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There’s only so much travelers can do to allay the indignities of flying, but packing the right stuff goes a long way to make a flight more comfortable. Aside from the usual hand sanitizer, lip balm and a tablet loaded with great books and binge-worthy shows, what else do travel professionals bring that the rest of us don’t? We asked more than a dozen frequent fliers—including a photographer, chef and hotel GM—to tell us what products they never step on a plane without.
Light-blocking eye mask
To lift off and drift off, you need an eye mask that delivers that lights-out effect. Rachel Lees, a Sydney-based travel writer and editor, swears by Nidra Dreams’ molded eye mask with an adjustable Velcro head strap because it completely blocks out cabin light. Another plus: It leaves enough space around the eyes for you to fully open them “so if your eyelids flutter during deep sleep, you’re less likely to wake up,” she explains. The bug-eyed contouring might look a bit funny (Lees’ husband calls the look “the full alien”), but the unusual design is why it works better than most.
No-leaks gel pen
Those hours in the air provide a reprieve from work email and internet rabbit holes. Geetika Agrawal, Brooklyn-based founder of the travel company Vacation With An Artist, fills tech-free time writing or doodling with this reliable gel pen and a foldable notebook. The 0.5mm-tipped pens’ biggest selling point? Unlike other pens, they don’t leak from air pressure changes, she says, so she can use her in-flight time to “write down thoughts, organize myself, and even reflect or brainstorm ideas.”
Ergonomic seat cushion
When you fly a lot, your spine can pay the price. To prevent backaches from hours spent sitting in cramped seats, Liza Ciraldo, Miami Beach, Fla.-based sales and marketing director for the skincare brand Dr. Loretta, brings a high-density foam seat cushion from Aylio. She reports the ergonomic cushion is a “gamechanger” and eliminates travel-related aches and pains. Another plus: The soft velvet cover is machine-washable. It doesn’t fold, but the cushion weighs just one pound and comes with a convenient top handle for easy transport.
Pocket fan to keep cool
Though planes have air-conditioning, “it can feel like a Rubik’s Cube trying to get the air to hit you in just the right place,” says Ludlow Dawes, the Miami-based senior brand manager for Stillhouse Spirits/Bacardi. Dawes, who flies four to five times a month, finally found a solution: turning off his vent and switching on a personal fan. This 3.3-inch mini model plugs into the USB port on an iPhone or iPad. Not only does it keep him cool, but it’s quiet too—a low ambient whirr your seatmates won’t even notice.
For the uninitiated, a “blarf” is an oversized blanket-scarf combo—a staple that comes in handy on chilly flights. Frequent flier Gregory Day, the president of hospitality for the Mani Brothers Real Estate Group in West Hollywood, is a fan of the cozy blarfs from All Saints, which he calls “a constant travel companion and savior.” At 20 by 80 inches, the essential is “large enough to comfortably be a throw blanket on a long-haul flight, and then it converts to a scarf when I land.”
Durable slip-on shoes
“These Skechers are a cross between a loafer and a ballerina flat, so I can slip them on and off during flights,” says Marisa Rodriguez, the Seattle-based founder of Ancient Odysseys, a website that matches travelers to paleontology and archaeology digs around the world. She likes that they’re breathable and made of flexible fabric, so if her feet get a little swollen on long flights, they don’t feel binding. Once she lands, they’re comfortable walking for “miles and miles” and they’re versatile enough that she can dress them up or down with skorts, dresses and pants.
Jonny Bealby, the London-based founder of the adventure travel company Wild Frontiers, says among his go-tos for long-haul flights are these graded compression socks. “They have cushioned soles and keep your feet warm—so there is no need to use the airline’s additional socks,” says Bealby, who is a stickler for reducing what he perceives as wasteful airline amenities. He likes the sporty look of the tall, breathable socks but, more importantly, values that they help prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT), blood clots that can be triggered by sitting for hours on a long-distance flight.
