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15 Things Smart Travelers Always Do Before a Flight

Frequent fliers share their favorite tips to ensure a smooth travel day.

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US passport
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Passport protocol

If you’re traveling internationally, you won’t get anywhere without your passport on-hand. So make sure to double check you have it in your carry on bag before heading to the airport. “Make a copy of your passport to carry around at all times, and keep your real version in the hotel safe,” says Patricia Hajifotiou, who owns the small-group tour company The Olive Odysseys and has been leading tours in Europe for 21 years. “I plasticize mine to reuse on subsequent trips.” Plus, depending on your passport, it may be more powerful than you think.

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Buying airline tickets on line with a credit card

Protect against mishaps

So many things can go awry while traveling—trip delays and cancellations, delayed or lost luggage, travel accidents, emergency evacuations, and more. No, this doesn’t mean you should stay home and give up your dreams of seeing the world. “When I am booking an international trip with my family, I make sure to pay for our flights, lodging, and rental car with a credit card that offers reimbursement for these inconveniences,” says Leah Althiser, owner of travel blog The Frugal South. “Most premium travel rewards credit cards offer these benefits, some with an annual fee less than $100. These benefits can potentially save you thousands of dollars if something goes wrong on your trip.” If you don’t have a credit card that offers this peace of mind, consider purchasing separate traveler’s insurance. Here’s our guide to how to get reimbursed if your luggage gets lost or damaged. Check out these 15 travel point perks you didn’t know existed.

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credit card
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Notify banks

Want to escape off the grid entirely? Even if you don’t tell your mother where you’re headed, you should tell your credit card company. “Banks take extra precautions to prevent credit card fraud and will block transactions that don’t fit your normal pattern,” says Tom Carr, founder and CEO of Preferred Vacations. “If you don’t travel often, it’s best to let them know where you’ll be so you’re not in the checkout line or at a restaurant without a way to pay until you can speak with your bank.”

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Mother and son using wash hand sanitizer gel pump dispenser.
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Avoid germs

In the natural course of your travel day, you’re going to be touching numerous surfaces buttons, touch screens, escalator railings, security bins, armrests, seat belts, and tray tables—that countless people have touched before you between cleanings. “Clean germs off your hands as frequently as possible, and carry a 3-ounce bottle of antibacterial hand sanitizer for whenever you can’t wash with soap and water,” says Dr. Spangler. “Also, consider bringing a small packet of antibacterial wipes when you’re flying to wipe down the surfaces that will be in your immediate vicinity for the duration of your flight, particularly the seat-back tray table, which has been shown to harbor more germs than the airplane bathroom.” For the truly germaphobic, consider using portable Lysol disinfecting wipes.

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Prevent jetlag

If your circadian rhythm is easily disturbed, a little foresight can help decrease your adjustment time. “Set your watch to the arrival time zone as soon as you sit in the plane,” says Mitch Krayton, CTA, who owns Denver-based Krayton Travel. “Then eat, sleep, and act like you are already in the time zone. This will help you manage jet lag and keep you ready to go on arrival.” Here are 12 more ways to outsmart jetlag.

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A hand do some action to put a sock on a foot.
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Put on compression socks

They may not be sexy, but compression socks are a simple life-saving measure everyone should add to their wardrobe. “Especially during a long flight, remaining sedentary for extended periods of time can introduce problems,” says Dr. William Spangler, Global Medical Director with AIG Travel, who has more than 30 years of emergency medical experience. “One of the most common of these is deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which is the formation of blood clots, particularly in the lower leg or thigh. It doesn’t cause much pain, but when the clots break off and go elsewhere, they can create serious problems.” Aside from compression socks, which help to increase circulation, Dr. Spangler advises getting up at least every two hours, even if it’s only in your seat just to move your legs. If you can walk up and down the aisle a bit, that’s even better.

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Mobile smart phones Black charging on wooden
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Charge electronic devices

Somehow, people used to fly without any electronics. Today that would be unheard of—unless you’ve run out of juice and downgraded yourself back to the stone ages. “Making sure your phone, laptop and other electronics are charged accomplishes two things,” says Christian Eilers, founder of the travel site Dauntless Jaunter. “First, it ensures you have enough power to keep you entertained or working during your flight. Secondly, it also forces you to know in advance where you have your batteries and cables, saving you from that last-minute scramble with the Uber waiting outside.” It’s also wise to travel with a portable charger just in case your battery wears out faster than you anticipated. Here are 16 more things never to forget when traveling overseas.

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Staff Holding Boarding Pass Of Passenger At Airport
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Sign up for TSA PreCheck

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a greatly reduced wait time and less invasive check while going through security? “If you’d prefer to minimize the hassle of the security screening, apply for the TSA PreCheck program,” recommends Jenny Smith, a frequent flier and founder of the blog How to Move to New Zealand. “This program allows you to register in advance and complete an interview to join the PreCheck program. There’s also a small fee to join, but if you semi-frequently fly this can be well worth the perks of a shorter security line, not having to remove your shoes, and not having to take out your laptop or liquids.” Of course, TSA PreCheck isn’t the only game in town—check out these other pre-screened programs that will have you breezing through security.

