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First time flying solo? Here’s how to navigate the airport by yourself

Man waiting for airplane at airport

International airport procedures can be long and stressful, especially if you’re a first-time traveller or have anxiety. To better understand the airport process, here’s a step-by-step guide which will help you know what to do and find your plane with ease. Plus, when you’ve done it once there’ll be nothing stopping you from travelling again and again and again…

All the cheap flight booking hacks you’ll ever need to know

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1. Master the check-in process

For international flights, you should arrive 2-3 hours before your departure time. At the airport, you’ll need to check in; this can be done at the airline desk or online, however consider checking in at the airport for your first time – essentially, this process confirms your booking with the airline.

At the counter, you will:

*If you need to change planes and have booked flights on separate tickets, you will need to acquire your next boarding pass from the airline’s transfer desk at the following airport! You may also need to collect your checked luggage.

Once you’ve completed check in, follow the ‘DEPARTURE GATES’ sign.


Image source:Contiki

2. Get through the security screening

Security screenings are mandatory. For this process, your items are placed in trays and x-rayed to search for any dangerous goods or prohibited items. Items in these categories differ for each country so it is important that you research custom laws for both your destination and all transit airports. Security queues can be very long, so prep for your screening to be as quick as possible:

*LAGs are liquids, aerosols and gels heavily restricted to 100mL/grams or less per item which must be placed in one clear, re-sealable plastic bag. This includes creams, deodorants and hand sanitisers – keep it in hand’s reach so you won’t be digging through your backpack for it.

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3. Be ready for the customs and border protection process

At customs, you’ll be identified and reviewed by security personnel. You may be asked to provide specific documents or answer questions relating to your travels. For this process, have ready for inspection:

4. Find your gate

In many cases, your gate number will already be printed on your boarding pass. However, both the gate number and terminal can change, so it’s important that you constantly check flight departure screens for updates.

When navigating the airport, signs above will provide directions to your gate e.g. GATES 31-45 with a left arrow. With time to spare, grab something to eat and drink but remember:

A group of people navigate the airport by themselves, walking through various terminals.

5. Boss your connecting flight (if you have one)

For some destinations, you may need to change flights midway; allowing a minimum of 90 minutes for your layover in case of busy queues, misdirection or delays is a clever idea. When disembarking the plane, you simply need to follow the ‘flight connections’ signs and proceed through security again, but don’t forget:

Beautiful Airport - Changi, Singapore

Image source:Contiki

6. Arrive in style!

All you need to do is follow the ‘BAGGAGE CLAIM’ sign, then go through customs and passport control. Make sure to fill out any compulsory arrival forms, declare goods, have your visa ready (if needed) and pick up any duty-free purchases on your way out.

How do I make the most of a long airport layover?

How do I make the most of a long airport layover?

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Practical tips for when you’re flying alone for the first time

1. Ask, ask, ask!

Where’s my gate? Do I need to take my laptop out? Where can I refill my water bottle? Where’s the check-in counter? Your first time travelling alone is guaranteed to come with many questions. But don’t be afraid to ask them.

There are hundreds of new travellers at the airport every day. And there are no stupid questions. Most airport staff are happy to help, and get asked the same questions multiple times anyway (Thank goodness for these gems of humans, honestly!).

2. Arrive early

Yikes, we hate hearing that one. But it’s the truth, after all. If you’re travelling alone for the first time, it’s best to arrive earlier than expected. Sometimes the walk to your departure gate never seems to end. Sometimes the queues are longer than you’d expect. Sometimes things just go wrong. And so, sometimes it’s best to have some time on hand to deal with all of it. Plus, if you’ve got some time left, I’ve got three words for you – Duty. Free. Shopping.

3. Keep your tummy happy

Okay. Everyone agrees, right? Things are just easier to deal with after you’ve had a good, wholesome meal. (And when your brain-jogging isn’t competing with a grumbling stomach). So don’t forget to fill up on some good food before you travel alone for the first time.

Don’t worry if you haven’t eaten something before arriving at the airport. You’ll find plenty of great options with varying price ranges to kill your hunger inside. And if nothing else, a good cup of coffee will go a long way to keep you alert for those announcements.

4. Charge your phone

Of course, keeping your body charged is important. But don’t forget to charge your phone too! Entertainment, assistance, e-tickets, panic-stricken Google searches (and the occasional text informing your family that everything’s going well) – you’re gonna need your phone. Period. It’s probably a good idea to carry a powerbank with you. But if not, there are usually plenty of USB-charging points all over airports. Either way, you’ll be fine, as long as your phone is with you. 

5. Take a deep breath

Firstly, pat yourself on the back. You’re travelling alone for the first time – it’s a big deal! It’s natural to panic. It’s okay to be confused. But don’t worry, you’re going to be just fine. So remember to count till ten, take a deep breath every time you feel your nerves kick in (and Hakuna Matata your way through the airport!)

6. Pack your bags…

Excited? Nervous? Optimistic? Confused? Yeah, travelling alone for the first time really is an emotional rollercoaster – but it’s also one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. So pack your bags, grab your passport and get ready for an adventure of a lifetime. And hey, you can always check out our trips to sort out your accommodation, transport, and BFF scene. So all you’ll have to bring is you.

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