Your Airport Survival Guide

Travel writer and frequent flier Beth Whitman shares her tips for surviving the airport.

Photograph: iStock

Beth Whitman, 43, is the author of the Wanderlust and Lipstick guides for women travelers and editor of The avid traveler also leads tours to Bhutan, India and Southeast Asia. In the past 22 years, Whitman’s spent more hours in airports than she’s care to calculate. Here, her tips for dealing with them painlessly.

Pack light—for real “People believe there is no way they pack everything for a week in just one bag, but they can!” Whitman says. You want to carry on your luggage whenever possible—which means squeezing it all in a 22” bag—to avoid even the chance of lost luggage. If you can’t fit everything you need into the overhead compartment, make sure you at least have all your necessities in your carry-on.

Prepare your documents Whitman recommends putting together a folder with everything from car rental information to directions and your hotel reservation before you leave so once you arrives at your destination, you’re out of the airport ASAP.

Learn the layout Take a minute or two at home before you leave to print out the floor map of your arrival airport. This way you’ll know where you’re going as soon as you land, which is especially helpful if you have a connecting flight or are landing in a country that speaks a foreign language. If you forget to print off the map, just flip to the back of the in-flight magazine; most have maps of the local and major airports. 

Consider a travel agent. It may sound out of fashion, but if there’s a hitch in your trip, such as a canceled or severely delayed flight, your agent can rebook you faster than you’d be able to at the airport. If you do book your trip on your own, which Whitman often does, plan strategically. Give yourself ample time for layovers and try to schedule all legs of your trip with the same airline.

Arrive early. An hour and a half is Whitman’s rule of thumb. It gives her enough time to calmly check in, go through security and find her gate, plus a chance to decompress before the flight. One of the most important things to do when traveling, she says, is to “relax into it.” 

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