doctor before you decide to take any supplements).
- If you anticipate being uncomfortable having to sleep on a plane, consider bringing your own neck/travel pillow and/or a cozy blanket.
Get moving! Before your flight, it’s a good idea to get some exercise in since during the flight you won’t be able to move around much. You could do this before your travels, with whatever form of exercise you prefer; something like yoga or swimming would be ideal as these stretch your whole body. Before arriving at the airport or once there (or between flights), some easy forms of movement are walking and stretching. Everything counts, especially considering that soon you’ll be sedentary in a confined space.
During the flight, it’s a good idea to get up every once in a while (for example once an hour), even just to walk around briefly. To reduce stress, try the ‘tensing method’ of tensing every muscle group in your body (either all at once or one at a time) and then slowly exhale through your mouth as you reduce the tension. Another movement, to keep your blood flowing, is to perform stretches in your seat, such as picking your feet off the ground and flexing and pointing your toes. Be aware that lack of movement during a flight may cause the build-up of blood in the legs, increasing the risk of serious blood clotting such as deep vein thrombosis. A tip: In addition to hydrating you, drinking sufficient water will also prompt you to visit the restroom, therefore you’ll be reminded to move.