Published on February 24, 2019

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Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

For some, prepping for a flight is akin to prepping for a long-term move. You make extensive lists of what to pack, including outfits for both freezing cold and summer warmth (you never know). You bring all your favorite beauty products and emergency packets of Splenda, as though they don’t have lotion or artificial sweeteners in France. Your suitcase is perpetually overweight because you’re a serial overpacker. Sound familiar? You’re not alone, but this is no way to live.  

There are few people in the world who know more about savvy travel than flight attendants. Frequent flights and size restrictions mean that they’ve got preflight prep down to a science. They aren’t falling prey to the usual packing-related anxiety. With this in mind, we thought we’d tap a few attendants from Delta Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines to share their insight on how they prep for a long flight. Read this before your next trip.

Luggage organizers

You’ve undoubtedly heard about the tried-and-true method of rolling your clothes like mini burritos to save space, but if that fails, turn to professional help. Vinnie De Jesus, a flight attendant with Delta, recommends clothing organizers to “compartmentalize and compress clothing.” While there are tons of companies offering these efficient tools, Away’s packing cubes are our favorite for stylish storage.

Ziploc bags

While they’re not the most environmentally friendly product, Ziploc bags (or more importantly, the plastic material they come in) are super useful for travel. Try repurposing lightly used bags for packing. Hawaiian Airlines attendant Theona Kapoi swears by them. “Putting things in Ziploc bags and squeezing the air out helps give you lots of space, keeps you organized, and protects your belongings in case your luggage gets rained on,” she advises. Keep electronics, like chargers or USB cables, safe in these little bags to protect them and make them easy to find.

A Book

De Jesus’s go-to tactic for helping anxious passengers relax? Distraction. “Try to watch a movie, read a book, or start a conversation with your seatmate,” he says.

Sweet potatoes

When it comes to in-flight food, it might be best to DIY. Hawaiian Airlines attendant Mapuana Faulkner always brings steamed Okinawan sweet potatoes and taro for healthy snacks, which she says have high antioxidant levels and fiber.

Fellow Hawaiian Airlines stewardess Heather Sanchez also stresses the importance of planning when meal prepping for a flight. “Always consider agricultural restrictions when traveling to certain destinations,” she says. A few of her favorites? Fresh fruit and veggies to stay hydrated and dried fruit and nut bars in lieu of trail mix. “They’re much easier to consume without making a mess and are generally made up of the same components,” explains Sanchez.

An oversize scarf

“Hawaiian flight attendants never leave home without at least one pareo,” says Faulker of her carry-on necessity. “It’s a colorful, oversize scarf extraordinaire. It can be a soft, breathable fabric throw to toss over your head on the plane so no one sees you sleeping with your mouth open, a casual pool cover-up, or an impromptu picnic blanket.” Find one multifunctional item, be it a light sarong or a heavier cashmere scarf and make it your in-flight essential.  

A bullet journal

Bringing things on board to calm you can be just as important as the functional necessities, especially if you have travel anxiety. “As one who travels a lot, staying ‘grounded’ in an emotional sense is often more important,” explains De Jesus. “Take something with you that helps ensure you are in the right headspace. For me, that would be my bullet journal and Bible. These items help keep me focused on the things that matter and are a comfort to me when traveling gets stressful.”

A reusable water bottle

It’s an old truism, but it exists for a reason. De Jesus maintains that drinking water is the single best thing to ensure you stay healthy while traveling, especially because cabin air can get quite dry. Bring a reusable water bottle from home to get past TSA. “Flight attendants can always fill up your flask,” shares Hawaiian Airlines attendant Joyce Foley. “This will help you stay hydrated, which also helps with jet lag and bloating.”

Think beyond water to stay hydrated too. De Jesus keeps his sinuses in check by toting Zicam or Vaseline around with him on flights. And Sanchez has her own in-flight skincare routine she swears by: “I’ve used a variety of moisturizers over the years, but right now, Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream ($30) really works for me.” You don’t need to bring your entire medicine cabinet with you; just bring the one item you keep on steady rotation.

See more travel tips:
Taking a Flight? Make These Snacks Beforehand
Read This Before You Hop on a Plane This Week
Every Beauty Product That Helped Me Survive 80+ Hours of Travel

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