If it’s your first time to get on an international flight, you might be feeling worried and stressed. Don’t worry – this is perfectly normal! Flying internationally can be daunting, but as with everything else, it gets easy with once you’re used to it. Here we’ve compiled the best tips for first-time international flyers you should read before your trip!
P.S. Make sure to book your tickets early! You can get cheap flights by booking months ahead or during off-season travel. If you’re willing to travel at night, red-eye flights are also much cheaper compared to regular-hour flights.
- 1. Prepare your travel documents
- 2. Keep a screenshot of everything
- 3. Get to the airport early
- 4. Inform your banks where you are going
- 5. Pack your essentials in your carry-on
- 6. Dress comfortably
- 7. Bring your book/Kindle/movie
- 8. Stay hydrated
- 9. Choose a good seat
- 10. Sleep well in flight
- 11. Be smart in handling conversations
- 12. Pay attention to arrowheads and signs
- 13. Check what you can and can’t bring to your destination
- 14. Plan for leaving the airport after arrival
- 15. Have fun!
1. Prepare your travel documents
The documents you should bring at the airport are: ID, passport and visa (if required), itinerary, and other pandemic-related paperwork if necessary. A travel wallet comes in handy for organizing and packing your documents in one place.
Many countries require a passport with 6 months validity. If you’ve had your passport for a while, check that it still passes this requirement. Otherwise, you may need to schedule for a renewal ASAP.
This might seem like an obvious tip, but it’s not uncommon for people to overlook this and only realize they are holding an outdated passport at the airport.
Countries have different visa requirements. Some will require you to get a visa in advance, and some countries offer visa upon arrival.
If you’re living in the Philippines, take note that ASEAN countries are usually visa-free for the first 30 days. Other Asian countries like South Korea and Japan will require you to process your visa weeks in advance.
Other immigration requirements
Many countries require proof of onward or return flight. Some may also ask for proof of hotel booking and itinerary. It’s easy to find this information in tourism websites and even social media.
With the pandemic, some countries have put up additional requirements, such as proof of vaccination and/or declaration via a health application.
2. Keep a screenshot of everything
Keep a digital copy of your important documents such as passport and visa, so you have a back-up in case your papers get lost. Screenshots of your hotel bookings and itinerary are also helpful in case you find yourself without online connection.
3. Get to the airport early
For international flights, you should be at the airport at least 3 hours before your check in. If you’re traveling on holidays and peak season, you may need to arrive at least 4-5 hours earlier because of long queues.
The Philippines immigration is particularly strict on first-timer flyers doing leisure travel, so it’s best to give time allowance in case you are held up in the immigration office.
4. Inform your banks where you are going
Tell your banks where you are going (dates and country) to ensure your credit cards and debit cards will still work to get out cash. Finding yourself with declined transactions and no cash in hand can be a hassle.
5. Pack your essentials in your carry-on
Your documents, money, and other essentials such as phone, powerbank, and charger should be packed in your carry-on. A set of overnight clothes and toiletries also come in handy in case you get stranded. If you have multiple connections, a pair of extra underwear and socks will help you feel fresh and clean on arrival.
Another thing that you should remember to pack is any necessary medication you might need.
6. Dress comfortably
There is no dress code at the airport so you can dress comfortably, but it’s also good sense not to wear anything too revealing, which airport security might find issue with. There had been instances of women wearing small tops that were not allowed to get on the flight.
Bringing a shawl or jacket or dressing in layers are also recommended since most airports are chilly.
7. Bring your book/Kindle/movie
There’s a lot of waiting in airports. Having a good book or movie in your phone or laptop makes a lot of difference when you’re waiting at the boarding area and during your flight. Oftentimes, flights get delayed and those extra hours will be more tolerable if you have entertainment at hand.
8. Stay hydrated
Bring an empty water bottle with you and refill it inside the airport, so you can avoid expensive water bottles at the airport shops.
9. Choose a good seat
It’s best to choose either the window seat or the aisle seat. The middle seat is usually cramped, which can be uncomfortable especially in long flights. Choose the aisle seat if you’re someone who needs to go to the toilet a lot.
If you have pre-booked your seats, make sure they are not located in front of emergency exits because those seats do not recline.
10. Sleep well in flight
Eye mask, earplugs, and neck pillows are great for sleeping during your flight. Having a neck pillow is particularly useful because it offers support and it prevents your head from flopping around while you sleep.
11. Be smart in handling conversations
Be polite with the airport and immigration staff, they can make the airport experience easier or harder for you.
Feel free to make small talk with people; maybe you’ll even meet a new travel acquaintance! But stop talking if they appear disinterested. If the person comes across as suspicious or creepy, be smart — do not answer personal questions, such as where you are staying in your next destination, and firmly cut off the conversation.
If you’re uncomfortable with a fellow passenger and you believe your concerns are right and valid, the flight attendants are your friend. Flag one down and let them know your situation. They may be able to help you find another seat depending on the seat capacity.
On the other hand, it’s equally valid to avoid conversations if you do not want to talk to other people. Keep your headphones on and do your own thing.
12. Pay attention to arrowheads and signs
International airports can be disorienting. If you’re arriving on a non-English-speaking country, you don’t have to worry. Almost always there are English signs and arrowheads to help you get your bearing. Most are positioned overhead, while some may be obscured behind columns.
If you still get lost, don’t be afraid to approach airport employees for help.
13. Check what you can and can’t bring to your destination
Do your homework and check what items you can and can’t bring to your destination. For instance, Maldives is a popular tropical destination but what most people don’t know is that it’s a Muslim country, so items like alcohol and idols of worship are not allowed into the country. These items will be confiscated and given back on your departure date.
14. Plan for leaving the airport after arrival
It’s a good idea to be familiar with the various transport services available in the airport so you can get to your hotel or resort. Even if something goes wrong with our pre-arranged pick-up, you know what your options are. Research about the taxi services, public bus routes and schedules, and availability of riding apps such as Grab.
15. Have fun!
Going on an international flight for the first time can be daunting, but try not to worry too much and don’t forget to enjoy your trip!
That ends our list of essential tips for first-time international flyers! Do you have anything to add? Let us know in the comments section below!
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Katherine Cortes is a long-time backpacker and a freelance writer/editor. She likes beaches, snorkeling trips, and relaxing staycations (preferably with bath tubs!).