How to Survive the Long Haul to Australia

I had it in mind to publish this post when international borders are fully open and we are once more free to travel.  However, that seems like such a long way off, so I thought I would exercise my freedom to dream.  I know that there are so many people out there longing to see family and friends again, so let’s get prepared for the day when we can start to make travel plans.

Young woman gazing out of a window at planes in an airport.
How to survive the long haul to Australia.

I’ll never forget the first words of my dear sister-in-law when we greeted her in the arrivals hall at Melbourne Airport: “God it’s a bloody long way!”  There is no denying that fact.  When traveling from the UK, Australia is, most definitely, a long way away.   If like me, the furthest south you have ever traveled by air is from the UK to Cyprus, the distance comes as quite a shock to the system.  Here’s how to survive the long haul to Australia.

(Disclaimer: the advice presented here is based purely on my own experience.  Always check with your airline or travel agent for rules and regulations, and seek medical advice from your GP before traveling if you have specific health issues.)

1. Choose your flights carefully

OK.  Price is always a major factor here because it just ain’t cheap to fly to Australia.  At the time of writing we have no idea what impact the Covid-19 pandemic will have on the price of flights but it’s always been a costly process and one thing is for sure, it isn’t going to get any cheaper.  

Have a look at websites such as Expedia and Skyscanner to explore your options.  Or do it the old-fashioned way and consult with a travel agent.  If you are contemplating any kind of travel these days I would suggest that speaking to an agent is the best idea as the rules are constantly changing.

It’s always good to check out the layover time for any stops along the way (common layover airports are Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, amongst others).   What can sometimes seem like a really good price, can necessitate a transit time that is far too long to sit around doing nothing, yet not long enough to get out and see the city you are transiting through.  Unless of course you are traveling Business Class and go and use the luxury lounges for yet more food, drink, and possibly a shower.  

I’ve found that a 2 to 3 hour transit time is optimum unless you are planning to spend a couple of nights in the stopover destination.  We’ve never quite achieved this bonus, mainly because we have been limited on the time we can take off work/school/uni to make the long trip, and have always wished to maximize our time at our main destination.  You certainly wouldn’t want any less than a 1.5 hour transit time as this can get a bit hairy and scary if your first flight is delayed and you find yourself hot-footing along corridors that are about 10 miles long to meet your connection.  (This has happened to me once or twice transiting Dubai Airport.)

2. Plan to arrive in Australia at a sensible time

Here’s where you need to work backward with your flight times, to check that you get into Australia at a time that’s going to work well in the battle against jet lag.  We always advise our visitors to aim to get into Melbourne late afternoon/early evening.  Trust me, you will be exhausted and just want to be in a horizontal position and sleep in a proper bed asap.  This way, you’ve got just about enough time to get from the airport, carry your bags in, make a little bit of conversation, have a bite to eat and a glass of something, wonder where the heck you are, then go to bed.  

Qantas tailplane
Australian national airline
How to survive the long haul to Australia

There’s nothing worse than arriving in Australia at the crack of dawn (beautiful vision though it is), only to have to stay awake all day feeling like nothing you’ve ever felt before, your body clock and digestive system not knowing whether it’s lunchtime or the middle of the night, but your eyes and ears telling you it’s daytime.

3.  Get yourself onto your new time zone along the way

For the first leg of the long haul flight, whether it’s 7 hours or 14 hours, I keep my watch set to the time of the country from which I’m departing.  This means that I aim to stick roughly to my normal sleep and eating patterns.  For example, if the flight is departing at say, 10 pm, I will aim to try and go to sleep around an hour or two into the flight, which would be my normal bedtime.  Just time to have a drink and watch a movie, then settle down. 

I would normally refuse the first meal that they might bring in favour of getting in as much sleep as possible.   Remember you don’t have to accept every meal that they offer you onboard, and it is always a good idea to have some small snacks in your bag, just in case you don’t fancy what’s on offer.  Also, if you feel the need to eat something in between meal service, you can usually ask and they will find you some fruit, or biscuits, for example.  

I keep my watch set to ‘old’ time until I board the next flight, then I reset it for the local time of the country into which I will be arriving.  Again, this helps re-set my body clock and I can plan my eating and sleeps around when I would normally want to eat and sleep in the new time zone. 

Note, there is no scientific basis to any of this personal time travel, and it may not work for everybody, but it works for me.

4.  Dress appropriately

Gone are the days where you might have thought of dressing up a bit on the off-chance that you might be offered an upgrade (does anybody know someone that’s ever actually happened to …?), so my best advice is to dress comfortably.  

