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5 Things to Know Before an International Flight

I believe that one of the best things about traveling is sharing the lessons learned, and I recently learned a valuable lesson during my trip to Europe. I packed, planned, and purchased my suitcase (click here for my post on packing for 2 months in 1 carry-on) based on the assumption that the advertised statement of “carry-on size guaranteed” included international regulations. I was wrong. Dead wrong.

Now, I’ve had my fair share of lost baggage when traveling. In fact, up until now, I’ve only had one full international vacation where one (if not both) of my bags ended up meeting me at my end destination. Luckily, I’ve always gotten them back within 2-3 days, but there’s nothing to teach you to pack underwear and a change of clothes in your allowed “personal item” like landing after 24 hours of flights without any fresh options to swap into.

Just like my limoncello post, I’m sacrificing myself so that you don’t repeat my mistakes. Here are my top 5 nuggets of information to know before you fly abroad:

Size & weight of carry-on bags: Every airline is different in Europe, particularly the budget airlines. For example, RyanAir has a very low threshold for the size of items on board and they do not budge on these parameters. If you think you can ignore them and get your bag checked for free, you will be surprised to know that you will owe around $60 for requiring a checked bag at the gate. After all, that’s how they can get away with flight prices under $50! Another example is Alitalia, who only allows one item in total. You may be able to sneak a purse or bag on, but just know that it is a gamble and that you may be required to hand over one of your pieces to the gate agent to be picked up at the luggage carousel. My advice is to check all restrictions on-line in advance, pay for the luggage before getting to the airport (if you need to), and make sure that you are following the rules to the tee. You’ll save yourself the stress of playing the “what if” game at the gate.

Boarding procedures: This is a humdinger. For real. I want to emotionally prepare anyone who is traveling abroad for the lack of order that they are about to see at the international gates (specifically flights between EU locations). I feel like I may have lost a little of my soul each time I’ve gone through the boarding process. There really is no order here, and priority seating is sometimes honored (sorry, SkyPriority folks), so when you start seeing people crowd around the gate….GO! If you have overhead baggage, work your way to the front of the line and get ready. I’m not very aggressive in social situations, but I have been known to use my luggage to block people from passing me in the line strictly out of necessity (don’t mess with my overhead space).

Your boarding pass: This one was new to me, even though I had traveled a bit. In America, once you are scanned in by the gate agent, you can stow/throw your ticket (unless you’ve put your luggage bar code sticker on the back…don’t toss that!). However, I’ve only had one flight so far during my Europe travels that didn’t require me to stop and show my ticket when entering the plane before actually taking my seat. If you have bulky items, remember to keep your ticket easily accessible so that you aren’t rummaging through your bags and blocking everyone from boarding.

Shuttles: Here is where I’ve seen Americans literally lose their ever-lovin’ minds. Not only do you have to sometimes beg, borrow, and steal to get towards the front of the line, but once you get through the gate, you may be required to jump on a shuttle to take you to the plane. This happens every once in a blue moon in America, but it is VERY normal abroad. This allows the airports to be smaller, so it actually makes financial sense. However, these shuttles get full and every culture has a different expectation when it comes to personal space. Be patient, stand your ground, and strategically place yourself near a door so that you can pass the group and (hopefully) snag a place towards the front of the customs line as you exit (these lines can get long and you may be sittin’ for a bit if you don’t hustle from the shuttle).

Carry anything sentimental: I’m not pointing any fingers, and I would use this rule of thumb in America too. However, it just makes sense that if something is invaluable to you, that you wouldn’t put it in the hands of someone else for hours on end. I may sound skeptical, but I met someone during my EatWith dinner in Venice (see post here) that arrived at the luggage carousel to find that their zipper had busted and the only thing that was missing was her jewelry bag. I’m hopeful that someone honest found this later, but she had come to terms that she may have lost some of her most sentimental pieces during her commute. I would suggest leaving anything that would be soul-crushing to lose at home, and carry anything that you can’t live without directly on you.

It’s important to remember that cultural differences don’t mean ‘wrong.’ These things may feel like they don’t make sense, but it never helps to be the person complaining about another country while surrounded by its residents. My best advice is to saddle up and get ready for a big glass of red once you land in your destination.


Do you have any stories or tips to share? Let’s hear ‘em!

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