12 Tips for International Air Travel

  1. Always travel with a pen. You will be given immigration and customs forms on the flight. It’s good to have a pen handy to fill the forms out on the plane. I’ve noticed that pens have become scarcer at the airports, so having your own pen is key. Also, keep whatever forms immigration/customs give back to you. You’ll need them when you leave the country—another good use for the travel binder.
  2. Always travel with a travel battery charger. Electrical outlets can be scarce in airports and planes. Travel with a travel battery charger with an octopus style for your various electronic devices. And of course, remember your adapters.
  3. Sign up for loyalty programs and perhaps get a cobranded credit card. It is much harder to earn miles from a loyalty program by just flying, but it’s free, and over time it might add up to something. If you have a preferred airline alliance, I’d recommend getting a cobranded credit card if you are eager to earn miles to redeem for flights. But the biggest perk of having a cobranded card is that you have your own customer service phone number. You can get faster service if something goes wrong with your flight by calling that number.
  4. Arrive to the airport extra early. I hate worrying about potentially missing my flight. It’s the worst anxiety ever. In international airports, you don’t know the layout, the check-in procedures and security protocols (sometimes you have to go through customs to leave a country). Give yourself some extra time at the airport so you don’t worry.
  5. Bring your own entertainment. U.S. airlines are in the process of upgrading their fleets, so it’s hard to tell what kind of entertainment options you’ll have. I recommend bringing your own. Also, your headphones will likely be better than the ones the airlines hand out.
  6. Select the right seat for you. Know your seat preference and check in early online if you can. Loyalty programs also help with getting your preferred seat. I prefer the window so that I can sleep up against the wall, and I only usually go to the bathroom once a flight. Some prefer the aisle so that they have unrestricted movement.
  7. Bring water and snacks. I always bring a bottle of water and a small bag of trail mix that I buy at the airport. You never know when thirst or hunger will strike. It’s important to always stay hydrated on the plane. And I’ve accidentally slept through food and drink service.
  8. Know how you’re leaving the destination airport. It’s important to know how you are getting from the airport, whether its public or private transport. You’ll likely be tired from the flight, maybe jetlagged, so having this planned in advance is one less thing to worry about. Some airports have reliable and safe shuttle options. Some airports have reliable and safe taxi operations.  Some airports have reliable and safe public transit options. And for some airports, it’s best to arrange an airport transfer. Most hotels and hostels offer an airport transfer. I think it’s worth it to go through them. This way you know that someone with your name will pick you up and take you straight to the place you need to be at a price agreed upon in advance. If your accommodation doesn’t offer transfers, I recommend using Booking.com–it’s been a great experience for me.
  9. Grab some location currency.  You can convert some of the US$200 that you have on you although the exchange rate may not be the best. Or withdraw some cash from an ATM.  You never know how soon you’ll need local currency.
  10. Pack your checked bag wisely. I’m advocate for packing light (pack only what you can carry). Make sure your bag stands out in some way, and if it doesn’t, put a marker on it. It’s also good to take a photo of it in case something happens. Always take care to keep the bag tag in case it does get lost or delayed. It’s much easier to handle those situations when you have that tag.
  11. Keep your carry-on luggage light. It’s even more crucial to pack your carry-on luggage lightly. I hate having to fight for overhead space, and this leaves room for last minute gifts at the airport. I usually travel with my small messenger bag and a backpack that’s not full. Make sure to have everything that you can’t live without on you. Never fully trust that your checked bag will show up with you. I don’t travel with jewelry, but anything expensive, such as camera gear, should be on your person at all times. Remember to bring your medications and maybe a spare pair of underwear. I also bring a passport holder that goes around my neck. It holds my passport, my travel wallet and my house keys. It stays around my neck and under my shirt all times. It may not be the safest way to carry these things, but it guarantees that I don’t lose my important documents and credit cards. It’s amazing how many things you can forget or lose on a plane, especially long haul flights. The seat pouch in front of you is not really your friend! Speaking of which, resist the temptation to turn on your phone as soon as you land. First make sure you’ve gathered all your belongings. If you start talking or texting right away, you’ll be more likely to leave something important behind.
  12. Consider Global Entry. If you plan to travel internationally a few times a year and are eligible to do this, it might be a good idea to sign up for Global Entry, which helpfully includes expedited TSA Pre-Check security screening even when you’re traveling domestically.

Did I miss any? Please share your tips below!

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