What are the best travel hacks for international flights?

December 23, 2016 By Airline Ticket Centre

When I think about international travel, I think about the destination: the new experiences, the different cultures, the fascinating people…the food!

Alas, the travel portion is a necessary evil. There are a number of international flight hacks and to help break it down, I capture them in 5 categories:

  • Booking and Membership
  • Packing for the Flight
  • At the Airport
  • During the Flight
  • Fight Jet Lag

Booking and Memberships:

1. Credit Card: Sign up for a credit card where you can build points towards travel. Personally, I like getting points through business trips, then spending them on dreamy, leisurely trips with my hubs.

2. Membership: Sign-up to be a member for the airline you intend to book with. Loyalty pays off, but if you have to stray, sign-up for a membership with the new airline as well. No need to be monogamous.

3. Trusted Traveler Programs: TSA Pre✓®, Global Entry, Nexus and Sentri are programs support expedited processing through customs. In my experience, this SIGNIFICANTLY improves the overall travel experience. Lines are shorter, the scrutiny is less intense, it’s quicker, and sometimes… sometimes… you get to leave your shoes on. I know. Also, it’s really not that pricey, even for the infrequent flyer.

4. When to buy: the best time to purchase tickets for international travel at an approximate 10% savings:

  • North America to Europe: 176 days in advance
  • North America to Asia Pacific: 160 days in advance
  • Within Europe: 140 days in advance

5. Day of the week to buy: Tuesday has traditionally been the best to purchase. However there are trends towards weekends being a great time to find deals as well. It is projected that 2017 will be the year to travel for less.

6. Time of year to travel: If you are travelling for leisure and have some flexibility when you travel, consider travelling during the off season for more economical flights. For my honeymoon, we traveled to England, Spain and France in September-October time frame.l

7. Picking the Seat: The aisle seat is the best for international flights, as it gives you the opportunity to stand and stretch on a regular basis. Yes, the window seat gives you the opportunity the lean, but in my opinion it is overrated. Avoid seats near the lavatory and pay attention to the “less desirable” spots that many seat maps indicate nowadays. If in doubt, check out SeatGuru to help you with seat choice.

Packing for the Airplane:

8. Baggage: Carry-on only is the best if you can manage it. It’s more economical then checking a back and far more convenient. International travel often involves a strenuous trains, planes, and automobile scenario, so the less you travel with, the easier it will be to maneuver in high traffic areas. Make sure you review the airline size and weight requirements to be sure your luggage set will work for the duration of your trip.

9. Personal Article, Carry-on Bag: There are so many posh options for a personal bag, but I am a huge fan of the back pack. (Cue boos and hisses). I have traveled with my laptop bag on my occasions, but the backpack is so much easier to navigate through airports and narrow aisle ways. Plus, it is far more comfortable. I have the North Face Hot Shot backpack in black and I personally think it still has “professional appeal”. I received sincere compliments from my ultra fabulous colleague from Paris, which I consider all the validation I need.

10. Eye Mask and Ear Plugs: This can be substituted for a scarf and earphones, but you will definitely need something to block out the light and the sounds while you attempt some Zzzzz’s.

11. Inflatable Neck Pillow: This will also help for sleeping situations and the inflatable parts minimizes room in your carry-on.

12. Melatonin: In Canada, we can purchase melatonin in the vitamin/herb aisle at the pharmacy. Melatonin naturally exists in the body to regulate sleep cycle. By popping a supplement, it will help you sleep when time zones are against you.

13. Meditation App: When attempting to fall asleep, I really enjoy listening to a mediation app like Headspace to help me relax and get into to a restful state.

14. Water bottle: You can replenish your water at airports and it will help you stay hydrated during the flight.

15. Technology: Make sure you have all the associated cords for your laptop, tablet, and phone. Although this is not related to the flight itself, be sure to bring an international adapter and converter for when you arrive at your destination (as required).

16. Entertainment: Be sure to bring ear buds for movies and for use on your own electronic devices (tablets, phones, laptops). Load up your tech with games, movies, and reading material prior to your flight. A magazine or book is also nice to have, in the event your devices lets you down.

17. Back-up Charger: Many aircraft have a USB port to charge your devices, but I have found that they are not always the most reliable. A charger will ensure that you will have your phone ready for use for when you land.

