One of the most important parts of traveling to see another country is the actual travel process. You can see point B if you never leave point A. But what you may or may know is that there’s a lot of junk that stands between you and point B (most of it being TSA).
I’m going to assume most of you are in a pretty similar boat as me. I don’t spend much of my time flying across the world, or flying anywhere for that matter. I’ve spent a lot of time ground-bound in my travels, but I actually had an awesome experience and most of that came through preparation.
Sunday’s post will detail my suggestions for packing, but for now here are my tips for surviving what is for most a terrible experience before and during your flight.
Check your airline’s website or talk to a representative and find out how many bags you can check for free, how big the bags can be and how heavy, what you’re entitled to in terms of carryon items, what items are not allowed in your carryon or checked bags, and so on. This can save you a lot of hassle when you would otherwise be doling out crazy sums in fees and can streamline the process.
Once you get to the airport, do more research. Scout everything out, know where you need to be and when. Physically locate your gate. Check in and then figure out when it leaves and whether or not it’s on time.
First, let me begin by making it clear that the question of your right to privacy isn’t going to be decided at 3 a.m. in line at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, or any other airport security line. You will have zero problems if you’re cooperative and have at least a little common sense.
My security experience was super simple because I didn’t have a carry on bag, I wore sandals, and I knew what was expected of me. Don’t show up to the metal detectors and be surprised when you have to shuffle all of your belongings into bins to go through the scanner. Have your stuff ready to roll when you get there, toss it in the bin, and walk through when they ask you to. Usually I would empty my pockets, have my belt off and over my shoulder, and my sandals in hand when I’m a few places from the front. Makes it quick and easy to dump your stuff, get scanned, and get through the line quickly (just like how you want the people ahead of you to do).
Be courteous with the security personnel, especially when they’re jerks. Listen to what they say, don’t cause any trouble, and don’t give them any reason to ruin your trip before it starts, because they totally can.
If for some reason you get pulled aside for additional screening (which happened to me and I’ll explain later), don’t get offended—get the issue resolved. I won’t spoil my story this early, but my situation involved going into a small room with my bag and a security officer and showing them the contents. I could have made a scene, but I’d probably be in an underground Chinese prison right now.
Also, be sure you always have quick access to your boarding pass and passport. This becomes twice as important once you’re on the other side and going through immigration.
Just remember, your only goal is to get to your destination, and the security team has every ability to ruin that for even the most arbitrary of reasons. Be a good sport and get into your seat, and then complain (quietly, and not till you’re in the air).
Get there early. No joke. Get there way too early. Assume that everything that can go wrong will (Murphy’s Law comes up a lot in international travel). If you give yourself a cushion, you’ll be better prepared to adapt to any curveballs thrown your way. Think about it, you’re paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to be on that plane when it takes off—why risk it? Getting there early will give you a chance to get comfortable and not have to run to your gate like the climactic scene in some terrible rom-com.
Waiting can stink, but an airport isn’t a terrible place to do it. I’ve right around 3 whole days waiting in bus stations on layovers over the last year, and that sucks because bus stations are terrible. Airport terminals are sick. There are restaurants, book stores, gift shops, bars, and duty-free stores to check out. This isn’t a bad way to do it. Read a book, listen to music, whatever suits your fancy. A lot of places either have free wifi over the whole place, have wifi banks where you pay a couple bucks for some usage, or premier lounges for rich globetrotters that you can usually mooch wifi from just outside of.
Okay, you did it! You got to the airport early, slid through security like a seasoned vet, read a newspaper over a glass of wine and scones at a little bistro just across the way from your gate, and now they’re calling you to board! Here comes the craziest part of flying internationally: the flying.
First, have what you’re going to need for the flight out and on your lap. If you have a carry on bag, don’t be “that guy” that has to make everyone move so you can get out, rummage around the overhead compartment for your favorite stuffed unicorn, and then have to squeeze back into your seat. Be a doll and sort that stuff out early.
Know that there are inherent pros and cons to each seat. Window seats have a nice view and you have something to lean against for sleeping, but it’s super inconvenient for you to get up and move around. The aisle is awesome for tall people because legroom tends to be lacking on international flights, and you can stretch into the aisle a bit. The problem? Every person that walks down the aisle will intentionally body check, knee, and elbow you as they walk past. Trust me, that gets annoying after the tenth or eleventh hour.
Try to get up every once in a while and stretch your legs. If you’re going to another continent, you’re in for a long flight and it’s good to get you circulation up and stretch out a little. If you get up, go to the bathroom so you don’t have to keep making people move for you.
sane entertained by reading a book, watching a movie, chatting with your neighbor, or just sleeping. Sleeping the flight away may seem like the easy way out, and it is. You’ll get a meal every so often and more frequently attendants will come by and offer drinks. Just get water or juice. Getting sauced on the flight is expensive and relatively pointless.
Thanks for reading today’s entry into the China Journals and stay tuned for pt. 2 of How to travel to the other side of the world, where I will give you my tips on how to pack for a trip abroad.
EDIT: I added a tab at the lefthand side of the site that’ll collect all of my China Journal posts