My survival guide for the long overnight flight to Paris
This is my personal checklist for the things I absolutely must have with me (or on me) for all long flights, particularly those pesky overnight trans-atlantic ones. Long flights are always a drag, and these simple things can make them much more bearable. The list starts with my trifecta for a decent night's sleep...
- Noise-cancelling headphones. These are without a doubt the number one most important thing (to me) for long flights. These let me block out the hum of the plane, they help me ignore crying kids and chatty passengers, and most importantly, they let me sleep.
- Smartphone with playlist for sleeping. Paired with the aforementioned noise-cancelling headphones, this is the only way I can get any rest at all on a long overnight flight.
- Sleep mask. Some airlines provide these and some don't, so I always bring one (just a cheap one from a previous flight; nothing fancy) for all flights, just in case. Again, the goal here is to block out the whole world! Every single thing that's happening inside an airplane is unpleasant; I want to achieve total sensory deprivation if I can. I wish I could just travel in a coffin.
- Chewing gum. Lots of it. I often experience terrible inner ear pain during takeoff and landing. I've read a million articles and tried a million things, and the only things that seem to help (for me) are chewing a couple pieces of gum before and during takeoff and landing. I've never been able to do that trick where you hold your nose and make your ears pop; I swear, I've got some sort of extreme case with regards to this inner ear stuff. The best I can do, along with chewing gum, is to my hold my nose and swallow hard; I can feel the pressurized air squeeze its way out of my ears when I do that.
- Sunglasses. I usually wear sunglasses during the whole flight (when I'm not wearing a sleep mask). They help block out some light so I can relax/sleep, and an added benefit is that they make you look mysterious and discourage people from talking to you.
- Classy attire. The sunglasses thing reminded me about this. I always wear a suit when I travel. When you dress well, airport and airline employees often treat you with more respect (especially French ones) and seem to be more likely to go out of their way to help you; clearly you're someone important! In a less-full flight you're way more likely to get upgraded for free to business or first class if you're dressed classy and the staff need to move people around. See my article about what to wear (and what NOT to wear) in Paris.
- Book. I try to bring a non-fiction book that's either about where I'm going (like a history book) or a fictional story set in the place where I'm going. This gets me super excited for my destination and often gives me a few useful tips about sights, language, culture, etc. Some of my favorite in-flight books regarding Paris have been Seven Ages of Paris, A Moveable Feast, Métronome, The Sun Also Rises, Suite Française, etc etc etc.
- Laptop with movies. Pretty obvious one, but this really makes the time fly for me more than anything else.
- Small notepad and pen. You'd be surprised how often you realize you need to write something down during a flight. Notes for my trip, things I need to remember to do when I arrive, work emails I forgot to write before I left, etc. The craziest ideas occur to me when I'm traveling and I need to jot them down before I forget 'em. Also, there are all those customs forms you have to fill out, and it sucks when you don't have a pen and have to ask around trying to borrow one.
- Business cards. I try really hard to avoid having any kind of conversation with people around me on flights, but once in a while I get trapped, and I've realized that having business cards on me is a great way to get out of it. Instead of just making it clear I don't want to talk to someone, which they might see as rude, I can tell them, "Look, I really need to watch these movies for work [this is a lie], but take my card and email me and we'll keep in touch!" I've used this trick to get out of hearing people drone on and on about how much they love Paris, just trying to show off, really, or sometimes it's the opposite; they want to ask me ten million questions about Paris before they get there. Anyway, it's a great trick to avoid general small talk about all kinds of boring nonsense; handing them a card makes them feel less rejected. And hey, I guess it's also possible you'll make an important business connection, so having your card on you is just downright practical.
- Scarf. This might sound silly, but it's a lifesaver! It can get surprisingly chilly in the cabin sometimes, especially overnight, but the main reason I bring a scarf is so that I can fold it up and put it on the armrest that my elbow goes on; the hard plastic can become really painful during those eight (or whatever) long hours if you're putting all your weight on that side and trying to sleep.
- Chapstick. The air in the cabin is much dryer than what you're used to on the ground, and I always notice my lips dry out horribly on long flights. Having some lip balm on you will keep your lips soft and kissable. You're going to Paris, you know?
- Euros; bills and coins. I always make sure to have euros on my person, not for the flight, but so when I get to Paris (or wherever) I'm ready to take a taxi or the RER (regional train) without having to find an ATM in the airport or dig through my luggage to find the euros I've brought. For many years, taxis in France didn't take credit cards, although now they do, so this is less important than it used to be. Anyway, having cash on you can seriously save a ton of hassle when you're already tired and cranky after a long flight and you just want to get to Paris and relax. So, I try to always have a hundred euros in various denominations in my wallet, AND fifteen or so euros in one- and two-euro coins, like in a jacket pocket or a small external pocket on my carry-on bag. The bills are for a taxi, and the coins are for the RER ticket machines; they usually don't take bills and our American credit cards often don't work in them. So it's either, have coins on me for the machine, or wait in a loooooong line for the ticket window. Anyway, I try to have bills and coins because I may not decide which kind of transportation I'm going to take until I actually arrive at CDG. See my articles about the fake taxi strike scam, and taking the RER from CDG to Paris. More about money here.
- Notable stuff that I don't bring. Those neck pillow things: they're useless and uncomfortable (to me anyway). Toothbrush/toothpaste: I forego this 'cause I've got gum and 'cause it's really not cool to take up that much time in the restroom, like, imagine, if we all did that in the morning; the line would be insane. Pajamas/slippers: have some dignity.
Please check out my checklist for your trip to Paris as well for tips about other non-flight-related things you can do to prepare for your trip.
Have a nice (or at least tolerable) flight!