Long-Haul Travel: A Frequent Flyer’s Survival Guide. PART I


I am going to be upfront with you: long-haul flights suck. A lot.

Profound, I know.


You thought you were in for some philosophical musing on the art of air travel, didn’t you? And now this! I apologise sincerely.


Allow me walk you through my logic…



snapshot of the book The Art of Travel

A great book by the somewhat brilliant Alain de Botton…and not at all what this post is about



Unless you are flying to Asia or the South Pacific, travelling overseas from Australia usually means spending the better part of 24 hours in-transit. Similarly, transiting between Europe and North America will set you back almost an entire day.


When I flew from Perth to Alaska last year, I lost track of the transit time once it reached about oh, 35 hours, at which point I was about ready to plunge the plastic airline cutlery into my eyes and end it all.


I’m not kidding.





35 hours….


Alternating between a claustrophobic cylindrical tube a gazillion feet above the earth; and a somewhat larger, fluorescent-lit capsule with shops, hard liquor and huge windows where you can watch the aforementioned cylindrical tubes whilst waiting for your next flight.


Sounds positively blissful, I know.


I have been travelling for over 13 years and every time I fly I think:

“This time it will be different. This time I will sleep. This time……”


But I think I need to face the truth:

There are some things I can do well. Long-haul air travel is not one of them.


And yet I choose to do it. Over and over.


I love that quote that talks about the journey being what matters most when you travel, not the destination.


It’s poetic and insightful and true in almost all cases…



Sunrise through a plane window

Sunrise /sunset / sunrise…it’s all the same…I still haven’t slept.


But when I am on a 15 hour flight and:

I have had my face 3 inches from someone else’s sweaty armpit for longer than I care to think about;

I have lost all feeling in my swollen legs and am surely well on my way to developing deep vein thrombosis;

The smell of the re-hydrated goop the airline staff delight in feeding us is making me feel nauseous;

I can hear the bloke behind me snoring, and the drunk rum-and-coke-lady in front of me cackling at reruns of Friends, over the music on my noise-reduction headphones; and

Everyone else around me is in blissful slumber, and despite my taking two (yes TWO) sleeping tablets I am still stupidly awake, yet so insanely tired that I can’t even remember my own name….


…well, at that point, you know what you can do with the whole the-journey-is-what-matters idea.

It’s all about the destination, my friends.


In my humble opinion.


sample of airline food

This is good day: This is what you hope your airline food resembles…


snapshot of airline food

…but more often, what it actually resembles is this. I’m not really sure what this is.



Naturally, I am talking about economy class. Business and First class is a different story entirely.


In case you hadn’t gathered from my previous post, I am at my happiest when I am travelling. It is what I am most passionate about.


I will travel for as long as I am physically and financially able.


But after over 25 long-haul flights and God knows how many more in my future, I think it is fair for me to pass judgment:

They officially suck. (I may have mentioned that already.)


So now for the million dollar question….Is it all worth it?


Well yes, of course it is.

That’s why I continue to do it. Sweaty armpits, re-hydrated goop and all.

Is childbirth worth it? It’s the exactly same thing.


Okay, okay it’s not exactly the same thing but…close…






How do you feel about long-haul air travel? Love it or hate it?

Do you count down the hours until landing, or are you one of those awful – I mean lucky – people who can sleep the whole way through?



Are you visiting Quiet Wanderings for the first time?

Check out what it’s all about, sign up for email updates, subscribe to the RSS feed or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

About the Author

Quiet Wanderings

Comments (26)
  • Avatar

    Journey Photographic Feb 20 2012 - 11:58 am Reply

    I agree – long haul flights from Australia in Economy officially suck.
    Journey Photographic recently posted..Flamenco (X), SpainMy Profile

  • Avatar

    Kim Feb 20 2012 - 9:57 pm Reply

    I haven’t done many long-haul flights yet… I think my longest is 13 hours which sounds easy compared to 35! Our upcoming trip to Ecuador is 30 hours door to door… Anyway, I think I can easily say that they suck, even though I haven’t done one yet!
    Kim recently posted..We Reached Our RTW Savings Goal!!!!!!!My Profile

    • Avatar

      quietwanderings Feb 21 2012 - 3:09 am Reply

      13 hours is still bad enough if you don’t enjoy flying! Good luck with the 30 hour one to Ecuador – hope the advice in the next post is of some help to you for your flight, Kim!

