The summer travel season is one of the busiest for U.S. airports, according to the Transportation Security Administration, which is expected to screen 28.3 million Fourth of July travelers through July 9 and millions of others through the end of Labor Day weekend. Smart planning and preparation is the key for travelers who want an easy start to their vacation, without the stress associated with airport crowds and security checkpoints, say the experts at Travel Leaders Network – one of America’s largest retail travel agency organizations.
“Many people procrastinate in making travel plans and then they are harried all the way to the airport, adding stress to the start of their happy, relaxing vacation time,” said Roger E. Block, CTC, President of Travel Leaders Network. “Planning and preparation from your itinerary to what’s in your suitcase makes a world of difference to landing on the right foot at your vacation destination. Travel Leaders travel agents provide their expert advice, time and talent to ensuring that their clients have an enjoyable journey from beginning to end.”
Here are 12 tips from the travel experts at Travel Leaders Network for easing summer travel:
- Check-in online. Airlines generally allow passengers to check in online 24 hours in advance, with a cutoff a couple of hours before boarding time. Checking in well before heading to the airport, saves time. Travelers should opt to receive digital (and paper) versions of their boarding pass so that a backup is at the ready on a handy mobile device.
- Leave home early. From traffic that may be heavier than usual and hard-to-find parking spots, to lines for security screenings, there is peace of mind when there is extra wiggle room in the schedule, whether traveling by train, plane or automobile. Arrive at the airport 75 minutes prior to departure for domestic flights and three hours before international flights.
- Double check your baggage. Overhead space is at a premium during the heavy holiday travel seasons. So when preparing to pack bags, it’s ideal to check in advance whether luggage meets the airline’s size and weight restrictions for checked baggage and carry-ons. Nothing brings on the worry like finding out last-minute that one has to pay extra for overweight or oversized luggage filled with sun visors, flip flops, extra-large cosmetic cases or junior’s plush toy.
- Pack smarter with essentials. Packing a few vacation essentials in a carry-on, such as a swimsuit and a change of clothes, helps if your luggage gets delayed, because you can still go for a swim upon arrival or put on a fresh change of clothes. This also comes in handy for those who arrive at the resort before the room is ready. Simply lounge by the pool or beach while you wait.
- Remember 3-1-1 rule. TSA allows each passenger one quart-size bag of liquids and gels, including toothpaste, gel deodorant, and lotions. Each item must be 3.4 ounces or less. Excluded from the carry-on list this summer are canisters of powders larger than 12 ounces. This affects protein powder for your mid-flight energy drink or a large jar of your favorite ground coffee. But for most people the powders will not ring any alarms, as it applies only to international flights in-bound to the United States. Medication and infant formula are exempt from the rule — but keep them separate from other items in case they need to be hand-checked on your return trip.
- Purchase TSA PreCheck, CLEAR or Global Entry. Travelers who enroll in one of the expedited security checkpoint services spend less time in line. PreCheck members don’t have to remove their shoes, belt or jacket or take their large electronic devices from their carry-ons. So not only is the security screening less cumbersome, it also saves time not having to repack items and retie shoes – which can be a hassle for a family of four. Those enrolled in CLEAR, which is integrated with TSA PreCheck, will be able to skip straight to a special lane to get their boarding pass checked. (Children under 18 can use the CLEAR lane for free when accompanied by a CLEAR-enrolled family member.) Global Entry cuts down on immigration and customs processing time when reentering the US after international travel. TSA Precheck for domestic travel costs $80 for a 5-year clearance and Global Entry for international travel costs $100 for 5-years and includes TSA Precheck. CLEAR is $179 per year. This small commitment saves time and stress upon arrival at the airport.
- Airport lounge pass. Frequent travelers or those who arrive to the airport before boarding begins will enjoy an airport lounge pass over waiting at crowded gates. Most lounges offer complimentary food and beverages, along with free wi-fi. Those perks alone are worth the value for frequent travelers.
- All-inclusive family resorts. After arriving at one’s destination, especially an international one, an all-inclusive resort is especially satisfying on that first day in town away from home. No need to navigate to another location for dining or worry about menu prices. An all-inclusive package alleviates some decisions when all that is top of mind is relaxing. It also helps keep one from going over budget. Spending more than one plans to raises stress levels, but with an all-inclusive travelers know in advance exactly how much they are spending on food and drinks.
- Cruising along. There are many ways to take advantage of a cruise experience. First, arrive in the port city a day before sail time. This way, even if a travel companion misses a flight connection there is no worry about missing the boat. Once onboard, curtail exhaustion by skipping an excursion or two. Take time to enjoy the ship with fewer people onboard while others are off exploring the port city. But when planning to go ashore, make sure you listen to the port talks. A lot of valuable information is relayed, as well as maps, taxi and shop information for those who choose to venture on their own.
- Bon Jour. Konichiwa. Shalom. Learning a few words in the native language of the destination country will ease stress, as a simple hello or thank you in the native language can improve the kindness of strangers and even open doors – figuratively and literally. If there’s no time to learn a few words before leaving home, the traveler can download an app to their mobile phone that will translate even the most complicated of sentences. It’s a great way to make new friends.
- Keep valid identification at hand. Children under 18 are not required to provide identification when traveling domestically with a companion, but passengers age 18 and older must show valid ID at the airport security checkpoint. Since most ID, like a driver’s license, has an expiration date, double-check that your ID will not expire before your return trip home. It’s a good idea to have color photocopies and digital copies of all important identification documents, including your passport, boarding passes, front and back of credit cards and health insurance information. Also have extra ID photos cropped to passport size in case you have to order a replacement at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Be sure to pack all paper copies or flash drives in a separate location for extra safe-keeping. Also remember to check the expiration date on your passport. If it expires within six months, you may not be able to enter most countries.
- Put your travel agent on speed dial. Bring the email and cell phone number of your travel agent with you, and provide your travel agent with your personal contact information, as well as pertinent health and travel insurance information. Your travel agent can rearrange your itinerary should you decide to extend your trip, or if there’s an emergency.