On a trip from Toronto to Brazil, Eileen Rhein landed in São Paulo and found that her luggage had not joined her. “My suitcase took an around-the-world trip without me,” she says of the experience.
Rhein, who documents her travels on Instagram at @lighttravelsfaster, says it took eight days to recover her suitcase, which meant eight days without the essentials she’d planned to have with her, such as clothes and toiletries. Now she places Apple AirTags— which use Bluetooth signals to track an item’s location—in her luggage, so she can keep tabs on her belongings as she travels. “I love getting off the plane at Charles De Gaulle and seeing the alert that my luggage is at Charles De Gaulle,” she says.
The travel industry’s rebound has brought horror stories of lost luggage, missed flights, and crowded security nightmares. It’s easy for travelers to think that mucking through the discomforts of airports is just the price to pay for taking a trip, but that doesn’t always have to be the case. We spoke with travel experts and frequent flyers who shared their tips for making the most of the airport experience.
Pack essentials in a carry-on
For Samantha and Ryan Looney, travel influencers who share their family’s travels on their blog and Instagram @samandryanlooney, it’s important to be proactive to avoid any extra hassle in the case of lost luggage.
“I have a better-safe-than-sorry approach where I pack a change of clothes, toothbrush, my makeup, [and other] essentials in my carry-on even if I’m checking a bag,” says Samantha. “That way if they lose your bag, you’re not just stuck in your lounge clothes that you’ve been traveling all day, unable to brush your teeth.”
Rhein also recommends putting a TSA-approved lock on suitcases and never putting any necessities or high-value items in a checked bag in case they go missing or are searched.
Carry infants in a sling
The Looneys, who travel with their 2-year-old, also recommend wearing a baby sling through the airport to make traveling with young kids a little easier. “When you have them in a stroller they have to get out and walk through [security] while they check the stroller. But if you’re carrying them on your person, you’re able to just keep them on.”
They also say to keep an eye out for an oversized baggage line if you’re checking in bulky items like a stroller or car seat. “There is an oversized baggage line for most airlines that can be shorter than the typical line,” says Samantha. “It could totally save you from waiting in a long line, especially if you’re short on time.”
Don’t be in such a rush
Despite the urge some might have to spend the hours before a flight parked in front of the gate, experts admitted to arriving at the airport on the later side. “Most travelers arrive at about the three-hour mark, and I find that that’s the time when the [security] line is the longest,” says Rhein. “I actually like to arrive closer to the nick of time.”
Different airports often have different check-in times, so Mo Sayid, co-founder of Hacks.Travel, a service which emails a weekly roundup of travel deals, recommends looking up the timings at your regional airport. “If it’s a major airport like LAX, depending on the terminal, it might take you a little bit longer, but for smaller airports like Burbank, you can get there an hour before,” says Sayid.
Splurge on comfort
All travelers recommended enrolling in TSA PreCheck, a government-run expedited security screening, if you travel frequently. They also said that airport lounges are worth the price if you travel often—some credit cards even pay enrollment fees for TSA PreCheck or offer lounge access as perks.
“We have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars just by being able to show up early and avoid eating overpriced airport food,” says Ryan. “I’ve even had a shower there,” adds Rhein.
Travel consultant Martinique Lewis recommends signing up for a program like Priority Pass, which provides access to a network of airport lounges and restaurants around the world for an annual fee. “It’s the best option for frequent travelers who might not get lounge benefits because they don’t have travel credit cards. Priority pass not only gives you access to lounges, but it also allows you to eat at restaurants and have activities like massages,” says Lewis, who used her pass at over 30 airports last year. “Why pay 50 dollars for a sandwich and drink when you can pay at the beginning of the year and use it unlimited? It is the way to go.”
Call a car from the airport
When it’s time to leave the airport, Rhein says hold off on breaking out your map and learning a city’s public transit. “Incorporate the cost of uber or taxi into your flight cost,” Rhein says. “If I arrive stressed and exhausted because I’ve been struggling with my suitcase on the MetroI, it starts my trip off on a bad note. It’s an extra level of stress.”
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