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First Time Flying To Europe Tips

Hi. I am 50 years old and finally getting to go to Europe. I could only afford a coach seat and several people have told me what a mistake that was. Well, it was that or not go. Would you folks please help me know what I can do to have a better trip while on the aircraft? I have a window seat as I did not want to be disturbed each time someone wanted out. My son told me to sleep but I doubt I'll be able to sitting upright with a seat back in my face. Thanks in advance for any and all tips.

Posted by
18 posts

I definitely recommend trying to get whatever sleep you can on the overnight flight to Europe. Even 3 hours or so will help. I travel with a little blow-up neck pillow and it helps me rest, because otherwise the airplane seat backs seem to keep my head at just the wrong angle and I can't sleep.

Also, for jet lag: When you arrive, try to resist the urge to take a nap, but instead try to stay awake til at least early evening. You may then wake up rather early the next morning, but at least your body clock will be more or less "on schedule". Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
345 posts

Oh, Amy, if you only knew what a mortgage in Mill Valley cost.. Really, a mistake to fly coach? I don't know what to say. My husband is 6'4" and coach is very, very hard on him but we still do it. Sleeping aids can't fix that. The best advice for that is to get to the airport early, early (sigh) and get an exit row seat if you are unusually tall. Is the mistake of which they speak??

All things said, I agree with Frank and Jo. I'll add

  1. Whenever I fly, even just short, commute runs I use the restroom as soon as they call for pre-boarding.(Ahem, if you're flying coach, this will give you plenty of time..:->) This helps a lot, especially when you've got a window.

  2. Don't have too much junk at your seat that you won't use, it takes up valuable leg room in the seat back pocket or by your feet.

  3. Conversely, don't have too little. You don't want to get in/out of the overhead storage during flight if at all possible.

  4. Once you determine what books, magazines, snacks you need at your seat, put them in a separate bag. Even if you have to put the bag in your carry-on luggage to get on the plane, having separate containment allows you to pull them out quickly when you stow you bag in the overhead bin and not block the aisle. It also allows to keep your "stuff" together at your seat when not needed, without it rolling across the floor or bulking out your seat pocket. Use a plastic shopping bag to reduce weight/bulk-- no need to bring extra unnecessary bags.

  5. Buy a bottle of water after security so you don't need to ask for water. Water in a bottle is more convenient than in a spillable plastic cup.

  6. Don't wear jeans. NO! This isn't a white shoe thing. Jeans are very, very uncomfortable in an airline seat.

  7. Slippers. Shoes get uncomfortable, but your feet get COLD. Radiant cooling I guess.

  8. I'll add to the slip-on shoe tip. Don't wear a belt on travel days. Don't have change in your pockets.

Posted by
31471 posts

elle, your first flight to Europe, how exciting! I have a few tips based on my own experiences (which tend to be "fine tuned" a bit after each trip). I use some of the same methods the others suggested, and some that are uniquely my own.

Regarding those who have told you that flying coach was a "mistake". They need to remember that not all of us can afford to fly First or Business Class. As you said, it's either go Coach or stay home! Yes, it is a bit crowded and uncomfortable, but it gets me where I'm going so I'll put up with a few hours of discomfort.

Some tips that I use:

I used to prefer window seats, in order to view the scenery. However at 35K ft. at night with cloud cover, there's not much to see. One other advantage of window seats is that one has a place to lean against to sleep. I've been choosing aisle seats lately as they provide more leg room and also easier to get up to stretch the legs or visit the WC.

It's a good idea to do some basic leg exercises every few hours (or get up for a walk around the cabin), just to keep the circulation moving. Look for topics on "DVT" on the web, as sample exercises are shown.

As the others said, drink lots of water! Buy a bottle when you're through security, to supplement what you'll get on the plane. You should be able to refill it on the plane.

Coffee & Alcohol - I'll sometimes have one or two small glasses of wine at the beginning of the flight & with a meal, but that's all (NO hard liquor!). I DO INSIST on my Coffee though (in moderation). I don't want to arrive at destination tired and with a "caffeine headache". I especially like Coffee just before landing, as it gives me a bit of a "boost" to get through Customs, luggage collection, etc.

Seat Belts - I'd recommend leaving your seat belt loosely fastened ALL the time, even when the light is "off". It will provide some protection in the case of a sudden change in altitude.


Posted by
31471 posts

Continued from Part 1.....

