Part of life as an expat is that you spend a lot of time in airports. Whether it is for a trip home, a vacation, or for a teaching conference at a different location, you are bound to fly at least once a year (most of us international teachers seem to fly to the school in August and then fly home for the summer in June).
Just to get to my school in Ojeda I had to go from PDX- ATL-CCS-MAR, and to get home I will need to do the same (but the opposite direction obviously). Since August I have flown to Caracas, Barcelona (Venezuela), Puerto Ordaz, Canaima, Trinidad, and Santo Domingo. That is A LOT of time spent in the airport, so I like to make the best of it!
Here are my tips for making airports less annoying:
- Time: If you get there early you will be less stressed. Get to the airport three hours early for international flights and two hours early for national flights. This gives you enough time to check in, fill out any necessary forms, pay any airport taxes, get through security, and get to your gate in time. Traveling in Venezuela has also taught me to make sure I have about 2 hours between connecting flights to provide a buffer WHEN your flights are delayed.
- Food: Know ahead of time what your food options are. I know that I like to get the all natural yogurt and granola from that health food store in Caracas. When I am in Portland I have tons of options for good food, but if you know that the airport is in the middle of a jungle, bring your own lunch! If I don’t eat regularly I get hangry and that is not a good way to travel!
- Luggage: Pack as light as possible. My most dreaded airport trips are in August when I am moving to a new school and I have tons of stuff to maneuver around the airport. My favorite trips are when I manage to carry only a small purse and one carry-on backpack. Traveling carry-on only means I don’t have to wait to check in, I don’t have to wait to get my bags back after a flight, I don’t have to worry about my bags getting lost, and I don’t have to worry about anything getting stolen.
- Entertainment: If you are traveling in Latin America (especially Venezuela) your flight is bound to be late. I am always sure to have my electronics fully charged before I arrive at the airport and if I know I will have a long layover I stake out a spot near an outlet to charge them up again. At any given time I will usually have a laptop, iPhone, iPad, some homework to grade, and probably a paperback just in case. With all that tech I love my Belkin travel outlet so I am not an outlet hog!
- Know where to go: My worst experiences in an airport were in Mexico City and in Caracas because there are multiple terminals, they are poorly organized, they are notorious for being unsafe, and there were no maps to be found. If you are going to an airport for the first time it really helps to look at a map and plan where you need to go so you don’t become a target for thieves and you don’t miss your connecting flight.
In addition to my tips, Lifehacker recommends several apps to make travel smoother:
“Since even the best terminal maps leave a lot out, use tools like TravelNerd (Web/iOS, Free) and GateGuru(Android/iOS/WP7, Free) to fill in the blanks. Both are packed with detailed maps for most major airports, and lists of restaurants, lounges, and other amenities that you can plan to take advantage of while you’re in the airport. TravelNerd is easy to use on the desktop, and GateGuru can go with you on your smartphone. MyTSA will help you keep an eye on the wait at security checkpoints. TripIt is one of our favorite travel apps period, and it can keep you up to date on delays and changes to your travel plans.”
If you are having a really annoying day AND NIGHT at the airport (I’m talking to you CCS!) http://www.sleepinginairports.net will tell you the best places to catch a little shut-eye and find free wi-fi- if it is available.
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