Many people despise air travel and therefore avoid it altogether, but in order to reach the farthest corners of the earth, there really isn’t a choice in the matter. If you really want to travel, you will have to fly on an airplane. That’s all there is to it.
Though there are plenty of things you can do to make air travel easier—including simple steps at the airport, learning to sleep on airplanes and managing jet lag—all of these things can be made even simpler with some simple pre-airport planning.
Before you leave home for your vacation, take the following steps in order to ensure the smoothest flight possible.
Months in advance:
Research your airline. Choose an airline you know and trust, or one that gets decent reviews. It may be worth giving up cost for comfort, so use websites like SeatGuru.com and iFly.com to research flights and airports. From my personal experience, Spirit and Alaska Airlines have shown to have poor service despite relatively reasonable prices. I’ve had relatively good luck with JetBlue and American Airlines domestically and Korean Air, Swiss Air, Air New Zealand and Qantas when flying abroad. KLM offers particularly good service for those traveling with pets.
Book flights with adequate connection time. If you’re on a cancelled flight, there’s not much you can do to catch a connection, but cutting it close even on domestic flights can cause a bit of travel stress. Don’t even give yourself the opportunity to panic over connection time and, instead, arrange to have at least an hour between flights. In my experience, any connections through the Los Angeles airport (LAX) require at least an hour and a half because you’ll likely have to change terminals and go back through security, even for domestic flights.
Make arrangements for home care and animals. If you want someone to take care of your home or you want to board your pets while you travel, make these arrangements as soon as you’ve reserved your ticket. This is especially true if you’ll be traveling over the holidays.
Order prescriptions. Check your status on any prescription medications you’ll need during your trip and order what you need right away. Don’t let this seemingly minor detail sneak up on you in the days leading up to your trip, which could cost extra time at a doctor’s office or rush charges on shipping.
A week in advance:
Check the weather for your destination. At a week out, you can usually get a general forecast for your destination. This valuable information will help you determine what to pack.
Pack, or at least make a packing list. Set out the clothes to pack for your trip. Take into account anything that is missing so you can buy or wash what you need without having to rush to the store at the last minute. The same holds true for toiletries. If you are planning on carrying your luggage on the plane, make sure your liquids meet the travel standards. I keep a list of everything I need to pack and replace toiletries immediately after returning from a trip so I don’t have to worry about running low right before the next trip.
Tend to daily chores. If there will be someone checking in on your home while you’re gone, take this opportunity to walk them through the details so you don’t have to deal with this the morning you’re planning to leave. Have instructions for watering plants, gathering mail and other chores typed up and ready to go.
Get the local currency. It is less expensive to exchange money at the bank than the airport. If you’ll be traveling abroad, stop by your local bank and exchange a bit of money for the currency of the country you’ll be visiting. You don’t need to take out everything you’ll need for your entire trip right away, but get enough for the first day or so and you can rest easy about paying for a cab and picking up a few incidentals, especially if you’ll be arriving at a time of day when all the banks are closed.
A day in advance:
Drop animals off for boarding. Don’t cram this sometimes stressful chore into your departure day. Sometimes the wait at the boarding facility can drag on, and occasionally the four-legged critters take it upon themselves to hide when you need to gather them up, so pay for the extra night of boarding (and the extra free time!) and take your pet in a day before you leave.
Check your flight status and print your boarding passes. Make sure there haven’t been any surprising changes to your flights, and prep for any that have occurred. Check in online if possible and choose a seat. Print out your boarding passes so you can bypass checking in at the airport, and, if you are checking bags, figure out how to do this if you check in prior to airport arrival.
Pack. If you haven’t done so already. Set out the clothes you plan to wear to the airport. Dressing in layers can help mitigate uncomfortably hot or cold airplane cabins. Wear slip-on shoes if possible.
Get enough sleep. Set your alarm with plenty of time to spare the next morning, keeping in mind any traffic delays or other stops you might have to make on the way to the airport (such as for filling up on gas). Check your alarm before going to bed to make sure you actually turned it on.
The day of departure:
Get ready with enough time to spare. Don’t wait until the last minute to take a shower or eat a pre-departure meal. Pack any last items such as toiletries or electronics as well.
Check for your passport, identification, boarding passes, money and other must-have items. Twice. I always pack these items with the rest of my luggage the day before, and then I check them before leaving the house. But don’t just do a check administered by touch only. Visually look to see if you grabbed the correct credit card and open the passport to make sure you grabbed yours and not another family member’s (one of my biggest travel faux pas).
Leave with plenty of time to spare. Don’t skimp on this step, and, in fact, it can’t hurt to add an extra 20 or 30 minutes if you’re traveling during rush hour or heading to an airport with which you are unfamiliar. If you have to catch a shuttle to the terminal, consider the extra time you might spend waiting for this transport. One of the worst feelings in the world is doing everything you can to reduce the stress before getting to the airport and then not leaving enough time for yourself pre-departure.