Flying can be a hassle, but my family has learned a few tricks that make air travel easier.
Thanks to frequent flyer miles, my family flies six or more times every year. Because we fly so often, we’ve learned a thing or two about what to do — and what not to do — to ensure the smoothest possible flight.
While nothing is 100-percent foolproof, these seven handy tips increase your odds for a stress-free start to your vacation.
1. Use a Packing List
Over the years, I’ve compiled a packing list for my family based on the items we typically need on vacation. I add to it nearly every trip as I realize another item or two that should be on the list.
I print it out a few days before we leave, set it on the kitchen counter and let everyone cross off items they’ve packed as they go. It includes everything that goes in our bags (with special sections for hiking trips, as well as warm and cold weather travel), plus reminders to turn down the heat or A/C and put our mail on hold.
Other list items may include dropping your pet at the kennel, making sure all windows are locked, enlisting someone to roll your trash to the curb, unplugging cords and activating a security system.
2. Keep Travel Details Handy
Use the note-taking app on your smartphone for easy access to anything you might need to quickly reference, including all confirmation numbers, contact information and itinerary details. You can also save PDFs to your phone if you have itinerary or travel confirmation files. Additionally, most airlines also allow you to save your boarding pass to your Apple Wallet, Google Pay or similar app on your phone. This way, you’ll have easy access to key details with or without Wi-Fi, with just the push of a button.
3. Print Boarding Passes
We have our boarding passes sent to our smartphones, but we also make sure to print them out. Not every member of our family has a phone, so trying to pull up multiple boarding passes on a mobile app takes time and causes stress. Plus, it’s a safeguard in case your phone isn’t working, is low on power or isn’t connected to Wi-Fi.
4. Get TSA PreCheck
When we began flying frequently, we invested in TSA PreCheck®, which lets you go through an expedited security line at most airports. You also get to skip removing computers, liquids and shoes during screening. Kids younger than 13 do not need to have their own TSA PreCheck number and can go with adults. Many travel credit cards grant you credit for one TSA PreCheck clearance every four years, and we used that to get my son his own number once he reached 13.
If you fly internationally frequently, Global Entry may be a better option for you. It allows you the same TSA PreCheck privileges, but also expedites the customs re-entry process when you arrive back in the U.S.
5. Download Entertainment Ahead of Time
While I prefer to work while flying, my family likes to catch up on TV shows or movies. You can download select movies to your portable device from services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, but you’ll need to do that at home, where you have a strong Wi-Fi signal.
This can be a troublesome process, so we usually start a few days ahead of flying. Someone usually needs to free up space on their device for the download, and then it takes a while to choose a movie to watch. It’s also a good idea to download something for the return flight, as your accommodations may or may not have a strong enough connection to download large media files.
Also make sure to download any apps that your airline requires to play movies or watch free airline entertainment.
Give Everyone a Carry-on Bag
I have found that giving my school-age kids their own bags is extremely helpful. That way, everyone has their own devices, earphones and snacks. This saves me from having to dig through my travel backpack for another person’s items. It’s also convenient in case we can’t get seats together; each person has what they need. A simple drawstring bag works perfectly for our kids.
I usually purchase my kids a treat at the store beforehand and stow it in their bag along with some healthy snacks.
7. Map Your Destination as Soon as Your Plane Lands
For my family, one of the most stressful parts of flying is navigating to our first destination after renting a car. We’re usually unsure where we’re going, and a lot of arguing ensues as we try to bring up a mapping app in a parking garage — where there is never a Wi-Fi signal — to determine which way to turn!
I always recommend opening your mapping app as soon as you land and are able to turn on Wi-Fi. Then type in your destination and have it ready to go on your phone. When you get to the garage with no signal, you’ll be all set with directions.
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