|Did you know that this airline gives you free and unlimited air travel over Norway during summer, for just a few hundred Euro? There you go - an awesome Nordic air travel life-hack|
During my years spent commuting by air, and lately working as professional adventurer, at times I have spent up to 100% of my time living out of a cabin bag. So here are some lifehacks for the air travel - I have divided them according to the natural phases: booking, packing, and being at the airport. However, all of them merge at some point, so enjoy this wall of tips and tricks!
|Pulse goes up just by looking at this? Don't worry, I got you covered.|
When booking flights and comparing alternatives, you need to take some time to check and compare the international rating of the company, for instance here (link), before you buy tickets. Sometimes (more below) it’s worth those few dollars to travel in comfort, get better service, more food choices, and be treated with more respect. In this post, there are plenty of examples of how "low-budget airlines" will treat travelers differently. Whether an airline is premium, normal, or low-budget may change over time (just look at how low SAS has fallen). Keep yourself á jour.
Don’t know the company at all? Google them. If the first suggestion is “lost luggage” or “cancelled flights”, you may take the hint.
When travelling with "low-cost airlines" in non-European countries, I always recommend to sign for that dodgy extra “insurance”. In case you don’t, you basically have no rights. You may be rebooked to another flight, your luggage maybe delayed for a long time, all that kind of nuisances that regular civilized airlines will cover for you – those may and will happen, and nobody will even consider apologizing. It is not a coincidence that when seats are double-booked or a plane is late, the passengers with “extra insurance” are given priority.
For all destinations, check your visas first, even if only transferring – I cannot stress this enough. With no valid visa, you will not be allowed to board at home airport. Also, check your passport expiration date. You should get a new one before it hits the magic 6 months before the expiration. Even countries that do not require visa from your origin may want you to have 6 months left, and that’s from your planned departure date to go back home.
|Unfortunately, this does not exist on all flights. |
An alternative is an eye fold with "wake up for meals" on one side and "do not disturb" on reverse, in several languages.
I own three of those.
I like to receive the meal on board as soon as possible, so I can sleep for the rest of the flight (usually the best thing to do considering jet lag and coming/past adventures). Sometimes it takes a long time before the food cart reaches my seat, and I’d rather be dining and the sleeping, than waiting. However, most of the times the attendants do not bother asking if the passenger wants a meal or would rather be sleeping, and it's no fun to wake up starving in the middle of a 12-hour flight and having to go ask for a sandwich. So, there are two things to remember here when booking the ticket:
One is that the further back you sit, the less choices there will be when the food cart arrives. What’s worse, the choices left are going to be what the rest of the passengers did not want. It may pay off to get at seat closer to the nose. That will definitely shorten your transfer times, too.
The other lifehack is that if you choose a special meal while booking, you get served first! So bring it on and become a vegetarian, or get your stuff gluten-free or whatever. Myself, I find those choices more healthy, too.
|Sometimes, airlines do a great job catering to your food (and entertainment) needs... This was my extra early Christmas eve, flying with BA. Could not have asked for a better Xmas while traveling.|
If you have any meal allergies or diet at all, and there are no such choices while booking the ticket, do not trust the airline to be able to cater. Bring your own stuff. I’ve seen airlines unable to produce anything without flour or sugar, or ignorant of what vegetarian/vegan food is.
Lastly about the booking: when travelling in Scandinavia, I never print my tickets. It’s usually very easy to use the e-tickets, check-in online, and scan the code directly from the phone when passing to the gate. Most airports in the world function like that - you just present your code in the machine. Make sure you have both wifi and battery though. I usually take a print-screen of the boarding code and don't bother with local internet. The alternative is to check in at the airport, where usually only your booking number (check-in machine) or passport (check-in at the desk) is needed, and you will receive the boarding card with the code, no need for further paperwork. However, in some developing countries, you will be prompted for printed bookings, and there will not be any online check-in. What’s worse, budget airlines will force you to print the boarding cards, otherwise fees may follow. Read the fine text carefully when you book!
|Airport committee in Fiji welcoming the travelers by creating a relaxed atmosphere. |
This is on the opposite side of the Earth from Sweden, and very far from the Scandinavian ways...
If you can avoid it, never check in your personal items. I like to travel light, and I avoid checking in luggage altogether. The more transfers there are, the more likely the luggage is to disappear. But sometimes it can happen even on a direct flight, and there is no guarantee that it will be found, or reimbursed – the insurance rules are usually limited to a maximum of a few hundred euros, and several days of waiting. You do not want to get stuck in the Arctic with lost luggage and your ride to the wild North leaving soon, like I did here. Ideally, your cabin bag should fit under the front seat, so you can have use of everything you brought with you, without having to climb over people to reach it.
|Vacuum bags, the frequent traveler's best friend|
To minimize the size of the luggage and be able to bring it to cabin, wear the bulkiest clothes and shoes for the travels. And for the rest of it - use vacuum bags. I managed to get all the Sydney to Hobart offshore gear, including floatation suit and wet weather neoprenes from Sweden to Sydney without checking them in! See photo below.
|This bag, en route to RSHYR, complies to size rules for bringing it as cabin luggage. |
The full packing list is visible on the photo.
