The first time I flew, I experienced all the joy and none of the hassle. Seeing as how I was in third grade, my parents took care of all the details, from buying the plane tickets to packing and dragging me out of bed at 3am for a 6am flight. When I fell asleep on the plane, my older cousin even took on the responsibility of choosing my breakfast item. What a difference between then and now!
These days I hate flying. Surprising from a Go Girl, I know, but I hate how my heavy backpack (heavy with my laptop) always tugs on my shoulders while I rush across a large airport trying to get to my gate in time for the next segment of my flight. I hate having to take off my shoes, belt, watch, and jacket before I go through security. And I especially hate buying new facial creams every time I travel without checked luggage as a result of the US’s policy against liquids in carry-on bags.
I used to avoid carry-on luggage like the plague. I loved dropping off checked luggage and not worrying about it for another 10 or 12 hours. But with so many airlines charging absurd fees for each checked bag, the time has finally come for to me to admit defeat and change my packing habits. As I’ve contemplated what my travel experience is like and determined how to make my flights more pleasant without increasing expenses, here are a few tips I’ve put together:
1. Travel as light as you can. As nice as it would be to bring an outfit for each day of your 7-day trip, if you have access to a washer/dryer during that week, it’s worthwhile to only pack 3 or 4 outfits. I once spent one night in London. That’s right, just one. Since I stayed in a hostel that night, I brought a clean shirt for the next day, plus a jacket for the evening, a camera, and a toothbrush and toothpaste. The outfit I was wearing doubled as pajamas and as pants for the next day. Aside from my money and passport, I didn’t need anything else, and while my travel companions had to leave their belongings in a locked but communal room in the hostel, I carried the few items I needed in my backpack.
2. Pack what you need. This may sound like an obvious one, but you don’t want to waste several hours of a short trip searching for pens and notebooks. When I went to France, a friend advised me to wait till I arrived there before buying shampoo and conditioner and pens and pencils. And while those items did indeed exist in France, my time would have been better spent exploring the city during that first day.
3. Don’t stress over mistakes once they’re made. I once missed a flight by five minutes. I was so close to making it on time that my checked luggage made it on board. The flight had been scheduled to reach my destination at 5pm, and the delay pushed my arrival back to midnight. When I called my mother I couldn’t stop myself from sobbing. It was a short trip to start with, and losing half a day to such a stupid mistake felt unbearable. My mother was also disappointed. Instead of going out to dinner on the way home from the airport, we’d all be struggling to stay awake. But five minutes after I hung up I had an epiphany: what was done was done, and making myself miserable wouldn’t help the situation. So I went on the internet and found things to keep me busy while I waited. I bought dinner during my lay-over and even treated myself to an ice cream. I had lost a great opportunity to spend more time with my family, but it really was okay.
4. Relax. For some people, arriving to the airport four hours early decreases the stress of flying. For others, watching a movie on their laptop or getting a good seat does the trick. Personally, I like to fly on Jet Blue or Southwest. Jetblue lets me book a seat ahead of time, so I don’t worry about getting a good boarding number, and they offer in-flight entertainment. Southwest…. gives me hot chocolate. And, let me tell you, that goes a long way. Drinking hot chocolate relaxes me more than anything, save a hot tub.
But the hot chocolate isn’t the point – the real point is that life is short, and airplane rides aren’t worth stressing over. Pack light, leave early enough that bad traffic won’t make you miss the flight, and order a flippin’ Happy Meal in the airport if you flippin’ want it. And then, when something goes awry – as something usually does – find a way to laugh about it. You’ll end up laughing about it in five years anyway, so why not get a head start?