Top Travel Tips for Surviving the Airport
Traveling is more of a routine than a puzzle. Surprises are rare and after a few times you start to see the patterns. You start to see how to avoid issues, what to do if an issue arises, and how to make the trip as smooth and comfortable as possible.
With all the traveling I have done throughout my life I have found comfortable ways to travel, and when a problem makes its appearance I have prepared myself to deal with it. These are a list of quick but powerful tips to make the journey from your house to your destination a hell of a lot easier.
Make a packing list. This does not take long and it can be done on your phone. Nothing is worse than forgetting something important. Start the list early so as you remember things you can add them to the list.
Customize your luggage. Have fun with your suitcase. Try picking up stickers from every destination you go to and slap it on to your bag or maybe spray paint your name on the side of your suitcase. It will make it easier to spot when at luggage pickup and get you out of the airport faster. This pleasant experience will attach positivity to your trip and will make it more enjoyable and meaningful.
Weigh your suitcase. A suitcase scale only cost a few dollars and can save you that embarrassment of opening up your suitcase at the check-in counter to move underwear from the suitcase to your carry on bag.
There is going to be a lot of waiting and maybe delays so bring something to do. Be realistic, if you dont usually read or get motion sickness then dont bring a book. Load up your phone with music and podcasts or download movies onto your iPad so you have something to do at the airport and in the plane.
Check your email from the airline. Some airlines, like budget airlines, sometimes require you to check-in online or have weird restrictions on check-in bags like odd maximum bag weight, no free check-in bag, or will charge for placing a bag in the overhead area on the plane. You should find all this information in the “check-in online” email.
Do not be caught off guard and start yelling at the check-in person when they tell you they are charging you a fee for checking in person. It is not their fault. Instead, always approach the check-in attendant with a smile and greet them politely. Maybe even throw them a compliment. They have the power to reduce or waive fees and even help you out when things get rough. Make them mad and they will go back to the book and swear they can not break protocol. A positive attitude can get you farther than you think.
Before you leave
Airlines recommend being at the airport 2 hours before an international flight. I found this to be a good time frame to get through check-in, security, then find the gate, and get through a surprise security check. In busy airports this leaves me a few minutes before boarding starts, and at barren airports, more than enough time.
Boarding starts 40 minutes before take off. The time listed when purchasing the ticket is for takeoff, so dont get to the gate at that specific time because the gate closes a few minutes before. I have seen budget airlines board 20 minutes before departure and close the gate as soon as the last person in line has crossed through the gate. Being at the gate 40 minutes before boarding is a good rule of thumb.
Make sure you have your essentials and important items/valuables in your carry on item. Luggage gets lost and cloths can be replaced but that life saving medication you have can not be easily retrieved. Keep your medication on you and not in the carry on luggage. If for whatever reason you need to separate the medication, then keep a few days to a week worth of medication with you.
Besides life saving medication, your passport is really the only thing you need to travel. You could get to the airport with absolutely nothing except the cloths on your back and a passport and get on your plane. Just make sure your passport is up to date. That means the expiration date is not 3 months after departure, or they will not let you board.
Checking-in online will save time. Those check-in lines can get pretty big and are slow. Checking-in online can also give you the added benefit of selecting your seat before anyone else does. Some airlines will let you check-in online and then have a special line for handing over your checked bag speeding up the check-in process.
If you are using a digital boarding pass, make sure the boarding pass is downloaded onto your phone. Service is spotty in airports so a copy of your boarding pass either downloaded or in your photos app will save you a headache. If you are going to risk having a digital copy make sure your phones charged, have a charger on you, have a external battery pack, put your phone in battery saver mode, or attentively watch the battery level on your phone. Alternatively, you can ask the check-in attendant to print out a physical copy.
Know what you can and cannot take through security. Make sure your bag is clear of any weapons such as pocket knives and multitools that are not TSA approved or else you will have to go through a lengthy interview process. TSA only allows containers that are 3.4 oz or 100 ml or less in volume. They recommend all containers be placed in a separate bag such as zip lock bag for additional screening.
You might not be able to bring water through security but you can bring an empty water bottle and fill it up inside the terminal. This will save you money on the overpriced water and drinks offered inside.
Make your electronics and liquids easily accessible. The security lines are already long so dont hold it up any longer by fiddling to find stuff in your bag. TSA will yell at you. Keep your laptop, iPad, and liquids easily accessible in your bag.
Know what you need to do in the security line. Laptops and iPads need to go in a separate tray with nothing on top or underneath them. Jackets and belts need to be removed. All items need to be taken out of your pockets. In some airports all types of footwear need to be removed. I usually only keep my phone, passport, and tickets in my pockets and everything else like my wallet and keys in my backpack, so I have less to worry about.
In the terminal
An outlet splitter or charger with multiple usb ports can guarantee you will have a place to charge your devices. Outlets are hard to find in airports, and when you do find them they are usually taken. If you could make that one outlet into many then not only you and the person using the outlet will have access to power. A charger with multiple usb ports will help you charge phone and another device such as tablet, headphones, laptop, ebook, mp3 player, smart watch, or other device at the same time.
Use headphones to drown out the surrounding sound to set your mood level a notch under anxious. There is nothing worse to add to your trip anxiety than a crying baby. Headphones can drown out this noise, but remember to keep the volume of your music or podcast to a reasonable level so you can hear important announcements.
Sit by your gate and monitor the information sign above it. If something seems off like a change in destination on the sign go to the flight monitors and see if the gate has changed. It is rare but gate changes are still possible.
It does not matter if your first or last to board. Either way, you will not have to wait for many people to put away their luggage overhead and your seat will be free. The worst place to be is in the middle of the line. You need to wait until they open the gate, call your section, and then wait for the people in front of you get past the ticket check area, and then you have to fight your way through many people trying to find their seats, put away their bags overhead, and take 5 minutes to sit in their seat. It is better to finish that email or song you are listening to and get in line towards the end.