Sleep - I always resolve to sleep more on flights, but it never seems to happen. I'm usually so excited about the trip that I can only manage a few short "cat naps" (every bit seems to help). Also, I enjoy watching the activity in the cabin and visiting with fellow passengers and the flight crew (when they have time to talk). It's always interesting to hear about other people's travels. A more relevant point is that I'm a bit "thrifty" by nature, so I figure if I'm paying for meals, I want to make sure that I get everything I've paid for! There are usually movies to watch to pass the time (when the in-flight entertainment system is working), and in many cases I've found the movies are fairly current and I haven't seen them previously.

Jet Lag (still somewhat on the topic of sleep) - I've learned not to underestimate jet lag! I've been a shift worker for 35+years and thought I'd have very little trouble with it, but it's surprising how much it affects me. Everyone seems to have a preferred method for dealing with it. Rick recommends getting lots of fresh air and sunshine the first day and staying awake until a normal "early" bedtime in the time zone you're in. I've found that works to some extent, but in some cases I've had to take a "power nap" for an hour or so just so that I could function (this is somewhat dependent on what time your flight lands). It will probably take you a day or so to adjust to the new time zone. There is a natural, organic product available called No Jet Lag which is supposed to help, however I've tried it in the past and still undecided on whether it works for me or not? I'll try it again on the next trip though.


Posted by
31471 posts

cont'd. from part 2....

Carry-On Luggage - I use a small Daypack as my carry-on bag. This contains my Itinerary and other essential documents (but NO credit cards, money or Passport), a few snacks, Camera, a small zip-lok bag with "airline-approved" liquids (travel size toothpaste, etc.), a small toiletries kit and a small "backup" clothing kit (if the airline "misplaces" my main Pack, I can function for a few days or possibly as long as a week with the items I have with me).

Carry-On Luggage, part 2 - As photography is an important aspect of my travels, I also have a second carry-on Bag containing my primary Camera gear (both bags fit the size & weight criteria set by the airlines). There's usually no problem taking two bags as carry-on when using airlines here, however that IS an issue if using budget airlines in Europe as they will allow only ONE bag, period! If I'm forced to use only one carry-on, I transfer as many essential items as possible from the Daypack to a spare compartment in the Camera Bag, and re-connect my Day Pack to the Main Pack and send them as one piece of checked luggage (due to weight, I usually get nicked with an overweight baggage charge though).

Money Belt - although this is a bit "off" your original topic, be sure to wear a Money Belt or Neck Pouch under your clothing (whichever is more comfortable for you)! Some of the petty thieves in Europe are very good at their "craft" which is relieving unsuspecting tourists of their cash, credit cards or other valuables. You didn't indicate whether you've read Europe Through The Back Door, but if you need any additional info on money issues (ATM's, etc.), post another note.

I'll probably think of something else after I've posted this, but these are the only tips I have at the moment. Incidentally, which countries are you travelling to?

Good luck and happy travels!

Posted by
73 posts

Many people use a sleep aid. Sometimes they work for me, most times not. Last trip I watched 3 movies. The excitement of getting to go is usually enough to balance the downside of a coach seat--after all it's what you are going to see and do in Europe that will be important, not just getting there. I would advise compression socks if you have any ankle swelling trouble--makes the next day or two much more tolerable. Take a book, magazines, sodoku -- between movies, I just daydream.

Posted by
12040 posts

Talk to your doctor about a sleep aid. Then, before your travel date, make sure you know how it affects you- ie, what dosage you need, how to time your doses, etc. You want to find a balance between being able to fall asleep on the less than ideal conditions of an airplane versus not being too groggy after your flight. The two most widely prescribed sleep aids today are Ambien and Lunesta. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages that vary in each person. Unless you have chronic sinus congestion problems, avoid any over-the-counter sleep aid for airplane flights. Most of these contain a sedating antihistamine. They will put you asleep, but they may also dry you out.

Posted by
435 posts

Ambien works for me. We're not talking about a great 8 hours of refreshing sleep, but a poor 2 hours or so is a lot better than no sleep.

I recommend a sleep mask and ear plugs too.

Posted by
11262 posts

A few tips for having a more enjoyable flight:

--wear comfortable clothing and shoes. A flight nowadays is not a fashion show. It's a cramped place where you must do your best to be comfortable.

--get up every 2-3 hours to move around. This is important to keep blood flowing to your legs. (If you're sleeping, don't worry about getting up. Just do it after you get up. Yes, you got a window seat so you wont' be disturbed, but you will have to disturb others to get up.)

--drink plenty of water. The airplane environment is very dry and dehydrating.

--watch your intake of alcohol and caffeine. Both are dehyrating.

--If you find that you are not going to sleep, and the person next to you, on the aisle is, offer to change seats with him. This way you won't have to wake him up if he's sleeping and you want to get up.

