You know the experience. Travelers, some agitated and others blank-faced, shuffling along in queues that wind through airport terminals, waiting more than an hour for their chance to shove all their belongings and then themselves through X-ray machines at TSA checkpoints.
Travel can be a pain even in the best of times, and bottlenecks at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints are making things even worse than usual. This summer, air travel is expected to draw the most people ever, with 220 million expected to fly. And officials say the problem won’t ease until at least mid-June.
Whether you need to travel for business or enjoy traveling for pleasure, not ruining your trip right off the bat requires some planning, determination and the ability to just let go.
How can you keep calm? Let’s start by taking a deep breath and counting backward from five:
5. Arrive early
The easiest thing you can do to alleviate stress is get to the airport early. For years, airlines have advised arriving one hour before a domestic flight and two hours before an international flight. Now, just to be on the safe side, you might want to double that. In fact, just this week, Chicago airports recommended a three-hour cushion for security lines. By just about everyone’s standards, this is mind-boggling — and longer than most people’s flights.
If you do manage to clear security quickly, don’t consider the time wasted. There are plenty of things you can do while you wait to board your flight.
4. Be productive
Waiting for a flight is a great time to play catch-up on everything from email and text messages to your favorite shows on demand. While most airports offer free or paid Wi-Fi, the pro tip is to download everything you want to watch before you leave home. Even if you can establish a connection, it is oftentimes too slow to download an entire movie before boarding — and too slow to stream once you’re on the plane.
Make sure all your batteries are fully charged. One thing many experienced travelers never leave home without is a rechargeable battery pack (or a few) to provide their phone, tablet or computer with some extra juice. Unless you’re sitting in first class or premium economy, chances are you won’t have a plug at your seat. Even before you get on the plane, this will save you from standing idly by at a charging station or sitting on the floor to plug into the wall.
While many travelers like to think of their time on the road as a time to break their diet with a juicy burger or a greasy slice of pizza, others pine for the opportunity to get some exercise. Though you probably don’t want to work up a sweat before you board your flight — and the person sitting next to you would thank you for not doing that, either — you can go for a brisk walk through the terminal to get your steps for the day.
Think about the amount of time you’re going to spend sitting on the plane. If you don’t want to be that creepy guy pacing up and down the aisle, it’s a good idea to get in your exercise while you can.
2. Chill out
If relaxing better suits your travel style, you’re going to want to find a space away from the endless announcements, screaming babies and ringing cell phones.
Unfortunately, some true airport calm usually comes with a price tag.
Airline lounges arguable offer the best bang for your buck. For a yearly fee — or a day rate — you’ll get access to a little oasis, away from the masses. Included in the price at most lounges is food, drink and entertainment, not to mention a clean(er) bathroom. And can you really put a price tag on that?
If you’ve got a little more time to kill, consider a quick therapy at a spa. It might be a weird notion to sit down for a massage in plain view of thousands of strangers, but you’ll feel better for it.
1. Zen out
Sensory overload: two great words to describe an airport. Surely, you can think of a few others.
Try seeking out the multifaith chapel. In most locations, electronic devices are banned — and it’s the only place in the airport to silence flight announcements.
Even if you’re not religious, you could find something of a spiritual experience here.
If you can’t find actual peace and quiet, you can still create your own. If the price tag on noise-canceling headphones is too steep, consider downloading a white noise app or album. Some of the best tracks are made to help babies sleep (try “Natural White Noise for Babies: Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night”). Once you’ve tuned out your surroundings, go within.
Find an area out of the way where you won’t get bumped around and close your eyes. Take deep breaths, equal length inhalations and exhalations. Try to extend the duration of your breaths, breathing in and out longer and deeper. Guaranteed, you’ll be surprised just how well — and how quickly — this works.
For even greater relaxation: meditate. It’s no longer just for the nutty crunchy hipster yogis among us. It can have a profound calming and clearing effect on your body and your brain.
Two of the simplest forms of meditation involve repetition. Numbers, for example. To yourself, say “one” every time you inhale and “two” every time you exhale. Breath in and out slowly, repeating “one, two, one, two.” Try it for just one minute, and you’re guaranteed to feel more relaxed.
Alternatively, choose just one word or thought to repeat over and over while you concentrate on your breathing. Pick a word like “calm,” “peace” or “serenity” and visualize it. Before you know it, you’ll be boarding and on your way to your destination.