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Business african american man wear on black suit and glasses at office looking on mobile phone.
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Real-time info

Great, did you just sprint all the way to your gate only to find out it was switched to one much closer to where you started? “Sign up for flight updates on your phone,” says Alissa Musto, a professional traveling musician and singer-songwriter. “If your flight is delayed or security lines are long, you’ll get updates in real time so you know what to expect when you arrive at the airport and can plan accordingly.” Along with signing up for text alerts, don’t forget to download your airline’s app, too.

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mature businessman putting luggage into overhead locker on airplane

Carry on must-haves

If you haven’t yet mastered the art of traveling with only a carryon, that’s OK—but there are certain things you must never check. “Pack your medication in your carry on,” says Jeff Miller, who co-owns the travel blog Our Passion For Travel with his wife and has visited 73 countries. “If you are taking medication, bring it in your carry-on luggage. Depending on your destination, in the event of lost luggage, your medication may not be easily accessible or may cost a small fortune.” He also suggests bringing a change of clothes on board, so that you have a clean set if your luggage takes an accidental side trip and doesn’t arrive until the following day. The same goes for your passport, money, electronics, jewelry, lighters, and lithium batteries. And if you’re feeling up for the challenge, here are 10 ways to pack lighter when you travel.

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Jar with shelled organic Macadamia nuts and space for text on blue wooden background
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BYOF (bring your own food)

Unless the idea of a wilted airplane sandwich or waiting in a long line for a greasy burger excites you, it’s best to travel with your own food. “Airport food is notoriously overpriced and nutritious options are hard to find,” says Betsey Banker, owner of the travel blog Midlife Millennials and former wellness educator. “I plan ahead and bring my own snacks or meals. Nuts, fruits, and veggies are all good options. On a regular basis, I take my own salad in a gallon-sized sealed bag. Bringing your own food allows you to eat on your own schedule and according to your own dietary preferences, which is especially important on long days of travel, when you’re moving between time zones, and when you have short connections.”

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Airplane Seat
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Choose seats wisely

You may think you’ve read the seat map correctly, only to find out you’re seated right next to the bathroom, have less legroom thanks to an equipment box, or inadvertently booked a seat without a moveable armrest (therefore reducing seat width). “Refer to website Seat Guru when booking your seats on your flight,” says Victoria Langmead, Safari Expert for travel company Scott Dunn. You’ll be able to consult a seat map for each specific aircraft and determine the ideal seat selection for your preferences. Don’t miss these travel tips that are safe to ignore.

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Mature businessman expecting airplane at the airport. Thoughtful business man waiting for flight in airport. Formal business man sitting in airport waiting room with luggage and phone in hand.

Visit an airport lounge

Whether you have a long layover or need to hop on a conference call in peace, an airport lounge can be your safe haven from all the chaos. “Take advantage of the airport lounges, because they’ll make your travel experience much less stressful,” says Yuichi Nishiyama, a pilot for All Nippon Airways. “Not only are lounges a nice place to retreat from the hustle and bustle happening at the gates, but they have a variety of services from dining to shower facilities, to designated workspaces.” If you haven’t racked up enough airline status or your credit card doesn’t give you access, then many airlines will allow you to purchase a day pass. Here are some airport mistakes to stop making before your next trip.

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Airport sign in Chicago O'Hare International Airport
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Check travel alerts

Before every vacation, it’s important to know what’s happening where you’re actually going. The U.S. Department of State posts travel advisories for different countries explaining which ones you could still travel to and which ones you should exercise a bit more caution. Make sure you know these 13 things to never do in an airport.

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partial view of african american businessman pouring water into glass at workplace with laptop
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Hydrate ahead of time

There’s a reason your lips feel chapped, your nose and throat feel dry, and your hands turn scaly on a flight—according to the Cleveland Clinic, roughly half of the air circulating in the cabin is pulled from outside air, and at 35,000 feet that air has very little moisture. “I always make sure to hydrate well before a flight,” says Anisa Alhilali, who co-owns the blog Two Traveling Texans and has stamps from 41 countries in her passport. “I try to drink as much water as possible for 24 hours before I travel. I also make sure to have water with me on the plane. It’s best to bring your own refillable water bottle, and fill it up after going through security, since buying water at the airport can be expensive.” Avoiding caffeine and alcohol on your flight will also help keep you hydrated. Next, read on for 18 things you should never do on an airplane.

Jill Schildhouse
As an editor-at-large for Reader's Digest, Jill Schildhouse regularly covers travel, wellness, food, beauty, consumer products and product reviews. She has more than 20 years of experience as an award-winning lifestyle writer and editor, and she frequently contributes to Travel + Leisure, Bride’s, Southern Living, Taste of Home and Insider. Jill has traveled to 36 countries and is always planning her next domestic or overseas adventure.