Time should be on your side while you learn to travel
Sorry, but we need to talk about time management as it has to do with travel. Time—and managing it like a grown-ass, responsible adult—should essentially be your new best friend, right next to a healthy relationship with Fear. If you’re terrible at time management, I know this article might be like nails down a chalkboard, but bear with me.
I can think of very few examples where having an excess of time could really be considered a bad thing. This is even more true when you’re just starting to learn to travel, but also if you’re progressing from domestic travel to international travel. Time to pull up your time management big boy (or girl…) pants and dig in!
The travel machine doesn’t really care whether you’re perpetually late or haphazard about your planning; it will keep moving with or without you! Just to suck it up and learn how much better off you’ll be with good time management travel skills!
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For example, look at how Janet’s travel day spins out of control when forgets to pay attention to time…
Janet is a fairly versed domestic traveler, but she hasn’t traveled internationally in over 3 years ago. She’s gotten pretty comfortable with how simply and quickly she goes through her home airport. She usually shows up about an hour early because she knows the security lines are usually super short and quick. And since it’s a smaller airport, getting to the gates takes only moments. She usually flies carry-on only, since her domestic trips are typically only a few days.
Unfortunately, when she booked her upcoming international trip, the domestic travel part of her brain was calling a lot of shots based on recent experience. She took things for granted and didn’t really do the research she should have. The ticket she decided to book had a 1:05 layover, which she figured was plenty. She didn’t want to waste a bunch of time waiting around on a layover, so shorter was better.
On the day of her flight she reluctantly planned to arrive 2.5 hours early, arguing with herself that this was more than double what she usually gives herself. As she went to start her car…click…click…click; it was dead. Luckily her neighbor, the handyman type, did manage to jump her car and get her on the road in about 30 minutes. Starting even more behind, she raced to the airport, parked in the long-term lot and jogged to the shuttle bus.
By the time she got into the actual airport she only had barely 1:30 before her flight, and she still had to check her bag, since she wasn’t flying carry-on only this time. To her dismay, there were at least 3 dozen people in line to check their bags at the airline counter. She spent another 15 minutes getting through that line, and when she finally got to her typical security checkpoint she only had about 1:15 before her flight.
Wait, some airports have entirely different security checkpoints for international travelers!?
“I’m sorry ma’am, the international flights security checkpoint is at the other end of the ticketing level.” “Wait. What? There’s a whole different checkpoint for international flights!?” she exclaimed!
Getting angrier and more stressed, she raced to the international checkpoint but was stopped in her tracks by a massive queue of international travelers. By the time she got through, she had less than 45 minutes until her flight was supposed to take off.
At this point Janet was no longer jogging, she was in a full-on sprint. Luckily her gate was one of the first ones on the international concourse, so she was close. But as she rounded the corner to gaze upon the gate that her flight was supposed to be taking off from, it was oddly empty. Beginning to freak the f*ck out, she ran up to the counter and asked the sole airline agent there where her flight was. “Oh, that flight is now taking off from gate 32; it’s at the far end of this concourse.”
Frantically, she raced nearly 30 gates further but did manage to get to the actual gate only 15 minutes before takeoff and just as they were getting ready to close the boarding doors. The kind gate agents saw disheveled Janet, realizing she was the last person they were waiting on, and let her board. All of the overhead bins were already full, so she had to check her carry-on, quickly grabbing her computer and valuables to throw in her personal item bag for the trip.
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Crisis averted…or was it!?
Crisis averted…until the jet sits on the runway for 20 extra minutes, making her upcoming layover only 45 minutes. Oh, and little does she know that…after taxiing for 15 minutes at her layover airport…she’ll have to change terminals and log another airport sprint personal best…only to reach the gate after the boarding doors have closed.
Moral of the story—Don’t be Janet.
(Also—no gender bias here…songs from Rocky Horror Picture Show just happened to be going through my head for some reason…Damm*t, Janet. 🤣 )
This travel time management story brought to you by…reality
Now. This story is completely made up and kind of an exaggeration. But honestly, every component has happened, maybe just not all at the exact same time. The only part of that story that I find unlikely is the dead car battery, which just happened to set the dominoes in motion. But you could easily swap out that part for an early morning alarm she didn’t wake up for or a tragically inept taxi or rideshare driver. Maybe even simply realizing, after she’s halfway to the airport…on time…, that she left her passport on the counter. (Raises hand slowly…)
Here are places where you should consider factoring in more time so you don’t end up like Janet.