  • Avatar

    Tash Feb 20 2012 - 10:08 pm Reply

    Oh my god, I HATE it too! But like you, endure it time and again, cos you have to from Australia to get anywhere!!

    And I too can never sleep, totally count down the hours, and always seem to be seated next to someone who falls asleep for the whole flight, the second they sit down! Grrrr! Brings out homicidal thoughts, I tell you! Ha!
    Tash recently posted..My A to Z of TravelMy Profile

    • Avatar

      quietwanderings Feb 21 2012 - 3:14 am Reply

      Our endurance takes a battering for sure, Tash! Homicidal thoughts are right…just don’t reach for the plastic cutlery…
      I love living in Australia but every time I fly long-haul I can’t help but think it’s kind of ironic that I love to travel so much but live in one of the most isolated islands in the world. You gotta love irony, right?

  • Avatar

    Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella Feb 21 2012 - 6:19 am Reply

    I know what you mean about long haul travel. We are so used to it being in Australia but it doesn’t make it any easier does it? If only we could always travel business or first!

    • Avatar

      quietwanderings Feb 21 2012 - 6:24 am Reply

      Ah, if only!! I think I would change my opinion pretty quickly if I was able to fly first class on a regular basis. Oh well, a girl can dream… :)

  • Avatar

    Cole @ Four Jandals Feb 22 2012 - 2:00 pm Reply

    Love it. We know the feeling of long haul being from NZ! That’s why we are living in the UK so then we don’t have to do long haul at the moment. Makes a HUGE difference.
    Cole @ Four Jandals recently posted..Travelling sick sucks: Travel Tips to staying healthyMy Profile

    • Avatar

      quietwanderings Feb 26 2012 - 12:50 am Reply

      I loved it when I lived in the UK and you could go to another country for the weekend if you wanted to! Agree that it makes a big difference in attitude if you don’t have to fly half way across the world.

  • Avatar

    jade Feb 22 2012 - 3:32 pm Reply

    I just got back from a Barcelona to NYC to LA trip- it was god awful. I was in Business Elite for the long haul part from Barcelona to NYC, but then my NYC flight was delayed and I ended up spending 7 hours- yes- 7- in NYC airport waiting for the next available LA flight. IT was miserable. I just wanted to take a shower and not be sitting on an airplane!
    jade recently posted..Is flying first class really worth the extra money?My Profile

    • Avatar

      quietwanderings Feb 26 2012 - 12:54 am Reply

      Ugh, sounds awful, Jade. Delays and being stuck in airports is a nightmare. Enough to test anyone’s sanity! I just read your post and I have to say…your food looks SO much more appetising! I think the upgrade would be worth it just for that :)

  • Avatar

    Ayngelina Feb 24 2012 - 7:39 pm Reply

    I actually love long airline trips, that said I am only 5 feet tall so I usually have a lot of space.

    The food can be questionable but recently I started ordering vegan or vegetarian meals and it is so much better as you usually get fruit instead of dessert and lots of veggies.

    The only downside is the vegan meals have margarine instead of butter and I don’t eat margarine.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Learning from a failed 30 day yoga challengeMy Profile

    • Avatar

      quietwanderings Feb 26 2012 - 1:00 am Reply

      Yay! I’m excited that someone finally disagrees with me! Haha, I am only 5’2″ – I always make a big point of mentioning that extra 2″ 😉
      I don’t find it makes much difference for me though – I still get really uncomfortable. The veggie meal is great idea. In fact pre-selecting meals in general can definitely make the culinary experience better on a long-haul.

