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If you are a keen traveller, you will know that it is often difficult for the initial idea of what you want from a trip to marry up with the actual reality once you are travelling as a hobby for real. This feeling of disconnect is something which can often be disappointing, but it is just one of those things.

It is likely that you are resolved to it at least a little if you have been travelling for a particularly long time or many times in the past. However that does not mean that you need to just accept it. If you do want to change it, there are actually many things you can do to make it a little better on yourself.

Almost everything about the passenger experience is more negotiable than you might think. There are lots of ways to hack this, especially if you plan to travel frequently. None of them are rocket science, but getting the basics right can make you infinitely happier while traveling.

The truth is that getting what you want out of any travel experience is something you can always achieve, so long as you know what you are doing. In the post, we are going to look at that very process in plenty of detail, so that you can do that on your next trip abroad.

Getting What You Want Out Of Any Travel Experience

If you follow the tips, you will arrive feeling refreshed and ready to see the world rather than groggy and ready for bed.

1. Sign up For TSA PreCheck or Global Entry


No one likes to stand in the long queues at the airport. Unfortunately, most travelers have to go through this ordeal because they don’t invest in TSA PreCheck or sign up for global entry programs. Yes, these programs might cost you some money but they will save you from a lot of hassle too at the airport.

TSA PreCheck is the Transportation Security Administration's risk-based screening program. Signing up requires paying a fee and allowing TSA to verify your status as a low-risk traveler, but the program allows you to expedite security screening every time you fly. That means keeping your shoes on and your laptop packed during screening.

Global Entry has the same benefits and also provides expedited Customs and Border Control screening for international travel. You can quickly pass through airport security and board the plane much faster than other travelers. This means that when they might be standing in the airport security queues, you are comfortably seated in your seat. This can come handy especially when you have to fly for an emergency meeting.

While this may only make sense for those who travel frequently, the best way to save time is, without a doubt, Global Entry. How much of your travel time is spent waiting in the excruciatingly long and slow lines at the airport. Holders of Global Entry receive benefits from their arrival, right up to Customs.

No need to remove laptops, no need to untie shoes, go through customs and immigration. Ah, you can almost hear the collective sigh of relief.

2. Choose your airline wisely


Choose your airline wisely, some are really congested and uncomfortable. Pick an airline that provides frequent service to your home airport(s) and serves the cities you frequently visit. You could also consider what airport terminal they use and their customer service practices. Plan to fly an airline exclusively, even if cheaper fares occasionally pop up elsewhere. Loyalty will save you money in the long run because frequent fliers get all sorts of perks.

Easier cancellations, access to competent customer service, and free food, drinks, and showers in airport lounges are all common benefits.

3. Air fares


Your ticket is an amalgamation of a very complex series of codes/fares. Do not assume your ticket is refundable, if you are not sure of your travel plans prepare to shell out more money for a more flexible fare. Do not complain if you need to change or cancel your relatively cheap fare (ticket) and you cannot. Some things are waived for emergent situations such as deaths in the immediate family or medical emergencies.

4. Sign up for frequent flyer programs


No matter which airline you fly, join their loyalty program to earn miles. Now that you've committed to an airline, you should maximize its amenities. A frequent flier number is essential, but you may also want to consider credit cards that provide airline points. Many of these cards provide airport lounge access, free checked bags, and other convenient features. The airline takes good care of their frequent flyers. Ask for upgrades, you might get one.

5. Avoid flights with consistent delays


If you search flights online, you will occasionally learn that a specific flight is often delayed by over 30 minutes. Avoid these flights like the plague. The aviation system has its quirks, but Google and other travel websites have enough data to predict some of them.

6. Consider arrival and departure times


Are you flying early in the morning? Late at night? During lunch? When you have a super early morning checkout, make sure you’re totally organized so you can leave on a moment’s notice. This makes sleeping easier and if you oversleep, you won’t delay the flight. The airline usually supplies earplugs for walking around on the ramp, use these at night in the hotel room if the damn air conditioner is too loud.

Run a couple of alarms for waking up. Wake up calls fail and alarm clocks get messed up. Cell phones seem to work the best but don’t have as much volume.

If the flight is over 4 hours long, chances are you will be at the airport early or late according to the local time zone. Be sure to plan for that, and identify food options ahead of time. Pack the airport essentials. Make a list that works for you and stick to it.

If this is a large airport you should arrive early. Give yourself at least an hour and 30 minutes. If it’s Monday morning make it 2 hours because of the many business travelers. If it’s around the holidays add an hour to those times. Reach the airport at least 3 hours before your scheduled time. You should have time to come back home and again get back to airport if you have forgotten something important.

Keep photos of your passport and visas in your phone. Don’t lose your baggage claim tags or at least take a photo of it.

7. Check-in online


Don’t waste time standing in lines. One thing an airline is not going to tell you is because you don’t fly often, your not going to get through any line quickly like many of the tier members. Choose your seat at the time of booking to get the best seat. Turbulence is known to be the lowest near the wings of aircraft.
Don’t settle for middle seats, if you haven’t pre-booked the seat, ask for a window or aisle seat politely.

