#1: ALWAYS bring an extra change of clothes or two: You never know when you are going to miss a connection, lose your luggage, have a flight get cancelled, or just need to change. I have had all of these things happen to me as well as running to catch a flight, sweating profusely and wanting to change shirts or being stuck in a cold airport and wanting to add an extra layer. I always bring a personal item (purse, backpack or over the shoulder bag) and a carryon with extra clothes (Backpack or small duffle). I always bring 2 pairs of extra underwear, 2 shirts, a sweatshirt, shorts, leggings, pajamas, 2 pairs of socks and a swimsuit (If going somewhere warm). You never know how long you will be without clothes and it’s worth the hassle and you can pack light things that are easy to roll up and stuff in a bag.
#2: Carry on cosmetic bag: Have a travel cosmetic bag that you can bring with you to the bathroom on the airplane: In addition to extra clothes I have a permanent travel cosmetic bag packed separately from the rest of my cosmetics that I bring on the plane it includes:
- Eye mask
- Eye make up remover
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Chap sticks
- Face cleansing wipe
- Any medications I am taking (including birth control)
- Hair-tie, bobby pins and stretchy headband
- Small brush
I like to have this all in a neat little bag so I can quickly grab it all, go to the bathroom and freshen up before I go to bed on over night flights or after I wake up.
#3: Luggage carts make great seats: There are many times that you are so tired from a long flight and you are waiting for bags, waiting to board, waiting for friends to get through customs etc. There are often either no seats or not enough seats so in a pinch luggage carts make a great seat. You can put your carry on the cart; sit at the end at the lean against it, much better than the floor and way better than standing.
#4: If your flight gets cancelled/delayed – ask for food vouchers: International flight cancellations and delays are all to common, if this happens to you make sure to ask the gate agent for food vouchers. Every airline has them and will usually give them out if you ask for them. These will be good for any food anywhere in the terminal; while they don’t makeup for the delay in your trip it is nice to not have to spend your own money on food.
#5: Don’t get to the airport too early: It might be tempting to get to the airport extremely early, just in case, but the check in counters only open 3 hours before the flight takes off so enjoy your vacation. International airports are very different from domestic travel; some airlines only have 1-2 flights out each day so they all share the check in counters and rotate what airlines are at each throughout the day. So when you enter the airport make sure to check on the screen to see what lane your check in counter is in. They are usually numbered and lettered for example it will say something like British Airways A1-8 so you know it is row A, counters 1-8. If you get there too early you will just have to wait to check in anyways so you might as well enjoy your vacation.
#6: Always check the visa and passport requirements before entering a country: This is something that there is no way out of, some countries require visas to enter, some can be bought in the customs line, some you have to buy ahead of time. There is also expiration timelines for passports – some must be valid for up to 6 months after the date you leave a country, some 60 days, some only have to be good up to the day you leave the country. This recently happened to me in Indonesia which has a long passport expiration time requirement (6 months), while I was able to purchase a ticket, the airline wouldn’t give me my boarding pass until I got my passport updated as they would not be responsible for flying me out of Indonesia when customs turned me away. Some countries also require you to have a return trip booked to enter the country. This happened in New Zealand, in order to enter the country you have to show your ticket confirmation for a flight out of the country.
#7: Always bring cash: Some countries let you use a credit card everywhere; others do not. You never know when you are going to get to a country with no ATMs and money exchanges that are closed. In a pinch almost everyone will take American dollars and it is better to have that than not be able to pay. You also wont get changed the foreign transaction fees that some cards charge (Chase Safire Preferred doesn’t charge one) and you won’t get the ATM fees that some banks charge when you exchange money at a cash exchange. This is another better safe than sorry situation.
#8: Book business class if you can: It is not just the extra food, extra comfort and extra perks that make it worth the extra cost, it is also the fact that you are a priority for the airline should anything happen. You will be the first to get rebooked on another flight should your flight get cancelled and you will be waited for in a short connection where someone in economy will not have enough pull to hold another plane and will just miss their connection. If you know you are going on an international trip, consider signing up for an airline miles credit card, it will usually cover most of the cost of your ticket with the sign up miles depending on where you are flying and when you are flying. Additionally, you will have lounge access on whatever airline you are flying when you purchase a business class ticket. Airline lounges are the best-kept secret, especially for long layovers. They are quiet, usually have computers, printers, a place to lie down, lots of free food and drinks and sometimes even have showers. They are a nice place to hang out in an airport and can make traveling a lot more enjoyable.
#9: Lounge access: That lounge access that I just talked about how great it was, allows for day pass purchases regardless of what class of ticket you purchased. You will have to re-buy entrance for each airport, but it can be a smart purchase if you have a substantial layover. The price varies by airline and airport. I have seen it as cheap as $40 and as expensive as $90. Look for the airline lounge signs in the airport or rooms with sliding doors that people are going in an out of or ask someone at an information desk to point you in the right direction. You can buy your pass upon entering.
#10: Airline gates: Similar to the check in gates rotating throughout the day, the boarding gates also rotate between airlines throughout the day. If you have a question about your flight or need to talk to a gate agent, look on the monitor for another flight closer to take off time on your airline and go to that gate, chances are the gate agents at that gate will be the ones coming to your gate after that flight takes off and they will be able to help you with whatever you need.
#11: Dress nicely: You never know when you will need to ask a favor from someone at the airport (bag a few pounds over, running late and needing to cut security lines, need directions, want food vouchers, want an upgrade etc.). People are more likely to help you if you are nicely dressed than if you look like a slob that rolled out of bed. Am I suggesting heels and full make up? Absolutely not. I usually wear leggings, a nice shirt, scarf, and sweater or a maxi dress, scarf and sweater. (Side note scarves are great and can warm you up if you're cold, can be taken off if hot, or can be used as a pillow). It’s a little thing to dress up, but could go a long way if you need help – and you never know when you are going to have a cute boy sit next to you. I know I never thought it would happen to me either, but it did on a recent flight from Singapore.
#12: If going through customs, run off the plane: If you are like me, you hate long lines/waiting in lines on vacation. The longest line you will ever wait in at the airport is a customs line. They just move slowly and if you arrive at the same time as other planes you could be waiting multiple hours. If you are going through customs make sure you have everything packed when exiting the plane, passport and customs form out and walk fast/slow jog to the customs line. You can go to the bathroom afterwards and will thank yourself later for doing so. Every person you pass on the way is 2 min. saved in line. It is usually a long walk, so even if you are sitting in the back of the plane, you have plenty of time to make up the distance and get to the front of the pack.
#13: Trip insurance: As I have mentioned before you never know hen you are going to get sick, miss a connection, have a flight delay or a flight cancellation. While these are a bummer the worst part of it is the missed vacation you have to experience as a result and the added cost that could occur. Trip insurance is usually pretty inexpensive, but can come in handy in these situations. If you flight gets cancelled you get paid, if you lose a bag you get paid, if you have to rebook a flight due to a cancelled flight they will reimburse you. If you have to miss a tour due to flight troubles, they will reimburse you. I usually use World Nomads for international trip insurance they are great.
#14: Book from a different city: If you can’t find good prices when trying to book with miles from your city, try booking from a city that has a hub for that airline. For example, I live in Dallas, which is not a United hub, but I have United miles I want to use for a flight. When I look at the limited Dallas flights, they are very expensive. However when I look at flights from Denver or Chicago (United hubs) they are much cheaper. So it might make sense to book an economy ticket to one of those hubs and book a business class ticket to my final international destination from those cities. Not ideal as I have an extra stop, but worth it as I then get business class seats for my long flight.