The first time that you are travelling overseas can be an exciting and daunting experience. If trying to decide exactly what you need to pack for a short 10-day getaway is not enough. There is also the challenge of just what to expect at the airport combined with trying to ensure you get your carry on packed right.
The process can seem somewhat daunting especially on your first time at the airport. But the reality is that once you arrive at the airport the scary bit is over a lot quicker than you think. You will like spending more time waiting to board the plane than you will spend passing through security and customs. There can be a few things that might make the process a little easier, as they say, knowledge is power.
Before Heading To The Airport
There are some things that you will find easiest to complete at home before heading to the airport. The most important aspect to ensure you complete before leaving home is getting your packing right. Having the correct items pack in the correct luggage and ensuring that you do not have anything you should not carry in your carry on.
When it comes to packing your carry on the official government websites are the best source of accurate information. While I could attempt to summarise the information here, the last thing I want to do is confuse you. So here are the websites for both the Australian and the United States of America, but if you are travelling from another country they will have a similar website.
For a big portion of the items listed, it is common sense. But there are a few items in there that you might question why they are included. Unfortunately, though it is not for us to question why, but to follow the rule as it is laid out. The one main consideration is to ensure you have up to date and accurate paperwork for medical conditions. Especially those where you may need to carry needles, such as insulin-dependent diabetics. It is something simple, but easy enough to forget.
The final thing I suggest remembering before leaving home is to know where you have put your passport and travel documents. While I have never needed a printed copy of my flight information it can be handy to carry this information with you.
Arriving At The Airport
Travelling internationally can be considerably different to domestic air travel. While you may find it works out fine to push the boundaries with a local flight, international can be quite different. It is not uncommon to find the recommended time to arrive at the airport up to three hours before your flight time. Many people think of this as a little excessive but I personally see it as a minimum, for a couple of reasons.
- Consider if you plan to arrive three hours before your flight. However, on the way to the airport run into bad traffic that delays you for 45 minutes. You should still arrive with ample time at the airport. If you had planned to arrive on a tighter schedule to the airport, you easily could have missed the check-in time for your flight with such a delay.
- While it is nice to think you are the only one to consider there can be anything up to 400 over passengers on the flight. Not to mention the passengers that may also be arriving for other flights. Everything takes time from check-in to security screening and customs. Plus there is time to get to the gate and ensure everyone boards in an orderly fashion.
So look to give yourself sufficient time at the airport. If everyone does this we all travel happier.
The very first thing that I do when I arrive at the airport is to check-in for the flight. The last thing I enjoy doing is standing in the check-in line, watching the time to see if I am going to make it on the flight or not. In some cases, they will ask for people on a certain flight and bring them forward if the time is getting close. But I have only seen this happen in some cases, not at all airports.
The main consideration here is that you will likely be no just queuing with people from your flight, but a couple of others as well. With some planes now carrying 400+ passengers, at some airports, this could end up being 1,000+ passengers trying to check-in. The key to remember is that if you are early for your check-in you may not have to head immediately to security. So get checked in and then check your timing for getting to security.
Heading To The Boarding Area
While you might be familiar with the security check at a domestic airport, the process is slightly different for international. You will still pass through a security check, which is a little more stringent, as well as through immigration.
The security check has become a common and essential part of the process of travelling on an aircraft. I have just two pieces of advice for you when it comes to the security check process.
- Read the website I linked above or the equivalent for the country you are travelling from. If you don’t carry the wrong things with you, there are much fewer problems.
- Have a read of my other post about preparing for the security check. You can find it here “Travel Security Check Without Losing Anything.” It can be a great idea to help you avoid losing anything in the process of passing through security. The idea is to minimise the number of things you put down and need to pick up.
One other point that I will make is that every security check can be different. There are many different factors that can play into this. Starting with the country or state that you are in, there could be minor variations. There is also the factor of the individual security guard and/or specific crackdowns at any particular time. So the key is to prepare as best you can and remember arguing with airport security rarely works out well for you.
At the international airport, immigration often immediately follows the security check. At least, this is what I have experienced in the majority of international airports I have passed through. There are some airports where either security or immigration is centralised, while the other is on a per gate basis. But these are more often abnormalities or in much smaller airports.
The immigration process is not all that easy to describe and just like security can have some varying factors. The process is generally rather quick and painless, with just a couple of questions and a look at your boarding pass and passport. Which reminds me that is one thing you want to know where it is before you enter security, your passport.
Once you are through security and immigration it will very much depend on which airport you are at. But for me in Brisbane Airport it is directly into the Duty-Free shop. Personally, I see little point to even break my stride passing through the duty-free. The reality is that duty-free shopping is nothing like it once was. With the sales that you see in normal stores these days, you might get a much better price buying before heading to the airport. Plus you can still get a refund on the tax paid if you meet the requirements of the Tourist Refund Scheme. But if you plan to use the Tourist Refund Scheme make sure you read what you must do beforehand.
Waiting To Board
Potentially the most exciting and most boring part of the process can be waiting to board the aircraft. Depending on how smoothly and quickly the security and immigration process has been you could be waiting a little while. I can say one thing though I would prefer to be sitting there waiting to board for an hour, instead of watching the time standing in line hoping I make it.
Enjoy The Holiday
The only thing left to do now is to enjoy the holiday. I do wish that I could be more precise about the exact steps in some of the points above, but that is rather difficult. You see some aspects will change at every airport, will depend on the people fulfilling that function in the airport on that day and they could change at any time. Just approach heading to the airport with an open mind, accept that you might have to wait in a lineup or two and look forward to the other end of the flight.