Updated: Mar 17, 2020
We've all been there. Your alarm didn't wake you up on time and so now you're running late for your 8am flight.
You're at the airport and of course, the security check line is backed up.
You make it through the line only to find out that your bag has been flagged because your toothpaste tube was slightly larger than the permitted size.
"Airporting" is a word I just made up, and it refers to the skill of getting through airports quickly and efficiently.
Throughout my travelling, I've developed somewhat of a system for getting through airports with as little stress as possible and these tips have saved me from a world of stress countless times. Let's dive in and get you through those gates.
1) Have everything ready TWO nights before your flight:
This isn't always possible, but it'll save you from the "night before panic". If you can have all of your documents (passports, boarding passes, itinerary, etc.) ready two nights before you fly, you'll have a better idea of where to go before you even get to the airport. It's a good idea to keep all of these documents together in one place so that you can just grab them and go. These are usually the first things that go into my bag before I even start packing anything else. The reason that I say two nights before, is because the night before your flight is when you are most likely to forget things. You'll be thinking more about which shirts and underwear to take than about your documents. Save yourself some unneeded stress and get these items together sooner than later. There is nothing worse than getting to the airport without your crucial docs.
2) Make sure your passport/license are up to date:
I actually made this mistake and missed a flight because of it. I was travelling from Edmonton to Vancouver, and since it was a domestic flight, I only needed my drivers license to board the plane. The only problem was that my drivers license had expired 2 months before my flight and I didn't even know it. I wasn't allowed on the plane as a result, and I ended up missing my flight. Thankfully there was another flight two hours later and I had time to grab my passport, but this situation could have ended much worse than it did. Always make sure that you keep track of the expiry dates on your passports and licenses. I usually put my expiry dates on my phone calendar and set myself a reminder to renew them a month before they expire.
3) Leave the belt in the bag:
This might sound random, but when you're in the security line, chances are it'll be a long line and it'll be moving quickly. I absolutely hate the security line and I want to do it as quickly as possible. The security line to me, is like the barrier between stress and ease and so leaving the belt in the bag is a simple step to make the process a little easier. No matter how many times you travel, the belt always seems to be the thing you forget until you get asked to remove it. If it's already in your bag, you don't even have to think twice about it. I usually travel in sweatpants because there's no need for a belt, and they're more comfy for the flight anyways.
4) Make your large electronics and toiletries easily accessible:
The most annoying thing in the security line is when people have to dig through their bags to get their laptop and toiletries out. It holds up the line and makes everyone else stressed. Either have your laptop and toiletries bag at the top of your carry on so that you can quickly grab them, or hold them in your hands before you get to the front of the line. You'll have to put them in a separate bin anyways, so making this simple step sooner will save you from the awkwardness of having to dig through your bag at the front of the line.
5) Check in for your flight the night before:
Most airlines will now send you an email the night before your flight that allows you to check in before getting to the airport. This also allows you to have access to your boarding passes before even getting to the airport. It's unbelievable how much time you will save by doing this. You avoid having to wait in line to check in when you arrive at the airport because you can literally go straight to security (unless you have luggage to check in of course).
6) Travel light and buy things at your destination if you need to:
This isn't always possible if you're travelling on a budget, but it can save you a ton of hassle (and money) if you plan this right. Sometimes it actually works out cheaper to travel with less bags and buy things you might need when you're at your destination. Something I've done in the past is taken only 2 pairs of pants (the one I wear to the airport and one extra), 2 t-shirts and 1-2 pullovers, (and even that is a lot). It's not terribly difficult or expensive to find an outlet or thrift store and buy something cheap if you really need it. Also, very rarely do I take a towel in my bag. Towels take up a ton of room, and they are incredibly cheap to buy at your destination. I literally bought a towel at a Walmart in Kansas City for $3 that I just ended up leaving behind. A lot of these budget airlines (Swoop, Flare, etc.) charge upwards of $80 CAD to bring even just a carry-on onto your flight. If you can get away with just taking a backpack for your trip, you'll have an extra $80 that you can use towards everything else.
7) Figure out your destination travel options before you leave:
This isn't totally on topic, but it's so important that I had to throw it in here. Some cities don't have Uber (basically anywhere in British Columbia), and some cities have sketchy taxi systems (pretty much anywhere in Asia). Do your research beforehand on what the best travel options are from the airport to your destination. Some cities have really cost-effective bus routes that will get you close to where you need to go. Be weary of taxis (especially if you are visiting a city for the first time). Taxi drivers are experts at taking the longest possible route to your destination without you even knowing. By doing simple research beforehand, you can prevent yourself from getting swindled.
8) Know at LEAST basic phrases if you are traveling to a non-English speaking country
This counts for layovers as well. It may not seem important, but if you're running late for a flight, don't just assume that people will understand English when you ask for help. There is nothing worse than being lost in an airport where English is an uncommonly spoken language. It's never a bad idea to learn basic phrases such as "do you speak English"?, "where is the bathroom"?, or "where is gate number ___"? There are also hundreds of great apps available that will translate spoken language for you. "Converse" for example, is a super handy app that allows you to speak a phrase in English into your phone, and then translate it into the language of your choice. You can also use this in reverse. If you allow the individual speaking a foreign language to speak a sentence into the app, it will instantly translate that sentence into English. This app has saved me many times.
9) Leave some of your budget for getting a travel phone plan:
Also less airport related, but still crucial. It will never be an inconvenience to have a little bit of travel data if you need it for emergencies. I always leave myself at least $100 to tack on a travel data plan that gives me a small amount of data and call/text minutes that I can use if I find myself in a bind. We tend to take wifi for granted in North America because it is usually available in most places, but if you find yourself traveling to a different country, wifi becomes a bit more problematic. I have found on several instances that my destination only ever had paid wifi, even in airports. A high number of European airports only have paid wifi options, and this is truly a nightmare if you need internet access before catching another flight. The only trick here is to be smart with the data you have. Apps like Instagram and Facebook use an incredibly high amount of data due to their autoplayed video content, so if you do get an emergency data plan, make sure you only use it for emergencies.
10) Pay a little extra to get a seat closer to the airplane exit:
Oftentimes it doesn't cost too much extra to get a seat closer to the airplane exit. In my opinion, next to the security line up, the wait to get out of the airplane itself is by far the worst. If you are not in a rush however, it might not be worth paying extra, but if you have a tight layover and you need to rush to your next gate, it is definitely worth getting a seat closer to the front.
All in all, airports can cause a lot of unwanted stress and tension, so it is never a bad idea to take some simple steps to reduce the potential hassles before they happen. A lot of these tips are obvious, but they are sometimes things we can easily forget until it's too late. I hope these tips are reasonable and helpful for your travels!
If there are any other tips you have that you have found helpful, please feel free to drop them in the comments.