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Top Tips to make the Airport a part of your Awesome Solo Adventure

Having travelled to so many countries, I have navigated lots of different airports. To good the bad and the meh! Airports are a necessary part of travelling overseas and yes you could opt for staycations but if you would like to see as much of the world as possible and don’t have the luxury of uncapped time then airports and flying can’t be escaped. I was taken aback when I was asked how do you cope with the airport on your own? I took it for granted that the airport can be such an overwhelming place for the novice traveller. So I decided to do this blog.

I find airports intriguing they are this no man’s land where so many people and come together to then jet off to a multitude of destinations. I have met all sorts of people at airports I never would have anywhere else. The logistics of it all is quiet awesome if you think about it.

As a seasoned solo traveller I have learned to incorporate the airport into my travel experience as since you can’t escape it may as well embrace it. My holiday starts as soon as I have cleared security more on that later. But to make the airport a, dear I say it an enjoyable part of your trip preparation in key.

Essential Pre-Airport Prep for solo travel

Making sure you have checked and double checked your details are correct and your flight details such as boarding time, airline and number of flight and which airport terminal you will be flying from. Make sure your passport is in date and you have any visa or other requirements to travel. Your airline can advise you on this.

Note your flight departure time and work backwards to give yourself 3 hours to clear security for international flights and 2 hours for domestic flights. For some places this may vary and at peak times like school holidays I would advise being even more cautious. I would rather be too early than late! I hate rushing so I give myself time for the unexpected. An accident on the road at 4am when driving by coach to the airport was beyond nerve wracking I did make the flight but just!

Book transport

Book your taxi to the airport or book parking well in advance to get best rates. If using public transport I would add an extra hour to be at the airport as I don’t have faith that public transport is the most reliable. For instance if there is a train that will get me there on time (3 hours before flight) I will take the train before that just in case there is some incidence, or I have to change plans suddenly.

Print all your documents and charge all your devices. I like to screenshot my boarding back and take photo of passport, flight ticket purchase and download my travel insurance on my phone and take paper copies as well. You never know if you will have wifi or your device runs out of charge or apps malfunction. Digital is great but paper never breaks down! Also have handy a copy your accommodation confirmation as you may be asked for this when you land.

Check in and choose seats

Check-in online as soon as you can when check in opens usually 24hrs before your flight. Some airlines allow early check-in if you prepay for a seat you want. If you have a strong preference for a window or aisle seat then prepaying may be for you. You may even be able to choose or request a special diet if food is offered on your flight. I would advice is you have special diet requirements to raise this with the airline at least a week before your flight.

I usually leave it to pot luck for my seat as I prefer to be in the aisle anyway, I don’t like being penned it. Do keep an eye out on your emails (make sure they not going in your spam) your airline might try to entice you with upgrades. These rates are usually better that doing it at the desk at the airport. So you may grab a bargain!

Pack smart

How you pack can also make or break the start of your holiday. I opt for hand luggage for most of my flights so I don’t have to queue up at check-in and no risk of losing my stuff. I would advise pack light and if you need to purchase checked or extra luggage do so online before you get to the airport. Also there are gadgets to help you estimate your luggage weight so you don’t get slammed with extra charges. Also observe dimensions of luggage that are allowed for your airline. Not all bags are created equal.

Small carry on opened with items sandals purse inside

Arrival at the Airport

So you have arrived at the airport in plenty of time and you have your luggage and boarding pass if you checked in online. You may need to check-in at the desk if your don’t have a digital boarding pass or you if need to check in larger baggage for the cargo. The airlines usually have designated areas for their desks. Ask at information desk if not clear.

There may be screens above head that indicate the check-in desks numbers or letters you need to head to. There should be good signage around to guide you. At the desk leave your luggage and get your boarding pass if needed. You should also be given a receipt (a sticker with a barcode) that identifies your bag. Don’t throw this away keep this incase you need to track your luggage.

check in area in an airport

Depending on your airport most will have signs to Departures. Note there may be different departures for domestic flights (local flights to other cities) or international flights (flights to other countries). Double check which is which and head there no fun finding you in the wrong area. In Departures there are usually screens that lists all the flights leaving within a few hours. Find yours using your flight number. This is usually some letters or numbers next to your flight times. Use this to identify your flight not just the destination as may be several airlines going to the same destination around similar times. Again if in doubt ask.

Security Checks at the Airport

At the international departures you need to pass through security. Usually someone will check boarding pass and passport to verify you are travelling on valid flight. Then there is the security line. Bays are set out for people to put all their items in trays to go through a security scanning machine that checks for restricted items.

You are not allowed liquids over 100ml and they must fit in a small zip lock bag. You can get these at airport but best to have these in bag before arriving to save time and queues. You cannot take bottle water in and any medication will need to have a doctors note. You may be asked to remove belt, scarf, hat and sometimes shoes. Any sharp or metal items to go in a tray too. Jewelry is usually fine though. Laptops, phone, batteries, tablets any electronic devices must be removed from bags for scanning.

