Flying Alone for the First Time

This post is a part of a student-written series, 20 Ideas for Travel Bliss. Sarah Sawicki is a student at  Taylor University in Upland, Ind. Check out Swick’s personal blog — Music as Medicine.

Quick tips to alleviate the stress that can come from flying alone the first time

Australia from the air.

Australia from the air.

The hardest part of traveling via plane is often the time one must spend in the airport. Once you’re on the plane, you can get settled, read a book, or take a nap, but while you’re in the airport, you have to deal with stressors coming at you from every direction. Flying alone for the first time can be a terrifying notion. But luckily there are precautions you can take to make your first solo flying experience less stressful, and even potentially enjoyable.

Pack Strategically —

Begin the week before If everyone travels like my mother, it would be astounding to think people would travel at all. She spends the week before the trip in a frenzy and packs as much for a week in a tourist trap as I did for three months in the jungle. If this sounds like you, one tip is to plan your packing. Plot out the week and give each day a few chores related to the trip; that way you’re not rushing trying to do everything at once and are less likely to forget something important. Check things off your list when you’re done, and keep the lists to look back on – they may help you relax!

Follow the Boy Scouts; be prepared Bring the necessities in your carry-on. You never know when your luggage will be lost or delayed. If you have contacts, bring your glasses, a case, and some contact solution. Bring a change of clothes. Trust me. You always think something could never happen to you until you find yourself wearing the same pair of panties for four days in a row in a foreign country with no opportunity to buy something new or wash them. You’ll thank me later. A travel-sized toothbrush and some toothpaste can be great, too, especially for longer trips. Just keep in mind the 3-1-1 rule for fluids.

To carry on or not to carry on? There rules and limitations on baggage are insane. To make it worse, they vary depending on the company. The rules for carry-ons are fairly uniform, however. You are allowed one carry-on item (that must be able to fit in the overhead compartments or underneath your seat), and one personal item. For example: a backpack and a purse or a tote and a handbag. The options are endless.

*A note for the ladies* Purses can be great because they hold so much and can be so organized, but they are also a lot easier to pick-pocket than you might think. Even if you carry them close to your side, you’re still an easy target. Make sure your purse has a zipper on it, and make sure the zipper is closed toward your front side, not toward your back. This helps ensure that no one can unzip your purse without you noticing it! A similar trick can be used with wallets and passports — even though they may look silly, a passport/wallet carrier worn under your clothes can be the safest way to carry important things while minimizing risks.

Have a game plan —

Personally, the most stressful part of flying alone is just getting to the stupid gate. I’m afraid I’ll get stuck in security, or that I won’t be able to find my gate, or that it will have changed, or, or, or. There are a million things to worry about the day of flying. Decrease your stress by having a game plan.

Give yourself more than enough time If you’re worried about not making your flight, save yourself the trouble by arrive too early. For domestic flights, it’s recommended that you arrive at the airport at least one hour early. For international flights, the recommended time is two hours. For your first flight, I’d recommend adding on a half hour.

This also depends on which airport you’re flying out of and how well you know the airport. The bigger and more unfamiliar the airport, the more time you’ll need to get through security and to your gate. Leave way earlier than you think you need to, and you’ll be able to adjust the time as you get more comfortable with the process. Until then, bring a book or a movie on your laptop. It’s better to wait in peace at your gate than to rush in at the last moment. It’s true that waiting in the terminal can be like a punishment worse than death (but better than the DMV or BMV or whatever your state calls it), but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Know what’s coming Talk through the steps with yourself or a friend. Park. Drop off baggage. Go through security. Shoes off. Laptop out. No metal. Passport, driver’s license, and tickets ready to show. Get to gate. Something as simple as going through these steps a couple times out loud can boost your confidence and decrease your anxiety. Know by heart what to expect and it won’t be so scary or intimidating. After all, knowledge is power. If you can be confident going into the airport, the rest of the trip will be a piece of cake.

Flying alone for the first time can be a terrible experience, but it doesn’t have to be. The more you prepare gradually, the less stressful the ordeal will be. These tips are some simple ways to put some fun back into the flying experience, or at the very least, to take away some of the stress and anxiety. Empower yourself with preparation and knowledge. You are woman; hear you roar!

Did these tips help you? Any other tips for first time flyers? Let us know in the comments!

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  • Ruth Keller

    This is great! Despite having gone on lots of trips alone,I still find it nerve wracking to travel alone. One of the hardest parts is trying to take care of all that luggage by yourself.

    • Kendra Beutler

      That’s true, Ruth! Packing light might be an important component to traveling alone.

  • Robert Sawicki

    The first time I flew alone was the first time I flew at all…many years ago. I wish I had had someone to show me the ropes like this! Nicely done.

    • Kendra Beutler

      Wow! Flying alone the first time would be so intimidating! Thanks for commenting!

  • lori

    great takes so long best to be ready!!!

    • Kendra Beutler

      It’s unpredictable, too, isn’t it Lori? Sometimes, you fly right through and have tons of time to waste. But other times that line seems interminable!

  • Jan Turnbull

    Great travel tips. It is always good to be prepared…

    • Kendra Beutler

      So true, Jan! Thanks for commenting!

  • Alissa Brock

    I’ve never flown alone, but this article gave me some great tips I’ll keep in mind once I have to!

    • Kendra Beutler

      Me neither, Alissa! I think it would freak me out! Glad you found this helpful — I did, too!

  • Jim

    I have traveled alone many times, and this is a solid explanation of what to do to prep for a first time trip. I’ve realized the best way to learn how to fly is to travel with an experienced person a couple times, and you can quickly learn what you should do…

    • Kendra Beutler

      That’s good advice, too, Jim! Thanks!

  • Derek

    I flew alone once in Asia. They don’t have boy scouts there, so it was hard to follow their example.

    • Kendra Beutler

      Love it. Thanks for the comment.

  • isabella

    Hi,I’m flying alone in a few days im 13.9(two weeks!!) And I never really looked at air port maps are they hard to read? If your a minor can security make you go through the full body thing if you don’t want to? That’s what I find scary :s