Time between connections
When I was a noob traveler I used to do short connection times for layovers, like in the under-an-hour range. That was until I finally realized how sh*tty airlines are about being on time, especially in the U.S., and how different airport layouts are.
More time if there’s simply no reason to rush. I use that extra time to take it slow, take a nap, grab some food, get some work done, or simply to explore the airport.
On a travel-hacking side note, this can also give you the opportunity to get to your layover destination and get first dibs on any bump opportunities…and the benefits that can come with them! Did I ever tell you about the time I screwed that up and lost out on $2400 in airline vouchers? More on setting yourself up to win at the bump game in later articles!
Time for transit
Personally, I tend to take public transit to the airport, which sometimes takes a while. I mean, a taxi or rideshare usually costs at least $50+ round-trip and that’s enough to cover all expenses for an extra day in most countries! Give plenty of extra time for getting to the airport especially factoring in rush-hour congestion if needed.
Time for checking in
Did you know that if you don’t check in for an international flight more than 1 hour before the flight they can give your seat away? With mobile check-in available on phones and computers these days, there’s really no reason for this to happen. But if for some reason you need to check in at the airport, it’s just another reason to give extra time.
Time for checking bags
If you’re going carry-on only and not checking bags, you’re saving yourself so many hassles over the whole trip in my opinion. But we’ll talk more about that later. Yet sometimes carry-on only travel isn’t a good option and you’ll have to check a bag.
It’s often a minimum of 30-45 minutes for domestic and can be an hour or more for international flights! They need time for it to run through back-of-house security scans and actually make it into your plane’s cargo hold!
Time for security checkpoints
Security checkpoints are extremely variable as to whether they’re moving smoothly or even as to how many are actually open! Combine that with the fact that all airports function a little (or a lot…) differently, and it can be a real mess.
Time for checking on gate changes
Always, always, always check for gate changes while heading to the airport as well as while you travel through security. There are few things worse than going to one end of the airport only to realize that your plane has now been staged at the other end… where you just came from. If you have a smartphone, download the apps for the airlines you’re using and see if you can enable push notifications for gate changes. Bravo if you can, but make sure you still check the FIDS (flight information display screens if you’re nerdy) regularly as a backup plan!
Time for holiday travel madness
Holidays can wreak havoc on travel time management and can create almost incomprehensible travel congestion. Any of those previous points can be dialed up to 10. It may seem like common sense for you to keep an eye on holidays that you’re used to in your home country, but please don’t forget to check your destination country if you’re traveling internationally! They may have holidays that you don’t even have where you’re from!
Time to relax and not stress
This is really what it all boils down to. As I mentioned, there are so many moving parts that are out of your control that it’s simply much easier to make your travel day full of gaps of extra time. Slow down, look around, and appreciate it.
Lots of well-designed airports now have art galleries, historical exhibits, and even interactive displays; have some fun!
These travel time management tips don’t just apply to airline travel!
The next time you’re planning any travel—like by bus, train, subway…or even a chicken bus…just make it a habit to always give yourself plenty of extra time!
Travel Planning Tips
Figure out where you are going & how are you getting there…
I suggest using at least 2 to 3 different travel search sites. Start with Skyscanner or Orbitz or Booking …or whatever aggregator site you prefer. Then when you see what airlines to use, check their respective sites for better deals or rewards flights.
Figure out where you’re going to stay…
If you’re interested in hostels, search Hostelworld or Hostelling International. For longer-term or more private digs, look at Airbnb, VRBO, or you can look for hotel rooms in the links from the search engines listed above.
Get comprehensive travel insurance, or in the least, travel medical insurance if internationally…
Especially with Covid not going anywhere, get covered. Start with an insurance aggregator like Insure My Trip, or with SafetyWing, World Nomads, or another. Then decide what is important to you; trip cancellation, baggage coverage, medical, or all of the above. And get a yearly evacuation plan, since you’ll have to get home after your emergency!
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