Smartly dressed lady with suitcase.
How to survive the long haul to Australia.

Don’t wear anything light coloured as you’re bound to spill everything on it.  I always go for an elasticated waistband, stretchy dark-coloured trousers, and a longish tunic style top with a cardigan and a lightweight scarf.  Layers are good as it can sometimes get a bit cold at times during the flight and at other times a bit warm, so you can regulate your temperature more easily if you have layers.  Stretchy fabric is just the best!  Everything expands when you fly long distance.  If you are traveling with a coat or jacket, make sure it is of the lightweight padded kind (always useful for Melbourne, especially if it’s black, you will fit right in), as this will double up to make extra padding around you when you are struggling to find that elusive comfy position for sleeping.  

I don’t particularly get on with those crescent-shaped neck pillows and find it easier to roll something up and mould it around my neck or underneath my chin.  Have footwear that you can slip on and off easily.  I like to keep my shoes off when I’m seated but like to slip them back on when I go walkabout (especially to the bathroom – eeuw).  It goes without saying that proper compression socks are a must for the long journey as none of us want to be dealing with deep vein thrombosis!  Get a good pair, it really is worth it. You can now get sheer flight socks, which look less ugly than the black ones.

5.  Have plenty of things to do

First and foremost, make sure you move about! Nobody minds you going for a walk around the plane when you are on the long haul, so do make sure you get up, have a stretch. There’s usually a decent amount of space at the front of the plane and you can look longingly up the stairs to business and first-class as you do your calf stretches.

Make the most of the in-flight entertainment.  I always use a long flight as a great chance to catch up on movies or tv series that I haven’t yet seen.  

Download podcasts, music, and a few games onto your smartphone.

Read something good. Head over to Book Corner for some inspiration.

6.  Have all the right things in your bag

This is not an exhaustive list, I have assumed that you will remember all the essentials such as your passport, money, and reading glasses!

  • Phone charger – most airlines have a charging point in the seat these days.
  • Reading book or e-reader such as an Amazon Kindle – I absolutely love my Kindle, saves carrying so much weight in actual books.
  • Wet wipes – for all those messes that will happen.
  • Eye-mist, such as Optrex Actimist.  My eyes go dry when traveling so it’s really refreshing to have an occasional squirt of eye mist.
  • Small moisturizer or hand cream, to counteract the dryness created by all the hand-sanitizer you will be using.
  • Toothbrush, travel toothpaste, and small deodorant.  If you can freshen up at various stages of the flight you will start to feel slightly human again.
  • Noise-canceling headphones – there will be crying babies!
  • Snacks – nuts, fruit, dry biscuits, chocolate, mints – but remember to ditch any perishable foods before you get off the plane in Australia, where biosecurity is very strict and you are not allowed to bring organic matter into the country.
  • A clean t-shirt/top in case of spillages.
  • Any medications needed for the journey in small plastic bags, with details of what the meds are (I cut off and include the front cover of the box, showing prescription information).
  • Face masks – I reckon these will still be ‘a thing’ for a long time to come.

Keep as much as you can in a series of small, clear ziplock bags, it makes it so much easier to see exactly what you’ve got when you’re rummaging through your inflight bag and you can store some of these smaller bags in the seat pocket in front of you, to save you from getting your inflight bag up and down each time you want something.

Casually dressed lady sitting on a pink suitcase.
How to survive the long haul to Australia.

7.  Accept it’s a blooming long way!

My best survival tactic is to accept that it is going to feel like a very long journey because that’s exactly what it is.  However, if you can relax into it, try to see it as a perfect excuse to catch up on: some sleep; some rest; some movies; some books; the odd gin and tonic … you will find that it can actually be quite enjoyable.

If you are worried about how you will deal with anxiety levels during the long journey, consult your GP well beforehand.  They will be able to help you with coping mechanisms.

For me, I sit back and relish the idea that I’ve done the packing, there is nothing more I need to do or think about for a while, I don’t have to plan meals for the next 24 hours, or do the school run or the 101 other things that always need doing on a normal day.  If you can see it as a perfect opportunity to have a rest, rather than an ordeal, I think you will get through it.  Australia awaits you, and your great adventure is about to begin.

If you are arriving in Melbourne, check out the 5 Things you need to do as soon as you arrive.

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The Melbourne Mum

Thinking of emigrating to Australia? Already moved to Melbourne? Find out what it's really like to make the big move Down Under.

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4 Responses

  1. Sharon Marriott says:

    Another brilliant blog 🙂

  2. andy davies says:

    Brilliant & educational at the same time

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