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10 tips for navigating international airports

Travel is perhaps the most exciting thing you can do. New destinations offer new experiences, new friendships, and new foods to devour. But, before you can enjoy that new place, you have to get there first – that means you’ll probably be flying through an international airport. Whether it’s your first time, second time or gazillionth time flying, it’s perfectly normal to be nervous about navigating the airport.

That’s why I made this list. As a seasoned traveler, I know there are a few things you can do to improve the experience. These are my top-10 tips to make international travel a breeze.

1. Pack like a pro

There is probably no worse start to your new travel adventure than arriving in your destination and realizing that you have eight t-shirts, one pair of underwear, and mismatched socks. When you’re packing, you have to cover the basics. Seven days means seven pairs of socks, t-shirts, underwear, etc.

Packing right also means making sure you have the right charger/adapter for your electronics. You can reduce cords and plugs by finding out which electronics share the same charging devices. And just like you packed enough underwear to last the trip, so too should you download or sync enough music and tv shows/movies to keep you entertained during downtime. Need some inspo? Check out our EF Spotify playlists.

Travel documents are also extremely important. If you want to get on the plane, you need to have the right identification, passport, and tickets. Also, big tip – make sure and check that your passport isn’t expired!

2. Arrive on time

90% of the stress that is associated with airport travel can be attributed to getting to the airport late. If you have check-in luggage, this is especially important. Yes, it can be boring when you get through security early, but I promise, it’s 1000 times better than stressing out in line. Personally, I always try to arrive at the airport 2-3 hours before takeoff. If that leaves me with an hour or so to explore the airport shops, that’s fine with me!

3. Security

People always stress when it comes to security. If you think about it, the security workers want the same thing you do. They don’t want to find a pocketknife, full water bottle, or aerosol hairspray in your bag. It’s not fun for them to send you to the back of the line and it’s definitely not fun for you.

To avoid these uncomfortable (for everyone) situations, there’s a lot you can do to prepare to go through security.
Firstly, make sure that all your liquids fit into a single one-liter plastic bag.
Second, position your electronics in an easy-to-access location in your bag.
Third, put your electronics together in a separate tray with your plastic bag of liquids.
If you do just these simple things, you will glide through security without a problem.

4. Find your gate right away

Generally, gates are announced on the departure monitors 45 – 60 minutes before boarding. If you are really savvy, you’ve already set alerts through your airline app that will tell you when the gate information becomes available. If you are like me and prefer the traditional method, make your way to the big screens, find your flight and its gate. With your gate noted and an alarm set on your phone for 15 minutes prior to boarding (giving you plenty of time to actually walk to the gate), you’re good to go and explore the terminal.

5. WiFi

This is maybe the most important feature at most airports – free WiFi. Some set limits for 30 minutes (grrr) others are unlimited (woohoo!). Point is that with your mobile device in hand, you can now start researching your destination. Is your transport from the airport booked? Have a hotel? Want to figure out what the name of that delicious restaurant you heard of was? Now is your chance to tie up loose ends, research, and plan before you land.

6. Shops

Chocolate, perfumes, books, sushi, clothes – airports have it all. People that tell me they get bored in airports scare me. It’s like an adult Disneyland. Personally, I enjoy the slightly nerdly challenge of walking into a bookstore and finding a book to complete before I return home. I also hunt down snacks that will keep my appetite entertained for the duration of my journey, because hey, I like snacks. Also, don’t forget to stay hydrated. Some of those flights can be long!

7. Airport architecture

Airports, like public parks or skyscrapers, are designed to impress. Travelling is no longer about just getting on the plane but about creating an experience. More and more airports are getting behind the idea. Research the airport you are going to and see what they have to offer. Many have terraces that allow you to watch the planes take off and land. Others have botanical gardens. Others draw inspiration from the culture and landscape of the city they’re in. This ties in nicely with tip number eight.

8. Ask for help

If you are looking for something to do, ask a member of staff for suggestions. Find out the best places to eat, shops to check out, art exhibits, and architectural features to see. If you have a question regarding your flight, the best option is to approach a representative of the airline at any information desk.

9. Take a moment to relax

Actually, this is my favorite airport endeavor. You see, eventually, you’ll get tired of roaming from shop to shop. At this point, it’s time to find a comfortable seat, open up Netflix and watch something to pass the time. These are my favorite shows for learning English with.

10. Boarding the plane

Beep-beep-beep! Oh yeah, there’s that alarm you set. It’s time to head to the gate. When you get to the gate, make sure you have your boarding pass ready with your passport on its photo page open. Once you pass this final hurdle, find your seat, fasten your seatbelt, and let the pilot do the rest. You’re on your way!

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