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Are you ready to embark on your first international flight and feel overwhelmed? No problem! You’re gonna be just fine. Tons of people travel on international flights, sometimes alone, without experiencing any crazy problems.
It’s natural to feel nervous for your first multi-country adventure even if you’re a frequent domestic flyer.
I mean, think about it. An eight hour flight to Stockholm is much longer than a two hour flight to Orlando. Plus you don’t need to jet across entire oceans to see Mickey Mouse (if you’re coming from the United States, that is)!
Your First International Flight is a Big Deal!
So I understand your hesitation about your first time flying internationally. You’re taking a huge step forward. I write a lot about my own fear of flying and do my best to encourage others not to let anxiety destroy their travel dreams.
Remember: our greatest worries usually never happen anyway.
At the end of the day, international flights are not much different than domestic ones. You just need to prepare a tiny bit more for a successful trip.
These seven tips will help ensure your upcoming journey to a brand new country is painless. Soon, you’ll transform into a jet-setting pro!
Good luck traveling internationally for the first time! You are going to ROCK this trip!
1. Be Early When Flying Internationally.
Arrive at the airport at least 2 hours early for your first international flight.
I’m dead serious about being punctual. And, no, I don’t care if you’re normally “relaxed about time” and don’t enjoy rushing. You should arrive two hours before your scheduled departure time.
Yup, you read that correctly. Two hours, baby.
Why so early? First of all, you want to have enough time to check in and clear security. Security times are unpredictable. You might be standing outside that body scanner for way longer than you anticipated. For example, if you’re flying to Europe at night, many of the European bound flights leave at a similar time meaning sluggish lines at security.
Not to mention, if you’re flying on a larger aircraft, such as a Boeing 777, boarding times are at least an hour earlier than the actual departure time, with the doors sometimes closing ten minutes prior to the departure time. You won’t win any arguments at the gates either so you don’t wanna risk coming late.
And if you miss your flight entirely … yikes. All I can say in that situation is, while your friend might forgive you showing up thirty minutes late for lunch, United or Delta definitely won’t show you any mercy. Meaning you can kiss your money goodbye.
So do yourself and your stress levels a huge favor, and get to the airport at least two hours early.
Personally, I’d rather waste forty minutes at duty free shopping than have a panic attack about not making my flight.
2. Your First International Flight and Passport.
Make sure your passport is valid when traveling internationally for the first time.
Nothing will dash your hopes and dreams quicker than an expired passport. Major yikes.
My advice is if you’re in the States, you should apply for a new passport at least six weeks before embarking on your international trip. Sure, you can have your passport expedited in as little as two weeks, but do you really want to pay a $65 fee?
Errrr. I definitely don’t.
On the flip side, if you already have a passport, you might not still be cleared to travel. Remain aware of the expiration date. A lot of countries require at least six months validity at the time of departure. It doesn’t matter if your trip is only a week long or not. Border control will enforce these restrictions.
Now let’s say you show up at the airport with an expired or soon-to-be expired passport in hand? What happens? Uh, you probably won’t be allowed to board your flight! Kiss your Hong Kong shopping dreams goodbye!
“But Rachel! What if security doesn’t look closely at the date? What could possibly happen if I got on board and made it to my destination?”
I doubt it, but sure, let’s be theoretical.
An even worse situation would be arriving at your destination only to be turned around at the border. Ugh. Think about all that excessive flying. No thank you.
Furthermore, it is your responsibility to ensure you have all mandatory visas approved ahead of time. For example, are you visiting Russia on your epic eastern Europe backpacking trip? Most nationalities require entry visas well in advance. Again, border control doesn’t care much about your excuses or how much money you spent on your vacation. No sympathy.
So, yes, needless to say, make sure all your paperwork is in perfect order for your international flight.
3. Charge Devices for Your First International Flight.
Bring a charger for your devices when it’s your first time traveling internationally. Actually, bring those chargers anytime you’re going overseas for a trip!
Not gonna lie, I find some airports are hopelessly outdated and unable to meet travelers’ needs in 2018. Come on. Everyone travels with their cellphone, tablet, and/or laptop. We all know this fact to be true.
