This past Labor Day weekend, an estimated 16.5 million people went wheels up — a 3.5 percent increase from last year’s holiday weekend. It’s not entirely surprising. The last holiday of the summer has always been among the busiest travel days of the year, but over the past few seasons, we’ve watched the demand for air travel steadily rise. And when more people hit the skies, sluggish security checkpoints, long flight delays, and overtaxed airport personnel are sure to follow.
Frustrations like these are par for the course when you fly during a holiday weekend. And generally speaking, it’s impossible to dodge every travel hiccup, but with a bit of preparation, you can avoid many of them — not to mention the stress they add to your (meant-to-be-relaxing) trip.
Travel Like a Seasoned Vet
As humans, we tend to get stressed when our plans get derailed — and this is particularly true when it comes to travel plans.
Think about the last time you had a less-than-smooth travel experience. Perhaps your flight was delayed. Beyond the long wait and, worse, how it impacted your connecting flight, figuring out the complex rules of flight delay compensation was probably far from seamless. Or maybe when you arrived at your hotel — tired from a long day of flying — your room wasn’t ready and you had to skip your power nap before heading out to your next appointment. Worst of all, perhaps your luggage was misplaced during your flight change and you’re now forced to survive the week on just your carry-on essentials.
All these situations and more can send travelers — especially inexperienced ones — over the edge. The key is a little forethought. As a seasoned traveler myself, I’ve faced many of these situations, but I’ve learned to anticipate what could be the greatest stress triggers and how to avoid or mitigate them. These five tips are just some of the ways you can do the same, without having to learn the hard way:
1. Pack with intention. The first step in streamlining your travel experience is to be smart about your packing. Before you leave, take everything out of your checked bag, evaluate whether you need certain items, and repack everything. When I do this, I chop down the pile by about 20 percent. As far as your carry-on bag goes, make sure you pack the essentials: snacks, water, personal hygiene products, a fully charged tablet or smartphone, etc. Consider, too, packing a specific wallet that holds your tickets and passports so you don’t have to worry about losing them in the abyss that becomes your carry-on.
2. Give yourself more time than you think you need. Leaving 15 or 20 minutes early might suffice for your morning commute to the office, but unless you want to be running through the airport with luggage in tow, you should deliberately build air travel into your day. If you’re traveling internationally, I recommend giving yourself a solid two-hour head start. For domestic flights, get to the airport at least 90 minutes early.
3. Invest in TSA PreCheck. Leaving early might get you a better spot in a long line, but you can make it through the security checkpoints faster with TSA PreCheck. It’s a common credit card reward, but even if your credit card company doesn’t offer it, it’s a worthy investment. PreCheck saves you a tremendous amount of time, as you don’t have to take off your shoes or remove laptops and liquids from your bag when you go through security.
4. Bypass the immigration line. If you’re traveling out of the country, then you’ll have to add customs and immigration lines to the time equation. Thankfully, programs like Mobile Passport and Global Entry can help you skip the line by pre-authorizing you as a low-risk traveler when you reenter the United States.
5. Gain access to lounges. Time may fly by when you’re rushing through the airport, but once you reach your gate, you can rest assured it’ll skid to a halt, especially when you’re facing a long layover or delay. I highly recommend getting access to a lounge, where you’ll enjoy several amenities, including food, beverages, showers, work stations, spas, and more. Gaining access isn’t as hard as you may assume, either. Many different credit cards offer free lounge access as a perk so you can avoid paying an entry fee.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to completely eliminate the stress that’s sure to accompany air travel, but like filling your car with gas before a long road trip, you can lessen the anxiety of travel by taking a few precautions upfront.