On a recent overnight flight from New York to Zurich, I had the horrifying realization my toothbrush and toothpaste were packed in the bag I had checked. On some international flights, even passengers flying coach receive pouches with mini toothbrushes, eye masks, and the like. This was not one of those flights. But the plane was fairly empty, and I hoped a passing flight attendant might have mercy. Did he happen to have one of those little kits with a toothbrush? I asked.
“No,” he replied. “Not for passengers in this class.”
A few minutes later he reappeared next to my seat, and crouched down conspiratorially. Thank God, I thought.
“I have a toothpick,” he said. “Would that help?”
A toothpick! No thanks, I told him, and vowed to never forget my inflight toothbrush again.
Get high-maintenance—for way less than a first-class ticket
Flying first-class considerably upgrades one’s travel experience, but so does having a handful of items—that toothbrush, and then some—to take care of yourself throughout the flight. The trick is to pack an in-flight amenity kit that rivals any of those complimentary first-class goody bags.
Here, we’ve created a takeoff-to-landing guide to spoiling yourself with the smartest, scientifically-proven, packable, multi-tasking, globally-sourced products you’ll need to land feeling, smelling, and looking fresh—or at least, not like you’ve been drinking red wine at altitude. Get ready to spritz your face while wearing compression socks and a padded turban from the future.
Pre-takeoff at the gate
For any flight longer than a couple hours, do a version of your usual pre-bedtime routine before you get on the plane. Moisturizing is obviously essential, and a couple of cult products from France and Australia will leave you especially well covered.
- Purchase or fill a big bottle of water. I try to take the advice of a friend who used to fly for Emirates, and haze myself into drinking a full liter before takeoff at the gate. Then, I refill it at a drinking fountain, and stick it in the seat pocket once I’m on the plane. A study from St. John’s University in Taipei (pdf) recommends drinking at least one liter of water per five hours in-flight. The typical airplane cabin has a humidity level of about 10 to 20 percent—far lower than the 30-65 percent we’re used to indoors.
- A small sample of face cleanser from a sample-happy shop such as Kiehl’s is perfect if you’re doing your routine in a real bathroom at the gate.
Prepare your skin for cabin air
- Go for a mild, barely scented moisturizer you can easily reapply as needed. Tubes are better than pots for travel. I love Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré—a French pharmacy classic—and so do glamorous travelers such as Karlie Kloss and reportedly even Jane Birkin, who could probably afford far more expensive moisturizer. Bonus: it doubles as eye makeup-remover—just smear it on and wipe it away with a tissue.
In-flight after the meal
If you’re eating in-flight, a few post-meal rituals can make the remaining six or twelve hours much easier on your body, and on your seat mates.
- To wash your face on the plane, try a towelette, like these hypoallergenic wipes with cucumber extract.
A fresh, happy mouth
- A toothbrush. You got this.
- Toothpaste. You got this too.
- Floss and mini mouthwash, if you’re flossy. Again.
Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize
- A facial mask. On a long-haul flight, apply a facial mask to keep your skin dewy. (I mean a translucent mask that will be barely visible; in-flight sheet masks are only for the very brave.) Recommended: If money is no object, Sisley’s Black Rose Mask really delivers the dew. (But really, if you’re spending $162 on 2.1 ounces of facial mask, you should probably just fly business class.) Glossier’s Moon Mask is a fraction of the price, and still excellent—and far less visible than it appears on Glossier’s website.
- Balm. This is for patting onto your lips, and anything else that gets especially dry—cuticles, nostrils, even around your eyes. I am never without a tube of Lucas’ Pawpaw Ointment, an unscented miracle tube from Australia. (I even smear it all over my hands in the winter.) Glossier’s Balm Dotcom is also highly recommended.
- Hand cream. For me, it doesn’t get better than Aesop’s.
- A little dropper of Visine if you get dry eyes.
Relax in a cramped seat
- Warm, cozy socks. If it’s a long trip, go for compression socks to avoid the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis—as well as swollen ankles. They may sound embarrassing, but they’ll help you keep it sexy when you get there. I bought a pair en route to visit my sister in Australia, and didn’t regret it.
- A generous wrap, sweater, or compressible down sweater, as we’ve suggested. Just don’t depend on a sub-par airplane blanket.
Rest your head, eyes, and ears
- Kill two birds with one stone with this ridiculous face pillow. A colleague’s wife who works in overseas development says this microbead-filled head/neck/eye pillow eases her long-haul flights, and squishes for packing.
- An eye mask is a must for overnight flights. (You might not end up wearing the aforementioned pillow as an eye-band.) This one is contoured to allow for proper eye movement during REM sleep—maybe you’ll get some!
- Drown out noise with noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs. Quartz’s high-flying reporters highly recommend the Bose Quiet 25 headphones—”Perhaps the best $300 I’ve spent on travel gear.”—and Etymotic MC3 earbuds. At just 40 cents per pair, Hearos earplugs are a highly cost-effective way to cut down on noise when it’s time for sleep.
- Sleep aids are a highly personal choice. One colleague says a Valium prescription has much improved his travel life: “Better than Ambien.” I prefer a California Poppy-based tincture, not unlike this one, that an herbalist friend made for me. A dropper-full may not knock me out the way two Advil PMs would, but I feel far better the following day.
- Milder options include lavender and sandalwood essential oils and chamomile tea.
Freshen up in preparation for landing
Wake up your face
- Reach for a facial wipe once you wake up. No one wants to wash their face with airplane water, so try the aforementioned hypoallergenic wipes with cucumber extract.
- A facial spray with rosewater will also help revive and refresh your skin. Watch out for your neighbor, or offer them a spritz.
- Then, reapply your moisturizers. See pre-takeoff, above.
About your appearance
- A little under-eye concealer goes a long way. The first-class option is Cle de Peau. Stowaway’s is also good, far less expensive, and wonderfully tiny.
- Stowaway cream blush in burnt rose is tiny like the aforementioned concealer, doubles as lip color, and has a little mirror so you can dot it onto your cheekbones without leaving your seat.
- Soapwalla’s deodorant cream is a cult favorite because it’s non-toxic and it works. Its pasty texture makes it easy to smear a little bit into a sample pot from Sephora to save room. That’s what I’ve done, even though Soapwalla’s full two-ounce jar is TSA-okay, and the company also offers a half-ounce pot.
- Roll a mild fragrance or essential oil onto your wrists and neck with a mini-rollerball. Be mindful that you’re sharing the air and skip anything too strong or sweet. I love Olo’s Cedar & Rose. The Portland, Oregon-based company uses essential and coconut oil bases, and the scents are subtle.
To pack all this, I usually keep in-flight necessities—toothbrush included!—in pouches that go in my bag under the seat. Post-landing items such as shampoo, a razor, and sunscreen go in a separate kit that goes in my checked or overhead bag. Try Baggu nylon pouches, which are lightweight, washable, and available in cute patterns and various sizes or L.L. Bean for more compartments and structure. Share with your row, and be the most popular passenger in coach.