1. Apply for Global Entry – U.S. Citizens can clear customs quickly with Global Entry. (Citizens of Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and other countries have similar pre-screening programs that work in tandem with Global Entry). Application involves a rigorous background check and interview, but once you’re a member you can clear customs in a jiffy, and also take advantage of special security lines and procedures. Lisa Ellen Niver of We Said Go Travel is a global citizen who has traveled to over 100 countries on six continents. After traveling with her parents and experiencing the benefits of Global Entry, she lodged her own application. “After you apply and have your interview, you no longer have to stand in long security lines. You are whisked ahead with no need to remove shoes or take computers out of cases. It makes travel seem almost civilized again!”
2. Bring Your Own Liquor – Are you taking a domestic flight (and/or flying a budget airline) and want to have a drink but don’t want to pay the airline’s prices for liquor? Carry on a mini bottle of your favorite libation and mix it with the free soft drink, says Tamara Elliott, who offers savvy practical travel advice on Globe Guide. “This works well since mix (Coke, juice, etc) is already included on-board — plus, the TSA doesn’t have restrictions about what liquids you can bring, just how big they are.”
3. Hitchhike Into the First Class Lounge – Turner Wright of Once A Traveler, who has lived in Japan, South Korea, Peru, Thailand, and New Zealand, has an unconventional method for accessing first class lounges: Some first class lounges allow you to bring in a guest for free, so as long as you’re not too smelly and relatively personable, just hang out at the entrance and ask someone if he or she wouldn’t mind signing you in (including a sob story about how you’ve been cooped up for 30 hours and/or missing your family wouldn’t hurt).
4. Pay for the First Class Lounge – If schmoozing into the first class lounge doesn’t work (or isn’t your style), you can often buy a pass. It usually costs $30-$50 and gives you access to all the lounge amenities such as comfortable seating, free food and drinks (including alcohol), Internet, and sometimes even showers and quiet rooms for sleeping. If you have hours to kill before your flight or between flights, this can be money well spent.
5. Wear Your Extra Luggage – Benny Lewis as been on the road for over 11 years and was named National Geographic’s Traveler of the Year in 2013. He travels with everything he owns (including books!), and flies budget airlines with over 80 pounds of gear without paying for it. His secret? He wears his luggage with the unfashionable but arguably practical Jaktogo. “It’s not a great fashion statement, and uncomfortable to wear while you do it, but that’s only necessary while you [check in and] board the plane (since that’s the only time your number of bags are truly checked). The rest of the time, you can walk around the terminal and even go through security with it in its extra bag folded up mode.” (Benny himself a polyglot who teaches people to become Fluent in 3 Months with a variety of tools including a free crash course.)
6. Fly Red-Eye – Matt Stabile founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheExpeditioner.com and ExpeditionerSafaris.com says the best way to avoid the hassle of getting through airports is to choose red-eye (overnight) flights, especially if it’s a long flight. “If you book a flight that leaves past, say, 10:00pm, you’ll avoid rush hour traffic on the way to the airport, lines at check-in are going to be minimal, security will take a fraction of what it takes earlier in the day, and once you settle in for the flight, you can simply go to sleep and wake up at your destination.”
7. Get Help Booking Flights – If flying red-eye doesn’t appeal, Benny Lewis also recommends using Flight Fox to book flights; he says they can often find a convenient travel time for the same cost as a red-eye flight.
8. Ask for Assistance – Airports usually involve lots of walking and standing in line, which not everybody can manage. If you or somebody you’re traveling with has trouble getting around (due to age or injury), don’t let pride get in the way; ask for assistance. Jeanne Dee of SoulTravelers3 discovered this life-saver while suffering serious medical challenges and traveling with her family. “Airlines can help you with wheelchair assistance, making the whole process doable for someone with health challenges, and they escort the whole family through security and customs and such.” Jeanne and her multi-award-winning digital nomadic family of three have been on the road non-stop for almost nine years, visiting 47 countries on five continents for $23/day per person. Although wheelchair assistance shouldn’t be taken advantage of, it’s a huge time-saver if you have a tight connection and are unable to move quickly. I discovered this myself after suffering a near-fatal accident and traveling to the States for medical attention. I would never have made the connection in my condition without being skirted through the airport’s “secret passages” and ushered through special lineups. (Bonus: Your travel companions are escorted through with you!)
9. Eat at the Airport – Tiffany and Chris Soukup of VagabondWay.net have been traveling and working around the world for the last 10 years. They’ve learned through experience that eating a solid meal at the airport can actually be cost-effective, and arriving well-fed helps battle jet lag and even helps you make better (money-saving) decisions. Tiffany uses some hacks to make it cost-effective and fun. “I can’t say the airport is my favorite place to eat, but I look forward to walking around to find where I’ll dine. [Also], look ahead to know what restaurants are at the airport and see if you can get coupons.”
10. Family Travel Hack: Entertain the Kids Without Gadgets – Rachel and Greg Denning of DiscoverShareInspire.com have been traveling since 2007 with their five (now six) children. They know better than any parents how hard it is to keep kids entertained during long hours of waiting in airports, and they say using less technology (tablets, smartphones, etc) creates better travelers. The mind-numbing, easy entertainment of many [tablet/smartphone] games can lead to boredom, because children get accustomed to being passively entertained, instead of actively entertaining themselves. Reading books, talking, singing, playing games (cards, iSpy, etc.) can hold their attention and lead to bonding and personal interaction, which makes travel more enjoyable for parents and children alike.