Whether it’s to see family for the holidays, a business trip, or an escape to warmer climates for the winter season, sometimes the easiest way to travel is flying to your destination. It’s much safer than driving and will reduce the amount of time you’re traveling to almost nothing. But nevertheless, flying is almost always seen as a hassle for a number of reasons, including cost and navigating the airport.
I recently moved from Northwest Indiana to Virginia for graduate school and so far, my go-to way to travel has been flying. Since I am now 12 hours away from my hometown, driving has become too difficult and something my parents want to avoid me doing. So for every break, I pack a suitcase, schedule an Uber to pick me up, and make my way through Washington Dulles International Airport to fly home and see my family.
And during the many trips I have taken to the airport over the past six months, there have been a couple tips and tricks to help me get to the airport, get through security quickly and with ease, and have me sit down at my gate with an iced coffee and a new book with time to spare. Here are the tips I live by to help my travels become a little easier on everyone.
1. Pack lightly and efficiently
Everyone is limited as to what they can travel with when flying. While your ticket may sometimes allow a checked bag, most of the time checked bags cost extra money and many airlines only allow a carry-on and a personal item, with some only allowing a personal item onto the flight with you. To avoid having to check a bag, paying a fee and having your carry-on be too big to fit into the overhead bin, the most important thing to remember is to pack lightly and efficiently.
Only take what you need for your trip. If you’re traveling for week, bring an outfit for each day, plus an extra one just in case. Bring clothes that you’re able to rewear, like jeans or cardigans! Also, invest in some travel size toiletries! And when packing, simply roll your clothes into long cylinders. I learned this trick from my parents years ago and it’s a great way to maximize the minimal amount of space you’re given.
2. Give yourself enough time
If you’re like me, you may have had a father who was committed to leaving for the airport at least 3 hours before the plane takes off. Of course, this plan was put in place just in case we were to hit traffic, the airport was busy, or an expected situation occurred. As my dad drove me to the airport a few days ago, an accident occurred a few miles ahead of us, which added an extra 30 minutes to our commute. Luckily, the accident didn’t make us late and I realized that my dad was completely right: giving yourself enough time to get to your gate is important for a number of reasons.
First, missing your flight is a huge hassle for yourself and everyone involved. Second, you run the risk of being late for whatever is happening at your destination. And third, avoiding the stress of being late makes for much easier travel. So leave early and give yourself enough time to make it to the airport, through security and to the gate, so that you avoid the drama of running through an airport to make your flight.
3. Wear comfortable clothing
If you do leave early enough, most likely you will be spending some time hanging out at the airport. And if you’re wearing clothing that is uncomfortable, your wait time may become more excruciating than it needs to be. When I traveled back to Virigina this time around, I opted for a pair of stretchy workout pants, a long sleeved t-shirt, a vest, and a pair of socks and tennis shoes. I was comfortable, not overheated, and I didn’t find myself immediately taking my shoes off because my feet hurt when I finally got home. This just makes traveling more pleasant for you and for everyone around you.
4. Have a plan to get to the airport
There are a number of different ways to get to the airport easily: ride sharing apps like Lyft or Uber, driving yourself and parking at the airport, or asking a friend or family member to drive you. Uber and Lyft are inexpensive and easy choices for getting you around town and it’s no different when your destination is the airport. Simply set your pick-up time and your destination, and a driver will be there to pick you up.
Another option is asking a friend or family member to give you a drive to the airport. This one may prove more difficult (I mean, who really wants to make that drive??), but can easily be solved with a bribe, like offering to buy dinner or a movie. And lastly, driving yourself to the airport is always an option. At O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, for example, there are long-term parking lots, like Lots E and G, that allow 24/7 parking for people who are traveling. It can cost anywhere from $10 to $17 a day to park, and while these lots may be a little farther away from the airport, a train is there to shuttle you back and forth.
All of these are great options, but I tend to go with Uber when heading to and from the aiport. It’s easy, I don’t have to worry about my car sitting in a lot, and I can avoid having to buy dinner as payback!
5. Be ready at security
Getting through security at the airport is one of the many stressful things about flying. There are dozens of people behind you, you feel rushed, and you’re afraid of looking suspicious when really you’re just nervous about accidentally setting off the metal detector because you forgot to take the change out of your pocket. So here are some tips I follow when getting through security to avoid the stress getting to me.
Wear shoes that easily slip on and off and ALWAYS wear socks; you don’t know how dirty that floor is! Take off any jewelry, watches, bobby pins or anything metal before getting to the airport and put them in a safe place so you don’t forget to take them off. Figure out how many bins you will need while you’re in line.
Shoes, purses, phones, wallets, sweaters and jackets can go in the same one, while a carry-on can usually just be placed on the conveyor belt without the bin. If you have any electronics bigger than the size of a phone, those will need to be placed in another bin without anything on top of them. Then simply walk through the metal detector when the TSA agent waves you through, collect your things, and go on towards your gate.
6. Keep track of your boarding pass
I don’t think this one needs much explaining. Always keep it on your person, whether it’s in a pocket, a purse, wallet, or in your hand. The panic of losing a boarding pass is something no one should go through!
7. Bring something to do while you wait
Since I take my dad’s advice to heart and always end up waiting at my gate for at least two hours before my flight, I am sure to always have a book, music, or a movie to entertain me. I read Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann while waiting for my flight back to Indiana a few months ago and I became so engrossed in it, the two hours I spent waiting at the gate only felt like 30 minutes.
If you don’t feel like sitting for hours on end, luckily, depending on the place of course, many airports now have stores in them for people to shop around. Or you can go and grab a drink from the many restaurants stationed in between the gates. No matter what you do for those few hours, let yourself have some fun while you do it.
Getting to the airport and flying can be stressful, but it doesn’t always have to be. These tips and tricks will help you maximize your space and manage your time better, lower your blood pressure while at the airport, and offer a calm and smooth trip to wherever your next destination is.
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