After dozens of flights we’ve distilled our top airport travel tips into one post to help readers who don’t travel often get through airport security faster.
In this article we’ll cover everything you need to prepare for any flight and avoid delays at the airport.
I’ll be honest. I love airports.
I love them so much that I look forward to spending time at the airport almost as much as the destination itself.
Airports are one big ass multiplayer for you and everyone else. Those long crazy lines, confusing gate numbers, the possibility of missing your flight –I try to win. It’s a rush. I’m weird like that.
Although there comes a point where it’s not fun anymore –running through the airport, adrenaline sweats, crap jingling off your backpack, everyone staring at you and a looming worry that you dropped something along your sprint of personal terror; missing a flight is the stuff of travel nightmares.
We’ve all been there. And if you’d like to avoid missing your flight, follow these airport travel tips to help you get through security faster and expedite the check-in procedure.
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Airport Tips for Stress-Free Travel
1. Have Your Documents Ready
If you’re traveling out of the country, ensure that you have acquired the right visa. There also might be other documents you’re required to carry depending on what country you are from.
For example, here in the Philippines (as a Filipino) I have to go to a separate booth to pay a travel tax before checking in to my flight. To avoid this, I pay the travel tax at a designated payment center in my city in advance, and all I had to do was show the receipt at Immigration.
Mike also had to pay a small fee for leaving the country as a tourist and get an “exit letter” from Immigration because he’s been here so long –a kind of background check to make sure he isn’t a flight risk. We were already aware of it but had we not known, we would have got turned back at the gate and missed our flight.
Take a screenshot of your e-ticket and boarding pass(es) rather than leaving it in your email or browser for you to dig through later. Some airports might also require that you present a printed ticket instead of an electronic one. It sounds ridiculous but trust me, it happens. Find out beforehand so you don’t get any surprises.
Need an Onward Ticket?
Proving that you have an onward ticket is a common requirement for international flights when you check your luggage. This requirement is intended to ensure you plan to leave the country you’re heading to before your visa or visa waiver expires.
If this is the case and you don’t like the idea of fooling people with phony onward tickets, you might want to buy a cheap, temporary flight booking from a travel agent that buys real tickets, and then cancels them after you’ve passed through immigration.
Flight Cancellation Compensation
Our best flight hack is figuring out how to handle a flight cancellation or delay situation.
If you’ve ever had a missed connection flight, been bumped off a flight due to overbooking, delayed flight, or flight cancellation –learn all about EU flight delay compensation.
Travel Document Checklist
Some of the must-have documents to consider before you get on a flight:
- Boarding pass, onward ticket
- Travel insurance policy information
2. Pack Smart
I won’t say pack light because I know it’s not feasible for everyone. But it certainly helps when you do –avoiding a line is always a good thing.
However, if you can’t live without that extra luggage, at least make sure you’re packing in an organized manner. That way when airport security or airline staff asks you to take out an object, you know where to pull it from.
Here are tips for how you can pack smart:
- If you’re using a backpack, ensure it has a “clam shell” opening so you don’t need to pull everything out to get what’s in the bottom –our digital nomad packing list will show you what I mean
- Don’t bring prohibited items; sharp or flammable objects, sports equipment, or anything that can be percieved as a weapon
- Don’t exceed the 100ml liquids limit
- Don’t wrap gifts, yet –airport staff might ask to see what’s inside
- Pack your laptop separately and be ready to power it on (charge it the night before)
- Keep important items on hand:
- Flight documents (e-ticket, boarding pass, passport, driver’s license)
- Alcohol and sanitizing wipes (because people can be gross)
- Phone, headphones, and charger
- Book or magazine
- Medicine with prescription printout
You may want to get a travel scale and a measuring tape to ensure that your stuff is under the specified weight limit. They’re not that expensive and certainly not that heavy that they add more kilos to your baggage.
Local Luggage Storage
If you’re a digital nomad and follow a repeatable travel path or have a home base you often go back to, consider getting a local storage unit there.
Living in Asia is cheap. We’ve got a few different apartments we keep year ’round so we can travel with only a carry-on wherever we go. A few years back before Mike and I met, he made nice with a guest house owner who’d store his biggest suitcase with all the stuff he used least often.
It’s not a solution for everyone, but it’s a thought that could lighten your load and allow you to skip checking in your luggage before a flight.
3. Get a Pre-Check Service
There are membership programs that provide advance security checks to help you fast track security at airports. No more need to go through the hassle of scanning your stuff and waiting in long lines.
Such services include TSA Precheck and Global Entry. There is a yearly fee to be paid for these kinds of services but they are worth the investment especially if you travel frequently.
