Whether you do it a couple of times a year, every couple of years, or this is your very first international plane trip - it is always an exciting time. It can also be very stressful. Do you have everything you need? And how will you survive that very long flight? This is a list of things to do before your flight, so you can feel comfortable during your travels, both on board and after landing.
The Week Before Your Flight
A Bit of Admin
Most people groan when admin rears its ugly head. You may regret it later if you don't take care of these few things before you leave home. Call your cell phone provider and make sure you have international roaming service. In many countries, the public phone booth has become obsolete and sometimes a target area for criminals. You might be looking forward to a few days without your phone ringing, but equally you may find that doing without it may cause some anxiety. Then call your bank if you are planning on using your bank issued credit or check card as your primary source of cash flow while away. The last thing you need is your bank to shut it off because they have been unable to reach you. After that, a call to your health insurance provider and possibly even your life insurance broker is in order. You don't want to be excluded from cover in an emergency due to a non-notification clause. Don't forget to make copies of all your IDs and leave them with a close friend or family member. If you lose your passport abroad, it is much easier for an embassy to verify who you are for a temporary issue, if you have a stack of paperwork that can be instantly faxed through.
Buy a Used Book
Hit up your trusty neighborhood used or discount book seller. Don't tempt yourself with a new book at the airport or the library book you are currently reading. (In fact, return that before you go. If you want to continue reading when you get back, you can always check it out again!) International flights have some of the best and newest media available on board and there is a chance you won't read your book on the plane. But you'll be bored out of your mind waiting in the airport. There is little point in travelling with all your gadgets that normally relieve this boredom, unless you are prepared for the hassles at security, the risk of theft or damage, or really have never spent a night without your portable DVD player. If you buy a cheap book before getting to the airport, you won't carry the guilt of an expensive new impulse buy when you need to leave it behind. When packing for your return, heavy items from home, like books, should always be the first things left.
Buy a Neck Pillow
These are available at the airport - but at a mark-up. Sleeping on an international flight is always a good idea. It will help your body to adjust to a new time-zone and will pass the time better than a movie can. Unless you're booked into first class, with reclining seats that turn into beds, you will find any number of discomforts overtake your otherwise normal sensibilities. Anything you can do to relieve these will help you, not only on the flight, but also with the aching joints and muscles when faced with heavy-duty sight-seeing. Airline travel takes its toll physically and more so the older you are. Don't neglect any chance to cut the symptoms.
Schedule Your Travel Day
Make a schedule for your departure day and always schedule at least an hour for an emergency. If you haven't scheduled in the small things, like handing over the key to your neighbor to feed the cats, you may find she isn't home when you expected her there. As for that emergency, call it a bust zipper on your carry-on that spills your hard work all over your bed and sends you running to the closest shop for a quick replacement. If you are so lucky as to run completely on schedule with no emergencies, use the time to clean out the fridge and do the dishes. You will be much happier to some home to a fridge that doesn't invoke a gag reflex. Also, whether you eat at the airport after clearing security or you eat at home will largely depend on when your flight is, as well as your budget.
Take Out Half Your Luggage
No matter how often you check, the weather report will never be accurate and it will never feel to you the same as it does to a local. If the weather report is marking warm summer temperatures in Egypt and it doesn't sound so far off from summer in New York City, think again. The heat is different, the sun is different and what you can get away with in a local bar in NYC, is vastly different from the norm in Cairo. Pack only the basics, what you can't do without and enough underwear to see you through. Unless you know your destination well, plan on the fashion being different from what you think is normal in your corner of the world. What is fashionable in Washington DC is not the same anywhere outside of the United States. No matter how similar you believe English culture is to American culture - it's not. You can do without your newest styles. Chances are you won't blend in like you think you will.
The Day of Your Flight
Set Your Watch to New Time Zone
The sooner you adapt to the new time zone, the easier it will be for you once you land. What about your schedule? Don't worry, math will be one of your best friends while you are away. It could be currency conversion or figuring out what time it is back home, whatever it is - you will need to use it a lot. Now is as good a time as any to start figuring it out. If you normally use your cell phone as your time piece, think about getting yourself a cheap watch. Unless you are travelling for business, you don't want to make regular use of your
Pack a Couple of Pens and Your Destination Details in Your Carry-On
You will need these items when filling in the customs and immigration forms you will receive on the plane. These are usually distributed by the airline staff shortly before landing, giving you little time to wait for your neighbor to finish filling in his forms before lending you his pen. You may also want to have a pen handy for when you get to talking with other passengers. Most international flights have a mix of passengers; some from your country and some from your country of destination. If they give you a tip for a good restaurant, shop or neighborhood, you will want to write it down. Don't forget, you can't turn on your cell phone on the plane, where you may normally take down your notes.
Double Pack Your Carry-On
No, don't over pack it, just pack one bag that fits inside the other. When you are at the airport, either waiting for your first flight or your transfer, it is always easier to have one carry-on bag that you can wheel around (or carry on your back). You will generally need less within your arms reach when you are on the plane (and you will want the leg room). Just pack a smaller bag that fits underneath the seat in front of you and inside your carry-on. This should include your second-hand book, any medication you may need, your pen(s), your passport, money, travel pillow and anything else that you have promised yourself you would take with you in an emergency. Changes of clothes, laptops, and similar items should stay in your larger bag with you store overhead. In that awkward moment when everyone stands waiting to disembark, you can busy yourself with repacking your smaller bag inside your larger one.
Re-Think Your Socks and Shoes
Although it isn't a global feature, if you are traveling to or from the United States, you will need to take off your shoes when passing through security. The very last things you need are shoes with complicated laces and socks with holes. In addition, you can expect some ankle swelling and you will thank yourself for a comfortable pair of shoes on landing. Even if you have never noticed this side effect of airline travel before, it does develop with age and frequency of travel, often appearing out of nowhere (like your ability to deal with jet-lag). Regardless of ankle-swelling and security, you need to consider long flights in terms of comfort. Even if they are what you normally wear, ditch your high-heels for a comfortable pair of flats with socks. You will thank yourself when you need to get back to your seat quickly as the plane hits turbulence.
At the Airport
Buy Snacks and a Bottle of Water
Although you can expect to receive at least one meal on board, they are small portions and you may find yourself hungry on your flight. To relieve this, buy a snack or two that can travel with you. Purchase these items after clearing through security so that you can also buy a bottle of water. Some airlines are good a tucking a bottle of water in each seat pocket, while others are not. You may find that even your regular airline has changed its policy in recent days due to economics. Travel at high-altitudes triggers dehydration and you should be just as ready for this as you are for a quick snack if you need it between meals. Don't buy too much however, as you usually may not bring these items with you through customs at your destination. Like second-hand books, be ready to sacrifice these items.