The top things to do before a flight range from enrolling in a frequent flier program to packing your essential passport and visa documents. There are lots of important things to do days, weeks, and even months before boarding a plane, so plan ahead and follow these tips!
Let’s face it, air travel can be crazy. From long lines at airport security to fierce competition for overhead space, air travel is not what you look forward to in a vacation. But it doesn’t have to be so bad. In fact, air travel can even be enjoyable when you take the time to prepare and organize yourself beforehand. Here are my top tips and things to do before a flight in 2021.
Things to do 1 month before a flight
1. Get a travel rewards credit card
Ideally, you’ll want to get one of these before you book your flight (points, points, points!). Basic cards carry no annual fees, where you’ll get extra points on travel and dining-related expenses. Cards with high fees tend to give you much more in return, including airline lounge access and credits on incidentals (i.e. free checked bags). I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which has no foreign transaction fees, 2x points on travel and dining, and 25% additional value when redeeming travel expenses (airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises). American Express also offers some great travel rewards credit cards, but they carry higher annual fees, which is not worth it for 99% of travelers. There are many great travel credit cards out there, so be sure to do your research!
2. Confirm vacation days with your boss
As you’re planning the trip of a lifetime, remember to run the dates by your boss, coworkers, and clients, and plan for upcoming projects accordingly. You should also set boundaries and expectations around your vacation (i.e. do you intend to be offline the whole time, or are you planning to check emails at night?) The last thing you want after a trip is come back to the office and receive dirty looks from coworkers. So set the expectations up front!
3. Book your accommodation
If you haven’t done so already, now’s the time to book your stay. I’ve found that hotels and Airbnbs are cheapest at least a month in advance, so plan accordingly! Here are some promo codes for my go-to sites that you can use to save money:
- Booking.com: If you haven’t used Booking.com before, you can use my code and we’ll each get a reward of $25 after your first booking.
- Hotels.com: If you haven’t booked with Hotels.com before, you can use my referral code. You’ll save up to $50 on your first booking, and I’ll receive $50 as well.
- Airbnb: If you haven’t used Airbnb before, you can use my code and get up to $55 off your first booking.
4. Check your passport and visa documents
Heading on an international trip? I recommend double-checking your passport and visa documents at least one month prior to takeoff. First and foremost, make sure your passport is set to expire at least 6 months after the final date of travel. Many countries will not allow you to enter otherwise. If you’re taking an international flight to a place that requires a visa, ensure that the terms of your visa are correct. If there are any issues with your passport or visa documents, you’ll still have enough time to straighten it out. Sometimes it can take a few weeks to process these documents, so you may have to pay extra to expedite it.
5. Stay on top of vaccinations
Depending on where you’re traveling to, you may be required or encouraged to get a vaccination. As such, it’s always a good idea to check your government’s travel advisories (here’s the US State Department website) and consult your doctor well in advance. If any vaccinations are needed, don’t wait until the last minute to schedule them. Also, if you take any prescription drugs, now is a good time to get them refilled.
6. Get travel insurance – an essential thing to do before a flight
I’ve been guilty of not doing this, but I recently started using travel insurance and it’s a lifesaver. It gives you peace of mind in case plans change or you encounter any unforeseen obstacles.
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7. Book the main attractions
Now’s the time to start putting together your travel plans. If you’re trip coincides with high season, don’t wait until the day before to book the main attractions. Whether you’re looking to do a popular guided tour or go somewhere special for your anniversary dinner, you should begin booking these things well in advance of your trip.
8. Plan out your frequent flier status
Research all the frequent flier programs out there, and make sure your flight purchases are helping you achieve premium status. If you have a favorite airline, will you be able to reach gold or platinum status this year? Have you remembered to attach your frequent flier number on all your recent (and upcoming) flights? If you travel often, this is something you’ll want to look into and strategize on a regular basis.
Things to do 1 week before your flight
9. Make copies of important documents
It’s always a smart idea to make copies of your passport, visas, and driver’s license. Additionally, it’s advisable to make copies of your credit card information in the event they get lost or stolen. If applicable, you should also consider making copies of your immunization card. For each of these items, be sure to store one copy at home and bring the other with you as you’re traveling.
