Shortly after graduating high school, I went with my dad on a business trip to South Africa. I’d flown before, but never for more than 6 hours. On the way back, I had a 16 hour flight and was seriously under prepared. With nothing more than a sweatshirt and a book to make my flight comfortable — I was dreading the flight. Mentioning this to my dad’s colleague at the airport, he replied “My trick to long flights? Sleeping pills… but I can’t give any to you. You’re the boss’s daughter.” In true teenage fashion, I gave him a side glare and slipped away to take advantage of the 18+ drinking age at the airport bar before the most tedious flight of my life. Lesson learned. Now that I’m a frequent traveler, I never board a flight without my airplane essentials. If you also fly often, I know you want to do it right and have the best flight gear in your carry on backpack. To help you find the best travel pillow, headphones, eye mask, and other in-flight essentials, to tuck into your Outbreaker backpack, scroll on for our flight gear buyer’s guide.
The Best Travel Pillows for FlyingWhile the free airplane pillow, or a rolled up sweatshirt, may be fine enough for some, others wouldn’t dare fly without their favorite travel pillow:
Aeris Memory Foam Pillow ($24)I’m not much for travel pillows but last year I bought the Aeris Memory Foam Pillow and use it on weekend trips back east. It takes up about as much room in my carry-on tote (the Baggu Duck Bag) as a sweater. Overall, it’s comfy, affordable, and packs down relatively well.
Personal ItemHaving the perfect personal item to slide under the seat in front of you is key. You’ll pop your larger carry on travel backpack in to the overhead compartment, but what goes at your feet? Well, that depends.
Flight-Worthy Eye MasksAs long as I have some ambient music, Tylenol PM, and a good eye mask I can sleep on pretty much any flight. A few masks to check out include:
Slip Silk Sleepmask ($45)The Slip Silk Mask is a luxurious, 100% silk sleep mask that’s designed to rejuvenate skin and avoid tugging at any sensitive parts of your eyes. Also hypoallergenic, it lets skin breathe — yeah, this is a first-class kind of mask.
Keeping Warm: Blankets, Blanket Scarves, & JacketsA good jacket, blanket, or blanket scarf is a must for staying warm on flights. And, since it’s fall right now, this is a great time to grab a new blanket scarf if you need one.
Cocoon CoolMax Blanket ($35)Cocoon’s CoolMax Blanket comes recommended by Women on the Road. I’ve actually flown with the lighter, Cocoon travel sheet ($46), as a test a few times. CoolMax does it’s job and keeps me warm on the plane while not taking up too much space, but it can’t be doubled as a wearable item — a huge con for me.
Zara Blanket Scarf ($20 – 35)Tortuga’s own Taylor Coil swears by her Zara Blanket Scarf for travel. Being fall right now, Zara has dozens of large, cozy, wraparound scarves and blanket scarves to choose from. This thing is so much more than a scarf. Wear it as a wrap, cozy up under it to sleep on the plane, cover your shoulders in a cathedral, or tie it on as a swimsuit cover up. Makes a great impromptu beach towel or picnic blanket too. Buy a dark, neutral color that goes with everything.
Best Socks for FlightsFor those of us who get cold feet… literally:
Smartwool Socks ($10 – 20)“Warm fuzzy socks are a must,” says RPCV Megan Burden, “My feet always get so cold!” Ditto — which is why I never travel without a pair. Smartwool socks are my favorite brand for flights. The merino wool blend keeps feet toasty and wicks moisture. No more sweaty feet mid-flight. Because they’re merino, you won’t have to wash them as often, which is great for travel.
Favorite Headphones for FlyingOf course, that one flight essential you absolutely can’t forget: headphones.
Bose QuietComfort 20 / 25 ($250-300)Several travel friends — and Forbes! — have all quoted Bose as having the best headphones for flights. For those who prefer compact earbuds, opt for the Bose QuietComfort 20 ($250). If you favor over-ear headphones, go for the Bose QuietComfort 25 ($300). Both are noise canceling.
Jabra Move Wireless ($100)If you’ve upgraded to the iPhone7 and prefer bluetooth, cord-free headphones, I’m back to the Wirecutter for recommendations: the Jabra Move Wireless as a great over the ear option.
Apple iPhone Headphones ($0 – 30)You know what? I still travel with the iPhone headphones I get with my phone. They’re still the most comfortable set I’ve found and, as an ultra-light packer, I prefer earbuds that fit in my pocket. However, I might be upgrading to the new wireless AirPods ($160) now that I can’t use the same headphones for my laptop and new iPhone 7.
Earplugs Recommendations for FlightsOkay, so maybe you just want to block everything out and sleep. Two no-frills earplug brands to buy are:
Expert Vagabond recommends the Clearly Filtered Water Bottle for travel. Although expensive, this water bottle will keep you hydrated even when there isn’t clean drinking water around. This bottle is a great option if you’re thinking beyond just the flight and preparing for your entire trip.
Platypus PlusBottle ($12)Having recommended this option before, I’ll recommend it again: the Platypus water bottles are great for flying. They fold down to pocket sized when not in use (e.g. going through security) and can hold a hell of a lot of water. The Vapur water bottle is a similar alternative. The only downside is that they’re a bit tricky to clean.
Portable Battery ChargersAlthough some flights have USB outlets under the seats now, not all do. Recently, I was on a United flight that felt like something out of the 90s (communal TV screen, anyone?). In that situation, a portable batter charger can be a life saver.
digital nomad buyer’s guide — if you want a charger that does more than just charge, portable Wifi routers, like the D-Link or the HooToo ($39) can double as a portable battery charger in a pinch.
MiscellaneousA few other things I usually have on hand when I fly include:
- A pen… any pen
- Tylenol PM (to help me sleep on flights over 6 hours)
- Hand lotion
- Face wipes
- USB charger for my phone
TL;DRFor anyone who flies a lot (or at all), you can make your flight go much more smoothly and comfortably by packing:
- A great travel pillow
- A personal item sized daypack or duffle
- Eye mask
- Blanket, blanket scarf and (or) warm jacket
- Headphones or earplugs
- Water bottle
- Portable battery charger
- Pen, medicine, and skin care items