First-Time Travelers : If it’s your first time on an international flight to Asia, things may be a little confusing. Your trip will require a lot more planning than the short flight you took to visit Uncle Joe in Peoria last year. Here’s a few tips for making that long trip go a little more smoothly.
1. Make sure your ticket has the same name as your ID and passport. If your passport says “Daniel” for example, don’t book your ticket under “Dan.” And if your passport has your maiden name, book your ticket the same way.
2. Get to the airport on time. Plan to get to your departing airport at least two hours before your flight leaves. Remember too that airport traffic can be very congested, and it may take you longer to even get to the airport than you anticipated. Confirm that your flight is still on schedule before you leave your home.
3. The comfort factor. You will be sitting in a small seat in close quarters for hours on end. Chicago to Tokyo for example, might be a 12 hour flight. Sitting that long in a small seat is going to be more uncomfortable than you ever imagined (unless you’re lucky enough to be flying first-class). Even under the best conditions, it’s hard to sleep, it’s not very comfortable, and your legs may cramp. It’s important to keep your circulation flowing to your legs by getting up every now and then just to stretch or walk down the aisle. You can even do a little exercise right in your seat if the aisle’s blocked-just move your legs around a bit at your seat, cross and un-cross your legs, and stretch them in and out. Removing your shoes will also increase your comfort factor-but make sure you have clean socks when you do!
4. How many suitcases? The rules are tighter, and not all airlines are the same. Don’t assume you can bring two big suitcases to check in and two more to carry on. Many international airlines now only allow you one large and one small check-in, one carry-on and one handbag or laptop, so check the allowed dimensions ahead of time before packing.
5. What to pack? Don’t overdo it. Basic items like razors, shaving cream, toothpaste or shampoo are available there, too. If you have children with you, a few comfort foods from back home will go a long way. Take into account the local weather-if you’re leaving from Minnesota in January and landing in Kuala Lampur, bring some light clothes and sandals with you, it’s going to be hot. And of course, be aware of the restrictions regarding sharp objects and liquids.
6. Connecting flight confusion. You may need to connect to another flight in a strange airport in a country you’ve never been to before. Typically, these connecting flights are in a major hub, such as Bangkok, Tokyo, or Seoul, all of which have very large and busy airports. Rest assured, there will be signage in English directing you to your destination. Be aware though that not all staff speak English, but if you ask around, you should have no problem finding a staff member who can understand you. Announcements about flights are usually made in multiple languages, but the announcer may have a heavy accent and may be hard to understand-so make sure you have also checked the flight board to make sure you know when your plane is leaving.
7. Review your airport transportation options. When you arrive in a foreign country, finding your way from the airport to your hotel may be a challenge, especially if you are unable to read the signs. Your hotel may have a shuttle; alternately, there is probably a taxi stand at the airport. Be sure to take a taxi directly from the official taxi queue. In some airports, you may find rogue taxi drivers circulating the airport perimeter. These taxis don’t use the taxi stand for a reason-they may be trying to rip you off. They may not have a meter, or they may even have more sinister motives in mind.
8. Get some local money, in small denominations. Major Asian airports will have money exchange booths, some of which are open 24 hours. Some airports, such as Tokyo’s Narita, even have an automated machine for exchanging currency. As soon as you get through customs, before you leave the airport, avail yourself of this service, even if you think you can get a better rate elsewhere. You will need local currency as soon as you walk outside of the airport. Greenbacks, Loons, Euros, or Pounds won’t do you any good if you want something to eat or need a ride. Make sure to get small denominations, as taxi drivers and food stall operators are unlikely to carry much change-and if all you have are thousand baht notes in your pocket, you may be stuck giving your driver a much larger tip than you intended.
9. Getting to your hotel. Once you leave the airport, finding people that speak English may be a little more difficult. Check the web site of your hotel-it will probably have directions and a map written both in English and in the native language. Print out a copy of this, so you can show it to your driver. Airport drivers, even if they don’t speak English, are usually familiar with most of the major tourist hotels.
10. Don’t have a tight schedule. If you’re planning on getting to a meeting an hour after you land, forget about it. Plan on at least two hours to get your bags and go through immigration. Also keep in mind that large airports tend to be quite some distance from the center of town, and your taxi ride to your final destination may easily consume another hour’s worth of time.