When I think about international travel, I think about the destination: the new experiences, the different cultures, the fascinating people…the food!
Alas, the travel portion is a necessary evil. There are many international flight hacks, and to help break them down, I capture them in 5 categories:
- Booking and Membership
- Packing for the Flight
- At the airport,
- During the Flight
- Fight Jet Lag
What Are The Travel Must-Haves For An International Flight? 40 Travel Essentials To Pack For International Travel
Booking and Memberships:
1. Credit Card: Sign up for a credit card where you can build points towards travel. I like getting points through business trips, then spending them on dreamy, leisurely trips with my hubby.
2. Membership: Sign-up to be a member for the airline you intend to book with. Loyalty pays off, but if you have to stray, sign-up for a membership with the new airline as well—no need to be monogamous.
3. Trusted Traveler Programs: TSA Pre®, Global Entry, Nexus, and Sentri support expedited processing through customs. In my experience, this SIGNIFICANTLY improves the overall travel experience.
Lines are shorter, the scrutiny is less intense, it’s quicker, and sometimes… sometimes… you get to leave your shoes on. I know. Also, it’s not that pricey, even for the infrequent flyer.
4. When to buy: According to Expedia, the best time to purchase tickets for international travel at an approximate 10% savings is:
- North America to Europe: 176 days in advance
- North America to the Asia Pacific: 160 days in advance
- Within Europe: 140 days in advance
5. Day of the week to buy: Again, according to Expedia, Tuesday has traditionally been the best to purchase. However, there are trends towards weekends being a great time to find deals as well. It is projected that 2016 will be the year to travel for less.
6. Time of year to travel: If you are traveling for Leisure and have some flexibility when traveling, consider traveling during the off-season for more economical flights.
For my honeymoon, we traveled to England, Spain, and France in the September-October time frame. By our Canadian standards, the weather was gorgeous, and we were still able to lay on the beach overlooking the Mediterranean.
Travel + Leisure published a guide on “The Cheapest Places to Travel Each Month of the Year” to give you some ideas.
7. Picking the Seat: The aisle seat is the best for international flights, as it allows you to stand and stretch regularly.
Yes, the window seat allows you to lean, but in my opinion, it is overrated. Avoid seats near the lavatory and pay attention to the “less desirable” spots that many seat maps indicate nowadays.
If in doubt, check out SeatGuru to help you with seat choice.
People Also Read: 12 Best Advice To Parents For Flying With Infant For The First Time
Packing for the Airplane:
8. Baggage: Carry-on only is the best if you can manage it. It’s more economical than checking a back and far more convenient.
International travel often involves a strenuous train, planes, and automobile scenario, so the less you travel with, the easier it will be to maneuver in high-traffic areas.
Make sure you review the airline size and weight requirements to be sure your luggage set will work for the duration of your trip.
9. Personal Article, Carry-on Bag: There are so many posh options for a personal bag, but I am a huge fan of the backpack. (Cue boos and hisses). I have traveled with my laptop bag on occasion, but the backpack is so much easier to navigate through airports and narrow aisleways.
Plus, it is far more comfortable. I have the North Face Hot Shot backpack in black, and I think it still has “professional appeal.” I received sincere compliments from my ultra-fabulous colleague from Paris, which I consider all the validation I need.
10. Eye Mask and Ear Plugs: This can be substituted for a scarf and earphones, but you will need something to block out the light and the sounds while you attempt some Zzzzz’s.
11. Inflatable Neck Pillow: This will also help in sleeping situations, and the inflatable parts minimize room in your carry-on.
12. Melatonin: In Canada, we can purchase melatonin in the vitamin/herb aisle at the pharmacy. Melatonin naturally exists in the body to regulate the sleep cycle. By popping a supplement, it will help you sleep when time zones are against you.
13. Meditation App: When attempting to fall asleep, I enjoy listening to a mediation app like Headspace to help me relax and get into a restful state.
14. Water bottle: You can replenish your water at airports, and it will help you stay hydrated during the flight.
15. Technology: Make sure you have all the associated cords for your laptop, tablet, and phone.
Although this is not related to the flight itself, be sure to bring an international adapter and converter for when you arrive at your destination (as required).
16. Entertainment: Be sure to bring earbuds for movies and use them on your own electronic devices (tablets, phones, laptops). Load up your tech with games, movies, and reading material before your flight.
A magazine or book is also nice to have in the event your devices let you down.
