By Chris Owen
What to expect on that flight from the United States to someplace across the pond for your first European cruise vacation.
That’s really the focus of this post; to address the concerns of those who have not flown internationally, choosing the safe and convenient Caribbean, Mexico, Alaska or other close-by areas of the world instead. Not that there is anything wrong with that; being safe. Safety is good. Comfortable is good. Safe and comfortable both are really good, thus the huge popularity of cruise vacations.
We watch on TV as daring adventure travelers climb mountains on the National Geographic Channel. We see them brave the elements on the Discovery Channel and even watch as Travel Channel hosts cover the globe, all against great odds. But never really think that these are things we might want to do, you and I. An international flight is a huge, quantum leap from a drive to your local homeport or short flight around the U.S. Simply put: Taking that leap to international travel can literally open up the entire world for us.
Book as far in advance as possible and with as few stops as possible– That just makes the long travel day a bit shorter. At the same time the booking is made, find out any special documentation you might need to board the ship. Travelers might be required to satisfy special entry requirements. Our best source to figure that part out: The U.S Department of State’s Safe Traveler Program which offers all the information needed to enter and experience any given country in the world.
Allow Plenty Of Time Between Connections– On domestic flights we want 2 hours between connections to allow for flight delays on either end, especially in the winter and especially if passing through an interesting airport.
- Protect Your Trip with travel insurance. Even if you don’t care about the investment made in the travel itself, accidents happen and can add up to $thousands before you know it.
- Focus on getting plenty of rest and eating right several days before the flight. Sure, maybe we can’t “bank” sleep but starting a long flight with a full tank of rest is always a good idea.
- Finish packing a week in advance- that offers the opportunity to be sure critical items are packed and allows time to get source those items if they were not packed first time around. Be sure to identify your luggage with something you will pick out of the sea of luggage seen at airport baggage claim. Easy for us, bright red leather Viking River Cruises tags come in our pre-cruise documentation package.
- Charge! Bringing along electronic devices for entertainment on a long flight is a good idea. Having back up power to charge all those devices is a good idea too. Some seats may have plugin power available but determining if yours does or not in advance of flying can be hard to do. For that we suggest the Hyperjuice Magic Box which can power just about anything, multiple times . This is a topic much more economically handled in advance rather than at the airport. Caught by surprise, most airlines do include backup power as one of the duty free items sold in flight.
Making It Through The Airport
- Consider your one personal carry-on item your “flight bag” and have everything that might be needed during the flight in it. Unless flying in business class, space to move around will be limited. Having everything needed right at hand, under the seat in front of you, is huge and a must-do for all international flights. Better yet, try traveling with carry-on luggage.
- Consider a travel vest and make that a ScotteVest. I have been wearing a travel vest for years; an article of clothing that holds my cell phone, wallet, passport, loose change and just about anything else that might set off a metal detector at airport security checkpoints. Simply take off the vest and run it through the scanner for an easy security check. Better yet, that vest will carry just about everything needed in flight. With a multitude of pockets, my passport is always in one secure pocket, my smartphone always in another, etc. That’s important when making your way through airports and around places you are not familiar with.
On the plane, those well-thought out plans will pay off in a more enjoyable flight. Still, there are parts of flying that can’t be anticipated so flexibility is important Bring along good ear plugs if kids crying bothers you. Kids cry, be prepared. I once had crying kids on both sides of me and in back on a long international flight. Ear plugs saved someone’s life that day. Need darkness to sleep on a long flight? The flight crew will do their best to get all the window shades shut, will dim the cabin lights and set the stage for your best chance to get some sleep. Then there is the idiot who is oblivious to it all and has got to have the brilliant outside light inside. Eye shades.
- Protect Yourself from germs with Nozin nasal sanitizer on the plane and plenty of hand sanitizer use throughout the trip, every step of the way. Also protect your health by making a conscious effort to stay hydrated. No, you can not bring bottled water from home but an empty sport bottle that holds water will be allowed to go through security checkpoints. Once through, look for water bottle filling stations, water fountains or just keep it handy so filling can be done in flight. Be double safe and ignore the high price of bottled water in airports and buy some anyway. Normally not a problem for flight attendants to fill up, a Delta Airlines crew member refused to fill mine not long ago for fear of running out.
- Never Pack Anything In A Checked Bag That You Can’t Live Without– After two different airlines on two different trips lost our luggage, I now use carry-on luggage exclusively. Looking forward to a winter Christmas Markets sailing with Viking River Cruises, we will need to check a bag. But nothing will go in that bag that can not be replaced, quickly, at the destination.
At The Destination
- If flying in the day of sailing, make no solid plans for the first day. Have some plans in place but have the flexibility to spend the first day overseas adjusting to the time difference and getting used to new surroundings. If everything goes well, you may be able to hit the ground running. If a few parts of your travel plan don’t come off as anticipated, all is not lost, just a bit behind schedule.
- Better Yet, Come A Day Early- Flying in to the embarkation port a day early is something we commonly recommend for all cruise vacations. Just getting the sometimes long travel day behind us to wake relaxed on the day of embarkation made sense flying around North America to homeports scattered here and there. When we lived in Kansas, flying in a day early qualified as a good travel practice but was (secretly) really more about getting a head start on our vacations. Flying ‘over the pond’ for a European river cruise, this is really a good idea.
- Consider Global Entry- One of the best travel investments we ever made, screened and cleared travelers skip filling out a customs declaration upon return to the United States, check in via an easy to use kiosk as opposed to standing in a long line and are always approved for the normally-shorter TSA Precheck line when boarding a flight from a U.S. airport. The $100 per person fee grants these benefits for five years.
- Space For Gifts and Souvenirs- On the way to our winter river cruise, we’ll pack our cold weather gear in checked luggage to be retrieved and worn upon arrival in Germany. On the way back, we will wear some of those clothes, making space for gifts and souvenirs picked up along the way.
- Enjoy the experience that international flights can offer in and of themselves. Flight attendants or other passengers have wonderful stories to tell when they have some time that can add a richness to our travels. I have no data to back it up but swear that flight attendants on international flights are more pleasant and approachable than on domestic flights.
Here is a great video all about surviving long flights:
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