Don’t take seats in front of the emergency exit, they don’t recline.

Make sure you have your ID. That can be a Passport or Driver’s license. When one is traveling internationally, he/she needs to carry either soft copy or hard copy of your flight tickets along with a photo id proof and Passport with a valid VISA for the country he/she is traveling to.

You are dropped off at the Departure Level. You should head for the Check-in Counter if you have bags to check and require a ticket.

If you do have a checked bag, make sure its within the weight and size required by the airline, or you will end up paying extra at the counter. You can find those details on the airline website and probably should have done that the night before, or earlier. Being just a couple pounds over will require you to make adjustments right there at the counter or pay an additional fee. They expect a credit card, not cash.

Confirm your directions to the Gate from the Ticket Agent and head for Security; everyone is required to go through TSA Security. What everyone gets caught with is bottles of liquids, being water bottles, or large bottles of amenity liquids. Make sure you have no weapons in your bag. It happens!

Take your laptop out of the bag and that amenity kit. If you had anything larger you should have checked it because you now will have to give it up. Make sure as you depart the Security area, you have everything, including your ID and Boarding Pass. Here’s the important tip: Once through Security, Look Up for additional directions.

If you become confused, even a little, ask an Agent along the way. If you have arrived early, you have time to grab something to eat, or drink. Speaking of drinks, you can now buy your water or drink and board with it. Take an empty water bottle with you, fill it once you pass the security. Fill up that empty water bottle, use the restroom, and grab food if you need it. Choose green tea over coffee (Coffee won’t let you sleep).

All of these activities will be more cumbersome on the aircraft than in the terminal. Since this is your first trip, you should enjoy taking in the sights and even watching the people. Everyone has to be somewhere and they seem to be going everywhere. At the gate, if they have overhead monitors you can view. If not, you just need to listen up as the Agent will call the Zones or whatever method they use. Keep your seat until your Zone is called.

You know the Agent is going to start the boarding process with those needing extra help or those with strollers, then those that fly often with specific levels.

8. Don't fly the day before festivals


Demand is consistently high. Inclement weather is a given. Everyone working is grumpy. Just skip this if you can. There is some sneakiness in getting an upgrade but the same trick can also lead to potentially not flying due to overbooking, if you check in later there is potentially room to get upgraded if your class of travel is fully booked AND there is availability in the higher cabin AND you are not dressed like a slob.

Dress comfortably but a bit stylish without looking like a jerk, how you dress can effect how you are treated (i.e. a free upgrade) This particularly decides how you get treated more on middle eastern flights/airlines which are quite pretentious.

9. Pack light and ship the rest


If you have a lot of luggage with you, there is a good chance shipping it via Fedex will be cost competitive with a checked bag fee. Carrying baggage on the plane can be great, but aircraft are not designed to accommodate a carry-on for every passenger. Note that you can avoid the aircraft bin space battle via frequent flier status.

Get a luggage scale and a small measuring tape and leave them in your bag for safekeeping. They will come in handy as you pack. Pack most valuable items (whether sentimental value or $$) and electronics in carry on (airlines will not be liable for stolen electronics such as laptops which are checked in) and they tend to compensate on lost items/bags by weight and what was believed to be lost.

If individual items are missing its MORE than likely it was confiscated by government authorities. The added benefit of putting your valuables and electronics in your carry on AND putting the bag under the seat in front of your is you now have access to whatever you need. Buy 4 wheel bags. Don’t keep any sharp objects in your carry-on, security will throw it away, put them in your luggage.

Don’t keep big deodorants in your carry-on, security will throw it away, put them in your luggage. If you need a deodorant, buy the smallest one. Buy a travel wallet to organize passport, boarding passes, currency, etc.

10. Pack food in checked luggage on a flight


There are restrictions depending on where you are going. Any fresh fruit and produce are usually a problem. Most foods needs to be sealed. The food needs to be one that cannot harbor potential insects that can invade their host country.

11. Duty free


Pack snacks and chocolates from home/duty free, don’t buy it from in the aircraft, it’s expensive. Know what you are allowed to bring in and out of the country, do not buy a million cigarettes on duty free and think you will bring them all if there is a restriction in the country you are going to. Pork and alcohol may be issues for Muslim countries, among other things, UAE is very anti voodoo type items.

12. Try not to check a bag


If you can avoid checking a bag, you will not only be able to bypass all the other types that have to wait for their luggage, but you will pass customs, you can take a taxi before the line arrives, and generally move faster throughout your journey. In addition, lighter suitcase adds to your budget with the money saved on checked baggage fees.

Have everything out of your pockets, take off your belt, sweater, jacket BEFORE you reach screening, come on you know its coming. Shove whatever you can in your carry on bag. Have that laptop or tablet out. The above means wear shoes that slip off easily and maybe better fitting pants. Tag your bags with your name, address and phone number.

13. Mark your checked baggage as fragile


If you can not help yourself and you need to check a bag, mark it as "Fragile". This should not only ensure that your bag is handled with care, but also that it occupies a prominent place in the cargo and is first removed from the aircraft, which means that your bag is one of the first bags on the baggage retrieval area.

