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Speak Up: Your Tips to Survive Red-Eye Flights

Yesterday while loading my upcoming trips into my calendar I realized a scary, scary trend: all of them involve red-eye flights. Living in California is brilliant most of the time, but it stinks for globetrotting. Sure, I probably could have avoided the red-eye to Atlanta, but the red-eyes to Paris and Thailand could not be helped. In fact, when I go to Paris, I will lose almost an entire day. Oh la la!

In short, I’m panicking. Growing up on the East Coast, I got spoiled by being so close to the rest of the world. The longest flight I’ve ever taken was a measly six hours, and even that was no walk in the park (skies?) thanks to my hyperactive tendencies and tiny bladder.

I’ve started researching red-eye flight survival guides, but so far none of them contains an “aha!” tip that seems like it will make all the difference. And some of the advice is just plain impractical. It might be nice to sleep leaning against the window, but there’s no way I’m asking the person next to me to move every time I need to use the restroom or stretch my legs for fifteen hours straight.

Then there’s the question of: to drug or not to drug? Few travel articles suggest this, but my informal water cooler polls and at least this Yahoo Answers thread definitely recommends dealing with the problem with a little Benadryl-induced shut-eye. Being that I have a tough time sleeping in my own bed on a regular Tuesday night if my fridge is humming too loudly, Tylenol PM may be my only ticket to the Land of Nod.

Plus, I need good strategies to keep me busy. Should I finally page-turn a little Proust, or is this the perfect time to rent a DVD player and discover a new TV show? The box collection of all 18 seasons of Law & Order comes to mind.

In my opinion, advice from real travelers is better than a million how-to articles and so I pose the question to you: How do you survive the dreaded red-eye? I’m looking for ways to stay sane, maybe catch a little sleep, and be comfortable without wearing my reindeer-print pajamas.


My name: Alison Presley

Nickname: Presbo, because I'm good police.

How I earn my keep: I'm the manager of Travelocity's Travel for Good program. Visit Travel for Good to learn more about our green travel and voluntourism initiatives!

What kind of traveler am I: I'm an intrepid food explorer. I usually starve myself on the plane (not that that's too hard to do) so that the moment my toes touch foreign soil I'm ready to sample new and exciting cuisine. I like to dine everywhere from hole-in-the-wall local secrets to Michelin Guide gems. Cannel├ęs, poi, boiled peanuts, oxtail soup, poutine--there's no stopping this adventurous palate.

Greatest travel lesson I've learned: It doesn't cost a lot of money to do good. Offsetting your carbon impact only adds a few bucks to your trip, green hotels are very affordable, and volunteering locally during your vacation is a great way to give back and learn about the culture.



As I am the Rip Van Winkle of the skies, I have few words of advice. However, whenever I travel at odd hours, I follow the simple rule of “pack then party.” That is, get everything ready, then go out for a proper evening with friends.

Go straight from the party/bar/pub/club to the airport. By the time you’re on that plane, sleep will be the only thing that sounds sane.

Of course, there is the possibility of a severe backfire. A disastrous delay or cancellation could require you to use brain power that you’re simply not able to access in your current state.

Regardless, it’s a lot more fun to roll the dice then to be awake for 12 hours while you neighbor in the next seat drools on your shoulder.

Depending on the type of person and traveler you are, this advice is either fantastic or catastrophic, so please note that this is merely a personal practice and not meant for everybody.


This isn’t a tip per se, but anyone who invents a device that keeps one’s mouth from falling open while sleeping on an airplane will have my undying gratitude.


I love the person in that Fodor’s article who says she always books a post-red-eye spa visit at her destination. Who has time for that?

When I get on a red-eye, I settle into an aisle seat and then try to simulate bedtime by washing my face, taking off shoes, etc. I add an eye mask, a Tylenol PM, and some soft music on my iPod, and I’m good to go until I simulate my wake-up routine a few hours later.

Like Charlie, I have a caveat: if you take a Tylenol PM and then CAN’T fall asleep for some reason (turbulence, middle-seat syndrome, etc.), you end up extra miserable.


I tried a glass of beer (or two) before my flight from San Francisco to New York. I also bought a travel pillow and earplugs. I figured with a 10 pm flight these strategies would work.
After about 30 minutes of sleep, I woke up and watched a DVD on my laptop. I tend to have a variety of activities: lots of reading material, movies, and music given the high likelihood I can’t sleep.

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