--bring things to keep you busy: books, puzzles, mp3 player, etc.

Posted by
12040 posts

Oh yeah, let me second the ear plug suggestion. I forgot about that one.

Posted by
515 posts

Elle, I was also 50 before I went for the first time, and coach was our mode of transport as well. I would much rather spend the difference somewhere else. I was too excited to get much rest. I did take earplugs and a mask and wore them some and took as many catnaps as possible. My daughters took melatonin and said it helped; I never tried that. Wear very comfy clothing, socks for warm feet and in case you choose to kick off your shoes. Drink lots of water. We took empty water bottles and refilled them often. Flex your feet and legs often for good circulation and get up every couple of hours to walk a bit. Sometimes I would go to back of plane and linger for a couple of minutes out of the way of the flight attendants just to be in upright position. Take reading materials, journal to write your thoughts, or whatever you enjoy. Next time I may take an iPod with book on tape. ENJOY YOUR TRIP!

Posted by
8120 posts

I have often worn a somewhat loose dress as I find that more comfortable than pants. I also recommend slip-on shoes, and if possible, a bit on the loose side since your feet will swell somewhat. Slip on shoes are great for going thru security, to slip on and off in the plane, especially for going to the bathroom. Call me odd, but I am one of those that tries not to drink so much water as I am not that fond of the toilets on the plane. I also try and use them before the giant line forms before landing. Once you land, it is a good idea to use the bathrooms before picking up your luggage cause then you do not have to worry about watching it. One always has plenty of time before the bags come out. I like to wear the little bags around my neck to put my tickets, passport, etc. in. You can put it inside your shirt, but I just find it very easy to use.

I think it is funny your friends told you it was a mistake to fly coach. Do they always fly first class? Obviously if folks have the money to spare they go first class, but many of us don't. That should not keep you from going to Europe. Have fun, enjoy looking out the window. I like watching the sunsets and sunrises when I fly from the states to Europe. It can be stunning. Or seeing the little tiny ships, or the white cliffs of Dover, or the red tile roofs of Germany. Everything can be exciting. I never sleep though. Just can't. I rest, but usually watch the movies or read.

Posted by
780 posts

If it is an overnight flight, you might doze off if you have a neck pillow and take a mild sleeping aid. I usually take Advil PM or something like that. I go on overnight flights and even though it seems impossible to sleep sitting up, if you have that neck pillow it may help alot. And lean against the window. I find that as long as I get 4 hours of some sleep, that when I get to Europe I am usually good for the first day after I get a hot shower and something to eat, then I stay up until about 9 that first night, and sleep well then im up and ready the next morning! I dont get jet lag until the trip back home.

Posted by
932 posts

Elle, most people don't fly first class. If most did, the coach section would be as small as first class. If we didn't fly coach, then we also would not be able to afford trips to Europe. Your friends must have money if they think the only sensible option is first class. (How can a Californian afford a mortgage and a first class ticket anyway? ;)Anyway, even if I sat in first class, my excitement would probably keep me awake anyway! I think both of our most recent flights gave us little bags with comfort items. One of them had ear plugs, eye masks, toothbrush/toothpaste, etc. If you buy a good travel pillow, you may be able to sleep despite sitting upright. I don't take sleeping aids because they make me feel weird. Even Benadryl will cause me to be groggy for over 8 hours. I go au naturale! The first day of the trip is only one day of your trip, so my goal is just to make it to 8 or 9pm, and then I'm back to normal from then on. Have a great time! Where are you going?

Posted by
809 posts

Don't worry about flying coach. Those people are silly. Are you flying on an overnight flight? If so DEFINITELY sleep - take a sleeping aid if you must. I turn my light out and put a sleep mask and ear plugs on so the flight attendants don't bother me.

Posted by
515 posts

Forgot this one... last time I took a blow up pillow...not fully inflated, and I was much more comfortable for my catnaps.

Posted by
14919 posts

SLIPPERS: I take terrycloth deerfoams on the flight. Seasoned travelers take off their shoes as soon as they get in their seats (feet tend to swell during flight). I don't like to use the toilet in my socks (or barefoot, ick), hence the slippers. And it's nice to have them for the rest of the trip too.

NOISE-CANCELLING EARBUDS. They were worth every cent I paid for them. I can plug them into the airplane's audio or use them with my iPod, or on their own w/o audio feed.

WATER. You can take empty bottles thru security and then fill them, if you don't want to buy water.

Dehydration happens on long flights. In addition to drinking water and avoiding diuretics (like caffeine), have skin and lip moisturizers with you.

