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Your First International Flight: What to Expect & How to Get Ready

Preparing for your first international flight can feel overwhelming. I’ve certainly been there- all seasoned travelers have! Flying internationally requires a few extra steps compared to traveling domestically. Today, I’m sharing a few tips and tricks to ensure that your first experience flying to another country is a success.

In this article, you’ll find:


Jet aircraft docked in airport.

Before your First International Flight: Things to Do

In the days leading up to your international flight, you’ll want to ensure that you’re getting plenty of rest and exercise so your body can prepare for the trip.

Use Extra Moisturizer — Plane cabins are notoriously dry environments and this can do a number on your skin. In the days leading up to your flight, make sure you’re moisturizing to avoid uncomfortably dry skin once you reach your destination.

Drink more Water — While on a long international flight, it can be easy to become dehydrated. Before you head to the airport, start drinking extra water. Not only does this help to combat the symptoms of dehydration, but it will also keep your skin moisturized!

Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol — Both caffeine and alcohol can cause dehydration and they also make it harder to sleep once you’re on the plane. That extra cup of coffee at the airport may seem tempting but try sticking to plain water or a smoothie instead.

Buy Compression Stockings — Bodies just aren’t meant to stay cramped into a tiny seat for hours on end in a lower oxygen environment. While most of us don’t notice it when we’re young, all bodies tend to swell a little on long flights- One study found that in a group of healthy people aged 25-51 (average age was 31) ankle circumference was, on average, 55mm greater when measured after a long flight.1

💡 Even young people experience foot and ankle swelling after a long flight.2 My theory is that having slightly-larger-than-normal feet in normal-sized shoes is why so many of us get painful blisters our first day walking around a new city. Compression stockings aren’t just good for older travelers- they’re a must if you plan to hit the ground running.

Try a Yoga Class — Getting your body limbered up can be helpful when you’re about to travel a long distance in a relatively cramped enclosure. Yoga can be a great way to stretch out and loosen any tight muscles before you board. Some airports even have spaces dedicated to practicing yoga- and it’s one of my favorite things to do on a long layover.

Dress Comfortably — When planning an airport outfit for a long-haul flight, you should dress in loose-fitting, comfortable clothing. You’re going to want to be comfortable enough to get some sleep while in the air and unless you’re flying in certain airline’s first class cabins, pajamas won’t be available onboard!

Keep Moving — In the days leading up to your flight and even while you’re waiting at the airport, keep your body moving. Once at the airport, take a few laps around the airport terminal and avoid sitting at your boarding gate- you’ll be doing plenty of that on the plane!

Get a Travel Pillow — Whether you buy a travel neck pillow or make your own using my DIY travel pillow instructions, having one can make it much easier to relax and sleep on a long flight.


Tips for Surviving Your First International Flight

Once you board the plane, there are a few tips to help ensure you have as comfortable of a trip as possible.

Grab Your Seat Early — Depending on your preferences, you may want the window or aisle seat. The emergency exit row typically has the most legroom (but the seats may not recline). Passengers who board early also can ensure their carryon is stowed in an overhead compartment and isn’t gate checked at the last minute.

Say “Hello” to Your Neighbor(s) — Even the most introverted traveler may want to offer a quick greeting to the people nearby. They’ll be sitting a few inches from you for the next several hours! Pleasant seatmates can make or break an excruciatingly long flight. Show them kindness and respect and you’re more likely to receive the same in return.

Try to Get Some Sleep — Depending on what time you land at your destination, you may want to try my airplane sleeping hacks to sleep on your international flight so that your internal clock is aligned when you land. You don’t want to land mid-afternoon and immediately have to take a nap at your hotel! Jet lag can be a real issue when traveling internationally but I’ve got some tips to beat jetlag and arrive refreshed.

Periodic Stretching — This is important! Flight attendants expect to see passengers get up and move around during a long flight. You can walk to the bathroom or do some simple in-flight stretching routines to avoid blood clots. Researchers say that a person’s risk of blood clots during a flight is “multiplied by 2.81 in a healthy person, regardless of flight time. The risk is then increased by 26% for every two hours of flight.2

For more advice on what to pack for an international flight, see my long flight packing list


Passengers on an airplane.

Important Reminders Before Your First International Flight

Before you leave on your first international flight — there are a few housekeeping items to check off your to-do list. 

  • Travel Insurance Travel insurance is important when you’re flying internationally and it’s easy to find coverage that suits your needs and your budget. Travel insurance can cover your trip or your health. Travel health insurance usually includes life insurance coverage as well as covering the cost of bringing you back to your home if you are not healthy enough to travel on a commercial jet.
  • Passport Expiration Date — For many countries, the entry requirements specify that your passport cannot have an expiration date within the next 6 months. Read up on the rules in the country you’re headed to and make sure there’s no unpleasant surprise at the airport!
  • Visa Requirements — Some countries require that you have a visa, even if you’re just on vacation. This is important information to have before heading to the airport as you could potentially be denied boarding on your flight!


Final Thoughts On Surviving Your First International Flight

Traveling internationally can be an incredibly exciting adventure with so much to see and do and new cultures to experience. However, the international flight may be a bit nerve-wracking if it’s your first one. I completely understand, which is why the above tips were provided to help you take on your first international flight like a total pro!

For more flight-savvy travel tips, see these related articles:

  1. Olsen, J. H., Öberg, S., & Rosenberg, J. (2019). The effect of compression stocking on leg edema and discomfort during a 3-hour flight: a randomized controlled trial. European journal of internal medicine62, 54-57. []
  2. Gavish, I., & Brenner, B. (2011). Air travel and the risk of thromboembolism. Internal and emergency medicine6(2), 113-116. []