10. Research stuff to do (don’t wait until moments before you board a flight!)
If you’re someone who likes to have a plan before arriving at the destination, now’s the time to put in the research. I always jot down the main sights and attractions I want to see, and put them into Google My Maps so I can plan my itinerary accordingly. Last-second research is no fun, so be sure to begin your research well in advance.
11. Organize all your tickets and confirmations
Using an app like TripIt, you can consolidate all your trip information in one place. It can get overwhelming trying to remember your flight’s check-in times, gate numbers, and flight statuses on top of all the other logistical items of your trip, such as hotel reservations and tour bookings. Have an app do this for you!
12. Buy any gear or attire you need for your trip
13. Research data plans
If you’re traveling internationally and need a data plan for your trip, be sure to explore all your options. My U.S. phone plan has an expensive international data package, so I get SIM cards through local telecom companies instead. If you opt to get a SIM card locally, you should ask if there are any promos or plans designed for foreign visitors. Sometimes it’s cheaper to get a SIM card with a monthly data plan rather than doing an ad hoc/refillable one. If you do decide to go down the local SIM card route, make sure that your SIM card is unlocked by your telecom provider!
Things to do a few days before a flight
14. Check the weather forecast in your destination
This will help you decide what to pack.
15. Begin packing
Don’t wait until the last second to pack your luggage! Rather than frantically packing a few hours before takeoff, give yourself at least a few days. That way, you’ll have plenty of time to do laundry and get yourself organized. (Tip: If you can, try to avoid checked baggage, as it makes traveling a little more stressful and harder to get around. Of course, on long haul flights where you’re spending many days in your destination, bringing a checked bag may make sense).
If you don’t have a packing list, feel free to use mine below!
16. Buy a travel pillow and sleep mask for the flight
17. Empty out your fridge
If you have any perishable food, now’s the time to start finishing it. There’s nothing worse than coming home to rotten vegetables!
18. Leave pasta or frozen food behind
The only thing worse than coming home to rotten vegetables is coming home to nothing at all. It’s always a good idea to have a stash of pasta or frozen pizza ready for you when you get home.
19. Notify your credit card companies when you’ll be traveling
Banks will sometimes put a hold on your account when you attempt to make purchases abroad. To prevent your card from getting blocked, you should alert your bank of the precise dates of your vacation and where you’ll be traveling to. If you’re at a beach bar in the Caribbean, the last thing you want to see is your credit card getting declined when you’re buying a piña colada.
20. Plan out your public transportation options
This is one of the most important yet overlooked things to do before a flight. How will you get to and from the airport in your destination? What are the best options in terms of price and convenience? As a cost-conscious traveler, I usually take buses or metros from the airport. However, sometimes late at night or early in the morning, there is no public transportation option. Plan accordingly!
21. Research TSA carry-on requirements ahead of time
The screening process at TSA is one of the most stressful parts of air travel. Do yourself a favor and get comfortable with the security screening process, and find out what’s allowed (and what’s not). That way, you won’t have to deal with items being confiscated from your carry-on luggage.
Just as a refresher: liquids in your carry-on luggage must be less than 3.4 ounces (100 mL), and stored in a transparent bag. Here’s the official TSA website, which lists the security screening requirements in more detail.
22. Make a Spotify playlist for your trip
I love making playlists, especially before a big trip. If you’re like me and can’t survive a long haul flight without music, then make a playlist a few days out. Remember to save the playlist offline as well, so you can use it in airplane mode!
Things to do the day before a flight
23. Drink lots of water
Air travel takes its toll on the body, especially when you’re on a long flight. Not only is the cabin air stuffy, it also dehydrates us. To stay hydrated and reduce jet lag, I always begin drinking lots of water the day before my flight. It’s also a good idea to drink lots of fluids on the flight, so be sure to bring a reusable water bottle that you can fill once you pass security.
24. Set your out of office email
Best feeling in the world, right? Before hightailing it out of the office, double-check the dates on that email. I’ve seen a lot of “out of office” replies with dates recycled from prior trips. Even though you’re already in vacation mode, be sure you get this right!
