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How to Travel Comfortably (Even If You’re Not In First Class)

How to Travel Comfortably (Even If You’re Not In First Class)

I’ve flown a fair amount over the last couple years and every time I walk past the people sitting in first class, my eyes glaze over with envy. Sure, I could pony up the extra few hundred dollars to take one of those plush seats with the extra leg room and a hot towel for my face, but the reality is that I won’t do it. My friends call it cheap. I call it being frugal.

The reality is that I’d rather put my hard earned money to use elsewhere, like in savings or investments for retirement, so you will always find me squished in one of the economy seats far in back. What I’ve learned in doing this though is that you can still achieve some level of comfort even if you’re in the lowest priced seats on the plane. Read on to find out how.

Pick the Best Seat for You

Where you sit on the plane plays a huge role in determing how comfortable you are on your flight. This is especially true if you’re flying internationally as you’re likely to be in the air for eight or more hours at a time. So what is the best seat to pick?

Some people swear that the top seats are in the front of the plane because you can exit quicker, while others always book their seat in the back by the bathroom so they can get to it without bothering a bunch of other passengers. In the end, neither is wrong or right, it is all about choosing the one that is the best seat for you.

For example, if you have a small bladder, you likely want an aisle seat so that you can go to the bathroom as often as you like without asking someone to move every time. Aisle seats are also better for the person who gets restless and likes to get up and walk around a lot to stretch their legs and expend some energy.

On the other hand, if you prefer to sit down and stay put, then the window seat is probably going to make you happiest, as no one will be bothering you to get up all the time. The window seat is also a good option if you prefer to spend your air time sleeping as it provides a nice little cubby hole to put your head so you don’t have to worry about leaning on your neighbor’s shoulder and drooling while you dream.

As far as the middle seat is concerned, it has both advantages and disadvantages. If the flight is full, you’re likely to be sandwiched between two people in the middle seat, which means you may be spending your entire time mid-air trying to claim at least one of the armrests. However, if you are a talker, then the middle seat may be a benefit because gives you two options for people to share your stories with (in case one isn’t into chatting) to make the time go by faster.

Some people prefer to spend a couple dollars more on an exit row seat because there is more leg room. I know that I was ecstatic when I was in my first exit row seat as I was able to stretch my feet out in front of me. What I didn’t realize though was that exit row seats do not recline. So if you like to lie back as you jet across the sky, then you’re better off just sticking to a standard seat instead.

Dress Comfortably

This one isn’t always possible, especially if you’re meeting a business client at the destination airport and want to arrive in suitable attire. But if you’re just landing and going to your hotel, then dress in a manner that will allow you to be the most comfortable as you go through your travels.

Depending on your style, this may mean wearing a suit and tie, a running suit with matching tops and bottoms, or anything in between. While some experts will tell you that “you simply must wear this on a plane” or “you should never wear that,” I say wear whatever is going to make your time in-flight most relaxed for you. As long as it doesn’t infringe on someone else’s seat space, you’re good to go.

Pack Light

While it may seem like a good idea to take a lot of things with you when you travel so that you have them if you need them, the reality is that the less you pack, the less you have to try to stash comfortably on the plane. Certainly, you can put your bag under the seat in front of you, but that also restricts the amount of room that you have for your feet, which isn’t always the best trade-off.

So, what types of things should you absolutely make sure you have in your carry-on? Here are a few to consider:

  • Medications. This goes for both prescriptions and over the counter. The reason you want them in your carry-on, even if you aren’t due to take them while in flight, is in case your luggage gets lost. You don’t want your meds to get lost with it, potentially causing you undue harm.
  • Laptop or tablet. If you’re not planning on working on the plane or have no interest in watching downloaded podcasts or movies, you can probably leave these in your checked luggage. Otherwise, it’s great to have access to electronics to pass the time. Just make sure they are in airplane mode.
  • Noise cancelling headphones or ear buds. Some airlines do provide ear buds either free of charge or for a couple of bucks, but I always prefer to take my own. Mine are more comfortable and I get kind of grossed out thinking of putting airline ones in my ears.
  • Your cell phone charger. A lot of the seats have USB ports so you can charge your cell phone or other electronic devices while in transit. No more running out of juice mid-movie or arriving at your destination with a dead phone and no way to reach anyone.
  • A light jacket. Sometimes it can pretty chilly on a plane and not all of them offer blankets to their economy passengers. Therefore, having access to a light jacket or even a sweatshirt is preferable, especially if you tend to be a little cold blooded.
  • A snack. Unless you’re on an international flight, you’re probably not going to be offered a free meal while in flight. In that case, having a snack handy is great way to settle your rumbling tummy until you arrive at your destination. Some of the longer domestic flights do offer snacks for purchase, so if this appeals to you instead, just make sure you have your credit or debit card handy, as a lot of them don’t accept cash.
  • Water bottle. You can spend $5 for a bottle of water at the airport or do what I do to make sure you stay hydrated in flight and simply take an empty water bottle in your carry-on, filling it at the water fountain once you’ve made it through security. It’s much cheaper and the water tastes just as good.
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste. If you’re on a long flight and/or meeting clients right when you arrive, it’s nice to freshen your breath beforehand so don’t forget your toothbrush and toothpaste in your carry-on if this is the case.

Keep Your Patience

It never fails that when my husband travels for his work, something always happens where his flight is either delayed or cancelled. In fact, when he was flying back from Thailand a couple years back, he arrived like nine hours after his scheduled time, which can clearly try your patience when you’re ready to get wherever it is you want or need to be.

It certainly isn’t fun to be stranded in any airport, but the more patience you have, the more pleasant your detour will be. Remember also that you’re always representing yourself and your company, even when you’re traveling. So, let that be your guide before getting upset if things don’t quite go as you had planned.

If you travel a lot, what are some tips that you’ve used to make your time more comfortable? Feel free to share them below so other business travelers (like me) can use them too!

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by Christina DeBusk // Freelance writer, author, and small business consultant committed to helping entrepreneurs achieve higher levels of success.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.