Tips To Cultivate Serenity While Traveling (And Avoid That Death Warmed Over Look Despite Only 3 Hours Of Sleep)

Air travel ain’t what it used to be – just about everyone can agree on that.

A couple of days ago,while passing the time during an unexpected delay at Newark Airport, I wrote about the value of shifting our perspective when confronted with the myriad bumps and glitches that plague the flying experience.

I promised a few tips on how to feel and look your best during and after the journey. I called these Sarah’s How To Avoid That Death Warmed Over Look Despite Only 3 Hours of Sleep, and apparently I invoked quite a bit of anticipation with that ambitious title.

At the time I was coasting on some giddiness since I had indeed only enjoyed about 3-4 hours of broken sleep on my red-eye flight the night before.

The following tips are actually a mix of yes, how to avoid looking like death warmed over – and also how to arrange things so you can minimize misery during the actual hours spent getting from here to there.

Keep in mind, the ideas are tried and true for me – some may be gold for you and others you might toss by the wayside.

I hope you glean a few sparkling tidbits here to help your through your next journey through the clouds – while packed like a sardine in an airless plane cabin.

1)   Dress comfortably (but feel like you look nice)

Skip the jeans if you’re headed off on an overnight flight – unless they are stretchy and completely comfy. On the other hand, sweat pants and a baggy hoody may make you feel frumpy and old.

I remember the day when ladies dressed up in heels and business suits to travel –  I’m so glad I missed that era.

I like to go for stretchy yoga-type pants or capris that are tailored enough to feel a smidgeon fashionable, along with a layered top. By layered I mean a comfortable sleeveless blouse topped with a thin cardigan.

The temperature can vary from stifling to freezing in airplane cabins so it’s good to be prepared. I  bring a lightweight scarf/shawl to cover up and an extra pair of socks if I’ve worn sandals.

On the shoe front – it’s easier to wear slip-ons because of the requirement to take shoes off when going through security. They’re also easier to shuck while in-flight instead of trying to bend down to untie and remove your footwear in the tiny space you’ve been allotted.

2) Nourish yourself.

Bring healthy, tasty snacks, and find reasonably nutritious offerings when buying a meal enroute. This is not a time to skimp (financially or nutritionally), you need the energy and nourishment to keep your spirits up during the travel adventure.

Your digestion (and muffin top) will thank you if you keep it on the light side during travel day(s). Don’t go hungry, but pass on the Super Deluxe Nachos unless you want to burp your way through your flight.

Be sure you include some fresh veggies on the days you are on the move. It’s a little harder to bring these along – but you can almost always find something with some lettuce or spinach. Or at the least tuck some baby carrots into your snack bag.

And don’t count on not needing any food because your trip will be so short. I’ve found myself sitting on the tarmac for five hours, utterly grateful I’d brought a sandwich or a power bar while my fellow travelers squirmed with hunger.

It’s a little counter to the advice in #3 but find some room in your bag for a few filling and healthy snacks. I like nuts, apples, nutrition bars, even string cheese.

3) Pack Light!

Okay, this is something I’m still working on myself. But I’m getting better. At least I manage to get it all into my carry-on. Barely.

It goes without saying that when you avoid checking your luggage, you’ve eliminated the potential of a  world of pain and hassle if the airline loses your bag. Plus the less you have to carry once you get there, the easier it is to enjoy the experience.

If all your belongings are with you, then if some mechanical breakdown finds you put up at a hotel for the night, you’ve got your own toothbrush and nightgown.

Of course the downside is the inability to travel with nail scissors or a Swiss army knife, and the necessity to cull down your shampoos and liquids to small containers that fit in one little Ziploc bag. And, unless you’re a minimalist, it can be tricky to figure out a small enough wardrobe that still accommodates various climate factors and all of your planned activities.

But – make it happen! You will be so glad you did.

However – don’t do what I did for this trip!