25. Download your airline’s app and check in
Many airlines have apps that allows you the check-in beforehand and manage your online boarding passes. If this is the case for your airline, be sure to download the app the night before your flight. If you’re traveling domestically without a checked bag, a mobile boarding pass will allow you to skip the check-in line and go directly to security. Some airlines even offer in-flight entertainment to passengers using their mobile apps (i.e. Alaska Air). Don’t miss out!
26. Download a flight tracking app
Check your flight status and look out for potential flight delays using an app like FlightAware. This is helpful if you want quick info about your scheduled departure or are stressed about making it on time to your connecting flight.
27. Enroll in the airline’s frequent flier program
Hopefully when you purchased your airline ticket, you attached a frequent-flier number to it. If you haven’t, be sure to research the airline’s partner or alliance program and sign up. These frequent flier miles can add up!
28. Finish packing
You should also take a look at everything you’re bringing, and perhaps cut out some things that aren’t necessary. Over-packing means you can’t bring anything home with you! Also, be sure to carry your essentials in your hand luggage, just in case the airline mishandles your checked luggage (it does happen).
29. Clear storage space on your smartphone
If you’re like me, your camera roll is packed with pics and videos from prior trips. Have you ever run out of storage space? It’s not fun, trust me! To avoid running out of memory while you’re snapping pictures, be sure to back everything up prior to leaving on your trip.
30. Put all your important documents in your carry-on
This will ensure you don’t accidentally leave your passport at home. You should also consider putting your driver’s license, plane ticket and any other important documents in the carry-on the day before your flight.
31. Make a meal and bring snacks for the plane
If you want to cut down your travel costs, food at airports is a good place to start. It’s overpriced, and the portions can be quite small. Moreover, a lot of airlines these days aren’t including meals and snacks in the base economy fare. If this is the case, you have an extra incentive to bring food from home! Even just some trail mix can go a long way!
Things to do hours before a flight
Whether this is your first flight or you’re already a jetsetter, here’s what to do before a flight:
32. Eat a big meal
Ideally, this will give you the opportunity to clean out the rest of your perishable food. Eating something substantial before heading to the airport is always a great idea.
33. Take a shower – the key to feeling good before a flight
This always helps me feel my best before heading to the airport. Sure, the airport cabins are smelly and all. But at the very least, it’ll help you freshen up beforehand.
34. Wear comfortable clothes
This is one of the most essential things to do before a long-haul flight. The airplane cabins tend to be stuffy and the temperature control can be all over the place. As such, I recommend wearing multiple layers that you can easily put on and take off. Make sure they’re comfy!
35. Stretch out and walk around
This is particularly important if you’re taking a long-haul flight. Aircraft cabins can be very cramped, so take some time to stretch those legs before getting on your flight.
36. Get to the airport early
Give yourself enough time to make it to the airport and security checkpoint on time. (TSA PreCheck allows you expedite the security process). To be safe, it’s recommended to arrive at the airport at least 1.5 hours before domestic flights and 2 hours prior to international ones. And once you make it through security screening, be sure to head to the boarding gate at least 30-45 minutes prior to boarding.
37. Measure and weigh your carry-on
It used to be just budget airlines that were strict with size and weight requirements of carry-ons. Now, sadly, many mainstream airlines are trying to make an extra buck while making your life difficult. To avoid the possibility of paying out of pocket for a slightly overweight carry-on, double-check your airline’s requirements before heading to the airport. If the carry-on is too big or heavy, re-pack accordingly and consider leaving some non-essential items at home. That way, you won’t encounter any surprises by those eagle-eyed airline employees.
38. Don’t forget to wear your mask
In 2021, it looks like air travel will still look different than the pre-pandemic days. As such, be sure to bring your mask and sanitizers to protect yourself (and others) from COVID-19.
39. Check out your destination on Instagram
Ready to get excited for your trip? Look at pictures and videos of your destination on Instagram and get inspired!
Now sit back, buckle your seat belt, and enjoy the flight!
Key things to do before you travel by air
I hope you enjoyed reading my pre-travel checklist of things to do before a flight. Whether you’re taking a domestic flight or international one, these tips and tricks will come in handy when you’re traveling. Which flight tips do you find most essential? Share your thoughts in the comments below! Hope your next flight flies by!
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