Water filtration bottle
Amit Jaipuria, founder of Postcard, a mindful travel platform, always BYOBs to reduce waste, but not with just any bottle. The Grayl GeoPress comes with a built-in filtration and purification system and is “easy to use and extremely sturdy for travelers who like to get off the beaten track,” says Jaipuria, who carries his empty through security and fills it at a fountain before boarding. “On the odd occasion that I’m restricted to the restroom taps,” he shares, “ I know that Grayl will remove all the nasties, including waterborne pathogens and many chemicals.”
Electrolyte powder for staying hydrated
When Callum Kennedy, the group general manager of QT Hotels & Resorts in Australia and New Zealand, lifts off he relies on Hydralyte’s single-serve electrolyte packets to zhuzh up the mini water bottles doled out by flight attendants. His favorite flavors are Sparkling Apple and Blackcurrant (other options include Strawberry Lemonade, Blood Orange, and Elderberry). “Hydration is key to remaining focused onboard,” says Kennedy.
In-flight face refresh
After spending a year and a half traveling the world with her family, Sara Banks, the Dublin-based founder of SteamLine Luggage, has strong feelings about in-flight skincare. She praises the organic products from Tata Harper, which are made in small batches on Harper’s farm in Vermont. This in-flight set includes a Hydrating Floral Essence, Boosting Contouring Eye Balm, and Retinoic Nutrient Face Oil, plus a travel pouch to stash everything in. “Traveling with my four young boys, ages 2 to 9, doesn’t leave me much time for self-care on flights, but I do like to arrive looking reasonably fresh,” says Banks. She finds if she uses the three products in the middle of a flight, it gives them time to revive her skin.
Quick skin quencher
When you travel 150 days a year, you have to be discerning about what you schlep in your carry-on. Kathryn Romeyn, the Bali-based host behind the Conscious Traveler podcast, prioritizes hydrating hyaluronic ampoules from the German skincare brand Dr. Barbara Sturm. “I have perpetually dry skin that gets even more dehydrated at 35,000 feet and this is the only salve I’ve found,” says Romeyn, who, just before takeoff, cracks open a vial and slathers her face with the serum. She reports that hyaluronic acid formula keeps her complexion “dewy and comfortable through the lengthiest long hauls.”
If it’s peace you’re after, it’s worth investing in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones. “These are like pillows, and zero noise gets in so you don’t feel that ‘white-noise exhaustion’ when you land,” says Sheri Howell, vice president of marketing and communications at Medjet, a Birmingham, Ala.-based traveler protection program. She appreciates that over-the-ear headphones moonlight as a social barrier. “I really just want to be in my own little world when I fly—these do the trick,” Howell says. The headphones include a structured carrying case, and while they are Bluetooth-enabled, they come with cords to plug directly into a seat-back player too.
Noise-minimizing wireless earbuds
Prefer earbuds? The Jabra Elites are compact and noise-canceling, says photographer Susan Portnoy, aka The Insatiable Traveler. Not only do they “fit snugly,” she says, but they are also tops at blocking out noise. “Is it 100%? No. But when listening to podcasts or watching movies on a plane, it makes a huge difference.” With a click of her left earbud, she can cycle between noise cancellation and a “hear-through” mode if a flight attendant needs her attention. They last up to seven hours before they need charging.
Pati Jinich, chef and host of “La Frontera”and “Pati’s Mexican Table” on PBS, jets off more than two dozen times a year—always with her Dagne Dover carry-all in tow. It comes in five sizes, from small to extra large, and has multiple strap configurations. She hails the bag’s practical touches, including an outside pocket for storing a cellphone, a water bottle pouch, shoe duster, key leash and several interior compartments that make staying organized a cinch. Also handy: a padded sleeve fits laptops up to 16 inches. The lining is made from recycled plastic bottles and the durable Neoprene exterior is water-resistant to handle iffy weather conditions.
The advice, recommendations or rankings expressed in this article are those of the Buy Side from WSJ editorial team, and have not been reviewed or endorsed by our commercial partners.