As an Australian, almost every time I leave the country I need to fly long haul. I have done so many long haul flights now I have lost count. My longest individual flights have been over fourteen hours from Melbourne to Dubai, and I have done at least ten flights longer than ten hours.
Usually I will fly on full fare airlines such as Emirates or Singapore Airlines, but just recently I had the opportunity to fly on Scoot, the budget arm of Singapore Airlines from Melbourne to Singapore. Scoot has incredibly cheap flights – it’s possible at times to fly from Australia to Europe for less than $400AUD – but that also means they do not include any benefits with those cheap flights. The basic fare is called “Fly” and that is pretty much all you get. There are no meals, no entertainment, no checked baggage, no reserved seating. So with carry on only, and no meals or entertainment, I had to think carefully about what I took. Here are my long haul flight essentials especially for when you are travelling carry on only on a budget airline.
Long Haul Flight Essentials – Information
Before I get into exactly what I recommend, I just want to explain a little about these super cheap flights. If you purchase a basic fare for the insanely cheap price, I suggest assuming you get nothing except transport from A to B. That doesn’t mean you CAN’T get many of the amenities that are offered on the full service airlines, but instead you likely CAN get it, you just have to pay for it. For example, want your water bottle refilled? No worries, that will be $5 thank you! Power to charge your phone? Sure, $3. A meal? Yes, we can do that too – hand over your credit card!
Unless you pay for your seats in advance, do not assume you will be sitting next to your travelling companions. I remember one flight I was given a window seat on one side of the plane, and my husband was given a window seat on the other – but the flight was half empty and there was no one seated in any of the other seats between us.
The cheap flight also means no checked luggage, so you likely only have 10kg to pack everything you need for the flights and your holiday (although the 10kg may vary by airline). So when coming up with this list, I have taken size and weight into consideration with the items I have recommended.
Budget airlines will not hand out headphones to you as you board, so you will have to bring your own. Sure you can bring whichever headphones you already have with you, but the best thing you can do, particularly if you want to sleep, is to pick up some noise cancelling headphones. These are amazing at blocking out all of the general plane sounds, including that crying baby three rows back, the giggly teenagers loudly discussing the weekend and the staff in the galley preparing the meals. Even if you are not listening to anything, leaving the headphones on will help you sleep too.
There are two different styles of headphones, the traditional over-the-head variety, and earbuds. While quality tends to be better with the traditional headphones, for comfort on a long haul flight, the earbuds are best. I recommend the Bose QuietComfort 20 headphones, but they are definitely not a budget item, so if you don’t want to splash out, perhaps instead consider this pair that has thousands of good reviews on Amazon.
Something to Watch or Listen To
Now that you have your headphones, you will also need to pack something to watch or listen to. I am not a big user of inflight entertainment, so I don’t usually bother with anything other than my phone for this, but if you are looking for something a bit bigger, try to squeeze a tablet into your luggage before hand.
Check if wifi or entertainment is available on your flight, and decide if you would like to pay for these services once on board. They may be worth it to you. Also check if you need to download an app onto your device in advance to be able to take advantage of these.
Before you leave home, load up your device with everything you might like during the flight. Perhaps this long haul flight is the perfect opportunity to binge watch the latest series of your favourite tv show. Or catch up on some recent movies. Download some music for a nice, soothing playlist to play as you are falling to sleep. Perhaps even choose one of those time-wasting game apps to pass the time – think Candy Crush!
Make sure you have a few options available for entertainment so you can mix it up a bit if you get restless.
To keep all that entertainment going, you are going to need a decent power bank. I suggest before racing out and buying the biggest one you can find that you check the regulations in your country and the country you are travelling to, as some now have limitations on the size of power bank allowed on flights.
[Link for Amazon Australia – power banks]
Something to Read
To add to your entertainment variety, bring along a good book! I’m a little bit old school, and I love the feel of a physical book when I am reading so no matter how tight my luggage allowance is I always try to squeeze one in. It also helps that I have hundreds of books at home waiting to be read, and a plane is a great place for hours of dedicated reading time.
Or if you don’t want to read, sign up to Audible and download an audiobook to help while away the time on the flight. If you haven’t signed up before, you get to try two audiobooks for free in your first month.
There are unlikely to be pillows or blankets on your budget flight, so I recommend taking either a scarf or a sarong with you to use as either. Which one you choose will likely depend on your destination as you will want an item that can be useful there too. A sarong if you are heading to the beach and a scarf for other locations.
A sarong is one of the things I pack every time I travel (see my post on Essential Items for Long Term Travel) as it has so many uses, from a blanket on the plane to a beach towel. There are also thousands of designs to choose from too. I suggest picking one up on your travels in a warm location since you will get the cheapest prices there, but if you want to pick one up in advance, there is a huge range on Amazon.
If you are taking a scarf along, choose one of the fantastic travel scarves that are now on the market. These contain a hidden pocket so it is yet another convenient way to carry your things while travelling. While these scarves won’t be great for a makeshift blanket, they can be folded up and used under your head as a pillow.
Another option is to pick up a travel wrap that can be used in multiple ways during your trip, as a scarf, a wrap, a blanket and more.
It all sounds really easy to say “pack some snacks” but it gets a whole lot harder when perhaps you need to pack twelve hours worth of food with a limited luggage allowance. To add even more difficulty, for my flight I tried to find healthier snacks, and I had a domestic flight before so anything cold wouldn’t last too long!
