I just got back from a trip across the country, and have some even bigger travel plans coming up in a few weeks. Which means I am quickly become reacquainted with spending lots and lots of time on planes and in airports.
Chances are you’ve taken a few flights in your lifetime, but if you’re anything like the average emerging adult (particularly Millennials), you’re hoping to travel a lot more in the future — and learning to handle flights and airports like a pro is a necessity.
As always, the disclaimer: I have taken a lot of flights in my life, but I am by no means the expert. I’ve flown tiny 40-minute domestic puddle jumpers, and 19-plus-hour treks halfway across the globe. But I haven’t been to every continent or country, haven’t dealt with every travel challenge, and so on. Even still, I hope you’ll find some of this helpful.
Booking your flights
- Book early. If at all possible, booking early can save you quite a bit. Adulthood means (usually) paying for your own flights, so this is a big deal.
- Alternately, book really late. If you’re the kind of person who is cool with last-minute travel plans (note: I am not this person), then waiting until the last minute can offer up some phenomenal deals.
- Travel sites. Comparing prices on sites like Kayak, or booking flights with a package through a site like Tripmasters can help you find deals you might not otherwise be able to.
- Know your standards. Budget airlines like Wow Air and Ryanair can be super cost-effective — if you’re willing to deal with the small spaces, weird schedules, and cost of checking luggage. I’m cool to fly budget or coach, but there are certain airlines I simply don’t like, so I won’t book with them even if it means spending more money.
- Pay attention to what your airline does and doesn’t cover. Know ahead of time if it will cost you extra (and how much) to check a bag, if you choose your seat when you book, or any other details that impact the cost and comfort of your trip.
- I am far from the most efficient packer. I tend to over-pack, but I am (slowly) working on it. I have a 10-day trip coming up and am attempting to make everything I’ll need fit in a carryon and a backpack. We’ll see how it goes.
- Make a list. If I don’t make a packing list, I will forget something important. Just a fact. I try to make the list several hours or even a day before I pack so there’s time for my subconscious to remember things I forgot to put on the list.
- You only need one extra. I’m not the person who will tell you to only pack clothes for the exact length of time you’ll be gone. Sometimes stuff happens, and you need a spare. But you don’t need that many. A good rule of thumb is 1-2 extra pairs of underwear, 1 extra shirt, and just what you need of basically everything else.
- Make it versatile. Especially with bottoms and shoes, don’t bring something you’ll only wear once unless it’s for a specific occasion you know you’ll be at. Lots of things (except underwear!) can be worn more than once.
- Minimize your toiletries. This isn’t a problem for some people, but is one I tend to struggle with. Make sure everything is travel-size (3 ounces or less), and only bring the things you’ll actually need while you’re on the trip — which may mean emptying out your usual toiletry bag and opting not to bring once-in-a-while or half-empty items.
- Be prepared. On the flipside, under-packing sucks. Like the time I spent a month in England and didn’t bring an umbrella or shoes that were good in the rain. The good news is you can often buy stuff there if you need to (I still use the umbrella I bought there and am wearing the shoes right now), but it’s better to have what you’ll need. Think about weather, what activities you’ll be doing, and any random elements like maps or chargers.
- Leave room. If you’ll be going somewhere you plan on bringing extra things home from (souvenirs, gifts, etc.) then be sure to leave some extra room in your bag.
- Roll it up. I tend to fold clothes, but if you’re tight for space, rolling them is without a doubt the most efficient way to pack.
- Wear the bulk. If you have some larger clothing items that you need to bring (jackets, boots, etc.), try to wear them on the plane. Then there’s more room in your bag and you still get your bigger items without a problem.
- Check in ahead of time. If you’re able to check in for your flight online, it will save you time and stress at the airport.
- Dress comfortably. You’re going to be walking around, sitting around, and then sitting in an even tinier area on your flight. Wear something you’ll be comfortable in for the duration of the trip.
- Get there early. If it’s a domestic flight, I like to be there about an hour and a half early. It leaves plenty of time to get through security and maybe get a bite to eat without feeling like I’m there forever.
- If it’s close to a holiday or you’re flying international, get there extra early. The security lines are endlessly long around holidays, and international flights are not something you want to cut close on time around. I’d recommend a minimum of 2 hours before your flight.
- Have your documents ready. Make sure you know where your ID and boarding pass are, as well as anything else you’ll need handy.
- Don’t make insensitive jokes. This should go without saying, but please don’t talk about terrorist attacks or guns or explosives. It’s not only rude but dangerous, and could get you in a lot of trouble (same goes for on the plane).
- Be a nice person. Make room for people who are clearly in a rush, don’t move super slow in the middle of a walkway, general thoughtful travel stuff.
The plane ride
- If you get to choose your seat, choose it wisely. I fly Southwest a lot, so I usually choose my seat based on my priority. If I want to get off the plane asap when it lands, I’ll take anything that’s close to the front of the plane. If it’s a long flight or I mostly care about bring comfortable, I go for a window. If I just downed a lot of water, the aisle seat is my friend.
- Entertain yourself. Being bored on a plane sucks. If you’re already asleep before takeoff, good for you. Otherwise, I recommend books, puzzles, music, podcasts, and movies to make all that time stuck in one seat a little more manageable.
- Bring snacks. Not very many airlines feed you more than tiny bags of snacks (and depending on the flight sometimes don’t do that), so make sure you have food — especially if it’s a longer flight or close to a normal meal time. (Pro tip: TSA restricts liquids, but you can bring all the solid snacks you want.)
- Stretch your legs. This gets more important the longer the flight is. I don’t like getting up on flights more than absolutely necessary, but doing so helps get the blood moving in your legs. At minimum, it helps keep your ankles from swelling, and can help prevent more serious conditions for some people. You can also do little exercises in your seat.
- Don’t be a jerk. Aka don’t take both armrests, don’t put your stuff (including legs and feet) into your neighbor’s already limited foot space, don’t be mean to the parents trying to calm an upset baby. Also, be nice to the airline staff, they’re tired too.
(Photo is a free stock photo because dang it’s so cool)