How to Travel Internationally Like a Pro
If you’re anything like me, you remember a time when traveling by plane used to be fun. But since 9/11, airport security has rendered plane travel something to be gotten through and endured, rather than the beginning point of a fun vacation or adventure.
Over the years, I’ve picked up a few tips from other frequent travelers, and figured out a few ways of my own to alleviate some of the irritation of the least favorite parts of international travel. I've done a lot of research over the years, so for your convenience I've included affiliate links to the products I use and recommend.
- Check Your Passport. If you’re traveling out of the country, make sure your passport is not only up to date, but will not expire within 6 months of your return date back into the states. I learned this one the hard way when leaving for Bali to host a yoga retreat (thankfully I left a few days before my guests were to arrive, as I usually do, to ensure that all ran smoothly), only to be denied entry onto the second leg of my flight in Atlanta because my passport was due to expire in 4 months. Through a stroke of luck, one of the few passport offices in the country was right there in Atlanta, but we did incur the expense of a hotel room and had to wait a couple of days for a flight.
- Travel Insurance. This is one of those things I always used to decline, but after repeated reminders by my agency after becoming a travel agent, I decided to be smart about it and get the coverage recommended (note: travel agents buy travel insurance for their own trips). And it’s a good thing I did, because due to the Istanbul airport attack in June, 2016, my arrival in Istanbul was re-routed, costing about $1,000 in airfare costs, change fees, canceled hotels and visa application costs. Plus, after returning to the states my travel companion’s checked bag didn’t arrive…for 4 days nobody seemed to know where it was. The possibility of it being lost for good started to become a real one. Luckily, it did turn up. But if it hadn’t, in most cases travel insurance also covers delayed or lost luggage.
- Skip the Lines. The 2 longest lines during international travel are airport security, and passport control upon re-entry into the U.S. I’ve waited an hour or more before. Not fun after a long international flight when you’re tired and ready to get home. Assuming, of course, that you have no criminal record you can apply for a Global Entry Membership card through www.globalentry.gov. You complete an online application, pay a $100 non-refundable application fee, follow it up with an interview, and if all goes well your membership is approved and you can use your card not only to skip the lines at Passport Control upon re-entry by checking in at an automated kiosk, but you may also be eligible to avoid the long lines at security with a TSA Pre✓with your Global Entry membership. Once approved, your membership is good for 5 years.
- Avoid Checking Luggage. If you can help it, don’t check a bag. If you can learn to pack smart, you can fit everything you need into an international carry-on suitcase with wheels (most airlines allow bags up to 45 linear inches in size, or measuring 9-by-14-by-22 inches). My second carry-on item is a backpack that carries my laptop, camera, a refillable water bottle, all of my important documents, and anything I want easy access to during and after the flight. (After much research, I like Arungor's Carry-on Travel Backpack with Laptop Compartment, and can highly recommend it.)
- Request an Emergency Exit Row. But do so only if you can agree to the responsibilities that entails (they’ll likely ask you for verbal confirmation of this). Emergency exit rows can offer much more legroom, but if reclining is important to you, make sure yours isn’t one of those exit row seats that doesn’t recline. Also, you’ll likely have to store your purse or backpack in the overhead compartment.
- Keep Carry-On Liquids Handy. I put all of my 3-ounce carry-on liquids in one clear bag making it easier to pull out when going through security, and easy to slip back in when you’re done.
- Suggested Items to Keep Handy.
- noise-canceling earphones (can be expensive, but do a great job of eliminating cabin noise)
- earplugs (should you choose to nap at some point). I use earplugs every night, whether I'm traveling or not. These are the ones I use.
- a scarf, sarong or sweater (often these planes get cold, and a blanket is not always available)
- a refillable water bottle (you can avoid paying too much for water, eliminate plastic bottle waste, refill at water fountains, and not have to wait for the drink service if you want to stay hydrated). This is the one I use, and it comes in handy the entire time I travel, not just while on the plane.
- snacks (airplane food is notoriously bad, so bring your own granola bars or other individually-wrapped goodies so you can eat when you’re hungry. Just be sure to eat what you bring, or declare it upon arrival in another country.
- neck pillow (opt for one that you can secure [tie, snap, whatever] to your carry-on bag, rather than having to hold it in your hand, or take up valuable packing space inside your bag)
- socks (nothing is worse than cold toes on a long flight
- eye drops (trust me on this one)
- toothbrush/toothpaste (if you’re anything like me you’ll want to freshen up after a long flight)
- essential oils air freshener (I always bring my own bottle of this stuff. Just put some essential oils in a small 3-ounce spray bottle with water and you can use it to clear the air of foul odors, and spray it on yourself when you want to freshen up)
Bring Your Patience and Positive Attitude. Nothing makes a long flight worse than a cantankerous person complaining about everything that isn’t going their way. Don’t be that guy (or gal). Use this as an opportunity to remember that traveling is an adventure, and allow yourself to go with the flow.
These are just a few simple tips to help you navigate your way through plane travel, especially those long, international flights, with ease. And maybe, just maybe, your flight can be a relaxing, enjoyable part of your trip.
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