We’ve all been there: your international flight has just touched down at your destination. You’ve been cooped up on a long-haul flight for 10-plus hours and you’re ready to get the fuck out and stretch your legs. Before you can do that, though, you’ve got the chores that are customs and immigration to clear. Then you’ve gotta get to your hotel. This last part can seem the worst, simply because you’re so close to your destination.
Make the final leg of your trip as painless as possible by following our tips.
Get on the plane last
As soon as they call ‘boarding’, hang tight for a minute. There’s no percentage in scrambling for the gate immediately.
In fact, it’s best to get on the plane last – or as close to last as you can push it. There are several reasons for this:
- First class is unlikely to be full, and whilst you won’t get away with sitting here, you can dump your bag here. This will make getting off the plane faster;
- If you’re last on, you have your pick of seats. You can grab an empty row, if there are any going. But more importantly, you can sit as close to the front as possible.
If you can pull this off, it means you can get off the plane as quickly as possible by getting up, getting to your bag in first class, and getting off fast. You’re now ready to hit passport control before everyone else.
Have a pen and your passport handy
When you get on your international flight, don’t settle in just yet. Be sure keep your passport, boarding ticket and a pen handy. Actually, always keep shitloads of pens, everywhere. Unless you’re an EU citizen travelling to another EU country, chances are you’ll have to fill out an arrival card, and you’ll need your passport number, flight number and (if applicable) visa number. It’s much better to get this done on the plane, rather than losing precious time doing it at passport control whilst the queues pile up.
Possibly the worst thing on a long-haul trip is the seemingly interminable wait for your bags to pop out at the luggage carousel. It is just the fucking worst.
This can be easily circumvented by making sure that you pack light enough to avoid check-in luggage. Most airlines will allow a laptop bag and a small carry-on bag (usually around 7kg, but always check). Some budget airlines will only allow this, in fact.
Avoid the pack-rat mentality and carefully consider what you actually need – a minimum of clothes, a few toiletries (in airline-approved small-volume containers) and entertainment materials such as iPads, Kindles and laptops.
If weather allows it, wear a light jacket with plenty of inside pockets (out of reach of pickpockets) so that you can keep your passport, pen, tickets etc. safely on you without having to go through your bags. In a nice travel-purposed jacket, you’ll even have space for your earphones, neck pillow and so on so that you don’t even have to touch your bag until you get to your accommodation. Also, what you wear doesn’t count towards that 7kg baggage allowance.
For some excellent advice on how to pack light, check out Pier-André Doyon’s highly informative article.
Prepare your exit strategy ahead of time
If you’ve travelled enough, you’re no stranger to the pop-up twats that haunt the arrivals gate, sidling up to you with an oily smile and suggesting “taxiiiii?” the second you’re through. Obviously, it is an objectively terrible idea to ever, ever go with this fraudulent twat-stains.
Check your hotel address carefully whilst you are at home and still have internet access, and use your map app of choice to plot a route. Have a screenshot ready on your phone, in the local language as well as your own. And download maps.me along with offline map packs for wherever you’re going.
One of the most stressful and nerve-inducing parts of arriving in a new country is getting from the airport to your accommodation. If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly paranoid of getting fucked by taxi drivers, whether or not they’re ‘legit’. You wouldn’t be the first to get gamed by an ‘official’ taxi driver who won’t put the meter on, or has a meter that’s been tampered with.
You’re often best downloading an app for whatever Uber clone is largely used in your destination country. SE Asia favours Grab, whist in Russia and neighbouring Slavic countries, you’ll get a lot of mileage out of Yandex. A lot of them will even take cash.
Different arrival time give you different options; red-eye flights might be cheap but they also often mean that subways and trains – often the fastest, most convenient and cheapest options – aren’t running anymore. Research your ways to exit the airport and consider the arrival time when booking your ticket. What’s the point of saving 50 dollars on a night flight when the second, slightly more expensive flight might get you there in daylight, when all options will be on the table?
Not all airports are created equal
This one comes with experience but also with a bit of research. Due to their design, it takes ages to get out of some airports, while you can just zip through others. For example, you can easily be out of Berlin Tegel Airport in 5 minutes, from the plane to the parking lot. On the other hand: no matter what you’ll do, it will take you at least half an hour of running like a madman to get out of Shanghai Pudong.
As you travel, you’ll get to know airports better and sometimes you can change your plans in service of that. If you were planning on visiting, say, Germany and France but don’t care about which country you see first, it would probably better to fly into Tegel and leave from Charles de Gaulle than the other way around. Again: research, research and research!
Also prepare everything else ahead of time
Those apps up above are all well and good, but they don’t mean shit if you don’t have network coverage or WiFi. You simply cannot rely on airport WiFi to take care of you here, as many ‘free’ networks require a local number.
If you’re lucky, then the airport has a place, whether a kiosk or vending machine, where you can get a cheap SIM card. These may be data only, but that’s OK; that’s all that you need to use apps. It’s unlikely you’ll need to call anyone anyway.
More and more phones, such as Huawei and Apple, offer a virtual SIM card service. With this, your phone can log into the local network without the need to buy a SIM card. You’ll just need to subscribe to a plan (they have plans by GB, by days or by weeks) and pay by credit card to get instant access to the network. This can usually be done whilst the plane is taxiing (They say that using your phone while the plane is taxiing is dangerous – biggest lie in the industry). This service is usually available for all of Europe and most of Asia’s more developed countries. This can save you the hassle of finding a kiosk at the airport. Sometimes, virtual SIM card plans are cheaper than material SIM card plans. Sometimes they are not. If it’s more expensive, you can still take a virtual SIM for a day and buy an actually SIM in the city, when you’ll be rested and well situated.
Take care of your money situation ahead of time, too. Have several bank cards available (stored separately) or, if going to a particularly underdeveloped country, take cash. Depending on your destination country, euros or USD should usually do. Of course, cash is easily stolen and untraceable, so keep a minimum in your wallet and put the rest somewhere safe and relatively inaccessible.
And there we have it – no frantically searching for a WiFi network, no scrabbling for a borrowed pen at passport control, and no standing at the carousel impotently hating the baggage handlers that still haven’t put your bag out 45 minutes after you landed. Take the stress out of airport arrivals and get the fuck out fast.