This is the age of wanderlust- wherein travel is easier, more convenient and more affordable than it ever has been. Countless flights are available throughout each day from a variety of airlines. Trains can carry passengers on their daily commute, from city to city, or across the nation. We have the ability to access updates to our travel plans with a swipe of the thumb through our Smartphones. Travel has certainly become easier in many respects, yet always retains an air of excitement for those of us who enjoy the chaos and thrill of getting to and then enjoying a new destination.
Having grown up in a military family, I have been traveling since I was very young. I think I know the inside of the Atlanta, St. Louis and SEATAC airports better than most of the houses I lived in along the way. I remember the first time I flew alone as a minor, I was already so jaded with the whole process having traveled with my parents that the stewardesses (obviously accustomed to children who were terrified of their first solo trip) were not sure what to do with my calm demeanor.
Now, as an adult, I am preparing for yet another journey that will take me from the U.S. to the U.K. Though my perspective on traveling has changed significantly since childhood- the planes feel much smaller and I can now somehow muster the patience to sit still in my seat for longer than twenty minutes without going stir crazy- how I prepare for the trip from the door to my gate has not. Here are my top five personal tips and tricks from one traveler to another:
1) Seeing triple. Whenever I travel, I always have three hard copies of my important travel documents-- namely my travel tickets with confirmation numbers and scanned copies of my passport and/or other I.D. I keep the copies with me in three different locations so I can always have easy access. This may seem a bit archaic in the age of technology (especially for a Millennial!) but I am always conscious of those times when I accidentally forget to charge my phone or do not have Internet access to get into my travel itinerary. Having these documents readily available also speeds up the process for getting checked in, going through security, etc.
So where do I keep these copies? I keep one in my carry on bag, one in my checked bag or second piece of luggage I am carrying, and one in my front hip pocket. Always. Therefore, I ALWAYS know exactly where to go if there is an issue with getting onto the plane or finding my departure information.
2) “On time is only the right time if it’s an hour before time.” Coming from a military family, I grew up with the belief that ‘on time’ meant 30 minutes before schedule. The well-known guidance for traveling in an airport is to arrive two hours before your scheduled domestic flight or three hours before your international flight. These precious hours that could have been dedicated to more sleep before your big travel day or to last minute packing panics are allotted for checking in at the airport, checking luggage, getting through the security check point and making sure you arrive at your gate prior to boarding. Personally, I adhere to a strict 3 hour rule when I fly out of a major airport. It’s always a gamble--you could get there early and still only just make it to your flight on time due to a high volume of travelers. Or, you could end up sitting and waiting for a while. However, I think it is best to stick to “better safe than sorry” in most travel situations. So, set your alarm a little earlier and check over your bags the night before to avoid any extraneous delays.
3) “Carry here, carry there, carry everywhere!” As a college kid (and even now) I was once notorious for pushing the boundaries of the carry on bag size limit. I would fill my father’s military rucksack to the brim in order to avoid the checked luggage fees. Unfortunately, there was another price to pay each time--having to lug around an enormous bag everywhere I went. It is important to be realistic when packing your carry on. Check with your airline’s luggage size and weight limitations, but also consider your own physical limitations. What kid of bag do you have? I, personally, prefer my backpack so I can keep my hands free but there are numerous options for small rolling carry-on bags that may be easier to tote around as you make your way through the busy airport. Be sure that your bag is not going to hinder your ability to move quickly to where you want to go, yet can hold all the essentials you will need for your flight.
4) “What essentials?” For me, I know that I need to have my travel documents (see #1 on this list), a pair of head phones, phone, wallet, a notepad/pen, gum (lots of gum), a favorite comfort snack, a bottle of water, a jacket and a crossword puzzle. Consider how long your trip will be and pack only what you need to make yourself comfortable. It also pays to have something to keep yourself busy with, like my crossword puzzles. Bring a book or select a podcast or two to listen to while in flight. Another pro tip for your carry-on packing list: pack an empty water bottle and fill it up at the drinking fountain once you get through security to avoid paying for a new bottle once you get through security.
4) “Gate has been changed.” When I was a kid and already traveling on my own, one ‘silly’ rule my mother taught me about navigating through an airport or train station has proven to be one of the most valuable pieces of travel advice I can offer. Always, and I do mean always, go straight to your gate once you are out of security. Yes, you may need that cup of coffee or your mouth may be watering as you pass all the food vendors (trust me, I get it) but you can always double back provided you followed rule #2 and arrived ‘on time.’ This is key because gates can change. Frequently. Plus, if you are unfamiliar with the layout of the airport or station, your gate may take more time to get to than you think. While I do stop to check those convenient departures/arrivals boards the moment I get past security, I always go to the gate to double check. This also encourages me to stay close by to the correct part of the airport instead of wandering off thinking I have more time than I actually do or missing a last minute gate change. Once you have confirmed that your gate is correct and you know how to get to it, which can be a challenge at some of the larger airports, go get that over-priced coffee and peruse away for souvenirs in the gift shops--but keep checking back to make sure you don’t end up sprinting across the terminal to another gate last-minute. Believe me when I say, there is nothing worse than boarding a flight out of breath, sweaty and probably covered in that coffee you wanted so badly.
5) “Breathe in, breathe out--You got this.” If there is one thing I know for sure, it is that even the most well-laid plans can turn into me sprinting down the airport terminal to slide through a closing gate door. There is no greater torture for me, who spends hours perfectly laying out my travel plans, than to suffer through a few travel hang ups. They happen to the best of us. Maybe your ride to the airport was late or your gate was changed three times before you could go grab a coffee. But the important thing is to stay calm. Be prepared for all of the worst-case scenarios and know what to do should one of them occur. Being prepared is the single most important piece of advice I can offer, as one traveler to another. And a key part of this preparedness is to secure your travel investment with travel insurance. Travel insurance has helped me get back home for the holidays when my flights were cancelled just before break in college, replace luggage lost to the abyss and slide sideways into a meeting after a disrupted flight hindered my travels. It is worth the small price to protect your big investment.
And after you have finally made it through the toughest part--the planning, prepping, adapting and overcoming the last minute changes--don’t forget to breathe!
USI On the Move- Meet the Team: Arielle Eaton is a Marketing Coordinator for USI Affinity. Born into a military family, Arielle has been an avid traveler “since day one.” She is a 2014 graduate of Norwich University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Communications. In her spare time, Arielle enjoys exploring new places through trail running, baking and writing.