I packed my two carry-ons to the absolute brim. Not one iota of space for an additional item. Plus I had a neck pillow tied to my day pack – which, in addition to causing me to look like a total dork, got me in trouble.

Despite my best efforts to keep it centered, the darn thing swung into people’s faces as I navigated down the aisle of the plane. I cringed as one man is a business suit barked, “Madam, please!” after he got biffed.

No good. Told you I’m still working on this one.

4) Do Bring Some Essentials for Comfort, Health & Beauty.

Yes, this again somewhat contradicts what I just said, but a few key items can make a world of difference to your overall well being both in flight and afterward.

For night flying I swear by my eye mask, ear plugs – and yes, the neck pillow. I just need to get a inflatable one instead of tying that stuffed one to my pack!

It’s hard enough to contemplate sleep while crammed into that little seat, but add in the cacophony of chatter and whiny children along with an aching neck because your head is lolling and you’ll be lucky if you stay asleep for more than 5 minutes.

Resist the urge to watch the movie once or drink something you don’t really need when it’s already way past your bed time. Adjust neck pillow, insert ear plugs, pop on eye mask. It’s really amazing how the energy around you recedes and you can tune within and actually catch some shut eye.

Alternative to ear plugs:  if you have an mp3 player  and ear phones, some soothing music can lull you right into a decently pleasant slumber. I like to play some inspiring meditation music or chanting. You’ll know what works for you. It could be the sweet silence that good ear plugs bring.

If all your belongings aren’t with you as carry on, be sure you bring a toothbrush and toothpaste on board – so you can visit the lavatory and refresh in the “morning” (or whatever crazy hour you land), and feel like you’ve joined the land of the living

Eye drops can hydrate your eyes before and after sleep

5) Stay Hydrated. It means a little inconvenience due to more visits to the tiny closet of a rest room in flight, but a well hydrated body makes a huge difference in how you look and feel. This one tip is essential for avoiding the ‘death warmed over’ look.

Drink as much water as possible (attendants on domestic flights in the U.S. will usually fill up your bottle). Go for the water instead of soft drinks or alcohol, your body will thank you (and in the case of the booze, so will your wallet.)

I like to ‘spike’ my water bottle. I sprinkle in some Vitamin C powder.  A packet of Emergen-C is even better as it will replenish electrolytes.

I don’t even like to think about what I might be inhaling as the air in the cabin is recycled again and again. I also bring some echinacea tincture in my purse and swallow a few dropperfulls while in fight. That along with the extra C goes a long way toward fending off those alien germs.

Even though I make sure to drink water, my eyes and skin still get a little dried up. That’s why I’ve taken to carrying some natural eye drops and a small jar of face cream. I like the homeopathic eye drops made by Similisan – the single serving little packets make it a super lightweight addition to your purse.

Along with the face cream, you might want to tuck just a dab of makeup into your bag. Along with the tooth brushing in the ‘morning,’ hydrate your face with some cream and spiff up the makeup (keep it minimal!) for a refreshed look and feeling when you exit the plane.

Cleanse and refresh your face after waking.

Late breaking tip from Rosie: before applying your cream refresh your face with some natural face wipes, such as the Burts Bees facial cleansing towlettes pictured. Fresh hydrated face, clean teeth – suddenly you’re a new woman!

6) Move Your Body Whenever Possible.

Although it’s impossible to completely avoid that stiff, cramped feeling if your flight is longer than an hour, the more you move the better you’ll feel – which will translate into your facial expression and posture!

Make the most of all the required walking. Consider the hike from one end of the airport to the other your workout for the day (and if you’re lugging your carry-on baggage, it’s weight bearing even!)

Use some of your time waiting around the airport to do some standing stretches – who cares how weird you look! I’ve decided to just go with the batty old lady persona and stretch away, I figure it will can give others a reason to smile. (Okay, I’m still not always comfortable with this – it depends on the airport and my mood – but I’m guessing as I advance further into the menopausal years my courage to just be myself will grow.)

