This is part 1 of a 3-part series on traveling. Whether you’re going home or to a new city, alone or with family, traveling is never easy. Today, we’re looking at air travel!
When I was two, my family moved from California, where all five of my grandparents still lived, all the way across the country to Virginia, then later Florida. As such, I’ve done a lot of plane travel, mostly to visit family within the United States. For those of you who haven’t, I have a few tips. They’re mostly US-centric, but some of the advice may be useful for international travel as well.
What do I wear?
There are a lot of tips about what clothing to wear at the airport, but your outfit should be three things: soft, simple, and static-free. Even if you don’t sleep on the plane, stiff jeans are bound to make you uncomfortable when you sit for hours at a time. An outfit with too many parts (scarves, belts, extra accessories) is a twofold problem: It makes security even more of a pain, and it becomes twice as likely you’ll leave something behind. And airplane seats can make static out of nearly anything, so keep the nylon and cling fabrics for your destination.
My personal go-to is always leggings, a soft t-shirt, and a zip-up hoodie, but everyone’s wardrobe is unique. If you ever hesitate about sacrificing style for the sake of comfort, cast your hesitations aside before you get on your next plane.
When do I get there?
Airports will tell you to arrive 45 minutes early for a domestic (national) flight and 90 minutes early for an international flight. They are wrong. Arriving 45 minutes before your flight takes off will mean that your airport time is stressful, miserable, and involves a lot more running than you ever wanted to do with a suitcase. Plan for at least 90 minutes for a domestic flight, more if you want to grab food in the airport. It’s much better to sit at the gate and read for 30 minutes than to be late.
How do I handle security?
My anxiety, which normally hangs out at a level 3 out of 10, ramps up to a 7 or 8 at security. If you haven’t flown before, here’s what to expect: You’ll have to empty your pockets and take off your jacket, belt, and shoes. If you have a laptop or tablet, make sure it’s easily accessible because it has to go through the x-ray machine alone. If you have a water bottle, make sure it’s empty.
The TSA agents will probably be grumpy, but they will direct you through it, and there are signs everywhere. I always arrange my belongings while waiting in line, then repeat a list to myself (laptop, jacket, pockets, shoes) until I can place my items in the bins.
Please, please, please follow the rules about gels and liquids in carry-on luggage. If you don’t, I promise you’ll end up having to throw something away at security. It’s not a fun situation.
Now, as a white cis woman who is not visibly queer, I’m lucky. My only real concern is accidentally packing nail clippers in my carry-on. I fully acknowledge that for people of color and trans people, airport security can be a lot more nerve-wracking – and dangerous – than it is for me. I wish it weren’t so, and I wish you all safety and comfort.
Wear minimal makeup because if you sleep on the plane, it will smudge. Either take a water bottle or buy one inside security because airplanes make you dehydrated extremely quickly. Check in 24 hours beforehand online if your airline allows it, then print your boarding passes at home.
And most of all, if the flight is full, sometimes they will ask for passengers to check their carry-on luggage at the gate to ensure enough space in the overhead bins. Do it. Make sure the service is complimentary (although I’ve never run across a situation where it wasn’t), but it will make your entrance and exit from the plane just a little bit simpler.
There’s so much to remember. What if I do this wrong?
I have been all kinds of a mess in the airport. I’ve had to dig through poorly-packed bags to find my laptop and nearly dumped my underwear on the floor. I’ve made the buzzer go at security three times in a row because I kept forgetting things (to take off my belt, to empty my water bottle, and so forth). I’ve had my backpack hand-checked at security because I had a hardcover copy of Les Misérables in there, which looked suspicious in the x-ray. I once sat in the airport in Hawaii and cried for two straight hours. Embarrassment at the airport is nothing new to me.
The beautiful thing is, though: Nobody cares. And if they do care, you have to remind yourself not to. These are people you will never see again, and most of them have had embarrassing, awkward, mortifying airport moments just like you. If you miss your flight, there will be another one. If your luggage breaks, somebody will help you fix it. You’ll live through this.
So go forth, be bold, and fly safe!