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An Airport Adventure

One of the problems of going on vacation – especially if your destination is a long way away – is that one of the prices you can pay for fun and relaxation is a stressful time at the airport. Airports are not naturally relaxing places: they’re designed to get you from one place to the other as efficiently as possible – although sometimes you wouldn’t think that was the case – while at the same time extracting as much cash from you as they can.

So what are the best ways to minimize airport stress and get your trip off to a great start? Here are some expert tips!

  • Organize all your documents and tickets before you go. Take a small, discreet wallet or folder into which you can put passports, tickets, travel insurance documents, visas (if separate) and any other maps, permits or licenses you need to carry. If you’re travelling as a family, designate one person to look after the folder.
  • Take something to eat and drink. Airport food outlets have a captive audience, so they’re under no particular pressure to provide great meals or service – they also tend to be expensive. So unless you’re flying business class and have access to the executive lounge, take some food and drink with you. Water is especially important. The ‘airport headaches’ that so many people suffer are caused by dehydration: airport managers crank up the air conditioning in concourses to dry you out so that you spend money in their cafés and shops. Beat the system by taking your own water!
  • Remember, however, that carrying certain foodstuffs might make you unpopular with authorities at your destination and cause a hold-up. This is most likely to happen on your return to the States. US Customs officials abide by very strict rules about what comestibles can be brought into the country, so check the rules first!
  • Take something to do, or something to read. It’s possible to spend a very long time in airports, especially if your flight is delayed. If you have kids, taking a favorite toy or game can help while away the time. Most airports have good bookshops if you find yourself under-equipped, but don’t forget that you need to carry anything you buy with you!
  • If you’re stuck in an airport for a long period of time, scout out a good place to camp. Some airports have really comfortable waiting facilities: Schipol in Amsterdam, for example, has huge soft reclining chairs that most people are reluctant to leave when their flight is called. Other airports are less accommodating. Really seasoned travelers usually have the knack of falling asleep in the most unlikely and uncomfortable places. If you don’t fall into this category you might consider taking an inflatable pillow or neck rest to help you relax. Unless you can ‘program’ yourself to wake up at the right time, it’s also a good idea to set an alarm on your watch or cell phone!
  • If your main item of luggage is a backpack make sure it is completely secure and all the straps are tied down and tucked away with none left dangling. Airport staff hate badly-prepared backpacks, as loose straps can jam luggage conveyors. Preparing properly in advance can save time and dignity in the check-in queue!
  • Save embarrassment at the metal detectors by making sure you’re not wearing too much ironmongery. Everything you have that contains a certain amount of metal will have to be stripped off and shown to the security staff before you go through the detectors. Don’t wake up on airport day and decide to wear your steel-capped boots, studded belt and iron nose ring!
  • Make sure you get your bearings. There will inevitably be a delay between check-in and boarding: don’t wait until the last minute to work out where your gate is. Work out your route as soon as you’ve checked in, then go find someplace to relax and while away the time. Some major international airports like Heathrow, Kennedy and Paris Charles de Gaulle are huge complexes and it’s easy to get lost. Make sure you know where you’re going and leave plenty of time to get there.
  • Carry a little cash in the currency of your departure airport’s host country. If you’re flying from New York to London, don’t change all your money to UK pounds – keep a few bucks in your back pocket to buy any necessities – airport ATMs are often expensive. Remember, too, that airport bureaux de changes tend to charge high rates of commission. If you must change currency in an airport try to use a major chain outlet such as Thomas Cook or Travelex.

You can’t avoid all the discomforts and inconveniences of air travel, but if you leave yourself plenty of time and make careful preparations you should enjoy a relatively hassle-free journey. Bon Voyage!

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