Almost universally, everyone agrees that the worst part of traveling is the traveling. Being in a new place is great, but getting there can often be a pain. And if you don’t travel regularly, it can be stressful, especially if you have to fly.
Years of in-flight experience have turned me into something of a road warrior. With holiday travel season approaching, I thought I would share my tips for a stress-free journey.
There are three main components to any good airport experience: packing the right bags, getting to the airport, and navigating security. Once you can master those steps, all you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
Packing the Right Bag
You should have 2-3 pieces of luggage: a carry-on, a personal item, and maybe a checked bag. Whether or not you check a bag depends of the kind of trip your taking. But keep in mind that it will usually cost extra. If you do decide to check, pack your liquids and gels in a plastic bag in that checked bag.
The most important bag for your trip is the carry on. It’s where you will put your clothes, shoes, etc. that you need. Instead of winging it, use a packing list to figure out what you need, and what you don’t. Find more packing tips here. As you are gathering items from your list, put them near your bag. Don’t start actually packing until you have everything together. That way you can pack everything for optimized use of space and make sure you aren’t forgetting anything.
There are a few key things that you will need to pack with security in mind. Once you hit the airport security tables, you are going to have about 2 minutes to unload all required objects into bins and go through the scanner. This means don’t pack your laptop at the bottom of your bag. You will be tempted to, but resist. Instead, pack your laptop, tablet, and e-reader near the top or in an easy to reach place in your briefcase/backpack. Not all airports make you take out e-readers and tablet computers (think iPads), but some do.
You also have to figure out where to put your liquids and gels bag. Every passenger is allowed a one-quart bag with liquids and gels inside. Each bottle can be up to 3.4 oz. or 100 ml. More details can be found here, but suffice it say that you will need travel sizes. I usually keep my bag in my backpack or the front pocket of my carry-on. Then, once I’m through security, I can move everything around to a better location. For example, my hand sanitizer and chap stick go straight back into the front pocket of my backpack or purse so I can use them on the plane. The baggie is just a temporary measure in the airport. Just make sure you know where you want to keep yours.
Getting to the Airport
All of this packing happens the night before your flight. But when the actual day arrives, getting your physical self to the airport can be one of the most stressful parts of flying. For domestic flights, you will want to arrive no less than an hour and a half before your scheduled departure time. And for international flights that goes up to at least two hours. Personally, I would suggest two hours for any flight unless you are leaving before seven am.
So, now that you know when you want to be at the airport, you should determine how long it will take you to get there. Google Maps is a great tool for this. Look up the route ahead of time and there are options to send it to your phone (if you are on a computer) or to save it for later. At the very least, the airport you are headed to will be saved in your history for easy look up later. Preview the whole route to make sure the computer hasn’t decided to take you any weird ways. One time a friend and I got sent to cargo receiving and told to walk. That was no bueno.
Then, once you know about when to leave, set an alarm. That could be on your phone, or on an old fashioned alarm clock if you prefer. It is just easier to know that you don’t have to remember when to leave.
If you aren’t checking a bag, then you will also want to check in to your flight and get your boarding pass ahead of time as well. Save it on your phone or print it out up to 24 hours before take off. That will save you one line at the airport, so you can head straight for security upon arrival.
This is it. The final hurtle to a successful trip. You’ve already got your bags ready to go, with everything you need easily accessible. But before you stride up confidently to the counter, there are a few do’s and don’ts of the security line.
- Do bring a snack. Lots of people think food isn’t allowed, but solid food is just fine. Save yourself from overpriced airport food by throwing a PB&J or a granola bar into your bag.
- Don’t forget to empty your water bottle. Planes are really dehydrating, so having plenty of water is a must. But only empty water bottles can go through security. Pack it empty, drink up, or if you forget, you can just dump the water in the bathroom sink at the airport.
- Do wear shoes you can take off. If you are between the ages of 12 and 75, chances are you will be asked to remove your shoes. Your best bet is to wear slip ons of some kind. During the winter this can be tricky though, since you probably want your warm boots. If you have to wear lace up shoes of some kind, loosen the laces while you wait in line to make taking them off faster at the counter. Once you’re through the scanner, there will be a bench you can sit on to get your shoes laced back on nice and tight.
- Don’t forget about watches, earrings, and other small jewelry. These are big culprits for scanner beeps. You probably wear them so much your forget that you have them on, so do a double check in line. Then place them all in your coat pocket (jackets have to go through the scanner anyway) or the front of your purse. That way they don’t accidentally get left behind in bins either.
- Do empty your pockets. No matter how many times they announce this, someone always forgets. Best plan: don’t put anything into pants pockets until you are at the gate.
These simple tricks will get you in and out of the security line as fast as possible, but if you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask the TSA staff. They are there to help.
Especially around the holidays, flying can be a stressful time. Hopefully this cleared up a few of the mysteries of air travel, and will help you have a great next trip.