Tips for Air Travel

A view from the runway at Lungi International Airport, Sierra Leone

Over the course of 6 years of regular travel, I’ve come across a lot of people who really dislike airplanes, airports, and air travel. I’ve always been the opposite. I enjoy people-watching in terminals, getting work done between flights, and bouncing between states in a matter of hours. For those readers who would like to love air travel, but don’t know how yet, I’ve compiled a list of our most practical tips for making your next adventure by plane a little bit better.

Rolling carry-on and briefcase

My go-to gear for air travel.

  1. Don’t check a bag.You can travel for weeks at a time in almost any situation with only a carry-on bag. If you travel enough and check a bag, you’ll find that the lost luggage experience is inevitable. Once you learn how to travel light with a carry-on, you’ll get through the airport much more quickly (no waiting in that check-in line) and you’ll have more flexibility to switch planes if you run into cancelled or delayed flights. I only check a bag if I have to bring things that aren’t allowed in a carry-on. Of course, there is the trade-off of having less clothes with you when you reach your destination, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll find that being strategic with the items you put in your carry-on will keep you just as happy as bringing all the items you think you might need to wear in that checked-bag. A quick Google search of “how to pack for a carry-on” will reveal a plethora of simple tips by veteran travelers that you may never have thought of for how to look stylish without over-packing. Steph’s favorite reference is this post by the bloggers at Extra Pack of Peanuts. If toiletries are taking up space, don’t forget that wherever you are headed, you likely won’t be far from a convenience store where you can buy those personal-care items once you’ve reached your destination.
  2. If you insist on checking a bag, carry on enough stuff to get you through a day. You’ll be able to carry on with your adventure even if your checked bag is delayed.
  3. Keep your “personal item” small. You’re allowed to carry on a single personal item that will fit under your seat. The smaller your personal item, the more foot room you have. Even an average sized backpack can completely fill up the space under the seat.
  4. Brings clothes that wash easily and dry quickly. These items will pack smaller, allow you to pack fewer items, and give you the option of quickly washing your clothes in a hotel room. I highly recommend Ex-Officio underwear and Darn Tough wool socks. There are lots of sources out there for quick dry clothing. Bonus tip: after you wash your clothes in the sink/shower, wring the out, then roll them up in a towel and wring them out again.
  5. Carry anti-bacterial hand sanitizer. Keep it with you at your seat. Lots of people and very close quarters means you’re at high risk for catching a cold. If you can get your hands clean before digging into your snacks, you might save yourself from sniffles on your adventure.
  6. Get a good seat. If you’re flying just about any airline except for Southwest, you’ll have the opportunity to pick a seat online. Check SeatGuru for your particular airline and aircraft and it will tell you which seats to avoid.
  7. Buy a bottle of water before you board. The (non-bottled) water on board planes almost always tastes disgusting.
  8. Designate specific storage places for your valuables and travel essentials. While you’re moving through the airport, you’ll frequently be handling your phone, wallet, passport, etc. Choose a particular place in your carry-on bag for these items when you can’t have them on you and make sure to put them in the right place. The more organized and consistent you are, the less likely you are to lose something.
  9. If you don’t need it soon, store it in your bag and keep it secure. The second you don’t need your car/house keys anymore, put them in a zippered pocket. I like to put them in a pocket and attach them to a loop in my bag with a carabiner. They should be in a pocket you won’t be frequently accessing. The last thing you want is to get home and realize your house keys are still on vacation.
  10. Expect delays and keep smiling. Delays are an inevitable part of air travel – I’ve been delayed by everything from weather and mechanical problems to medical emergencies and even a rocket attack (seriously). Grab a cup of coffee and do some adventure planning!

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