Posted by
6 posts

Oh dear, I must have asked improperly. I do NOT want a sleep aid, just general suggestions for comfort while on the aircraft. I worry about thrombosis or back aches mostly. Since I am an extremely fit individual (I run ultramarathons on mountain trails) I think I should be okay but wonder all cramped up with my knees in my chin! I apologize if I asked in a confusing way.

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you SO much everyone for all the wonderful responses. I think I should be ready to go when it's time.

I am flying from San Francisco to London where I will have a four or five hour wait before I change planes and continue on to Berlin. I will be there for a few days before flying to Paris. I have dreamed of seeing Paris since I was a small girl. I will be there for 8 days and take a train to my grandfather's village, Oloron St. Marie. Then, I will go to Plan De La Tour because I adore Johnny Depp and MUST see where he calls his home! After returning to Paris, I journey to Amsterdam and then back to Berlin to return. One of my sons lives in Europe, speaks every language we'll need, although I know most Europeans speak English. He will meet me in Berlin and travel with me.

My flight departs around noon PST and arrives the following day around noon, so I'll be in transit for a bit!

I think those I spoke with about my coach seat were aghast because they'd never travel in such a fashion. I do not, however, have those types of funds. I'm just happy I have my house, my family, my pets, my bicycle, and a small stick shift for when it's absolutely necessary. :)

Posted by
518 posts

Hi Elle,
You have received some great advice. Personally, I wouldn't pay for 1st class if I could afford it. Maybe if I had to travel to Europe really often on business, but not for pleasure. I look at it like this. Your flight from California is going to take 8 to 12 hours depending on your destination. That's not really very long if your're mentally prepared. It helps me to remember that I'll get there the same time as 1st class does, and I still have about $2000 more than they do. Coach is not that bad.
Here's what you need to pass the time and be comfortable.
1. a blow up neck pillow -- good ones can be bought at Brookstone. Be sure it has a cloth cover. The pillow helps even when not sleeping. My wife bought some great socks there too that she enjoys. I just keep on my shoes because my feet get cold.
2. water - at least 3 bottles -- that you buy past security and a few of your own snacks.
3. a good long paperback book that you have already started and know you are interested in reading. or maybe guidebooks you haven't had a chance to absorb.
4. earplugs or comfortable in the ear earphones for ipod music. My favorite new toy is my iphone. I have enough stuff loaded on that to keep me busy for a whole trip.
5. eyemask in case you want to go to sleep.
6. Alternate: read, doze, think, eat, drink (NO alchohol because it increases jet lag), maybe watch a movie. Before you know it, your're there.

Posted by
10 posts


I have flown coach to Europe probably 30 times, and business class twice. While it was much nicer the fancier way, I prefer to use all that extra money for great meals in Europe or museum fees. I can endure almost anything for nine hours. Flying is fundamentally unpleasant anyway, no matter what class you are in. I second all the ideas about water intake, sleep pillows and loose clothing. To these I would add that planes are cold these days. I always have an extra pair of socks to put on once I take my shoes off. I always wear a long-sleeved shirt and carry a sweater. Get lots of sleep before you go, and if you have to have a nap on arrival, do it, even if you are trying to stay up until "bed time" in the new location.

Posted by
43 posts


I find an inflatable neck pillow an absolute must. (inflate it at least once before you leave on your trip to make sure there are no "holes or leaks"...this happened to me on one trip).

Others had the suggestion of bringing comfortable footwear...on my first overseas trip I brought sock-like slippers to wear during the flight. They were warm and cozy and I also wore them in the hotel. I don't pack them around now but since it's your first time abroad, or at least to Europe, anything that can bring comfort helps.

I always opt for a window seat; when I get an aisle seat I get banged around by passengers and stewards going down the aisle.

I have motion sickness so I cannot read on the flight. I won't fly without my iPOD...or some sort of music. If motion sickness is an issue for you, you might consider alternative ways to pass the time other than reading.

A general tip on sleep aids: If you think you might need or want to use a sleep aid, try whatever it is you think you'll be using on your trip before you leave. I cannot take over-the-counter sleep aids/flu/allergy medications; they make me agitated...others use these products with no problem. Find out what works for you before the big trip. Doctors are often more than willing to provide a few samples upon request.

Posted by
213 posts

My, you've gotten lots of valuable suggestions! They show how helpful folks are on this helpline. Something a little different: if it is offered, I will take the seat by the emergency exit. This provides uninhibited leg-room with no one in front to push back against you. I had taken this exit seat on numerous previous trans-Atlantic flights when I traveled alone. On our last trip to Europe, my wife agreed to the exit seats when offered and really liked the legroom. What you sacrifice is a view out the window--not much of a sacrifice over the ocean at night.