Once you are in the air, get up and walk around in the aisles as often as you can – particularly on longer flights. This is why I try to get an aisle seat (along with the fact that I have a bladder the size of a pea). Moving even a little gets the blood circulating which can prevent (or alleviate the severity of) those aches and pains.

7)  Focus on Gratitude.

Cultivate your mental health too. What a privilege it is to have the opportunity to visit loved ones who live far away – without having to set aside our own lives for extended periods of time.

Think about where you are going (or have just been), who you get to see, and how lucky you are to have the opportunity to do so.

Maybe you’re traveling for work or something other than a vacation – take a moment to consider your good fortune to have a career that provides the personal growth opportunity offered by travel.

No matter what your reason for getting on that plane, there’s something in there you can find a shred of gratitude about. Look for it.

8.  Shrug off the inconvenience.

This one’s a little more difficult, especially if the journey involves unplanned naps in hard plastic airport seats, and/or missing events you were looking forward to.

However, life is made up of all these little moments. I wrote a bit more on this in the last postIf you can find something – no matter how small – to enjoy even in the midst of travel bummers, you’re several steps ahead. My favorite way to find this is to people watch – and make up stories about the odd-looking humans one inevitably encounters in airports, and other travel hubs.

9) Make Some New Friends.

This final tip came from my friend Mindi via Facebook as I sat at the airport scrolling through my phone. A good reminder to pocket the phone and pay attention to my surroundings!

Make an effort to talk to some strangers. Share a smile or a story.

This can be a hard one for me because I’m naturally shy (despite my extroverted nature once I’m comfortable with a person or group), but the more I practice this the better I get.

I may not walk away with a hard and fast friend, but often I get a new perspective on the world or an important lesson or nugget of knowledge.

Exchanging some friendly words with your seatmate or the people standing next to you in line makes the time pass faster and more pleasantly.


Although most of the above is specific to air travel, you can apply many of these ideas to shorter (or lengthy!) journeys by train or bus. Stay hydrated, stay smiling, and give yourself a big thumbs up for partaking in the adventure!

Happy Trails!

(Featured photo by Matt Carman)

And now it’s your turn! We got some great comments last time that deepened this whole conversation on how to enjoy the journey as well as the destination. Please share below any tips you use to stay looking and feeling good while on an extended journey.



29 Responses to Tips To Cultivate Serenity While Traveling (And Avoid That Death Warmed Over Look Despite Only 3 Hours Of Sleep)

  1. Just having traveled to San Diego from the Big Island Hawaii these ring loud and clear.  It’s always 5+ hours to start my journey from the Big Island.  One has to be prepared.  I do carry all I need in a carry on and water, water, water is my rule.  Yes, I have to get up to go to the bathroom a lot but it helps with the “get up and move around” rule too.
    I flew in for a dear friend’s surprise 50th birthday party.  So wonderful to see my friends, many of them are actually what have become my family.  The travel was completely worth it.

    •  @bigislanddog Yes, the water rule and the “get up and move” go hand in hand. Living on Hawaii means you’ve probably got it pretty together with your flying protocol. It’s either plane or boat for you if you want to get off the island! How awesome you got to enjoy your friend’s party in SD! That must have meant a lot to her. Always worth the inconvenience of travel when we can reunite with loved ones!

  2. Packed like a sardine in an airless airplane cabin — you had me laughing at that one, Sarah.  And groaning because it’s such an accurate description.  Next time I’m on a plane, I’m sure I’m going to smell sardines. . . . .   Great tips for surviving and even enjoying traveling.  Thanks.  And good luck on the trip home!

    •  @Carol Hess Oh No! Did not intend to create an olfactory experience for you on next plane ride! But the imagery is true. They sure squeeze us in there. Glad you enjoyed the tips, still learning as I cruise around the city hopping subways with luggage. (Rule of thumb:  if possible do not use a backpack on the subway!)

