First time flying? Or has it been so long that you don’t quite remember the ins and outs? Follow these tips and you’ll be (or at least look like) a well seasoned traveler in no time!
Navigating through life is much simpler when you have less baggage. The same can be said about traveling.. literally. On most flights you are allowed a carry-on and a personal item. On international flights the free luggage allowance includes a checked bag up to 23kg. This does not mean that you must pack every kilogram or even need to bring every bag!
The easiest way to travel is by not checking a bag. Packing for 2 weeks can be achieved with only a carry-on and a personal item (backpack, purse, etc.) if done wisely. A quick google search will render millions of posts on how to do this. There are many benefits to only flying with a carry-on: your luggage is with you at all times. You can get through the airport much faster. No need to wait in line to check your bag and drop it off, and no need to wait after your flight in baggage claim. I used to pack my carry-on full to the gills but for some reason there is this increasingly popular trend for airlines to enforce their weight limits on carry-ons! Gone are the days when you could get by with your carry-on being almost as heavy as your checked luggage with no penalties. Not every airline does this but they are well within their right to, so save yourself the anxiety and keep your carry-on underweight.
I went to Sweden for the summer and packed a checked bag, carry-on, personal item, and even squeezed in a purse. If I had to do it again, I would pack differently. My carry-on and personal item were so packed that I didn’t have space for the things I bought throughout my time there.
How I used to pack a.k.a. how not to pack
If you are going to be gone longer or just need to check a bag, I would recommend forgoing the rolling carry-on and go with just your personal item. That way you only have to roll around one large bag. Be sure to stay within the weight limit because they will weigh this one and the overweight fees are pretty hefty. When packing a checked bag, keep in mind that airlines are ROUGH with luggage. My suitcase is always significantly more scratched when I pick it up. I remember sitting in my window seat on one flight during boarding and watching the crew chuck the suitcases onto the conveyor belt that brought them up to the airplane. NEVER place breakables or valuables, like a laptop, in your checked luggage, especially if they are not well wrapped. Put that in your personal bag.
*Just a heads up: if you are flying on a full flight and your carry on looks big or has wheels, they may ask you to check it when you get to your gate anyway. Be sure to take out breakables.
One final packing tip for those who plan on going shopping on your trip or will be bringing back lots of souvenirs (or if you’re like me and your clothes just always seem to multiply before your return journey) – bring an empty rolled up duffel bag in your suitcase. You can use this extra bag to put all of your extra goodies. If you have already used up your free baggage allowance you can always purchase more – I recommend adding this online before flying home for the most cost efficient option. Keep in mind that you pay for extra luggage and overweight fees both ways. An extra checked bag is $100 there and $100 on your return trip. If you pack an extra empty bag in your suitcase on the way there, you only have to pay for an extra bag on the way home. If you don’t have a collapsible bag laying around, go to a thrift store at your destination and look for a cool piece of luggage – it could double as a fun souvenir!
A handheld luggage scale is worth its weight (and all the weight it can carry) in gold.
It will save you so much time, money, and headache. Pre-luggage scale days we would step on a scale to weigh ourselves, step off, step back on holding our luggage and attempt to read the scale over the big suitcase obstructing our view. Or we’d cross our fingers hoping we’d come underweight when they weighed it at the airport. We have a manual one but you can find a digital one for around $10-15.
Personalize Your Suitcase
There’s a reason everything tries to be “the new black”. Simply: black is the best color. Black will always be the new black when it comes to versatility. It goes with everything, it’s gender neutral and doesn’t show dirt or marks. There is only one problem with having a black suitcase: EVERYBODY HAS ONE. Trying to pick out your black suitcase in a sea of black suitcases moving around on a baggage carousel is difficult. I’ve seen people grab a bag they thought was theirs, only to return it to the carousel after a closer inspection of the luggage tag. When walking through the airport I heard announcements asking passengers to make sure they had the correct black Swissgear luggage and to return the mistaken bag to the gate. Save yourself the trouble and opt for a color other than black.
We invested in a set of dark teal hard shell suticases – not too flashy but not black either.. and the funny thing is that we almost took the wrong suitcase! It was dark, we had been traveling for 24 hours, and the other suitcase was the exact same style.. just black.
Is black your only option? Tie a brightly colored scarf or piece of fabric around the handle of your suitcase for high visibility. This is great because you can always remove the scarf once you’ve found your luggage.
Book an Inexpensive Flight
Notice how I didn’t say cheap flight. There is a difference. An inexpensive flight is getting a good deal whereas a cheap flight is budget airline cheap. In most cases, budget airlines are not worth it as they end up nickle and diming you to death.. but more on that in my budget airline post. There are ways to book an inexpensive flight on a decent airline if you get the timing right. If you purchase a flight too far in advance, the airline thinks that you need to have that specific date (otherwise why would you be booking so early) and thinks you are willing to pay for it. So you will. A lot. If you book too late, the airline knows you need to have that specific date and will charge you heavily for booking last minute. Prices for flights tend to drop 3-4 months out for international flights.
Flying out is cheapest on a Monday or Tuesday and during non-peak travel seasons. I like to use Kayak because it compares all the websites and lets me look at all the flights in a 6 day range of departure and return. Another website is Skyscanner and this is helpful for booking 2 one ways for a lower price than a roundtrip. Roundtrip tickets are usually less expensive than a one way but sometimes you can find 2 one ways cheaper when booked on separate airlines – this is called a hacker fare.
Check In Online
Most flights are eligible for online check in 24 hours before departure. This is a great time to pick your seat if you haven’t done so already. I prefer the window seat because I love watching outside, plus you have somewhere to lay your head. Once checked in, you are given the option to print your boarding pass or have it emailed to you. I generally print it out at the airport but have it emailed to me as a back up. Mobile boarding passes are finicky and aren’t always read easily by the scanner. I prefer paper boarding passes because they slide easily into my passport and I don’t have to constantly hand over my phone to TSA and ICE officers at various security checkpoints. Plus they make a great addition to your scrapbook.
If you check in online and aren’t flying with baggage, you can print off your boarding pass (at home or an airport kiosk) and go straight to security. This way you can avoid the baggage drop off lines.
Get Your Meal Faster on Airplanes
Depending on the length of your flight, you may be offered an in-flight meal.
Attendants generally serve food from front of the plane to back. Seats towards the front of the plane are sometimes marked as “priority” or “comfort +” and can be obtained for an extra price. Benefits include inches more of legroom and service faster. I generally find myself in the back of the plane, forced to smell the food for what feels like eons before I get it.. or I get the pleasure of watching it stroll by me to the front of the plane.
I was on a flight home from Stockholm chatting away with a lady when a flight attendant dropped a meal off on her tray. Only hers. The lady said it was because she requested a gluten free meal. On the subsequent plane rides, I watched attendants bring out the special orders before serving the masses.
In an age with increasing diet restrictions because of medical and religious reasons, or just sheer preference, airlines are becoming more accommodating. When booking a flight, mostly intercontinental, there is usually a place to state dietary restrictions or preferences. On my last flight, there were over 10 options to choose from – from vegetarian to gluten or dairy free to even kosher! If you choose one of these options, you will get your food first! The best time to request these is at the time of booking but anytime before 24-48 hours before departure works for most airlines. If you wait until you get to the airport, you will be too late.
*disclaimer: although I love the idea of getting my food 5-10 minutes faster, I have not personally tried this one out. I had the option but I couldn’t bring myself to sacrifice meat or carbs..
Here are just a few tips for making the flying process easier. In no time you will be traveling like the seasoned traveler you are about to become!