As your bags go through the scanner you will be asked to walk through a body scanner. This is to detect any metal items on you. You are not allowed any sharp items a metal nail file or razors are not allowed so best not to take these with you at all. If anything is detected security guards will call you aside and ask you to open your bags or remove anything that is prohibited. This can take a while if so best to make sure there is nothing prohibited and anything you do have can be easily accessed for scanning.

There you have now cleared security as you replace your items, put on your shoes or coat and collect your things. Breathe, Let the holiday begin!!

Electronic sign showing times to various destinations

Duty Free!

May be not quiet but why wait to indulge yourself. Again there should be screens to check which gate your flight will depart or listen out for announcements. You will pass through Duty-Free shops to tempt purchases. I usually have a particular item I know will be cheaper in the airport like a perfume or make up. Otherwise I just browse. I found some bargains in duty free! If you forgot anything like toiletries or plug adapters you can find them here but its way cheaper to get before hand or buy at destination.

Treats for family and friends is also good in Duty free and you can buy over 100ml limit of security gate. Do note though if bring liquids back then best to wait to purchase after security on the way back home as they may get taken from you.

Lounging at the Airport

I you want to enjoy a more gentile pace or escape the bustle of the airport. Lounges are great for settling in while you await your flight. You can enter for a fee and usually have complimentary drinks and meals. Wifi is usually much better that departure area. Business people use here to carryon working. I can blog here as well on my laptop. You can also find space to charge your gadgets. Some even provide changing facilities to freshen up.

Lounges are great if in transit and connecting to flights. I really like lounges for those really busy airports. Dublin is the busiest airport I have been in I would say Lounge is a must here literally no where to sit otherwise.

Airport lounge with large window view of plane on runway

If you prefer to walk around the airport and see the shops or eat at the bars and restaurants there is usually a selection for most tastes. I have been known to head for a sushi or prosecco bar. I do like to treat myself at the airport. But you can mostly do without a Lounge in most airports but for long transits and good deals on food or good reliable wifi Lounges are great. You can even have some quiet time to start journaling about your trip although you can do this anywhere at the airport.

There are usually seating areas but these can get busy at peak times. While lounges can hold your luggage for you, when navigating the airport without a lounge booking you must be careful not pay attention to your items and not risk losing them.

Waiting to take Flight

Now don’t get carried away by all this shopping or lounging always keep your eyes and ears out for your flight. I remember chatting away with someone only to hear announcement over the speakers! Last call for Flight number blah blah I thought that sounds familiar. Oh crap thats my flight! I sprinted to the gate! I got there to find there was a massive queue boarding hadn’t started yet. But it taught me a lesson. To stay alert.

Signs showing directions to gates at an airport

So your flight will be assigned a gate and it may take 30 mins to get to your gate depending on size of airport. So don’t get caught out. When you know the gate head there following signs. There is usually a small seating area pre-boarding and the airline staff with scan your boarding pass and verify your hand luggage. Getting to the gate early also has benefits as they may decide to take your hand luggage and put in the cargo if there are too many baggages to carry on. This I don’t like as it saves me time waiting for baggage when I arrive and I have lost baggage before and it was not great.

Boarding your Flight

This is the part just before you take off. The airline staff will call the first class, business or priority passages to board first. Then they will call families with children and then numbers of seats rows to board or you may have a zone on your boarding card. Wait till you hear to relevant announcement for you to board and you can start embarking.

Depending on the flight I will pay extra for a priority pass. You usually get more carry on allowance like a laptop bag or extra hand bag as well as priority call for boarding. This could, on some budget airlines guarantee you keep your bags with you as you have first pick of space on the flight.

For most international flights you will just need to walk down a corridor straight into your flight. For others, usually short haul or domestic flights, you may have to walk outside and up some steps to board your flight, not fun on a cold, wet day. Some flights you may be directed to board via the back or front of the plane, sometimes this is on your boarding pass.

Example of a Boarding area in an airport


View of plane wing in the clouds

And there you have it you have made it onto your flight its now time to find your seat, put up your backs and buckle up for the ride. Air stewards will be on hand to direct you. The airport need not be a place of stress if you are well prepared and give yourself time to take things at your own pace. I have met some interesting people at airports and remained friends for a long time.

I love airports and my favourite has to be Dubai international airport. I spent some time in transit here and it is mahoosive! This airport felt more like a mall. Everything thought of to support travellers comfort and such friendly staff. My most interesting airport was connecting through Addis Abba. I will do a blog on some of the best airport lounges and best duty free shopping I have encountered at the airport at some point. Until then happy travels and if you want any advice leave a comment or contact me on the contact form. I would also love to hear about your airport experiences.

Photos by thanks to the contributors