Make Any Airport Your Playground

A lot of us are heading home for the holidays and/or winter break. If your travels are taking you through airports, and you’re dreading the prospect, has some fabulous advice on how to make the experience bearable or even fun!

How to Make the Airport Less Crappy (and More Fun)The travel season is here, and just like every other year, you’ll find lines, parking nightmares, security snafus, and other annoyances waiting for you at the airport. Unless, of course, you turn it into an adventure instead. A little foresight, some planning, and smart use of the many amenities available can turn a sucktastic trip to the airport into an event to look forward to. Here’s how.

Those of us who have been flying for a while may remember when heading to the airport was definitely an adventure—it was a place you didn’t go often, and it was full of sights and sounds you didn’t get to experience frequently. Watching the planes take off and all of the food and gift shops were fun, not a chore to slog through on the way between security and your gate. It can be that way again, even if the odds (and the airlines themselves) are stacked against you.

Plan to Actually Enjoy Yourself

The first thing to do if you want to actually enjoy yourself at the airport (or at least get in and to your gate like a pro) is to put yourself in the right mindset for it. If you’re in the right headspace to enjoy yourself, you will. Try to talk yourself out of the mindset that the airport is a terrible, horrible place. The more you can, the better off you’ll be. Instead, try to look at it as a great place for people watching, or somewhere to try a new restaurant. Try to look at the positive if at all possible.

Second, plan ahead. Give yourself as much time as possible to get through all of the obstacles and still relax and enjoy the amenities available. Most of us plan for the bare minimum amount of time required to get checked in, through security, and to our flight. Instead, plan time for a snack or a drink. Give yourself a while to watch the planes take off, or visit the airport’s observation lounge. It’s great to be able to stop and look at something that catches my eye, flip through the bestsellers at a bookstore, or grab a bite to eat.

Another tip: Dress smart. The rule for flights is to dress comfortably, but you also don’t want to dress like a slob. Wear clothes that breathe well but still look good. The goal is to be comfortable for the plane and go through security easily (no zippers on your shirt or laces on your shoes, for example) but still look nice enough that you’re confident and relaxed that you can make a good impression on anyone you meet while you relax in the bar or observation lounge.

Learn the Layout of Your Airport

Look up your airport terminal maps online and plan your route. Since even the best terminal maps leave a lot out, use tools like TravelNerd (Web/iOS, Free) and GateGuru(Android/iOS/WP7, Free) to fill in the blanks. Both are packed with detailed maps for most major airports, and lists of restaurants, lounges, and other amenities that you can plan to take advantage of while you’re in the airport. TravelNerd is easy to use on the desktop, and GateGuru can go with you on your smartphone. MyTSA will help you keep an eye on the wait at security checkpoints. TripIt is one of our favorite travel apps period, and it can keep you up to date on delays and changes to your travel plans.

Once you have some information on how your departure and arrival airports are laid out, you can make smart decisions about how you spend your time there. If, for example, you’re headed to an airport like SFO (San Francisco International) where the gates are pretty close to security screenings, you may be able to spend more time outside security at the more affordable (and plentiful) shops and restaurants if you want to grab a bite to eat. However, if you’re headed into an airport like DCA (Washington National) or JFK (JFK International) where security is a good hike away from the gates, you may opt to just push through security as soon as you get there and wait to relax once you get through it.

Go Ahead, Relax a Little

Apps likepreviously mentioned Loungebuddy (iOS, Free) can guide you to the best airline lounges and help you get inside. If you’re doing your homework at home, check out SkyTrax or LoungeGuide to find the best ones and how to get in.

Beyond lounges, there’s a lot to enjoy in the terminal or near the gate as well. Most airports have full-service bars and restaurants both inside and outside of security checkpoints—some of them right up to your departure gate. There are stereotypical mall-style eateries, sure, but if you have the time, sit down in a full service restaurant for a proper meal and something nice to drink. It won’t be the cheapest lunch you’ve had, but it’s much nicer to catch a plane after a nice cold beer and a hot meal 

Oh, and one more tip: Stay hydrated. You’ll be happier if you grab a bottle of water, or a refillable bottle you keep empty as you pass through security. Deep breaths and a bottle of water do wonders for even stressful situations (but be careful—bathroom availability at airports can be few, far between, or just unpleasant).

Want more great airport travel advice? Click on the link above. Bon voyage!