Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Travel Tips for College Girls

Thanksgiving week has been the busiest travel time of the year as long as anyone can remember. As college girls, we are a major source of that traffic, flying all over the country to be with our families (not to mention eat a good, home-cooked meal) for the holidays.

Just a few days ago, I found out that me, my boyfriend Ryan, and my Dad would be flying to Arkansas to spend Thanksgiving with my extended family. On top of the excitement of getting a home-cooked Southern meal, this trip means we'll be braving the crowded airports on the hands-down busiest airport day of the year: the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

I have always loved travel. Though being in an airplane makes me nervous, I've been flying to Arkansas and California to see my parents' family literally since I was an infant. In that time, I've learned a thing or two about how to handle crowded airports, TSA checkpoints, and long flights with ease. And because many of you might be flying home to see your families by yourselves - maybe even for the first time ever - I thought I'd share some of those tips and tricks today.

What to expect...

The airport can be an intimidating and stressful environment, but the time before you leave your house is just as nerve-wracking. You have to lock your doors, hide your valuables, make sure your pets are fed and the stove's turned off...the list goes on and on. And if you're a college girl heading home for Thanksgiving, this might be one of the first times you've even flown on a plane by yourself.

Whatever you do, don't panic, no matter what you've heard. Yes, it's true that the day before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel times of the year - but you can easily outsmart the crowds with some advance planning.

First of all, print your boarding passes in advance, if possible - not at the airport. You don't want to be that annoying college kid holding up the line for everybody else. Doing this one small step in advance could save you an hour or more of your time, plus help you avoid retaliation from cranky flyers.

Thanksgiving weekend is pretty short, so if you're not planning on staying long, I would recommend trying to pack everything in a carry-on bag instead of checking a suitcase. Generally, you're allowed to bring one personal item (like a backpack, purse, or laptop bag) and one small suitcase (check online for your airline's exact specifications) on the plane with you, without having to check bags. Carry-on bags will not only save you time, because they mean that you can check in at a kiosk instead of waiting in a long line, but will also save you a little bit of extra money, as many airlines have started charging for checking bags.

Throughout the whole day, but especially at security, keep your important documents (boarding passes, ID, and, if needed, your passport) in an easily-accessible pocket of your purse, backpack, or carry-on. Keeping your documents close by means you can easily whip them out for the TSA instead of taking hours to fish them out of an overstuffed bag - plus, if you're anything like me, knowing you have them when you need them will keep you from panicking about whether or not you might have left them in the bathroom.

Finally, depending on how flexible your class schedule is, flying out a little earlier and coming back a little later might help you avoid the crowds. If you're seriously worried about airport traffic, talk to Mom and Dad about strategically scheduling your flights to beat the flow.

What to wear...

Depending on where you're coming and going from, November weather can range from slightly chilly to downright frigid. Especially if you're traveling between climates, like Ryan and I will be, it can be difficult to figure out what to wear. The best way to solve this problem, in my opinion, is to pack layers in your carry-on. A sweater (either a cute pullover or comfy cardigan) and scarf are absolutely essential for chilly flights. If you're going to be leaving from or landing somewhere cold, you'll probably also want to bring a jacket - just make sure it's not too bulky to fold up and pack inside your carry-on if needed, and be prepared to take it off when you get to TSA.

Thanks to the new TSA pre-check system, you might not need to take your shoes or jacket. However, I suggest dressing preparedly anyways! The key is striking a balance between shoes that you can slip on and off with ease when going through security, and shoes that won't give you blisters walking around the airport. Needless to say, sky-high stilettos are probably not the best option for the airport, regardless of how cute they are - and wearing knee-high lace-up booties will leave the whole line cursing you at TSA checkpoints. Instead, opt for broken-in slip-on shoes like flats, Keds, or Toms (though there are always moccasins if you're feeling especially desperate). 

Above all else, the most important advice to remember when dressing for travel is that whatever you wear in the airport, you're also going to be wearing on the plane. That's why I like to stay away from jeans altogether when I travel - to me, leggings are the only way to go. But if you're not a fan of the whole leggings-as-pants trend, wear a pair of jeans or pants you won't mind sitting in for upwards of two hours. Boyfriend jeans, for example, offer a looser fit that might not pinch your waist or cut off your leg circulation as much.

And, speaking of leg circulation, long flights can wreak havoc on your leg health. I've heard of some travelers buying special compression socks to help boost the blood flow, but I personally would never invest in a pair because most places I fly are close enough that I don't have to worry. If you're an international student or are planning on studying abroad somewhere far away, however, you might want to invest in a pair - they're perfect for long flights when you'd rather sleep than walk laps! If not, getting up and pacing up and down the aisle every couple of hours will get your blood pumping just as well.

What to pack...

To me, packing is always the most difficult part of flying. You never want to pack too much and risk exceeding suitcase specifications - yet you also wouldn't want to leave home without your most important essentials because you were trying to save space.

What you'll want to take with you on your trip depends on where you're going, what you'll be doing, and how long you'll be staying, among other things. But as far as carry-ons go, here are a few of my in-flight essentials for a safe and comfortable trip:

Gum. When I was a little kid flying to visit my grandparents in California, my mom taught me that chewing gum stops the unpleasant "ear-popping" sensation you might feel during take-off and landing. Since then, I've never stepped on a plane without a pack of peppermint in my bag.