17. Back-up Charger: Many aircraft have a USB port to charge their devices, but I have found that they are not always the most reliable. A charger will ensure that you will have your phone ready for use when you land.
18. Snacks: Pack some meal bars, nuts, or dark chocolate to keep your blood sugar up. Airplane food is not awesome, so you will be guaranteed to have something yummy to have as a snack.
19. Facial Cleansing Wipes: When you have a long flight and need to hit the ground running, cleansing wipes are super refreshing and will help you feel cleaner and more alert.
20. Hand Sanitizer: Airplanes are known to be germy, so have some sanitizer on hand for follow-up visits to the bathroom and before meals.
21. Lip balm and Make-up: At a minimum, I will bring powder, mascara, and lip gloss to help myself feel more presentable for when I land.
22. Gum or Mints: If brushing your teeth is awkward (or feels gross) on an airplane, have gum and mints handy to freshen the breath after an in-flight snooze.
23. Ibuprofen: Pain medication is handy to have for headaches and body pains. In a pinch, a flight attendant may be able to hook you up as well.
24. Clothes: For the travel itself, wear comfortable clothing in layers, as this will help you adjust to the temperatures experienced throughout the travel experience.
I love having a scarf, as it can act as a blanket, extra pillow, or eye protection.
At the Airport:
25. Airport Arrival: For international travel, you typically have to arrive 2 hours before departure. Check with the airline information to confirm.
I don’t mind giving myself the extra time to get through security and enjoy a nice glass of wine while waiting for my flight.
26. Security: It’s awesome if you have Trusted Traveler Status (see point 3 above) to help reduce time in security. Put your items into your luggage as tightly as possible, including putting sweaters and jackets into your luggage in advance.
Slip-on shoes are handy when required to remove your footwear.
27. Customs: The main hack here is to have Trusted Traveler Status (see point 3 above) to get through more quickly.
28. Lounges: Having lounge access is a wonderful experience when waiting for your flight and during layovers. If you don’t have the status through your airline membership, consider a day pass.
Better yet, travel with someone who has it and is their guest.
29. Travel Documentation: Have your travel docs handy and contained within a travel wallet to present ease. It also helps to have as much as you can electronically, including an electronic boarding pass whenever possible.
30. Operational Upgrades: Airlines will upgrade passenger seating when the economy is oversold. Your status with the airline is the primary contributing factor to increasing your eligibility, but Air Travel Genius gives a good list of other considerations to increase your chances:
- Traveling alone
- Don’t order a special meal, as they can’t be upgraded.
- Check-in early
- Book early
- Book a premium ticket
- Special Occasion Card: honeymoon, birthday, etc
During the Flight:
31. Seat Assignment: If you are not digging your seat assignment once you’re on board, the flight attendants will help you change seats when and where ever possible.
In addition, if you are not in business class and there are more seats than people, look for the opportunity to score 1 or more free seats beside you.
This will allow you to stretch out and be more comfortable during a long flight.
32. Water Service: When available, a flight attendant will refill your bottle with water. Stay hydrated.
33. Pillows and Blankets: Score extra pillows and blankets to support your seat and lower back.
34. Prepare for Sleep: Figure out what works best for you, but my routine is to:
- Eat a meal
- enjoy a glass of wine and a liqueur (or two)
- get my seat as comfortable as possible
- watch a movie that I don’t mind missing the end
- put in my earphones and cover my eyes
- Pop a melatonin
- listen to a mediate app or music and hopefully lull me to sleep.
Fight Jet Lag
36. Exercise and Stretch: A brisk walk, run, or bike will get your blood moving and increase your energy level. I also have a yoga app on my phone to help lengthen the muscles and recover from the stationary time during the flight.
37. Eat Small Meals: Depending on your travel direction, your appetite may be off with the time zone difference. Start by eating small meals to get your system calibrated with local time.
38. Melatonin: Already mentioned as a hack during the flight, but melatonin can help you get your sleep schedule calibrated.
39. Hydration: Travelling is very dehydrating. Make sure your travel bottle is full, and ask the hotel if you can drink out of the tap. Bottled water is great, but it’s good to know if you can drink the local water when in a pinch.
I have saved the best hack for last. (Sound the trumpets.)
40. Take a breath and savor the moment. One of the few people on Earth with the means and ability to travel internationally is you. Don’t be afraid to embrace the experience, the good and the bad, and be grateful for it all.
Special Thanks to Pamela Wilton for this valuable post.