14. Check your flight status


You should also check the website before leaving to make sure your flight is operating on time and you can see what Gate it is leaving from.

Knowing about possible delays earlier will allow you to adjust your plans as needed. This is a huge help in anticipating weather delays, and the app has equally good or better information than the terminal monitors. Board early if you have a carry-on. This is annoying but necessary. Finding overhead bin space is the most important airport battle worth fighting. If you have a carry-on, be that person who gets in line extra early.

Ideally you've avoided the bag check lines and qualify for expedited security, but the sooner you clear security, the more relaxed you will feel.

15. Drink a lot of water


Always packed a few snacks and always grab a drink before getting on the plane, just to not bug the steward or stewardess with how thirsty you get. It is IMPERATIVE to your overall health when you fly for a long period of time. Aside from the many known benefits, water helps prevent headaches and combat tiredness. Airplanes are known germ-zones and staying hydrated is staying healthy. The recommended amount is one bottle per hour.

Too much alcohol is not good. Don’t keep sitting for hours, take a trip to restroom even if you don’t want. Pre-order your meals otherwise you won’t get what you want, you will get what is left. Don’t make faces if the person next to you goes to the restroom too much.

16. Dress 'heavy' on planes


Your carry-on luggage will only hold so much, but what you can get into your pockets or wear on your body does not count against any size or weight restrictions. Do not pack jackets, big jumpers, boots or anything else that is heavy - wear them on the plane instead. That way you will be saving space and weight in your case and have another load of clothes and footwear to fall back on when you arrive.

You are on an airport runway not a fashion runway. Opt for leggings, sneakers, a t-shirt, and a warm sweater. Always bring a sweater because most airlines keep the planes cold. Also make sure you’re not wearing only a sweater in case your airline is the exception to this rule. Keep your shoes on! No one wants to smell that.

While going towards your seat, keep an eye on emergency exit, you might need it. If you’re traveling alone and somebody wants to switch seats, do it. Don’t do above mentioned point if you’re getting a non-preferred seat.

17. Entertainment


If you just have a laptop bag as your carry-on, keep it under the seat in front of you, it will be easy to access and safer than stuffing in the overhead box. Download 5 new games on your device, chances are you will get addicted to at least one of them.

Basically sit back, enjoy whatever entertainment they have. Noise cancelling headphones are very nice if that is your thing, and business class usually provides them. Use that magazine holder and check everywhere around you before you leave the plane to make sure you did not forget anything. Talk to people, you might make friends.

Stop talking if they seem disinterested. Bring your books/novels/kindle. Fully charge your devices and keep the chargers in carry-on. Take some movies of your choice. Set your watch to destination time as soon as you sit in the plane. Then try to sleep and eat accordingly. It helps a lot adjusting to local time.

18. Do not hurry to get off


Don’t stand up immediately after the aircraft stops, stand once the seat in front of you is emptied. Try to be the last on and do not hurry to get off, no reason to be cramped in an airplane longer than necessary and no reason to jump up and be standing the second the airplane touches the ground or the seat belt sign gets turned off, they still have work to do before those doors open.

19. Visa


Your visa actually does not guarantee your entry into the country, their border control still has authority. On that, make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your arrival, yes, some countries may deny you entry if it is not.

20. Pick up luggage on a connecting flight


If you are travelling International, with a change of flight mid-way, to reach your final destination, you need not collect your luggage at the airport where you have to change your flight. If you have one ticket with a change of flight, the agent will check you in for final destination. Which means you collect your baggage at the final destination.

But if you have 2 different tickets, one for airport mid-way and the other from that airport to the final destination, in which case you will have to collect your baggage at the mid-way airport and check in again to your final destination.

If your mid-way airport and the final destination is in the same country, and this involves change of flight mid-way, then you will have to collect your baggage and check in again for the final destination. If a bus is taking you to your aircraft from your gate, be the last to board the bus, you will be the first to get out and board the plane.

21. Layover is overnight in an airport


There are some awesome hotels that are even RIGHT IN the secure zone of many major airports across the globe… many that are physically connected to the airport itself, and of course, hundreds of thousands of airports that are within a very short mass transit or cab ride. Are you stuck in the airport? Do you have a long layover? Would you like to save money on an airport hotel by sleeping in the airport?

Invest in a GOOD quality eye mask. Not the cheap ones they give away for free from an airline, but one that COMPLETELY blocks out the light and lets your eyes move around to facilitate good REM sleep. A good inflatable seat cushion, could double as a pressure relief pad for your shoulder blades or hips.

Don’t change money at the airports, exchange rates are low. If your flight is delayed and you’re getting hotels and food passes, ask for a better hotel and more food passes, they will give it without a second thought.

If you’re traveling to any destination for the first time, find out the best way to get to your hotel beforehand. Most airports are well connected to public transport and taxis might take more money and time. Don’t forget to ask your hotel if they provide free pickup services or not.
Kalyan Panja Kalyan Panja Author

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