As for those people who told you what a mistake you made to fly coach--maybe they need first-class because their noses are so high in the air they need nose-rests. ;-). Enjoy your trip and all the excitement and anticipation that go with it.

Posted by
588 posts

You seem to be an amaxing fit woman with a sensible approach to your upcoming trip. I wish you well. Everyone has given you great advice. I'm just going to add/re-emphasize a couple of things:

  1. When you check in, tell the desk person this is your first international flight & a dream come true. If there are any business/first class seats available, they may just give you one! I have been upgraded and it is a great.

  2. Secondly, drink lots of water and juice or vitiamin water because of dehyrdation and the possiblity of leg cramps when you finally get to your hotel after a long day. Dehyradtion is the most stated reason for "charly horse" cramps.

  3. I always take an aisle seat because I don't want to bother people when I get up. I do try to get up and walk around or stand because that helps with the legs also.

  4. You might purchase some thrombosis socks to wear on the plane. I have not tried them but they are on my list for my flight later this year. You can get them at Magellan's (online) or any travel store.

  5. If you are a marathoner, you are probably slender and you may get cold on the plane. Try to grab a blanket as soon as possible. They are in plastic wrap in the bins above and when you are walking to your seat and see a stack of them, grab it. I don't bother with blow-up pillows but will grab a pillow on the plane (usually with the blankets).

Have a wonderful adventure!

Posted by
345 posts

oh, yeah, I hate to do a "me too!" but Thomas reminded me that I forgot to mention how helpful the eyemask is! I never travel without it. Business associates are AMUSED, it seems odd I guess. But it's worth it. It really helps you sleep, more than you might think. I always arrive at my destination rested and it seems like my flight is over in no time!

Posted by
236 posts

Your concerned friends certainly have offered to help pay for your upgrade, yes??? :) If you luck up and get the exit aisle (I'm long-legged and need the extra space) just know that you'll be cooler there. I almost froze going to Italy! Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
81 posts

The most important is to be dressed comfortable. The seats may be cramped and you can work with that some. If you are not dressed comfy, then it is doubly worse!!! I like slip-on shoes, gaucho pants,
socks, a light shirt with another shirt to layer if needed. Most arlines will provide socks, so the first thing I do is put on the socks. Drink plenty of water so you can feel refreshed and not so drained.

Switch sitting positions regularly as to not make one part of your body more uncomfortable than the rest during the flight.

Read your guidebooks you are bringing that describes your destination. It makes the time fly and helps the excitement brim as well!

Stretch! Get up and walk around. In the galley, stretch your arms, take good deep breaths, touch your toes...get the blood flowing!!

I have taken melatonin on one trip and Tylenol PM on another. For me, I was too excited to sleep, so I wore the headphones and listened to calming music.

On the flights I have previously taken, because I normally catnap, I don't get the good REM sleep, and thus, my stomach gets a little upset. I made the mistake of eating the breakfast served and didn't feel well. If you have tums or ginger, take them. It helps with that. I also kept the breakfast served one time and took it with me off the flight. When I was ready to eat, I had a "complimentary" meal ready for me!

Happy travels!!!

Posted by
190 posts

You have gotten great advice, but I couldn't help chiming in. Since I also leave from the west coast (almost!), I realize it is a bit different than from the east coast or even the midwest. The travel time is longer whether the flight is non-stop or has a transfer. I used to travel with my daughter, but now I travel alone. I decided that a window seat works best for me, but I am careful to time my exits from the seat for the obvious times, like after a meal. Somehow, there is more sense of privacy in the window seat which I find better for sleeping. I use a blow-up neck rest so I can determine how much air I need in it; I also use earplugs and an eye mask. I have found out that getting a full nights sleep and making sure I am hydrated BEFORE the trip and drinking LOTS of fluids (orange juice, water and Smart Water) during the trip combined with sleeping on the last leg of the flight really helps reduce the jet lag. I always take my own blanket (nasty, nasty airline blankets!)and wear my windbreaker backwards for warmth while I am sleeping. At our older ages (I am 61), swelling of the feet and legs can be an issue, so consider compression socks. So far I need only slipper socks which keep my feet warm, out of my shoes, and off the floor. And after the flight, I can turn them inside out until I wash them. (Nasty, nasty airplane floors!) Oh, about sleeping, the seats do recline some, so you are not actually sitting upright with your knees to your chin, and in the window seat you can lean more.

I hope you have a great trip and that this is the first of MANY more!