Traveling can be life’s greatest adventure, but airports and planning can be stressful.
I spend a good chunk of the year flying out every weekend to work as a still photographer in production. As a travel junky and photographer, I travel a lot outside of work as well. I’m happy to say that my biggest worry when flying is if I have downloaded enough podcasts episodes to cover the flight duration.
Of course, it wasn’t always this way, when I first started traveling I would over-think things, overpack, stress about time and security, etc. Now, I’ve traveled so many times my flying routine is less of a stress and more of a breeze.
Here are some helpful tips(along with a few links to my favorite products for photography expeditions) to get you traveling stress free, whether for work or leisure.
1) When flying internationally, arrive at least 3 hours prior to your departure time. This will give you plenty of time to check bags/pick up tickets, go through security, and get settled before your flight. (It’s probably always a good idea to arrive this early when checking bags. As this, when the airport is busy, can take up a good amount of time.) When flying domestically with carry-on ONLY, I find that arriving ~1-1.5 hours prior to your departure time is sufficient....especially when you have TSA pre-check.
2) Get TSA pre-check. If you have no priors(sorry offenders), by submitting your fingerprints and a background check you are eligible for expedited security. AKA TSA pre-check. This gets your though security lines faster as you don’t have to take off your shoes, remove your jacket, or take your laptop out of your bag. I believe right now it’s around $85 for 5 years, and if you are traveling regularly it is well worth it.
3) Invest in a good re-usable water bottle like the hydroflask. Every airport has water fountains, or some kind of access to filtered water(ex. coffee shop). Water bottles are super pricey and if you can’t wait for the in-flight beverage service, it’s great to have on hand. The hydro flask is my favorite because it keeps ice for hours. Just make sure that your water bottle is empty before you go through security.... and yes, I have made that mistake before.
4) When flying with equipment, make sure you are first and foremost protecting your gear. Generally, I carry-on my equipment but when checking gear, it’s a good idea to invest in a solid hard case like the Pelican. These cases are trusted by artists and musicians alike and are a favorite in the industry. Be prepared to answer any questions about your equipment at security or when checking your bags. I’ve also found that when taken through security they ALWAYS ask to see what’s inside. Pelican cases, used heavily by artist to protect equipmen, are also commonly used for transporting firearms - so don’t be too shocked when they pull you aside.
5) Stocking up on snacks before you get to the airport is a must, especially with layovers. You’ll end up spending twice the amount for the same snacks inside the airport and wish you had just carried some with. Plus, when your far away from home, having your favorite snack can be a great pick-me-up and comfort, especially in a foreign country.
6) Boarding the plane last can actually be a relief. You don’t have to fight in the line to get on the plane you basically just walk on. Don’t worry about not having enough room for your bag either. If the plane is full they will check your bag for free. That’s less stress and you can save some money... and your back.
7) Neck pillow, eye mask, ear plugs, and a blanket -not the ones provided by the airline- will change your flight experience. This is less important on shorter flights, but if you are constantly flying long distance- or are like me and taking coast-to-coast red eye flights that go straight from the airport into the work day- these things will save your life.
(Disclaimer: If you’re wondering about sleep aids, I don’t recommend them for flights less than 6 hours. Sleep aids are usually intended for 8 hours rest. Still, knowing this, I once took a leap of faith and at a desperate attempt for sleep on a flight, I tried it out. Needless to say, it worked. It worked so well that I was so disoriented for the layover, I thought I was on another planet. Never again... unless it’s a VERY long international flight.)
8) Don’t drink the coffee, tea, or wash your hands on an airplane. Stick to the bottled/canned drinks and use hand wipes. Just trust me. And if you don’t... look it up... you’ll thank me later.
9) When going through customs, be prepared to explain your gear. I almost always get asked what I do for a living, why I’m traveling with equipment, and what am I planning on using it for. Depending on how much gear you have and which country you fly to, your answers may be very important. Let’s just say some places in the world prefer a fine artist over a photojournalist. (Don’t be scared, most people think it’s interesting. Just be honest and don’t add cause for suspicion... weirdo.)
10) When in doubt, make a checklist. When I first started traveling I’d make a list of everything I needed and check it off so I wouldn’t forget. If you do forget something, no need to worry, 9/10 times you’ll be able to replace what’s missing when you land. If you travel a lot, putting together a toiletries bag separate from your home things is always a good idea. I have a couple essential travel “kits” like an emergency pack, toiletries, and one I like to call a “sick kit”- with tissues and cough drops- pre-packed. This way, when I travel for work, I can just throw them in my suitcase with some clothes and go.
Traveling is fun, but it should never be overwhelming. I’m hoping that these tips will help make your next flight more comfortable and stress free. Don’t forget, the most important thing is to have fun! Or, maybe it’s remember to check the weather... either way.