HOW TO SURVIVE A FLIGHT ABROAD ON A BUDGET AIRLINE

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When a flight deal pops up to travel from Los Angeles direct to Barcelona for $250 round trip, you book now and figure out the logistics later. My friend and I were on the phone as we hastily booked our tickets and when prompted to select seats, meals, and luggage, we said “no” to them all. You can spend $250 on a spontaneous trip to Barcelona, but as those basic human comforts came into question, adding them would have doubled our ticket price and that quickly kills the thrill of spontaneity. At $250, you can justify a random vacation. At $500+, you realize that ticket price can happen a couple of times a year on a non-budget airline and you’re better off planning out a great trip during the best time to go.

As the trip approached, it loomed over us how long the flight actually is. Twelve hours is an extensive amount of time to sit on a plane in an undesirable seat without food and beverages. In addition to that, seven days in Barcelona needed to fit into a carry-on bag with room for souvenirs. My friend and I talked and determined that if we had to add on one comfort, the most important one would be to choose our seat, which was an additional $34 each way.

On the day of the flight, we boarded the plane and sat “comfortably” next to each other in our two-person row. We survived the flight and learned a few things along the way, so I’ve put together a list of what I did or learned to do while flying on a budget redeye from LAX to BCN.

Food.

How much food do you typically eat in a 12-hour span? If you didn’t pay to get meals, you’d be crazy not to bring your own. The international terminal at LAX has a great selection of food, which isn’t something I’d typically say about airport food in general; however, my friend and I didn’t have time to grab food from Whole Foods as we had planned before our flight. International Terminal at LAX or not, airport food is always going to be better, and cheaper, than airplane food. I always recommend going with something healthy and filling, so naturally, I got a huge cheeseburger and fries from Umami Burger. Worth it.

Since the flight out was a redeye, I slept for about seven of the twelve hours and didn’t need much food. I had a shocking amount of protein bars in my bag and got by on one of those and a packet of instant coffee for breakfast. For something a little more satiating, I’d recommend bringing a packet of plain instant oatmeal and mixing it with nut butter. I also had jerky and nuts to keep me full and happy.

Drinks.

One major thing I took for granted on my frequent travels on Southwest is the free beverage service. Knowing I wouldn’t be getting my typical drink, I was under the impression that water would still be available, right? Wrong. If you didn’t pay for the food service, the beverage cart passed right by you no matter how desperately you tried to make eye contact with the stewardess. I pushed the call button to see if I could get a glass of water, and what she brought me probably contained three ounces of water. I could have brought it through security.

I pushed the call button a second time a couple of hours later and handed the stewardess my water bottle and asked if she could fill it up. It was handed back to me with the same three-ounce pour. Moral of the story – fill your water bottle in the airport before getting on your flight. I hope most budget airlines aren’t as strict on water as this airline was, but be prepared.

On two other occasions I asked for a glass of hot water to “take my meds,” and was promptly given a six-ounce cup of hot water that I used for Sleepy Time tea and instant coffee. Second thing to note – people will do anything under the threat of drugs.

Sleep.

I’m not one of those lucky individuals who can sleep on an airplane and feel well-rested. I can generally fall asleep on an airplane, but I don’t stay asleep on them. My number one tip here is to bring Ambien. If you don’t have a prescription, you’re missing out bring an OTC sleeping aid, or something natural like melatonin.

My second biggest tip is to create your own comfort. I bring my plaid pajamas that I change into before I go to sleep. I wash my face, brush my teeth, moisturize, and slip into comfy slipper socks. I got some looks walking back from the airplane bathroom donning plaid from top to bottom, but I’m pretty certain they were looks of jealousy. If you take an Ambien before you do all of this, I can assure you that you won’t care who’s looking at you.

You also need to bring a pillow. I used to use those U-shaped pillows you see everywhere, but they start to strain my neck. For this flight I tried the Trtl Pillow for the first time and I’ll never go back. Check it out, it’s amazing. I also bring an eye mask, earplugs, and a “blanket,” which is actually just a large scarf.

Sanitation.

Airplanes are petri dishes of human diseases. I once sat in front of a woman on a plane who was coughing and sniffling the entire ride. Lo and behold, I was in the ER the next day with a 104-degree fever and the biggest sense of loathing towards this lady. I could have picked up the flu from anyone, anywhere, but for the sake of this blog, we’re going to pretend it was from the lady on the plane.

We’ve all heard about air being recycled on airplanes and even though that’s not totally wrong, it isn’t the reason why so many people get sick when they travel. It’s the amount of people on planes that make them health hazards. People are circulated on and off with little thought towards deep cleaning. If one person who has the flu gets onto a plane, everything he touches potentially becomes contaminated – the seat, the window shade, the tray table, the handle to the lavatory, the seat backs he touches to maintain balance on his way to the lavatory, the Skymall, I could go on but you get it. There are so many people in close quarters on planes that it’s inevitable germs will spread.

Two things I bring on every flight are sanitary wipes and hand sanitizer. I’m that person who wipes down everything before settling down, including my seat. I use hand sanitizer throughout the flight when I feel the need to “freshen up.” I always pack Emergen-C and Airborne to take before getting on the plane, and I make sure to pack a small pharmacy of my own in case I get sick while traveling. It’s much easier to have a Pepto Bismol chewable with you than to go to a pharmacy in a foreign land and find the equivalent.

Entertainment.

This goes without saying, but I recently heard a travel horror story where a 30-something woman pestered her neighbor on a five-hour flight to Vegas because she was bored. She boarded the plane with the assumption that whoever she sat next to would entertain her the whole flight and maybe use the Wi-Fi, then proceeded to lose her mind when no Wi-Fi was available and the poor stranger sitting next to her just wanted to watch the show he downloaded on Netflix.

I once sent an email to a boss who was on a plane and started the email with, “In case your plane has Wi-Fi, here’s an update…” As soon as she landed, I received the following professional response:

“Wi-Fi on a plane? Are you f*cking kidding me!?!?!”

No ma’am, I don’t joke about Wi-Fi on planes. But now I know that there are some people in this world who either don’t know you can access the World Wide Web at 30,000 feet up, or automatically assume every plane they’re on is going to have it. Fun fact – if you’re on a budget airline, there probably isn’t going to be any Wi-Fi. At least free Wi-Fi.

Second fun fact – you can now download most shows on Netflix! Books are incredible. So are Kindles. If you’d rather have someone read to you, check out Audible. Every smart phone has access to a huge range of games. Download some. A lot of flights already come with in-flight entertainment, but in case yours doesn’t, there’s no excuse to bother the stranger next to you because you’re bored. Headphones are the universal “don’t talk to me” sign. Unless you’re the stewardess coming to bring me water. Side note, there’s generally a USB plug-in on long-haul flights, so make sure your charger is easily accessible.

Those are all of my budget airline travel tips for now, but there might be an update to this after I fly Norwegian in March. If you’ve flown Norwegian before and have any pointers, please leave them in the comments! For anyone else, what’s the one travel tip you live by? Tell me your favorite airplane snack, hack, or travel destination. And as always, thanks for reading and stay shameless!

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