Before Your Next International Air Travel Flight | Preparing for Your Trip

international air travel
Preparing for travel

Maybe it’s your first time out of the country or perhaps it’s your first international air travel trip in a few years. The last thing you’re thinking about is what what to expect on your trip to the airport or on the plane. However, it’s best to be prepared and know what to expect than to end up completely surprised and travel blindly. I see it all the time on my travels and only wish that more people were better prepared. Here’s how you can become better prepared.

Preparation for International Air Travel

1. Your preparation should begin before your trip when anticipating what you will need to pack and bring with you on your trip.

If you can, consider bringing only a carry on bag that will fit in the overhead bin. This way, you won’t have to spend any unnecessary time waiting at the baggage carousel for your luggage. If you do bring a carry on bag, check your airline’s web site and confirm that your bag meets the airline’s requirements.

Additionally, check to see if there is a fee to either check your bag or to bring a carry on bag. At the time of this writing, I know that Spirit Airlines charges not only for checked bags, but for any carry on bags you might bring on the plane. Don’t forget to also make sure that any liquids you are carrying in your carry on bag are in a Ziploc bag and that you follow the 3-1-1 rule. You should also plan to arrive to the airport for your flight two hours in advance of the flight vs. the one hour rule for domestic flights.

2. Don’t forget to check in online for your flight 24 hours in advance.

By doing so, you might be eligible for an upgrade or at least given the opportunity to change your seat or get into an earlier boarding group. More importantly, if there have been any changes to your flight, you’ll know when you check in so you can make appropriate plans in the event of a flight delay or cancellation.

Snacks and Food

international air travel
Why not bring your own snacks?

3. Anticipate your wait time not only in the airport, but also on the airplane.

If you’re not a frequent flyer, you might not realize that the airlines have drastically cut back on those little extras like meals and snacks and on some, beverages like soda will cost you. Plan ahead and bring your own snacks to avoid a long and painfully hungry flight. You can purchase snacks and meals right at the airport, but you can also shop in advance and bring your own snacks.

As for me, I stop at the $1 section of CVS and pick up nuts or other snacks for our flights. I love the Yogavive chips in the red bag on the right in this pic as they are fat-free popped apple chips that give you the crunch of chips, but the benefits of eating a healthy snack. The single serve size bags are the equivalent of one apple. Other favorites include Larabars and I put in a few of other possible options like Snackwells and FiberOne bars or brownies as well as an Andrew Weil bar.

international air travel
Banana Oat muffins are great for breakfast or a snack

4. It might be hard to bring an entire meal, but if you can bring something from home you’ll at least know what’s in it, how many calories it has, and that alone can prevent you from feeling sick or guilty from overeating.

If we have a morning flight, I try to bake muffins the day before. They work not only as a breakfast item, but also as a snack. They’re portable and I can pack them full of good things like oats, nuts, fruit, etc. As long as you avoid bringing any liquids, like bottled water or coffee, you can bring pretty much any kind of snack food with you. Consider string cheese, baby carrots, crackers, or even a sandwich. All of which are significantly better choices over any greasy fast food option that you might find at the airport.

Once On Your Flight

international air travel
Economy class on a JetBlue flight

5. Once on the plane, try if you can to get everything you might need for your flight together before the flight starts.  

Get what you need out before you board. That includes your book, iPad, iPhone, headphones, gum, travel blanket, or whatever it might be. Get them out or better yet, have them altogether in your carry on bag that you keep under the seat in front of you instead of the overhead bin. I often see people repeatedly get up and down from their seat to grab “one more thing” from their bag in the overhead bin.

By staying organized, there’s less of a chance that I’m going to disturb those around me. Plus I’m going to feel less stressed by not having to rummage through all of my belongings to find my headphones or a pen. The JetBlue economy seat above when reclined offers little room in the seat back. If you’re in the middle seat, it’s often difficult, if not impossible, to get out of your seat. Forget about going to the restroom or getting something out of your bag overhead. That’s why I will have everything out and ready to go before I set foot on the plane.

Speaking of feet, another idea might be to bring slippers for your flight. These are perfect should you have to take your shoes off on the plane or in the airport. No more bare feet or socks on dirty floors. They help when walking through the line at security so you don’t have to step on the floor while waiting to collect your shoes.

international air travel
View over Boston

6. Don’t forget to pack a pen to complete the required customs and immigrations forms.

There’s nothing worse when you’re handed that form onboard and you realize you don’t have a pen. Guess you’ll need to try and borrow one. It’s important to pay attention to the flight attendants on board at all times. Especially as they’ll provide instructions on how to fill out the form. This is crucially important if you haven’t filled one of these out before. Even if you have, but can’t remember how to, listening will help.

Often in the back of the in-flight magazine there will be instructions on how to complete the forms. Every country’s customs and immigrations forms are different. Don’t assume that since you’ve filled out one in Mexico that it’s the same form for arrival into England.

If you don’t fill out the form until you land, don’t worry. You can find a spot amongst others in the airport who decided not to fill it out on the plane. They’ll be the ones rushing to avoid becoming the last person in line. I always fill out the form as soon as I get on the plane. This way when it’s done, I can sit back, relax, and try to enjoy my flight. Find what works best for you, but don’t forget to fill out the paperwork in total.