4. Have a Pre-Flight Game Plan
If airport fast track services are not for you, you’ll have to be strategic. The night before my flight, I like to create a game plan for the next morning. It helps me to not go crazy the next day, especially if it’s an early flight and I didn’t get enough sleep the previous night.
For example, a game plan could look something like this assuming you’ve already packed most of your luggage:
- Make coffee
- Pack phone chargers
- Brush teeth and pack toiletries
- Check out of your hotel room and get deposit at the front desk
- Fill water bottle
- Scan the room one last time for any items I may have forgotten
Yeah, it’s all pretty straight forward so far, but create your own pre-flight checklist anyway. Our brains do really silly things when we’re anticipating a flight.
I find that doing this helps me stay on my game even when I am under pressure.
5. Check In the Night Before
Airlines allow you to check in as early as 24 hours before your flight. If you only have carry-on luggage, you can take advantage of this and skip the long lines. If for any reason their website is down, look for automated machines at the airport that allow you to check in.
This doesn’t really make much of a difference if you still have baggage you have to check in, but hey, anything to lessen your chances of missing that flight would surely help, right?
6. Flight Status, Airport Terminal, and Airline
Sign up for alerts with your airline so you are updated of your flight status. What I also like to do is view the airport map and check how congested it is. Sometimes, it’s not the airline’s fault when a flight is delayed. It’s because there are too many planes flying in a day that there’s not enough time and space to accommodate them all.
When time between your flights is tight, it helps to know where you need to exit and get to the next terminal. We recently had a connecting international flight in Manila that we almost missed because the previous domestic one was delayed.
That meant we had less than 2 hours to get to the next terminal, check in, and go through immigration. On top of that, the shuttle service that was supposed to take us to the next terminal wouldn’t arrive for another hour (third world problems). Thankfully, there were taxicabs and traffic wasn’t heavy at the time.
There are plenty of apps out there that help make airport trips much easier. Our current go-to is GateGuru. It tells us everything from the status of our flights to the amenities available by airport terminal. It’s from the same people who own TripAdvisor so I expected it to be updated.
Unfortunately, GateGuru has yet to include the airport in my hometown (which has been around for years) as well as the one we’ve just been to. We just started using but we hope to see more improvements to it soon.
7. Wear Comfortable Clothes
The night before your flight, lay out the outfit you’re going to wear the next day. You want it to be as comfortable as possible. Think warm, cozy and breathable but also functional.
Maybe wear your comfy sneakers so they don’t add to your luggage weight. Slip in sandals are also a great choice. Consider taking with you an extra pair of socks which you can change into after your old ones have touched the floor of the airport or inside the plane.
I also recommend a jacket with plenty of pockets. That way, you don’t keep fishing for your phone or boarding pass in your bag. Avoid anything that’ll make security checks more tricky. I’m talking about those giant belts, difficult jewelry, and strappy sandals. In the least, hold off wearing them until after you go through security check.
8. Look to Your Left
This is another phenomenon I don’t understand, but it’s a great airport hack –people standing at a long line when there’s shorter ones just a few meters away from them. I think it’s partly the “I’m over it” attitude. People develop tunnel vision when they’re tired or stressed out and they settle for the first line they see.
Or maybe it’s biology? Studies have shown that people scan an area starting at the side where their dominant hand is. Since there are more right-handed people in the world than there are left handed, more people will be inclined to go to the right.
You can take advantage of this little human glitch by always looking to your left when searching for lines. It could save you a lot of time!
9. Organize Before Scanning
Once you get to the security scanner, grab a bin, go to the side where you won’t hold up the line, and dump any your loose items there. Check your liquids making sure they are wrapped in a ziploc bag. Empty water bottles and put your laptop separate from your luggage.
When you’re ready, put your stuff on the conveyor belt, walk through the scanner, and grab your bin and bag on the other end. Find an area where you can repack and redress. You don’t want to hold up everyone else by tying your shoes right in the middle of the security check.
10. Gate First, Then Chill
Your actual boarding time could be sooner than you think. Make sure you get to your gate right after you check in.
Some airports are huge and you might need to take a shuttle or train to get there. Once you arrive, you can relax, walk around, maybe grab a bite, or listen to music.
Just make sure those headphones aren’t on full blast otherwise you might miss an important flight announcement.
11. Keep Calm and Be Cooperative
Look, just because you follow all of these rules it doesn’t mean things will go smoothly for you. You may be stopped at security or the lady at the counter might not accept your e-ticket.
Whatever the case may be, try to keep a cool head. There is a solution to everything. If a problem arises, ask if there is an alternative they can recommend.
Nowadays it seems everyone’s on edge at airports. You don’t want to set anyone off, it might bite in a way you aren’t expecting.
Did I Miss Anything?
Did you find these tips helpful? I hope so. What other airport hacks have helped make the process easier for you? Share them in the comments below!