A bag tag with your address, phone number, and email address is a must. On all luggage.
I will not go on about bringing sharp objects or liquids especially when you’re in a hurry – you know it all. But did you know that for instance Australia will not allow even “Traveler’s edition” on multi-tools, that is to say the tool without a knife blade? Getting a travelling style Leatherman was a waste of money since they would not let me in, even after trying several times and talking to a supervisor. No tools at all are allowed, knife blade or not. Even a Pocket Ninja, which passes most security checks, will eventually be found.
Bring a bottle of water to the airport. Re-hydrate by drinking it in the line to security check. Refill it at a café or bar on airside. Many airports have drinking water fountains nowadays. Aircraft ventilation dries you out, so re-hydrate continuously. If your bottled water is finished, get an extra glass of water with your meal.
A traveler captured in an international airport in the US, while I was heading to a boat delivery
More stuff to bring to the airport: snacks, wet wipes, book/logbook/drawing pad, chargers, and a power bank.
You may already be bringing a neck pillow and eye mask to get some sleep on the flight. If you are not in dire need of sleep, you have not been prioritizing correctly on your adventures! But most people place the neck support pillow incorrectly, back to the front. You want the thick part under your chin to prevent your head from falling down, resulting in neck ache.
A jacket can easily serve as a pillow and a beanie or a buff can be pulled down over the eyes and serve as eye mask. Take off the jacket before you enter the aircraft, not in the aisle so you block other entering passengers, or after you are strapped into your seat. Book a window seat to be able to lean on the wall while sleeping – and to avoid blocking other passengers from going in and out. Ear plugs or good headphones with offline music will help you stand out most family flights. Even if there is an entertainments system, they often turn it off when landing. Book an aisle seat if you travel light and are in a hurry (or if you happen to be a frequent bathroom user, for the sake of other travelers).
Generally, you will be doing yourself a favor if you dress in comfortable clothes and shoes. But if you wear a business shirt, with a tie or a jacket, you will get an immensely better service in all airports and checks. Its magic gives you too many free-rides to be ignored or exchanged for comfort.
|Eye shades are perfect to hide your sleep deprivation, and business clothes get you a better service in most parts of the world. Here, sleepless in ... whatever airport that is...|
At the airportIf you kill time by wandering around the taxfree, do not try on perfumes, they will be killing you (and your fellow travelers) in the crammed airplane. Instead: try out any moisturizer you can find. This is your chance to take a deep dive into that tiny €300 face cream jar for free, and give your sea&sun-dried skin a treat it deserves. The dry air in the airplanes takes its moisture toll too. Fill up as you leave the aircraft and transfer to the next stop.
When travelling in countries where everyone wraps their luggage in plastic (Russia and several others), do the same. Then you will not be sticking out for pickpockets as a tourist with potentially expensive gear, or inviting officers to take a sneak peek into your bag for the same reason.
|Landed in Sweden, returning from a mountaineering trip to Russian Caucasus. Not only does the bag match the rest of Russian luggage, the plastic keeps the ice axes and steel edges on skis from damaging other people's stuff|
For bringing your passport, tickets and wallet, I highly recommend the Unipörs. It does not show under jackets, you can easily remove it in the security check, and will be able to reach your stuff with one hand only if you are holding on to your cabin bag, or while enjoying that coffee. Pickpockets do not get a chance – and you’ll be looking elegant, too.
|Unipörs is a crossover between shoulder holster and secret inner pocket. Perfect for travels and adventures - see more examples here.|
Transfer times in large airports can be long and miserable. However, most airports have a website where the gates are displayed and the transfer times are available. Gates usually close 15-20 minutes prior to departure. Having 55 minutes to transfer is plenty in Swedish Bromma (BMA) or Latvian Riga (RIX), and in remote places like tiny Greenlandic Kulusuk (KUS) you will be wondering what to do with all the time. The same 55 minutes would mean that you will never make a transfer in Paris CDG, or any other airport with several international terminals. In some transfers, when you need to pass the customs to the landside and enter the airside again, even 2 hours is on the adventurous side.
|The Earth's northernmost airport that has scheduled flights. I happen to frequent it, both when sailing all the way to Svalbard and flying back, and when I go there as a guide.|
Try to streamline your airport experience. There may be a random check in the security, or a last-minute gate change. Do not relax until you are actually at the gate. I have made that mistake several times and missed the flight just by minutes…
Lastly: consider a pre-booked pickup, especially in countries that are less developed. The hassle of getting a decently priced ride is usually not worth the price difference. The potential dangers of getting into the wrong car are not to be ignored. Getting safe to your first basecamp is most important of all – after arriving to safety of the correct (!) place to stay, you can start living more on the edge.