About a month ago, I shared my Top 7 Flying Tips for those of you flying domestic. These flights are typically shorter in duration (less than 5 hours) and length of stay, which makes them easier to pack for an overall easier to navigate. International flights, however, are a different animal. We’re talking long flights, dealing with customs, possible language barriers and a potentially uncomfortable experience. Luckily, I am here to help and give you my top tips for flying international.
Bring duplicates of important forms and contacts. Always…I repeat, always, make a copy or two of your passport and keep in in a different spot. Even though you don’t need an ID when traveling international, I like to bring mine anyway in case I lose my passport. Additionally, I make a copy of my Global Entry Card and leave copies of each at home with a family member (in case I lose it all and they need to email it to me). Lastly, make sure that you have the contact information for your country’s local embassy. In case of emergency, you’ll need to know where this is.
Bring your own entertainment. In a perfect world, all flights would have behind the seat tvs with DirecTV (shout out to Jet Blue for getting it right!), but we all know that isn’t the case. Come over-prepared with your own entertainment, which for me includes: pre-downloaded movies/tv shows, pre-downloaded podcasts (see my recs here), magazines, books, crosswords, my laptop and snacks, lots of snacks!
Print itinerary & confirmations. As you read in my top domestic travel tips, I typically suggest that you have everything on your phone and avoid any papers. When traveling abroad though, I like to have 1 hard copy of everything juuuust in case the worst case scenario happens and all of my electronics die or my items won’t charge. It’s easy to keep a small folder with confirmations for flights, hotels, rental car, excursions and any other pertinent itinerary details. Better safe than sorry!
Book with the right credit card. This is a whole topic in itself, but the bottom line is this: do your homework when booking your international flights. For example, I typically book using my Chase Reserve as it gets me 3x points, primary car rental insurance and covers me in more ways than one if travel is disrupted. However, if I’m flying United (like our trip to Paris & Amsterdam last year), I always book with my United card so that we get free checked bags and complimentary lounge entry. If you want to learn more about points, I encourage you to read The Points Guy for more information. He’s my favorite!
Strategically plan your layover. I feel like I could do an entire post on layovers, open jaws, etc. but for now I’ll keep it simple: either have a short (<2 hour) layover so you can stretch your legs, grab a bite and then hop back to it or a long (>7 hour) layover so that you can get out and explore the local area. Anything in between is an awkward time – not quite enough to get out but too much to sit around. People often scoff at layover, but let me tell you – I’ve had some fantastic 12-24 hour layovers in cities like Zurich, Munich and more!
Check your bag…maybe. So, I am the carry-on luggage queen! As someone who’s had their luggage lost twice internationally (once in Prague for 2 days, once in Chile for 4 days – such a mess!), I always get a wee bit nervous checking a bag while heading abroad. However, if you’re going for more than a weekend it’s unrealistic to think that you can carry on. Plus, checking a bag is really nice when you’re traveling long distance and only have to worry about a purse/personal item to lug around the airport. Not to mention, if you have a long layover (see above), you definitely want only a carry on – packed accordingly, of course!
Carry on the right items. When traveling abroad, this is huge! In fact, this may be one of the top tips that I can give you. I’ve shared what’s in my carry-on bag and my top travel accessories before and these remain true. If all of your stuff is being checked, you have to prepare in case it gets lost. On long haul flights, I always carry a change of clothes (either to change into when I get there, or to change into while on the flight so that my current “airport outfit” is really what I wear when I land), a small toiletries/makeup bag, chargers & converters and of course, my electronics. An extra pair of socks doesn’t hurt either!
Pick the right seat. I cannot even tell you how important this is. I use SeatGuru when booking long haul flights – it shows the specifics of the airplane and feedback on seats (for example – if a seat doesn’t recline or is in a spot with no window). Are you a window or an aisle person? If I’m on a 5-8 hour red-eye, I’m a window girl (better for sleeping & less distractions). For a non-red eye I’m typically an aisle girl (more leg room & comfort). I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that for most of my long 10+ hour flights, I have been able to splurge and take business class. I decided that for anything in Africa, Asia or Australia, I won’t go until I can save up enough to fly business (okay, unless I get some insane deal!) – it’s worth it to be comfortable and land feeling 1000X better than you would in economy. Trust me!
Be prepared for the local culture. One of the best parts about traveling is soaking in the local culture – food, music, art, architecture & people! But it’s important to make sure you come prepared. Research any important etiquette (i.e. bowing in Japan), know what language they’ll be speaking and have some local currency. It’s never a good idea to travel without some cash, even if everywhere accepts credit cards. Either come with some local currency if you can or hit the ATM once you land (tip: the airport exchange booth is usually an inflated rate).
Research local events happening when you’re there. They say timing is everything. So when we landed in Munich for our 12 hour layover and quickly learned that The Rolling Stones were playing that night, we were so bummed that we didn’t do our homework! We would have planned accordingly and gone to see them – what an experience. Many trips are already planned around local events – the cherry blossoms in Japan, the tulips in Brussels, Wimbledon in the UK, and more. I love to see local concerts, art shows, sports events and more. Yet another way to embrace the locals!
(A rainy day didn’t stop me from exploring Munich during my 12 hour Oktoberfest layover)
What’s your best travel tip for those flying internationally?!