For many people, flying alone for the first time is one of the most stressful experiences they have ever faced. It seems like everyone you ask has some kind of horror story about their solo travel experiences. If you also happen to be someone with a fear of flying, then that’s just one more thing piled onto the list of anxieties. It doesn’t have to be a nightmare for you though.
If you have ever taken a flight with other people, those experiences will certainly give you a head start. But even if you are about to embark on your first flight ever, you won’t have to worry too much. Air travel is a breeze for those that come prepared, and you’ll be more than prepared with these 15 travel tips for flying solo. If you happen to be flying somewhere to go camping, be sure to check out our tips for flying with camping gear.
1. Make Sure People Know Where You’re Going
Just because you are going on this trip by yourself doesn’t mean you have to leave your loved ones in the dark about your trip. This goes just beyond a casual remark about your upcoming vacation. Solo travel is far from unsafe, but the people who care about you will be thankful they have ways to contact someone if an emergency comes up.
Before you go, make a detailed itinerary of where you plan to be and when, the flights you’ll be taking, and any companies you’ll be using, if applicable. You cannot go into too much detail here. It’s also a good idea to list the numbers of any US embassies you might be near, international emergency lines, international numbers for your credit card company, and any hotel rooms or campsites you’ll be staying at.
2. Plan Ahead for TSA and Security
People have started to like making jokes about the heavy security checks at airports nowadays, but don’t keep yourself from taking it seriously. Follow TSA guidelines to the letter and your time in security lines will be kept as short as possible.
Whether or not you like them, follow the guidelines for electronics and liquids carefully. Yes, it’s annoying you have to keep everything in little bottles and plastic bags, but there’s nothing you can do about it. If you don’t follow the rules, then you’ll draw the attention of airport security, which is just about the last thing you’ll want to do.
At best, it’s a stressful scene that could have easily been avoided by a little research and prep. At worst, it’s an enormous setback that could potentially cause you to miss your take-off.
3. Consider Starting Small
For a good number of people, their first solo flight is more out of necessity than out of choice. But, for those that are traveling on their terms, you might want to try getting your feet wet with solo travel before you dive headfirst into the messy business of international flights.
For US residents, maybe find a flight to New York, Atlanta, Portland, or anywhere that sounds exciting to you. As long as it’s different from what you’re used to and takes a decent flight to get there, it’ll be a great way to get a practice run for solo flights.
For people that live in smaller countries, a shorter solo trip might not be a meaningful or really useful step. But the principle is roughly the same: maybe try a flight that’s two hours away instead of jumping to stuff like nine hours away.
4. Keep Your Important Documents Safe but Accessible.
Don’t put your passport in your luggage. Don’t put your boarding pass in your luggage. Don’t put your ID or wallet in your luggage. You will end up having to present one or more of these things to airport security or at customs.
You can get a lanyard or keep them in a secure poach of a carry-on bag. If you have a backpack, that’s a perfect place to store them. You don’t want to be digging through your suitcase in front of the boarding terminal. Keeping your important documents in checked bags is also dangerous because if they get lost or stolen, then you are stranded in an unfamiliar place with all your most important items out of reach.
5. Bring a Portable Charger
This goes double for long flights, and triple for connected flights. Your cell phone is not only one of the primary ways you’ll keep yourself entertained during the monotony of a flight, but it can be a useful resource to keep track of info.
And this isn’t just about the flights themselves. Every joke you’ve ever heard about outlets in airports is true. For some reason, there are only four available to passengers in the whole building, and they are always crowded.
Save yourself a ton of hassle, and don’t ever worry about your cell phone dying at a bad time: pick up a portable phone charger for your next flight.
6. Don’t Get Too Comfy at the Airport
Unless you are playing the dangerous game of not showing up early for your departure time — which is a terrible idea — you’ll likely face a ton of downtime at an airport. It’s easy to cause yourself a huge headache just because you stopped paying attention for a few minutes.
Try not to fall asleep at all, but if you don’t think you can help yourself, then be sure to set an alarm. You’ll want to go for a twenty-minute power nap more than planning to wake up fifteen minutes before takeoff. Just because there is downtime doesn’t mean you won’t have to do anything after check-in.
One of the big worries is random gate changes. No one besides the people who work at airports knows exactly why, but it happens all the time. The last thing you want is to wake up from a nap, discover your departure gate has changed, and have to sprint across the airport with all your luggage.
If you have any connecting flights, random gate-changes can also be an issue there. Always take a minute or two to check the departure boards or look up your flight information. Traveling solo can be liberating, but it also means no one else is there to correct you if you slip up.
7. Think About Your Seat. No, Seriously.
Sitting down for a seven-hour flight is a bad way to discover that you don’t like the window seat. It’s hard to know for sure how you’ll like them until you first travel, but do put some thought into it. Any place in an airplane has its advantages and disadvantages.
Beyond just the planning, be conscious of those around you. If you end up in an aisle seat, don’t block the aisle with any of your stuff. Planes are already cramped and you don’t want to make enemies of the flight attendants. If you have someone sitting behind you, try and communicate about how comfortable you both are with har far the chair leans back. You’re all in it together, might as well make it as good as possible for everyone.
This can be a moot point since sometimes airlines will switch up seats without communication. Just be calm and don’t assume you are right. Keep this specific advice in mind for nearly every stage of your journey: when in doubt, check with someone or something.