However, gate areas sometimes don’t have many electrical sockets available for people to charge their devices. I think we’ve all seen people fight for the seat closest to the socket, right? Not a pretty sight.
And that’s not all! You may not even have a built-in charger on the plane itself.
Sure, many larger planes do have chargers or even USB sockets neatly tucked between the seats.
If you’re stuck on an older plane and don’t have a charger, you may not be able to send a message upon arriving at your destination. Why? Cause your phone is long dead.
And what if you don’t like any of the movie options available via the in-flight entertainment system? No one wants to feel bored to tears for nine hours.
What’s the lesson here? Bring a little portable charger. You’ll save your sanity.
4. Don’t Forget a Pen When Flying Internationally.
Now, depending on your destination, you might have to fill out an arrival card for customs. Yes, this card is mandatory. Yes, you need to know your flight number. And your passport number too. Don’t fudge these numbers either.
On occasion, you’ll receive these arrival cards on the plane as you’re nearing your final destination. My advice? Complete the card on board to save time at customs. The less time spent in the airport filling out paperwork, the better.
So bring a pen with you for your peace of mind.
Sometimes the flight attendants have pens, but not always, and to be honest, it’s not really part of their job description to provide writing utensils to forgetful travelers.
Having a pen is a quick simple tip that will make your first international flight a piece of cake!
5. Health and Flying Internationally.
First and foremost, you need to stay hydrated and move around the cabin.
Water is so, so, so important for your health especially when you’re a passenger on an international flight.
The plane dehydrates your body quite fast. So try to avoid caffeine and alcohol, although I understand the temptation, and only stick to water. If you’re thirsty, ring for a flight attendant, and s/he will always be happy to bring you another glass.
In addition to staying hydrated, you also want to move around the cabin every so often. It doesn’t matter if you have the window or middle seat and as a result, need to make people stand up. Staying in one position for too long increases the risk of blood clots.
Yes, I’m serious.
According to the CDC, anyone who’s traveling for more than four hours needs ought to take blood clots seriously.
You avoid blood clots by moving your legs and standing and walking at least every two hours. Your health always takes priority.
6. Keep Essential Items in your Carry-On.
Keep anything important safely inside your carry-on bag. Meanwhile any items you can afford to lose should go into your checked bag. We all know checked bags don’t always end up at our final destinations.
You especially don’t need this additional hassle on an international trip – especially your very first one!
For example, lifesaving medication, your passport, cash and credit cards, and other valuables always stay in your carry-on. No exceptions ever.
Finally, if you’re a fearful flyer like me, I have a special carry-on packing list to help you on your journey.
Important items stay with you at all times. All. Times.
As for carry-on recommendations, my absolute favorite bag is my Tumi backpack, which I take on my international trips. It fits perfectly under the seat.
Going to Europe? Check out my backpacking Europe packing list!
7. Smile on Your First International Flight!
Yup, this is my final tip for flying internationally. Demonstrate a positive and flexible attitude!
Your first time flying internationally might feel like a stressful experience. The packing, jetlag, rushing to the airport. Not to mention, long haul flights might even terrify you!
Still, demonstrating an upbeat attitude will make your trip a million times easier. No one likes a sour puss.
People of all sorts fly every single day. Older people. Big families. Parents with kids can even do airline travel with carseats in tow. Everyone has the ability to fly internationally. Everyone.
A positive attitude means no complaining to airport personnel or flight attendants especially if your flight is delayed. A lot of those factors are completely out of their control.
Lately I’ve been reading a lot about the Law of Attraction. If you don’t know anything about it, the general premise is positive thoughts attract positive experiences, whereas negative thoughts attract a big pile of crap.
Now a lot of people think the Law of Attraction is way too New Agey or outrightly false. Fine, cool, I get it. Yet I still think having a happy mindset goes a long way when it comes to creating a positive existence for yourself.
So don’t go into your first international flight freaking out about negative possibilities. Instead take everything in stride. You’re much better off!
Still nervous? Check out my 43 tips for fearful flyers and get off the ground!
Tell me all about your first international flight! Was it a good experience? Bad one? What tips would give to new international flyers? Leave all your thoughts in the comments.