  • Avatar

    Wanderplex Feb 26 2012 - 6:21 pm Reply

    I grew up in Australia so I totally know what you mean about every flight being a long haul flight. I always get really excited by the idea of flying, and I generally enjoy it for the first few hours (you know, watch a movie you’ve been looking forward to, have a drink etc) but then the reality of being on the plan for another 10+ hours starts to sink in along with the dread. Especially if there needs to be some sleeping going on. I’m really short so sitting on planes isn’t so bad, but sleeping, well that sucks no matter how short you are!
    Wanderplex recently posted..Why you should get snap happy with your luggageMy Profile

    • Avatar

      quietwanderings Mar 1 2012 - 7:10 am Reply

      I am bit like that too. I try to psyche myself into thinking that this time it won’t be that bad…and like you say, my heart sinks when I realise we are only 3 hours in. I’m short too, and I agree it makes not difference to the sleep situation. I wish it did!

  • Avatar

    Alexa -- 52Perfectdays.com Feb 27 2012 - 5:09 pm Reply

    We did LA to Taiwan when my son was two. We were booked by the agent with only two seats. One for me and one for my husband and our son was considered a ‘lap baby’. That was the longest flight of my life! I let my son have my seat to sleep and I sat on the floor for most of the long, long flight!
    Alexa — 52Perfectdays.com recently posted..Roland’s Epic Adventures: The KahalaMy Profile

    • Avatar

      quietwanderings Mar 1 2012 - 7:11 am Reply

      Oh god, you poor thing, Alexa – that sounds absolutely awful!! I can’t even begin to imagine how bad that would’ve been. Food would’ve been the least of your worries.

  • Avatar

    Sophie Feb 27 2012 - 6:48 pm Reply

    The only thing worse is 35 hours with a child (of varying temper) along! I always break up long flights, trying to fit in at least one night and one day in one or two places in between. One of your tips, perhaps?
    Sophie recently posted..The cliff divers at La QuebradaMy Profile

    • Avatar

      quietwanderings Mar 1 2012 - 7:13 am Reply

      Ah Sophie, you are a woman after my own heart :) Yes, that is definitely one of my tips (see part 2). I started doing a stop over to break up the trip a few years back and I find it helps immensely.

    • Avatar

      Grant Lucas Nov 6 2013 - 5:01 pm Reply

      I feel you for that. If I am traveling solo I can get away and not think of how stressing long flights for me is. Well, as long as I have my books with me to read. But when I’m traveling with my sister to visit my hometown with my nephews a few hours I get all stressed up. Those 2 boys were like they drank all the energy drinks they can get. And even wanted to play cars or walk around.

  • Avatar

    Stephanie - The Travel Chica Feb 28 2012 - 1:08 am Reply

    I love that book! I prefer long buses to long airplane rides, but of course you cover a lot more ground in the airplane.

    Like Ayngelina, I usually am not super-cramped on an airplane like most people. For me, it’s about having earplugs and an eye mask, layers to keep warm, a good book, earbuds for the in-flight movie, lots of water, and healthy snacks.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Slowing Down in ChiloéMy Profile

    • Avatar

      quietwanderings Mar 1 2012 - 7:17 am Reply

      It’s one of my favourites too, Stephanie. Lots of water is a great one! I forgot to mention that as part of the tips in part 2.

  • Avatar

    Michelle Feb 29 2012 - 4:27 am Reply

    Thanks for sharing this post with me. I don’t mind long flights so much because that’s how much I love flying. Fortunately, I haven’t had to deal with anyone’s sweaty armpits. Ewww, feel gross just typing it. :) I may have to check out that book. — Michelle
    Michelle recently posted..Organic Vegetarian Cuisine at Avanti Cafe — Costa Mesa, CaliforniaMy Profile

    • Avatar

      quietwanderings Mar 1 2012 - 7:18 am Reply

      Haha, yes it’s pretty gross. Bad hygiene in general is not great when you are in such a enclosed space. Yuck. The book is awesome, Michelle – highly recommend it!

  • Avatar

    Sherry Mar 25 2012 - 10:43 pm Reply

    Well, I grew up on an island, so I can relate to long haul air travel. I have tried sleeping, but can’t really do that well. Ultimately it is difficult, but the good part is that even with small adventures, it always seems big after a long plane ride. For me, at least that is the plus side. If I can avoid the plane ride all together, I’m probably a happier person.
    Sherry recently posted..“Snowshoeing in Paradise”My Profile

Leave a reply

Name (required)


CommentLuv badge