  3. I hate paying the extra money for luggage so if I can I will pack my carry on.  On the other hand, I hate 3 oz bottles so it just depends on the length of the trip and what we have planned.  I almost always over pack, just in case I might need something that I don’t ever need.  The slip on shoes are almost a must unless you need other shoes for the trip and can’t fit them in the carry on!  Snacks and water are a must.  I do have an inflatable neck rest and ear plugs, but I think I need to add the eye mask to the mix.  Thanks for all the great suggestions, Sarah.  Hope your flight home doesn’t leave you on the tarmac for five hours.
    We got stuck on a tarmac in Honk Kong during a level 3 typhoon.  Every time the wind died down another plane went up.  We eventually got our turn on the runway but I wasn’t sure we’d survive.  Obviously we did!

    •  @Loran Hills  ugh, getting stuck on tarmac is the absolute worst. At least if you’re delayed at airport it’s easier to walk around, stretch etc. It’s also scary when they make those announcements that the mechanical problems in the engine are ‘almost fixed.’ Would be easy to get paranoid, but I try to slip away into a book or something in that circumstance!This time I wore boots on the flight for the reason you mention. I heard it would be wet here and wanted something more than sandals. Boots obviously wouldn’t fit on carryon so I wore them. Not much fun! Back to slipons next time I think!

  4. These are lovely, practical suggestions.  I hear you on the packing light–my greatest victory was the 10 days I spent in Europe with a single carry on!  I had less in there than I’ll be taking rafting this weekend.  Gah!  🙂

    •  @Ellen Berg Isn’t it funny how we tend to ‘need’ to pack more if we know we have to space to carry it? On car trips I tend to pack everything but the kitchen sink ‘just in case.’  Slowly though I’m learning that I have a more enjoyable trip when I pack less – even if there is space for extra bags. Who wants to spend time rummaging around trying to find things in all those little bags and baskets? Less is more. Maybe someday I’ll get that…

  5. You sound like a seasoned traveler with all these great tips, Sarah! Thanks for sharing them. I’m not much of a traveler, but I will remember these when I do travel.
    Just FYI, I read a scientific article once that explained that the air in airplanes is probably the most pure to breathe because of all the filtering going on. Just sayin’.

    •  @BobbiEmel Well, that’s interesting Bobbi. I wonder if it’s true? I do know that lots of people who have gotten sick after flying (myself included!) But maybe that’s due to the stress of traveling rather than germs from all those locations…  I know it’s filtered but I thought they recycled it. Must look into this further…

  6. I especially liked your last suggestion, to meet people and make new friends. People are the spice of life. Learning about their lifestyles makes traveling so much fun!

    •  @lindajm  You’re so right Linda! IT adds a lot to the experience to learn about how others live. Especially when they are from a different culture or country.

  7. These are great tips! I use to follow most of them, myself. The only two things I would add – if you are a frequent traveler, are noise-cancelling ear phones and pressurized socks. The socks keep blood from pooling in your feet; which is for safety reasons if you have heart/cholesterol issues, and energy reasons for the rest of us.  

    •  @HappierHuman Ooh, I never really heard of pressurized socks. Will have to look into that. Sounds amazing for those super-long plane rides when it’s easy to get numb legs and feet from so much sitting. And I’m saving up for those high-falutin’ noise-cancelling ear phones. The ones I have are okay, but not top of the line. So glad you enjoyed the tips!

  8. Sarah – This is great post about traveling well.  I follow several but learned some new tips.  The one I am definitely going to utilize is the tip about bringing a large scarf/shawl to cover up with (I am always cold on planes).  And the other one is to purchase the neck pillow.  I have thought about buying one before – but this article convinced me.  Thanks for sharing your traveling widsom.

    •  @JaneRobinson I am so glad some of these tips can be put to practical use for you Jane! I always use my scarf/shawl – it’s indispensable in my world. Especially because those blankets they give you are now (if you can even get one!) are made with a gross polyester material that does not feel nice against your skin. And the neck pillow makes those overnighters so much more bearable!