18. Snacks: Pack some meal bars, nuts or dark chocolate to keep your blood sugar up. Airplane food is not awesome, so you will be guaranteed to have something yummy to nosh on.

19. Facial Cleansing Wipes: When you have a long flight and need to hit the ground running, cleansing wipes are super refreshing and will help you feel cleaner and more alert.

20. Hand Sanitizer: Airplanes are known to be germy, so have some santizer on hand to follow-up visits to the bathroom and before meals.

21. Lip balm and Make-up: At minimum, I will bring powder, mascara and lip gloss to help myself feel more presentable for when I land.

22. Gum or Mints: If brushing your teeth is awkward (or feels gross) on an airplane, have gum and mints handy to freshen the breath after an in-flight snooze.

23. Ibuprofen: Pain medicate is handy to have for headaches and body pains. In a pinch, a flight attendant may be able to hook you up as well.

24. Clothes: For the travel itself, wear comfortable clothing in layers, as this will help you adjust to the temperatures experienced throughout the travel experience. I love having a scarf, as it can act as a blanket, extra pillow, or eye protection.

At the Airport:

25. Airport Arrival: For international travel, you typically have to arrive 2 hours prior to departure. Check with the airline information to confirm. I don’t mind giving myself the extra time to get through security and enjoy a nice glass of wine, while waiting for my flight.

26. Security: It’s awesome if you have Trusted Traveler Status (see point 3 above) to help reduce time in security. In any case, attempt to have your items as contained as possible, including putting sweaters and jackets into your luggage before hand. Slip-on shoes are handy when required to remove your footwear.

27. Customs: The main hack here is to have Trusted Traveler Status (see point 3 above) to get through more quickly.

28. Lounges: Having lounge access is a wonderful experience when waiting for your flight and during layovers. If you don’t have the status through your airline membership, consider a day pass. Better yet, travel with someone who has it and be their guest.

29. Travel Documentation: Have your travel docs handy and contained within a travel wallet, for ease of presentation. It also helps to have as much as you can electronically, including an electronic boarding pass whenever possible.

30. Operational Upgrades: Airlines will upgrade passenger seating when economy is oversold. Your status with the airline is a primary contributing factor to increasing your eligibility, but Air Travel Genius gives a good list of other considerations to increase your chances:

  • Traveling alone
  • Don’t order a special meal, as they can’t be upgraded.
  • Check-in early
  • Book early
  • Book a premium ticket
  • Special Occasion Card: honeymoon, birthday, etc

During the Flight:

31. Seat Assignment: If you are not digging your seat assignment once you’re on board, the flight attendants will help you change seats, when and where ever possible. In addition, if you are not in business class and there are more seats then people, look for the opportunity to score 1 or more free seats beside you. This will give you the opportunity to stretch out and be more comfortable during a longer flight.

32. Water Service: When available, a flight attendant will refill your bottle with water. Stay hydrated.

33. Pillows and Blankets: Score extra pillows and blanket to support your seat and lower back.

34. Prepare for Sleep: Figure out what works best for you, but my routine is to:

  • eat a meal
  • enjoy a glass of wine and liqueur (or two)
  • get my seat as comfortable as possible
  • watch a movie that I don’t mind missing the end
  • put in my earphones and cover my eyes
  • pop a melatonin
  • listen to a mediate app or music and hopefully lull myself to sleep.

Fight Jet Lag

35. Vitamin Supplements: Take a vitamin supplement to boost your immune system to help prevent illness. Airborne and Emergen-C are two supplements I have taken with great results.

36. Exercise and Stretch: A brisk walk, run or bike will get your blood moving and increase your energy level. I also have a yoga app on my phone to help lengthen the muscles and recover from the stationary time during the flight.

37. Eat Small Meals: Depending on the direction you travel, your appetite may be off with the time zone difference. Start by eating small meals to get your system calibrated with local time.

38. Melatonin: Already mentioned as a hack during the flight, but melatonin can help you get your sleep schedule calibrated as well.

39. Hydration: Travelling is very dehydrating. Make sure your travel bottle is full and ask the hotel if you can drink out of the tap. Bottled water is great, but it’s good to know if you can drink the local water when in a pinch.

I have saved the best hack for last. (Sound the trumpets.)

40. Take a breath and savor the moment. You are one of the privileged few on this Earth who has the means and ability to travel internationally. Embrace the experience – the good, the bad, the ugly – and be thankful for the entire journey.