The Woes of Air Travel

D-Day is upon us: today, I leave for Bordeaux.

Since I was about 7, I have taken planes to different parts of the world at least once a year. So I consider myself to be somewhat of an air travel expert, equipped to handle the particular set of challenges that my 5’8 height (legs too long for economy class, anyone?) and severe flying anxiety bring. While I’d much prefer to take a train everywhere–OK, maybe not an American train, our infrastructure is a mess,– living thousands of miles and an ocean away from most of the rest of the world (and most of my relatives) has forced me to bite the bullet and learn to deal. As I’m sitting in Gatwick airport now, cursing my 7-hour layover, I decided I’d share some of my coping strategies for ensuring both physical and mental comforts to the extent that it is possible to enjoy anything while being trapped in a crowded metal box thousands of feet in the air. Did I mention that I’m terrified of flying?

Arguably the most important part of pre-flight preparation is packing your carry-on. I normally just carry one bag, but upon quickly reaching the 50 lbs suitcase weight limit, I realized I would need two carry-ons, shoving my remaining clothes and gadgets into a backpack (I swear I didn’t overpack!). I then ended up using a second, medium-sized shoulder bag for my in-flight essentials. Admittedly, two bags didn’t make for a fun trek across Gatwick airport, but at least I have 7 hours to get from point A to point B…

So, without further ado, the contents of my carry-on today:


  1. A stuffed animal. Flying & turbulence = panic attack, stuffed animal = semblance of comfort. To be fair, I’ve yet to have a full blown panic attack on a plane, but I’ve come pretty close once when ‘some rough air’ turned into 2 hours of turbulence.
  2. a. Laptop and camera. This one is a given. Never, ever pack your electronics in your suitcase: 1) the suitcase will get lost the one time you do it 2) baggage handlers aren’t particularly gentle with your luggage, and I wouldn’t want my overpriced MacBook tossed around. Plus, you can watch movies if your in-flight entertainment sucks, provided that you’re one of the rare individuals who still owns movies.
    b. Noise-cancelling headphones. You never know who your neighbor is going to be, and the complimentary headphones are typically mediocre. Personally, I attract screaming toddlers, so if you’re traveling with me, you can be absolutely, positively, 110% certain that there will be at least one of those within 5 rows of us.
  3. Medication. I’ve been told over and over by my study abroad advisors to pack all my prescription meds along with the pharmacy labels in my carry-on in case the prescription is illegal in my destination country, and some customs official decides to fine me (bad) or throw out my meds (worse).
  4. Comfy clothes. I know they take up valuable space, but if you are on a transatlantic, 5+ hour flight, I promise you it’s worth it. I usually bring yoga pants, fuzzy socks, and a cardigan. If you know me–and I assume you probably do if you’re reading this,–you know that I am always cold. But let’s be honest, everyone gets cold on planes.
    P.S. Your feet swell a lot less if you swap the shoes for some fuzzy socks.
    P.P.S. If you are one of the unicorns whose feet don’t swell…how do I be you?
  5. Gloves & umbrella. OK, these just didn’t fit into the suitcase.
  6. Toiletries. My skin gets super dry and my lips get chapped during long flights, so I usually bring some travel-sized hand cream, moisturizer, and chapstick for all my dehydration needs. Also some band-aids and Tylenol because you never know.
  7. Neck pillow. If you don’t own one, go buy one right now. They’re not usually great, but they’re better than falling over into your neighbor’s lap when you finally doze off. And if you can’t doze off on planes because the seats are highly uncomfortable and sleeping upright is just weird (me), then you could definitely use the neck support while you watch those 4 movies to kill time.
  8. Journal &/or planner. I find that traveling produces a strange, in-between sense of being that is highly conducive to figuring out your life, so I usually bring my journal and planner(s) along to ponder existence, or, you know, mess around with my itinerary.
  9. For all the anxiety-ridden souls like me out there, I highly recommend investing in a meditation app [not pictured] and budgeting 10-15 minutes for a meditation before take off. I use Headspace because it’s got a meditation for literally every need (an ‘anxiety’ pack, a ‘fear of flying’ session, AND a ‘leaving home’ ten-day meditation course). You do have to pay $12.99/month to access all the packs, but it’s been worthwhile for me because I use it daily for all my struggles. The creator’s soothing voice is also a plus.
    P.S. Another relaxation technique is, quite frankly, to drink your anxiety away. I know, healthy, right? But, it has helped me sleep in the past, and you can’t be afraid when you’re asleep…Unfortunately, this time around I’m taking an acid reflux medication that doesn’t mix well with alcohol, so meditation it is.

Admittedly, during my New York-London flight earlier today, I felt too lazy to change into my yoga pants, and the headphones British Airways provided were surprisingly functional. However, the rest of the carry-on definitely carried me through (haha ha, get it?), particularly during the 40-minute patch of turbulence we hit when approaching London.

As I impatiently await my next and final flight to Bordeaux, I’d love to hear any of your fun/useful carry-on packing suggestions as I do plan on taking many a flight this semester to visit multiple European countries (although I doubt I’ll find sufficient enough WiFi to post this until after I land).




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