  9. Fantastic advice Sarah!  Fortunately when travelling in Australia, we are not quite as strict on things such as the 100ml rule and removing shoes for screening but a bit stricter on online baggage limits.  I’m planning on a flight to Miami later in the year so this post will be perfect!  I’m not sure I can pack lightly enough for cabin baggage though!  As a fellow introvert, I can relate to your point about making new friends.  It can be all too easy to become engrossed in a book and not make the effort to converse.  When I have made the effort, it is amazing what lovely people you meet

    •  @clairekerslake1 Glad you got some good info out of this Claire! Yes, when traveling internationally it’s tempting to just check your bag since they don’t make an extra charge for that. Since they charge at least $25 now here in the U.S. to check a bag, it’s an additional incentive to pack light. I have to admit that’s what finally got me to pare things down to carry-on size. It’s funny because it just depends on the airline as to how strict they are about the liquids. So I always to the 3 oz /100 ml thing just in case, and am annoyed when I didn’t have to after all! Hope you have a lovey trip to Miami, and that you perhaps make a new friend along the way!

  10. Almost everything in here is total opposite to what I do :P, and likely to continue doing. While agree in principle, this is so not my style.
    Okay, agree with comfy but nice clothes. I prefer casual dresses now. But as for luggage, well I usually go away for at least a week, so carry on is not enough. Movies on the plane…absolutely, because I can’t really sleep on the plane, unless I have two seats to myself, which sometimes happens. 
    But saying that, I still enjoy the travel, so it’s not too bad 🙂

    •  @kaizenjournaling  LOL – well, it’s true that everyone has a different way of making the travel hours work for them. Can’t go wrong with comfy clothes, and I sure feel sorry for people that have to race straight to a business meeting and are required to travel in their business attire. Sometimes I watch the movie for a while without sound – unless it is an action flick it will often lull me to sleep. (If I get two seats or an entire row, well I feel like I died and went to travel heaven!) Of course I am always glad for the movie during the long daytime plane rides.Sorry, it’s so hard for you to sleep on the plane, and I know you’re not alone in that. I hope you usually get a chance to catch up on your sleep when you arrive at your destination, Dolly!

  11. To me the hardest part of traveling is “Nourish yourself”  I can never seem to fit off the urge to taste all the local treats.

    •  @LoriLynnSmith Well, I think it’s okay to taste the local treats – as long as we use moderation and balance it with lots of vegetables and healthy foods as well. I like to share a treat if I have a companion, or pick and choose which ones to try. It IS a lot harder to handle temptation when we’re in new and exotic locales!

  12. Yeah, the trick to travelling properly is to pack only the necessary things and still feel comfortable. Being a minimalist isn’t too bad when travelling. I even prefer having a smaller baggage with the right amount of necessities than having a larger one with extra everything. You don’t have to bring extra things for yourself if you have enough pocket money to use when what you packed is not enough. 

  13. I don’t travel much, but the last time I was on a plane I was sooo dehydrated. It took forever for my skin to recover! Next time I’ll have these tips handy to help fight it. Thanks Sarah 🙂

    •  @ZenCaffeine   Ah yes, water is key!! I also treat myself to ‘club soda’ sometimes when they bring the drink service, rationalizing that it is ‘almost’ water. But just plain old water will work wonders. Plus the skin cream. Glad this helped!

  14. Sarah, 
    two words. Sleeping Mask. It blocks out the light to help me focus on sleeping and helps keep me asleep. i usually bring my own. One that is super soft and super comfy. That and a bloody mary. I’m good until landing.

    •  @AnnieAndreHacks Definitely love using my sleeping mask Annie – and you’re so right that the quality makes a difference. The first one I had was a cheapie and the elastic hurt my ears and head, I ended up ditching it. Now I have a nicer one – still not the best but it lets me sleep well. I’m never sure about the bloody mary because for me it means a message from my bladder just as I’m drifting off….LOL.

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