Pack a “seat-back survival pack” for your next long flight

We are knee-deep in the busy holiday travel season and there is no shortage of internet tips for packing and surviving long flights. In fact, I’ve already covered it with my recent 29-hour flight to South Africa. However, I left out one piece of information that is critical for long flights: a seat-back survival pack.

“What is this?” you may ask, “A Canadianism for ‘a handful of sleeping pills?'”

Hahaha, no silly human, that’s called the “Maple Syrup Sugar Shock.”*

The seat-back survival pack is a small bag I pack in my hand luggage that gets jammed in the seat-back pocket when I get on a plane. I do this for one simple reason, I loathe futzing around looking for something when crammed in a seat space that’s smaller than a junior high locker. Plus, as a courtesy to other travelers, I like to refrain from jumping up and down regularly during a long flight, digging bags out of overhead bins, scrounging around underneath the seat in front of me and packing and re-packing the same bag over and over.

It contains everything I need for general comfort and wellness while in-flight, the absolute essentials:

  • sleep mask, ear plugs, sleep aids,
  • tissues, baby wipes
  • lotion, lip balm
  • mobile phone/iPod, ear buds,
  • pens and small notebook.

For international flights, I’ll keep my boarding pass and passport in there, too, for a handy reference when completing the absurdly long Canadian customs form on re-entry to my home and native land.

You’ll notice it’s light on entertainment options. Personally, I’ve given up on the notion that I’ll read if there’s a seat-back entertainment centre. If there are mindless movies or tv shows to be watched while I snooze away the hours, I’m going to do that instead.

The seat-back survival pack evolved only after I found the ideal bag for this purpose. It’s the small Universal Pouch from OnSight Equipment and it’s perfect – compact and see-through. In Canada, you can buy it at Mountain Equipment Co-op, starting at CAD$10.


Other ways to survive in-flight

Finally, regardless of flight length, I stick to the following regimen to arrive ready for adventure: lots of water, snoozing or napping when the mood strikes, no alcohol or caffeine, small protein-packed meals, keep shoes on in case feet swell up. For my last long journey, I took a homeopathic jet lag remedy that worked for me, but sleep-management things are entirely up to the individual traveler.

* No, that’s not a thing, either

What things do you need on-hand during a long flight to make it tolerable?  Do you pack a seat-back survival pack? Fire away in the comments!



  1. Thanks for sharing this. I’m going to South Africa in February 2013. So excited! But, not excited about the flight. Do you take malaria pills? I’m going to Shamwari, and its malaria-free. What are your thoughts?

    • I’m so excited for you, South Africa and its people are amazing!

      I was in a couple of malaria zones, so I took a course of Malarone (I can’t recall the brand name in other countries, but it’s easy to find). It worked really well for me, no side effects. I’m not in a position to give you medical advice, I’d recommend consulting with travel health specialist – it’s worth the expense – who can provide advice for vaccinations and other health care precautions based on your specific travel plans.

      I provided some links to travel health resources a little while back, I hope they’re helpful:

      Have a great trip!

    • Thanks for the advice. I’m going to contact my Doctor about that. We are going to a non malaria area. But, I just want all of my bases covered. I look forward to reading about your next adventure. Happy New Year!

  2. Ginger ale and water every time they pass my seat. I stay hydrated and not too caffinated. Plus the ginger ale helps on a seriously long day when I feel like I’m not digesting properly because I was up disgustingly early and cramped into an uncomfortable seat.


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