When you are thinking about food to pack, remember that many countries have very strict quarantine regulations, so only pack what you are able to eat on the plane because you will possibly have to through out any leftovers on arrival. This will also help with your luggage restrictions
Don’t forget that since you will be going through airport security, avoid packing anything that is liquid or a gel, as it will likely get confiscated. I have heard that by freezing liquids they will be allowed past security, but I have not tried this myself so I’m not sure if it works.
Since you are in a confined space, consider how your food choices could affect others around you. Don’t take food that is strong smelling, or anything that could cause a severe allergic reaction (eg: nuts).
I suggest packing items that are not already in their own packaging in paper bags or (if no other option) snaplock bags, so that the packaging can be disposed of rather than carried around.
Here are some suggestions for healthier snacks
- small salad
- fingerfood, such as cured meats, cold chicken, cheese, cherry tomatoes, carrots, celery, olives etc
- piece of fruit
- dried fruit
- sandwich or wrap
- boiled egg
Some less healthier, but easy, snacks
- muffin or slice of cake
- potato chips
- cold pizza
I am never without a lip balm within arm’s length, and that’s at home in a normal environment. In the drying cabin of a plane I find it essential to have it nearby. I’m a little bit boring, and my favourite lip balm is generally a basic one from the Blistex range.
Moisturiser for both face and hands can also be nice to have with you. I usually pack a small facial moisturiser and if I feel the need, use that for my hands on the flight too. I currently use this Neutrogena moisturiser. For short trips I don’t take along the whole pot, I have some refillable containers that I use to keep both weight and volume down.
Refillable Water Bottle
Yes you will need to empty out your water bottle before you go through security, but there is usually somewhere in the airport to refill your bottle before you get on the plane. It’s important to take your own water on the plane, because as I said before, it will be available on board, but it is likely that you will have to pay for it.
I have a really basic bottle I have had for years that I use. I love it because it is a great size to fit in my Pacsafe travel hand bag but not so small that it’s empty in two sips. I can’t find it online, but apart from being a little smaller, it is similar to this one.
Another popular choice for travellers are the collapsible water bottles. I’ve not tried one, but if I was going to, I think something like this would be a good choice.
Tissues and wet wipes always come in handy for a multitude of purposes during a flight.
Some people swear by using anti-bacterial wipes to give all the surfaces at your seat a quick going-over when you sit down to minimise the likelihood of getting sick.
You may also like to use the wipes to freshen up before landing after spending all those hours on the plane.
[Link for Amazon Australia – wet wipes]
I personally do not tend to take a neck pillow when I travel, but I know there are many people who do like to use them. I have tried a few in the past and just not found one that works well for me on the plane and throughout my trip.
The inflatable neck pillows are great because they can be folded down and packed away, but they aren’t all that great in supporting your head to sleep.
The neck pillows that tend to give the best support tend to be bulky. So while you may get a little more sleep on the plane, you are then going to be carrying a neck pillow around with you during your trip. If you are only going to one location this may not be an issue, but if you are travelling to multiple places on buses and trains or even short flights, this could be inconvenient. It could also be an issue if agents decide to be fussy about carry on luggage limits.
I am slightly intrigued by the trtl pillow and am seriously considering trying it out the next time I have an economy overnight flight. It’s not as bulky as other pillows, but still looks like it would do the job.
There are so many different neck pillows to choose from, and I think it’s just a matter of trial and error to find the one that is right for you.
We have all heard about the DVT risks when flying. The risks increase when you are sitting in a very cramped spot for hours on end without moving – just like you will be on a budget airline. It’s a great idea to wear compression socks while you travel to help to increase circulation and therefore decrease the likelihood of a DVT clot developing.
While I know the benefits of compression socks for DVT, I actually wear them for another reason – my feet always get really cold on planes and this helps to keep them warm.
While talking about socks, let me mention something else I like to take too – slippers! Depending on what shoes you wear on the plane (I normally wear my heaviest, bulkiest shoes) they may be difficult to get on and off in such a confined space if you want to remove them to me comfortable. But there is no way you do not want to walk to the bathroom without shoes on.
I tend to grab those free pairs of slippers offered by many hotel chains and keep them for the plane. I can then throw them out right afterwards and not carry them for the rest of my trip. If you don’t have any hotel slipper available, perhaps pick up a pair of these foldable travel slippers to do the job.
Other Budget Airline Hints and Tips
Budget airlines really are a breed of their own, and you can’t assume that all the things you know from your previous flights on full service airlines apply. Here are just a few more hints and tips to help out with your trip.
- Read the Terms and Conditions – this is so important! The best way to enjoy – or at least tolerate – these flights is to understand exactly what you are getting and what you are not. It’s probably best to do this before you book, but at the very least, you need to do it well before you fly. Note things like luggage allowances, if the flights are changeable/cancellable etc
- Be on Time – For everything! Budget airlines are not known for their flexibility, so do not put yourself in a situation where you have to ask them for a favour. They will all tell you in the booking information exactly how long before the flight leaves that check in closes. If, for example, it’s 45 minutes before, do not get to the airport 50 minutes before and assume all will be okay. I’ve been to airports where, for example, there is a security screening right at the front door, so if there is a line up there, you are immediately in trouble.
- Always Stick to the Luggage Limit – If any airline is going to weigh and check your luggage it is going to be a budget carrier. And more likely than not, their excess luggage fees at check in will be exorbitant. Either be sure you can stick to their rules, or buy more luggage in advance.
With all that information, I hope your long haul flight on a budget airline with be as comfortable as possible. If you can cope with these flights, you can save your dollars for the most amazing holiday possible.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.