8. The Cabin Crew Are Your Friends, Not Servants
Once you’re on the plane, if you ever feel lost, ask a flight attendant for help. They might not have an immediate solution or an answer to your questions, but if they don’t they probably know who to go to to find out. If you’re nervous about bothering them, don’t be. It’s much better to get help from them rather than potentially cause an issue.
That being said, treat the flight attendants with respect. There are dozens of other passengers they have to keep up with. They are happy to help, but they won’t stay happy if you make a nuisance of yourself. The best advice is to be patient. Odds are, your problem can wait until they can come and help.
Also, if you get a chance, be sure to thank the crew. It is a small thing that requires so little effort from you but can make some people’s days. Do not clap though. Despite what you may have seen in movies, most people find it demeaning.
9. Familiarize Yourself with the Safety Procedures
This is aimed specifically at people who have a severe fear of flying, but it’s never a bad idea to learn this kind of stuff. You’ll receive a safety briefing at the beginning of your flight — when you need to be wearing your seatbelt, those dangly breathing masks, emergency exits, mostly that kind of stuff.
Be sure to pay attention to that demonstration, if nothing else. Yes, most of the time, these directions aren’t going to matter, but the one time it does matter, having that info ingrained into your head can make or break.
You can take the examination of the safety measures even further if you want, looking at the specs of the plane and whatnot. Some people draw comfort from knowing all that kind of information. Other people don’t know how the sausage is made and want to keep it that way.
10. If You Can Help It, Skip the Plane Wifi
Seriously, it is always crazy expensive and rarely worth it. If you have important work or an absolute need to use the wifi, by all means, go for it, but otherwise, you can survive a few hours without checking social media.
Most people stave off the boredom by napping as much as they can. If you aren’t one of those people, a flight is a perfect time to catch up on some reading. If you aren’t a bookish type, most airlines have in-flight movies, and even there is a charge associated with them, a few of those are usually way less than wifi. Plus, most streaming services have a way for you to download shows and movies onto your devices and watch them without the need for an internet connection.
However, if you are determined to get wifi for your trip, look through your cellphone provider first. They are usually far better priced than what the airline companies offer.
11. When You Land, Give Someone a Call
This goes back to the first tip. There are going to be people that want to know that you made it safe and sound to your destination. This is especially true if you happen to be an unoccupied minor.
Not only is it good to touch base with someone, but it can also really help ease any nerves you may still have. Hearing a familiar voice can be comforting. Besides that, you might know someone who has flown quite a bit themselves, and they are bound to be a well of advice and information that can help you make sure you’re doing everything you need to.
Seriously, don’t skip this because you don’t feel like you can be bothered. It’s a small gesture that can help everyone you know feel better about your well being, and it takes maybe five minutes. Of course, in situations with international flights, time zones are going to be a concern — you may not be able to call someone because it’s 3 am where they are. In that case, feel free to shoot them a text or even leave a voicemail. Anything to let them know you’re okay.
12. Keep an Eye Out for Emails From Your Airline
Either make sure you have email notifications on or diligently check them between 24 hours from your flight time and when you wake up on your travel day. Airlines will send emails with all kinds of information and forms. Sometimes it’s one big email, sometimes it’s a bunch of little ones.
These can be anything from an online early check-in that can save you a ton of time at the airport or questions about accommodations such as dietary restrictions for in-flight meals. Typically you’ll also get the option to go for a paperless boarding pass when you schedule your flight. You should expect that in an email. Side note, when you get the boarding pass, screenshot it to where the scanning portion is visible. This keeps you from having to log in to your emails to find the boarding pass or worrying about slow internet speeds at the airport.
13. Drink Lots of Water
Alcoholic drinks aren’t widely available on flights anymore, but you are still offered coffee most of the time. Try your best to skip on these and drink water. Yeah, having to pee too much will get annoying but coffee is a diuretic anyway, so you’ll end up there just the same.
First of all, water is good for you, you should be drinking it anyway. Second, staying hydrated helps with jet lag. To make this easier on yourself, get a reusable water bottle. You’ll be able to take it on the plane if you show up with it empty, and it’s less of a hassle than a glass.
14. Carryon Etiquette
For first-time fliers, this might not be super well known. Most people know about the overhead storage for carry-ons. Though these might be crowded and not easily accessible to you. In this case, you can stow your carryon under the seat in front of you. It’s some weird rule no one is sure where it started, but putting it under your seat will probably draw some irritation from your fellow fliers.
15. Bring Snacks and Gum
This is more optional than the other tips. If you have blood sugar regulation needs or are just in for a long flight, it’s a great idea to bring some snacks with you. Your best bet is some nuts or granola or whatever you prefer in a plastic bag, outside its original container. This is especially recommended for people with a bunch of connecting flights that don’t want to break the bank on airport food.
The gum is to help combat the pressure headaches. When the plane descends to land, some people suffer head pain or ear discomfort because of the change in pressure. For whatever reason, chewing on gum can help combat the symptoms caused by the pressure change.
Flying can be one of the most stressful processes to undergo, especially for someone traveling solo for the first time. There is so much to do and remember, but you don’t have to feel overwhelmed. The name of the game when it comes to air travel is preparation, and hopefully, these tips on flying alone for the first time have helped you feel more prepared.
Bonus tip: Check out this video on how to pack a whole trip’s worth of clothes into just one carryon: