What’s the worst part about traveling for you?
For me, it’s the airports. And the waiting time.
I probably spend about 120 days a year traveling for work and play. While I’d never claim to be a frequent flyer, I’ve learned some useful travel tips along the way. Here are 5 of the them, which might help you the next time you’re planning to go through an airport.
1. Check-in Online and Arrive Early
Almost every airline allows people to check-in online nowadays. Save time and don’t join the other 30 people in the “Check-In” queue – by checking in early. Your could easily save 20 minutes of standing time in a busy airport. Usually, you even get to choose your seat for free (except if you’re flying budget).
So why do you still need to get to the airport so early even though you’ve already checked in? Just in case any part of the process doesn’t go smoothly. Like, you need to repack your bags to meet weight requirements. Or there’s an unexpectedly long queue due to the festive season. Or the airport scanner can’t read your passport. At least you have time to sort out any issues. And you won’t get stressed from worrying you’ll miss your flight to Paris.
Here’s my recommendation. Check-in online first and arrive at least 2 hours before International Flights. 1 hour before Domestic Flights. If it’s somewhere you’re not familiar with, add another hour of buffer time in.
2. Have a Paper Copy of All Important Documents
Here’s a scenario that I recently witnessed. Smug Guy arrives at airport 1 hour 45 minutes before International Flight. Smug Guy encounters an extremely long check-in queue. Smug Guy gets lucky because they allow people traveling on Smug Guy’s flight to join the priority check-in list. Because it’s already late. Smug Guy gets even more smug.
Smug Guy reaches the counter with about 1 hour and 15 minutes to spare. Friendly Counter Lady requests for a “printed copy of return ticket, required by Law”. Smug Guy believes in saving trees and has no printed ticket – he thinks the electronic ticket on his 2.8 inch Blackberry screen is good enough. Friendly Counter Lady tells Smug Guy that by Law, he must have a printed ticket and points out there are several Internet kiosks in the airport.
Smug Guy rushes to several Internet kiosks in the airport. He does not have coins to operate the kiosks, so he has to first buy an overpriced banana cake to get coins. This delays him further. He finally manages to log on, and presses “Print”. But the printers are out of order.
With about forty minutes remaining, our hero is now in danger of missing his flight and has lost all his smugness. Defeated, he returns to the check-in counter, asking if Friendly Counter Lady can help him print his ticket. Counter Lady is no longer so friendly and refuses, saying he may have to purchase a new ticket. Looking at the face of this fallen hero, she mercifully decides to make one final call to her supervisor, After another serious conversation and look at the electronic ticket, she finally decides to let him in.
I made it to the boarding gate just before it closed.
You’d think that printed documents would only be necessary in less advanced countries. Except the situation above happened to me in a freaking first-world country.
Moral of the story? Have a printed copy of all important documents: Flight ticket, hotel booking, driver’s license, passport and list of important phone numbers (this additionally serves as backup in case anything gets stolen during your trip). In some places, officials don’t like e-tickets displayed on 2.8 inch Blackberry screens.
3. Follow the Solo Business Travelers
Tired of waiting to get through customs, immigration and security? So are 200 million other business travelers. The seasoned business traveler knows how to get through airport checkpoints like a knife through butter. Especially if he/she is alone. Having no family or friends nearby is motivation to get through and head to the bar as quickly as possible.
So follow the queue with the most solo business travelers you can find. If you don’t believe me, ask George Clooney:
Sorry about the stereotypes. But they’re kind of true.
4. Cash is King
I know you have credit cards and ATM cards which work worldwide. But what if the payment systems went down? Or if you lost your purse/wallet?
I’m not suggesting you carry huge amounts of cash around. That’s a pretty bad idea. But having some cash reserves of the local currency and a widely available foreign currency (like US Dollars) will go a long way in an emergency.
One great suggestion I found online is to store your cash reserve in a few different places. Expert travel blogger Matthew Karsten from expertvagabond.com tells us:
Some of my favorite stash spots include socks, under shoe inserts, a toiletry bag, around the frame of a backpack, even sewn behind a patch on your bag…
5. Even When Things Don’t Go Well – Be Nice
A smile and hello is always welcome. Bonus points if you can say it in the local language.
If something doesn’t go your way, don’t give the person on the other side any attitude. I assure you – he/she has the power to make your life extremely difficult. No bitchy, condescending or rude comments please. Even if you’re extremely stressed.
If you’re on foreign soil, don’t display any foreign-superiority-complex that locals hate. Their house, their rules.
Instead, appeal to the person’s kindness. Most officers will help you out, even as they’re making a face and complaining about it. Remember – they’re likely just decent, honest people trying to make a living for their families too.
A little respect goes a long way.