Book(s) and/or magazine(s). Flying is one of the rare occasions when I actually have time to sit down with that best-seller I've been dying to read, or the latest issue of Cosmo. Just make sure that you don't stuff your carry-on too full. One trick I've picked up over the years? If you're expecting to finish a book in-flight, pack a second book in your suitcase for your connector or for the flight home. That way you still have it if you want it, but don't exhaust your shoulders from carrying around too much weight.

Reusable water bottle. You can't bring your own water through TSA, but you can bring an empty water bottle! Most airports have water fountains, so you can fill it up once you pass through security - that way, you don't have to shell out an entire paycheck just to buy a bottle of water. (Okay, that may have been a bit of an exaggeration, but you get my point...airports overprice everything.)

Phone charger. Whatever you do, don't forget this! But especially don't pack it in your suitcase: be sure to keep it close at hand in your carry-on instead. Many airports have charging stations nowadays, so if you find yourself running low on battery between flights, you don't want to have to buy a new charger because you realized yours is in your checked baggage. Take it from me and double-check it's in your carry-on before you even think about leaving your house!

Headphones. I generally only use my phone in-flight to listen to Spotify, but a lot of planes have wifi nowadays, so if you wanted to use a meditation app or play a noisy game without bothering your neighbor, headphones are key. They seem obvious, but I almost forget them every single time I travel...don't be like me! Put them on your packing list RIGHT NOW.

Toiletries. A handy tip if you're worried about missing a connecting flight: pack your toiletries in your carry-on, not in your checked baggage! When my family and I have had to spend the night in a layover city because of delays or missed flights, I've almost always had to go out and buy toothpaste and contact solution in the airport. Now, I've learned my lesson. Just know that if you're going to pack liquids, the bottles cannot hold more than 3.4 oz. (To save money, use reusable travel-size containers instead of buying miniatures of all your favorite products.) and, collectively, must fit into a quart-sized plastic baggie.

Makeup. Often, I don't wear makeup on flights - but I wouldn't want to be greeted by my relatives with my face looking like hell, either. That's why I pack at least a few makeup essentials - like concealer, chapstick, and mascara - in my carry-on every time I fly. That way, when we're getting ready to land, I can quickly pop into the bathroom to ready myself. Oh, and be sure to pack makeup with your other liquids just in case: mascara might not seem very liquidy to you, but you'd be surprised what they're capable of confiscating.
Eye drops. As a girl with contact lenses, I have to bring eye drops on all of my flights. If I decide to sleep on the flight with my lenses in (bad, I know), my eyes will be drier than the Sahara when I wake up. You might notice the same effect anyways, simply because flying is so dehydrating - so whether or not you wear contacts, I would recommend stashing some in your TSA-approved Ziploc baggie.

Anything you couldn't stand to lose. Finally, as a general rule, pack anything in your carry-on that you couldn't forgive yourself for losing. That means heirloom jewelry, important notes, a favorite worn-out paperback, the stuffed animal you've had since you were five...never pack these items in a checked bag. I, for example, would never dream of checking my journal, because I couldn't live with myself if I lost it. While it's not guaranteed to happen, losing your luggage isn't uncommon by any means.  You can always buy new clothes and a new toothbrush - but if any item is irreplaceable to you, then it's better off by your side or safe at home.

What to do in-flight...

The hard part is over - you're buckled into your seat, ready for take-off! So, now what?

You have a couple of options for how to spend your time. First of all, you could try sleeping - but sleeping in-flight is a careful science, one that (for me, at least) requires the window seat and balling up a sweatshirt into a pillow. Plus, by some accounts I've heard, sleeping in-flight might actually make you more jet-lagged once you arrive.

As a beauty fanatic, you might also have heard that flights are a great time for some sky-high self-pampering. In-flight masking is especially popular among jet-setting supermodels, and might help your skin retain some of its moisture, even at such high altitudes. However, I have personally never tried this; I have too much social anxiety to risk embarrassing myself by walking around a plane with a dark clay mask on - even in the name of beauty.

The third and final option, which I tend to opt for, is to try to pass the time as efficiently as possible. Flights are the perfect opportunity for a rare moment of relaxation in the lives of busy college girls like us, if only because you're stuck with not much else to do. Not to mention, if flying makes you anxious - as it does me - you're going to want to keep your experience as zen as possible. So, read a book you've been dying to read, start writing that best-selling novel, or even bring a coloring book for some in-flight self-care. What better way to prepare for a busy couple of days mingling with family and stuffing your face full of pie, than to simply relax?

If you're catching a connecting flight right after this one, make sure you're ready to go with your boarding pass and ID as soon as the pilot announces he's landing. But if you don't happen to be in a hurry to board your next plane, then please, for the love of all things sacred and holy, don't be that guy who pushes his way into the hallway to get to his carry-on at the exact same time as everyone else. Be patient instead - your plane-mates will appreciate it.

What are your can't-live-without travel essentials? Let me know in the comments below - & don't forget to pin this post!

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