Before You Go
If you ask any seasoned traveler I guarantee that every single person will have a story about missing or almost missing a flight due to reading the flight times wrong (I certainly have a few). If you fly often it is easy to get times mixed up, so do yourself a favor a triple check all of your flight times and dates (especially the am and pm times) as well as the airports (departing and arriving). Trust me, you will thank me one day.
Baggage allowance varies a great deal from airline to airline. Be sure before you leave your house that you know precisely what you have available for baggage from ALL airlines you are flying. It is significantly cheaper to purchase your baggage online before your flight, a luggage weigher will help get the most out of your baggage allowance. Some booking websites book connecting flights separately and you will need to pick up your luggage between them. The last thing you want is to arrive to your destination without your belongings, so double and triple check.
Just in case that dreadful event of losing your luggage does happen, make sure you have a change of clothes and anything that you need immediately (contact solution, medicine, etc) packed in your carry-on. Plus anything breakable – you don’t want to watch the airline workers pack or unpack the suitcases, it is terrifying.
I got this advice from my big sister, Renee, who at the time was living in Tanzania and is now in Egypt. You can spend $50-$100 on an international plug adapter – but don’t! You don’t need one. Wait until you get in the country that you are going, visit the local convenience store and 95% of the time you can pick one up for less than a dollar. Save your money for more traveling!
Whether you are spending a couple nights or a couple months in your new city, there is one thing that is certain – after a long travel you will need a comfy bed and some shut eye. Be sure you know where you are going after you arrive and how to get there. Most hotels will be happy to tell you the easiest or the cheapest way to get there from the airport, feel free to shoot them an email. Don’t be afraid to ride the local transport either! It is usually fairly easy, cheap, and a fun way to see the city for the first time.
Generally large bills ($100s) get the best exchange rate, but it is also common for the currency exchangers at the airports to give very poor rates. So I compromise by bringing a small bill or two ($20) to exchange at the airport to have money for transportation and a bite to eat, then after I get settled in my hotel I bring my larger bills to the hotel recommended exchange for the very best rates.
One time I was in Bangkok and I got pick pocketed. Luckily I kept my money separate from my important documents (passport), so all that was gone was the cash. Unfortunately that was all the cash I had. I was in a state of frenzy until I remembered that I had tucked away $100 in one of my suitcases for an emergency just like this. It was enough money to get me to the airport and pay for my visa back into Myanmar. Lesson learned: always keep emergency cash and place it separate from your other important items.
Be sure to let your bank know that you are traveling if you plan on using your debit or credit cards out of the country. Check the amount of cash you are allowed to take out per day and ask for an increase in this limit if you think you will need it. Notify any other important businesses/connections as well.
Converting currency is hard at times, especially when you are going to multiple different countries, or if you are bad at math. A currency converter app will save you the hassle from having to do the math yourself, but more importantly it will keep you informed on what the daily rate is. I bought a water on a flight once and when they handed me back the change in the foreign currency I checked the exchange to find out that it was the wrong amount, I was able to bring it to their attention and get my correct change back.
One of the best travel apps I have is called Maps.me, it allows you to download a map of the country you will be going to and then use it when you are off line. This is helpful before you have figured out how to get your device to work in your new country. Bonus suggestion: download a phrasebook or google translate before you leave as well.
At The Airport
You will be filling out a lot of papers as you travel (like immigration forms). You will need pens. Bring them, many of them.
One of our best tricks! Immigration lines are notoriously long and such a pain to wait in after a long flight when you are just itching to get outside (or just before a long flight). So choose the right line carefully. Look for the diplomats’ line – but don’t go to that one – go to the one next to it. Often the diplomats' line has no one in it and it will invite people from the next line over to come through. You will pass through twice as fast. Try it, works like a charm!
I have had my current passport for a year and a half and it is more than half way full. I am very grateful for this of course, but what I am not grateful for are the stamps that are placed in the middle of a page! I have taken a new habit of finding a free space for a stamp and asking the immigration official if they could PLEASE stamp it in that spot. I find that they are about 75% receptive to this and it has allowed me to condense some space. You may not need to do this yet, but it is good to know that it is an option.
Every time you have to hand over your passport (which is multiple times at the airport) they have to remove you passport cover to scan the barcode. Just don’t use one. Instead I keep a small zippered pouch where I can safely store it along with my other travel documents (and my pens!).
Use the time you are waiting in line at security to empty your pockets into your purse, backpack, or other carry-on. This will get you in and out of the craziness faster. If possible, wear bottoms that do not require a belt and shoes that are easy to slip on and off. Have your devices easily accessible as well, you will most likely have to remove them from your bag.
Everyone knows that you can no longer take liquids through security, but few people plan in advance enough to take advantage of the bottle refilling stations found at many airports. Beat the extraordinary airport prices by bringing an empty water bottle and refilling it yourself once you are past security. But be sure to put it in your carry on or there is a chance they may take it (happened to us once).
When you are in line to board the plane, take a moment to set up your documents. Open your passport to the page with your photo on it and place your boarding pass above it. Keep your thumb in this page so when it is your turn you can easily hand off to the flight attendant and whisk through the check.
On The Plane
After the seatbelt sign is switched off you reach for your phone and your device is dead. Defiantly not what you want to happen, luckily on most long flights nowadays they have installed USB chargers at every seat. So make sure you have your charger handy. If you want to be sure though, it is better to just invest in a power bank that will allow you to charge your phone multiple times after just one charge-up.
There are a few things that I NEVER fly without: Headphones, eye cover, pillow, pashmina, snacks, ibprophen, eye drops, sleep aids. The headphones are a necessity to entertain yourself through your own device or the in-flight entertainment. An eye cover and a pillow (probably a neck travel pillow) will help you get comfy on a long flight. A pashmina is a necessity for me, airplanes are almost always cold, bring something to throw over your shoulders. Eye drops help with dry eyes after sleeping, especially for those who wear contacts like me. Bringing a few medicines are allowed as long as they are clearly labeled, we always have ibprophen for aches or such and sleep aids just in case.
You are off on an amazing adventure!
For any other seasoned travelers, do you have more tips to add to my list? Comment below!