Travelling to a distant, foreign land is one of the most exciting things someone can do, especially if it’s the first time.
It’s like my first week of college when I decided to grab a friend, set sail for fraternity row, and find the craziest parties. The results of that expedition were mind-blowing.
My first solo trip abroad was just as adventurous. I was headed to the Netherlands. I’m Christopher Columbus, ambitious and eager to discover new paths, make foreign connections, and see the world in a different way.
Part of my journey Miami to Amsterdam involves going to the airport. There are some logistics I should make you aware of in case you’re also travelling international. For starters: don’t forget your passport.
To fly internationally in a plane you’ll need a passport valid at least six months from now. You’ll also need your ticket, also known as a boarding pass. After getting that, you’ll check-in at the airport, check-in any large or extra bags, go through TSA (security), and fly away like Benny Benassi.
Obtaining a Passport
Briefly, applying for a passport in person is the most convenient method. In case you forget something, mess up with the paperwork, or just need re-assurance in completing the application, people are there to help you. I applied at my university’s Study Abroad department, but there are different offices that assist, too.
First and foremost, this wizard will inform you of the requirements and how much you’re expected to spend. Expect to spend at least $135; I had to spend $160. You’ll also be required to obtain a photo with detailed, exhausting requirements, but go to a Walgreens and they will take care of that for you. (Some offices also take photos.)
At the end, click “Complete by Hand” to be presented with a form called the DS-11. Read the second page of the form carefully. Complete the form and return it to an office. If you need help, the office agents will be happy to assist.
For the rest of this post, I’ll assume you have your passport glued to the inside of your pocket, ready to present it when needed. Congratulations, you are over the most (and probably only) annoying part.
Visas and Vaccines: Do I Need One?
A select amount countries require a document called a visa. The visa basically says, “You’re allowed to come into my country for tourism.”
Other countries may require proof of vaccines, although this is rare.
The Netherlands didn’t require a visa or vaccine so I didn’t have to worry about that. Of course, I made sure to double-check.
Consult your local destination country’s consulate or embassy for details on obtaining permission to enter.
From the looks of it, it’s not difficult to obtain a visa.
Before the Airport
Getting a travel ticket in older days meant that you had to go to a booking agent in a travel agency. Nowadays, you can go to the internet and buy a ticket. Many agencies sell tickets online, though, so how do you end up picking one?
Find the least expensive ticket. Use search engines such as Kayak and Momondo to find the lowest-cost ticket for your preferred dates. You don’t pay anything for buying a ticket through that Momondo link, by the way – only Momondo pays me.
After looking around for various dates during winter using many search engines (including Kayak and Momondo), I found out most were priced for over $1000, which is a little ridiculous. Yet hidden in the haystack on Momondo was a two-week flight to Amsterdam for only $679!
After much hesitation over two days, I booked the flight. (The booking fee was $8.) I felt alive realizing I was going to a foreign country I never imagined heading to. I don’t know anyone there, the streets are complicated to navigate, and I’m going solo.
That’s what everyone else was telling me, at least. I saw these as advantages. I’m open to making new friends; I don’t have to agree to a destination with others; and I’m free to do what I want, when I want, and with who I want.
Include travel insurance in your flight purchase. For the length of the trip, I’m financially protected from theft, bodily injury, and if a family member dies, I can cut my trip short. That’s why travel insurance is said to be “what you must have that you hope you don’t use.”
For two weeks, it only cost me $52. You should expect to pay that price: a rate of around $4 a day. As you’ll find out in a later blog post, it saved me from a lot of worry. You should receive an option to purchase it as you’re booking your flight. If not, check out World Nomads.
At the Airport
The travelling outbound process was smooth. I got to the airport an hour and forty-five minutes before my flight. People – even airlines – recommend being at the airport three hours before the departure. This may be true if you’re carrying a large suitcase or multiple bags, but even that might be excessive – two hours should be fine.
I didn’t have any bags except my Jansport backpack from college filled with mostly just clothes. For people carrying only a backpack or a similarly-sized bag, getting to the airport an hour and fifteen minutes before the flight guarantees you’ll catch your flight while saving time at the airport.
