Travelogue: The Anxiety of the Infrequent (Air) Traveler

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Photo by Randy Stern

Ah, the pratfalls of air travel!

You know the feeling after you booked your tickets, your accommodations and your chosen mode of transport to use to get around town. All of sudden, you realized that there are a multitude of things you need to do before your departure date. Not just the items you need to pack, the documents you need to gain entry into another country and the items the Transportation Security Administration has restricted that you would probably need somewhere along your journey. No download of apps or diarrhea medication prescription can even scratch the surface all of the intangibles that goes into travel preparation.

So, let me ask you one question: how prepared are you when you travel?

After years of traveling, I can attest to my obsession over trip preparation. I always believed that being a bit over prepared would help ease the anxiety of the trip. These obsessive preparations include finding ways to pack more efficiently and to simply “lighten my load.”

Perhaps my biggest source of anxiety these days involves making my airport experience a less painful one on either end of the trip. For anyone who does not fly often, the security checkpoint is a daunting place to deal with. Let alone making sure you have everything you need just to get through the scanner.

I’ve learned plenty over the last 11 years of air travel. Some were pretty successful and have been employed very time I travel by air. Others…I’m still learning.

As I head back to the Chicago Auto Show next week, I have came up with some strategies that would hopefully ease the pain of this trip. Here is what I have in mind for this weekend:

I hate doing the 3-1-1 rule for toiletries when I pack. This rule is in play because I usually take on my roller bag with me onto the plane. Instead, I head to the nearest drug store to the airport or hotel as soon as I land. I only buy the travel size essentials, such as toothpaste, mouthwash and deodorant with the intent of using them up by the time I leave town. If getting to a drugstore or big retailer (Target/Walmart) is out of the question, there are some hotel chains that will offer a pantry with these items for sale. They might even provide these items for free to their guests.

Since I’m only taking a carry-on, I make a point to arrive 45-60 minutes before the stated boarding time for my flight. That timeframe is variable depending on the specific airport and terminal I am flying out of. At hub airports – Minneapolis-St. Paul on Delta, for example – I know that certain flight times coincide with heavy departure traffic. If you know this information, plan accordingly time-wise.

Speaking of carry-ons, my trusty roller bag has saved me during many trips. However, there are some catches. One, most flights I am encounter using a “regional jet” where overhead space is very limited. For those, do the gate check. It won’t cost you a thing on legacy and mainline carriers. This is true for flights that are full on larger airliners. If someone is offering free baggage allowance – i.e. Southwest – take advantage of it! (BTW, Southwest is really good for luggage) Heck, if I got an extra $25 to spend on luggage – I’ll check it through. The caveat on this: as long as it’s a nonstop flight, I’ll do that.

While going through security, always listen to the TSA people in the checkpoint area. Take off your shoes, your belt, empty your pockets, remove your laptop out of your bag and put it by itself…you know the drill. The more times you go through this drill at every airport you fly out, you will be fine. And, if you do have to go through another check by the TSA – just comply, OK?

On top of my carry-on, I usually bring my laptop and camera in my backpack. This makes mobility around your destination much easier. When you’re on a non-business trip, a good thing about a backpack is that you can sling them on both your shoulders if you’re doing plenty of urban exploring by foot.

Perhaps my biggest tip I’ll pass along to anyone is to do your homework in advance. The Internet is a great tool to look up details, such as parking rates, bar events, deals on museum admission and accommodations. Let’s not forget about chatting with people at your destination. You could find a new friend to meet for a meal or coffee. This is where social media becomes a positive tool to utilize.

As much as I love travel, I do worry sometimes about things not going as well as planned. There is one way to not worry about things – relax, breathe and let things happen. If you are in a hurry, calmly discuss this with the airline or carrier to find alternatives to accomplish your arrival. Also, know of tools you can use – social media, for example – in case things don’t go the way they were meant to be.

Consider all of this…but, have a good trip while you’re at it!

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