10 Things To Bring On Every International Flight (And 3 Things Not To)
I fly a lot, mostly long-haul international flights. I’ve got a short list of items I have with me on every one. I also keep an eye on what other, seemingly seasoned, travellers bring with them, so I have a few of those on this list too.
And perhaps just as important, I’ve got 3 things here that you shouldn’t bring on a flight.
There’s a bit of overlap here with my 8 Long Flight Tech Tips, but that was more about being entertained, this is more practical (and mostly not tech).
Things you must BRING:
Noise Cancelling headphones (or earplugs)
Airplanes are loud. Good noise cancelling headphones can cut the engine noise down significantly, making the whole flight a lot more relaxing. They won’t help with the crying baby, or talkative neighbors, nor are all noise cancelling headphones the same. Check out Why Headphone Specs are Worthless and Noise Cancelling vs Noise Isolating Headphones.
My pick is the Bose QuietComfort 20 (though the over-ear 25s are also good). Best noise cancelling available right now, plus they’re tiny.
If you don’t want to invest in some NC headphones (the cheap ones are rarely worth it), some ear plugs are certainly a cheap alternative. Not quite as good, and not nearly as comfortable as the QC20s, they’ll at least dim the din.
Many new planes have USB plugs at every seat. They won’t recharge your phone/tablet very quickly, but they should keep it from running low. A cable long enough for you to still use your phone comfortably, or store the phone in the seat pocket, is ideal.
Not all USB cables are the same, however. Some don’t let your phone charge at it’s maximum. Check out Wirecutter’s pick for some cheap cables that do.
If you’re an Apple user, this counts for Lightning cables too (as they’re basically just USB with an expensive connector).
USB battery pack
I’m pretty sure I recommend these in every article. They’re an external battery to recharge your various mobile devices. Never run out of juice again. An easy add if you plan on watching movies on your tablet for the whole flight. Check out Best USB Battery Packs.
Camera (or your phone)
I’ve seen many people, those who don’t use their phone for entertainment on a flight, store their phones in the overhead bins. Big mistake, especially if you’re in the window seat.
If you’re on the aisle, well, maybe this is more optional.
An extra layer
Airplanes can get cold, especially at night. I’ve seen people fly in shorts, and I just don’t get that. Some long flights will give you a hankie they optimistically call a “blanket” but others don’t. Personally, I bring a Smartwool long-sleeve pullover, which is warm but breathes.
It’s worth noting that being on the window, unless the sun is on that side, is likely colder than the aisle. If you’re in an exit row, that window is is almost always a LOT colder.
Travel Pillow (optional)
If they give you a blanket, they’ll probably give you a flat synthetic cotton ball claiming to be a pillow. I know some people who swear by those neck half-donuts, but I can’t get comfortable with them. I like myREI roll-up foam pillow, though it’s a little bulky. Wirecutter recommends a similar one that’s half-inflatable.
This is one I know other people like, but I don’t use. Honestly, they freak me out a bit. I don’t like waking up, opening my eyes, and not being able to see. But that’s just me. Most long-haul flights will require the window shades to be pulled down (or an a 787, automatically dimmed), but the cabin lights will still be on (a little) so people can see as they get up to pee. Wirecutter has a pick for that too.
Things you must HAVE:
Most countries require you to fill out a short (and sometimes, not so short) form with some basic info. Flight attendants almost never have spare pens, and even if they do, they probably won’t give them to you (they need them!). Most, but not all, airports will have a place after you arrive where you can fill out this form. But often these won’t have pens either.
It’s just easier to have a pen with you (blue or black ink only). Who knows, maybe you’ll make new friends with your seatmates as everyone asks to borrow your beloved ballpoint.
Mostly just to have the number and valid dates for the immigration form.
Address where you’re staying
Again, most forms require you to list where you’re staying, including the address. Some countries are more strict about this than others. “Is this where you’ll be staying for your whole trip?” is a common question. Generally you only need that first place you’re staying, but you might get asked about others. My guess is they just want to make sure you have an answer.
Things you SHOULDN’T BRING:
Fruit (and often nuts and seeds)
This might vary a bit per country, but more often than not, this is a no-no. I once saw a woman try to bring a bag of oranges on a flight from Mexico to LA, and she freaked out when they told her she had to dump them. And she absolutely had to dump them.
New Zealand actually x-rays bags coming into the country, searching for, among other things, fruits, nuts, and seeds. It’s not hard to understand why. They don’t want to risk contaminating what they grow in their country with the bugs, fungus, bacteria, you name it, that your local produce has somehow handled.
If you haven’t flown in a while, you can’t bring big containers of liquids through security. Only under 30ml/1oz. I thought this was well known, but nearly every time I fly there’s someone who has to dump their water bottle or soda in a bin. You can fill an empty water bottle after you clear security.
Anything that smells
Seriously. This means everything from that homemade kimchi curry to the durian you bought on a dare. It also very much includes yourself (and your feet). Please shower well before your flight, for the good of humanity, especially those stuck nearby in a nearly-sealed tube for 10 hours.
I’m sure you’re all minty fresh, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to sit next to someone who apparently hasn’t showered since Bush was president. So really this is more just a plea for my own sanity.
As my flight attendant friend says “This isn’t your living room.”
Related, I once saw a guy clip his toenails. Yep. Wow.
By Geoffrey Morrison