When my parents sent me to Honduras to spend time with my relatives, they prepared me with a large suitcase. Suitcases may be necessary if you’re carrying tubs of protein powder or for long stays.
If you travel with a large suitcase, however, you’ll have to go through baggage checking, which involves paying a fee and waiting taxingly long lines. At your destination, expect a five to ten minute wait for your bag at baggage claim.
Airlines allow you to bring a “carry-on” bag with you on the plane, free of charge. With a backpack, the process is simple:
- Check-in online (recommended)
- Go through TSA using a boarding pass
- Walk to the boarding gate.
- Work on my stories until boarding time
- Board, fly, and arrive!
The TSA process itself took less than ten minutes. They’ll check for items you can’t bring. When I got to the boarding gate, I had over an entire hour to spare.
Before TSA, you will need to check-in at the airport if you didn’t do it online or if you have luggage. Also, if you need to print your boarding pass, the check-in clerks can do it.
However, you’ll have to wait in line behind people checking-in their luggage. Instead, there may be kiosks that check-in and print boarding passes for you – look around and ask for those!
Once you get to your boarding gate, there’s a good chance you’re at least ten minutes early, or as usually is the case, thirty minutes. There’s a number of activities you can do in the waiting area. Reading is a great way to pass the time. I work on my stories, but I’ll also socialize. I sprung up a conversation with a lady about her destination, Dubai, and I learned how to say, “How are you?” In Dutch.
I think people become more friendly as they approach a boarding gate. It’s true. I’m surrounded by travellers, not city locals.
Most city locals are in the middle of a comfortable routine. On the other hand, travellers are about to be exposed to new experiences and adventures. These things make me feel alive, allowing me to transmit an exciting energy to them. They in turn might feel the same way: synergy in unison.
During the Flight
Ask the flight attendants for anything. Most will go out of their way to help you. When you enter the plane, you’ll be greeted by two or three flight attendants.
I was unfortunately condemned to an aisle seat (a seat next to the passageway) on the flight. Although aisle seats give easy access to the restroom, I wasn’t going to settle for it.
When I walked on the plane, I asked one of the attendants if any window seats were available. She took down my current seat number; before the flight took off, she moved me to a window seat she found. I was unquestionably one happy camper.
On the return trip, I suffered the same fate and got an aisle seat. The first flight attendant I asked didn’t look genuinely interested, so I asked another. The second one was able to find a seat. Ask and you shall receive.
Moving seats can also help if you’re seated next to: a mom with a toddler, a big person, a smelly person, etc.
Just like in the waiting area at the airport, you can read, socialize, and if you’re in first class, easily work on writing. Writing works well when you’re free of noise, comfortable, and in solitude.
Flight attendants will pass by the aisles serving water and free food. Don’t be afraid to ask for too much water. I got my first cup, asked for a refill, then another, and another, and another…I got five or six cups of water at a time; they’re happy to serve you.
You might get an overnight flight, just like I did. Surprisingly, I actually slept. I hung in there, but it must have taken at least an hour to black out. If you listen to the jet engine noise, it becomes easier to fall asleep.
I ended up sleeping five hours, only waking up since we were arriving. I even dreamt. Miracles do happen.
Arriving at the Airport
After arriving, make sure you’re one of the first to get off the plane. If you’re last, race to the exit because you have to go through immigration. Lines can get extremely long. Once you’re past that, you just pick up your bags from baggage claim (if any) and exit. Finally!
- DON’T LOSE YOUR PASSPORT.
- Make sure you go to Kayak and Momondo for the lowest-cost flights.
- Get travel insurance.
- Bring only a backpack and arrive an hour and fifteen minutes early (recommended) -OR-
- Bring multiple bags/a large suitcase and arrive two hours early.
- Check-in online and obtain your boarding pass before you arrive at the airport -OR-
- Check-in and print your boarding pass at a kiosk (recommended) or check-in clerk.
- Go through TSA, but make sure your items are acceptable first.
- Find and walk to your gate.