Once You Land

7. Once you’re off the plane, you’ll go through Customs and Immigration so have your passport handy.

This is not the place to make jokes or to be loud and obnoxious as they are watching everyone as they wait. Click To Tweet

There’s nothing worse than someone who can’t locate their passport when a long line forms. Whether you arriving into another country or back in the United States, the process is the same. There will be a line for residents of the country and another line for visitors. Make sure you get into the correct line and wait behind the line on the floor until they call you. This is not the place to make jokes or to be loud and obnoxious as they are watching everyone as they wait. Don’t delay your trip by being that person that causes a scene while waiting to get through Customs and Immigration.

When it’s your turn, they’ll will call or waive to you so have your passport handy to turn over the person behind the desk. They may ask you questions pertaining to your trip (business or vacation). They may ask questions pertaining to past trips you might have taken according to the stamps in your passport. Be honest and polite and the process should move fairly quickly.

8. After you’ve gone through Customs and Immigration, put away your passport and keep it safe for the remainder of your trip.  

This holds true for any cash or valuables that you might have on you while you are in the airport. Watch your bag when you go into the public restroom or if you’re making purchases in the airport. Don’t be so quick to forget your bag and place it on the floor while you shop. Sounds crazy, but I do see this happen all the time.

A Word On Connecting Flights Back Into The United States

international air travel
Mexican vanilla

9. If you have a connecting flight back into the United States, you’ll pick up your checked baggage before going to your gate.

You’ll wait near a baggage carousel to collect your bags and then drop them off for your domestic flight. But you’ll have to clear U.S. Customs and Border Protection first.

This is important: If you’ve purchased anything from Duty Free or at the airport that is a liquid and more than 3 ounces, then you’ll need to place it inside your checked baggage before you go through security. If not, you can expect security to confiscate your items since they don’t follow the 3-1-1 rule. Plenty of people love to buy alcohol and perfume at Duty Free, but forget about the TSA liquids rule.

On my return flight from Mexico two weeks ago, I did a little shopping. I purchased a couple of bottles of vanilla and some hot sauce, all of which were over 3 ounces. We had a connecting flight for which I was hoping to switch and get on an earlier flight. After a long walk we arrived at security. I then recalled the vanilla and hot sauce in my carry on bag and realized I had two options. The first would be to turn around with my bag and check it in and then walk back to security.

My second option would be to keep my fingers crossed and hope that they wouldn’t see the bottles. I was wrong, of course, since they do have sophisticated equipment and can tell what’s in your bags when they go through the scanners. As such, I lost my items, but it was a valuable lesson. If you think you might shop in Duty Free and have a connection, place your purchases inside your checked luggage before you go through security to prevent problems.

10. After you’ve gone through security, double check your flight number and gate information on the monitors in the airport.

Sometimes flights will change gates or departure times while you’re in the air.   This will save you time and stress from having to run around around the airport unnecessarily.

Hope these tips can help you on your next international flight. Do you have any international trips planned in the near future or any tips to share? Read more about travel and travel tips, like always having travel insurance, on the Travel Shop Girl website.

8 thoughts on “Before Your Next International Air Travel Flight | Preparing for Your Trip

  1. Great post, Marian! I have a few comments from our recent trip to Peru….

    Re: carry-on bags … There were a number of people who ended up having to check their carry-ons. One reason was simply that, by the time, they were boarding, there was no longer any room, because SO many people had the maximum number of allowed carry-ons and at the maximum size. So if you don’t end up boarding near the front of the pack — and some airlines board back-to-front and others, so we found, front-to-back, and if you can’t afford first class, then you COULD end up having to check your bags regardless. Also, some folks overstuffed their carry-ons, so they didn’t fit in the sizer thingy at the gate. The bags may have started out within the allowed size, but they “grew.” So many people are trying to avoid paying for checking luggage these days, expect the overhead bins to be maxed out.

    Also, regarding passports. It was amazing how many times we had to show our passports once we were “in country.” We had to show it at the hotels. We had to show our passports whenever we used a credit card. On our particular trip, we had to show our passports at two checkpoints on the Inca Trail. We also had to show it more than once at the airports within Peru. So it’s good to keep it in an easily-accessible but safe and secure place, such as in a travel belt that goes under your clothing. And also make copies. Leave one set at home with a family member or friend and bring a copy along (at least one) when you go. I kept one copy on my person and one in my suitcase.

    Last comment at the moment — there ARE occasions where you can’t bring drinks on board the plane even if you buy them inside the secure area of the airport, after you’ve gone through security. When we were boarding the plane from Lima, Peru back to Miami (USA), our carry-ons were AGAIN inspected at the gate, as we were boarding. No liquids were allowed on board. People had just bought bottles of water and soda at the store near the gate but had to either guzzle them or throw them out.

  2. These are great tips to get ready to travel. Two additional tips that I would like to add are to check the government travel bulletin for your destination countries before you depart. Also register your trip with your government website so they can provide help if required while you travel.

  3. Deb – great ideas. With regard to making the photocopies of your passport, I can’t believe I forgot to mention that. I usually say to leave a copy with someone back home and keep one copy with you, but if you can scan your passport, here’s another great tip. Scan it and save it as a .pdf. You can keep a copy on your smartphone; email it to yourself so you can access it remotely; and/or have access it off one of my favorite tools – Carbonite. No matter what, I always have access to my passport info.

  4. The night before our trip for not only that last dinner at home but for sandwiches on the plane the next day, we always cook a roast beef or fresh ham large enough to have leftovers. Our favorite travel destination is 4+ hours so with our yummy homemade lunch sandwiches from the leftovers, even the flight attendants are jealous!

  5. Excellent idea Arubalisa! I see those packaged sandwiches they sell in the airport or on the plane and they just can’t compare with homemade. I’m all for tasty and yummy! 🙂

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