As Pinterest and your grandmother's inspirational cross-stitches tell you, life is about the journey, not the destination. Traveling is fun. I mean, it's practically a miracle of human innovation (imagine how many tiny packets of peanuts are floating above our heads right now, then try to tell me it's not magic).
Of course, there's always room for improvement. While luxury airlines like Emirates provide an impeccable journey from takeoff to touchdown, there's no harm in empowering yourself with little hacks and tips for every step of your journey. Here are some little extras that'll help you breeze through your next travel experience.
How to Pre-Travel Prep
Tetris is fun, right? Not when it's three hours before a flight and you're trying to fit three pairs of shoes, a pool floatie, and a bunch of tiny bottles of conditioner into your purse. Save space by sizing down. Invest in a heat-sealer so you can squeeze toiletries into a drinking straw and roll your clothes instead of folding them to reduce bulk and avoid wrinkles. Store smaller items like chargers and headphones in eyeglass cases. You now have room for all the pool floaties.
Your luggage isn't the only thing that needs pre-flight prep. Brace your body and avoid jet lag by adjusting your sleep schedule when flying from east to west. By waking up and going to bed a few hours later, you'll be properly primed for exploring once you land. If you plan on doing that exploration with a friend, book your tickets together and grab a window and an aisle seat. You'll increase your odds of having an empty seat next to you (and if not, you can always ask to trade with the middle man).
Getting to the Pre-Destination Destination: The Airport
Now that it's packed, how do you get yourself and your suitcases to the airport on time and unscathed? Statistics show that if you book your flight between 6 AM and 7 AM, you'll reduce your chances of experiencing delays. If you feel like getting fancy, kick your trip off in style; airlines like Emirates offerchauffeurs. First and business class passengers who choose this option get complementary drives to and from the airport in more than 70 cities.
Owning the Airport
Once you get to the airport, zip through security quickly by choosing the line with only one agent staffing the computer. Two agents probably means one of them is getting trained, and every bag will be stopped on its way through the X-ray machine. If you're a frequent flyer, get approved for the TSA's pre-check program. You won't have to take off your belt, shoes, or jacket and can hop on the express line. The program is open to everyone and involves an application, fingerprints, and an $85 background check. Not bad for knowing you'll never have to take your laptop out again.
Need to kill some time before takeoff? If you can access them, airport lounges will keep you entertained before you depart. Consider buying a day pass if you have an especially long layover. The chairs are more comfortable and plentiful than the ones at the gate, and some provide extras like food, drinks, and WiFi (which is now basically as necessary as air). If you're flying Emirates, your lounge will greet you with fresh food, well-stocked bars, and even showers. Head there if you need to catch up on your work or just want a pick-me-up snack or a nap.
Take to the Skies
While you may be able to keep your iPad or phone on during takeoff and landing, use this time to move around a bit before take-off. Try some in-flight exercises or plane yoga (yes, it's a thing) to keep the blood moving and avoid malaise. Some airlines, like Emirates, also offer free telephone, email, and texting services, so you can catch up on work or talk to family members without using your own device.
Need to use the bathroom? Go during the meal service after the food has been served but before the trays have been collected. Flight attendants won't be blocking the aisles, and the line will likely be shorter since everyone will be preoccupied with their meals.
Mission: (Almost) Accomplished
You made it! Now to find your checked bags. Since everyone has probably tied a shiny ribbon on their bag, it probably won't help you in distinguishing your luggage. Try a custom tag instead by using a blank luggage tag and a unique design. You can also go digital and use your own QR code.
Once you get your bags, it's time to focus on getting out of the airport. If you've scheduled a pick-up from the airport (either through a friend or the hotel), try to arrange it at the departure area, not arrivals. The arrival area will likely be clogged with other travelers waiting for a ride. You can also share your trip with other people to reduce costs.
Most importantly, remember to relax. Airlines like Emirates can only improve the travel experience so much before it's time for you to take over. So turn off that phone, put your email auto-responder on, and take this time to recharge. (Yourself, not your smartphone.)
Nandita Raghuram is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn.