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7 Must-Know Tips for First-Time Flyers

Flying on an airplane for the first time — or the first time in a long while — can be an exciting, life-changing adventure. But it can also be incredibly stressful.

You want to head for the gate with the swagger of a seasoned traveler, but that’s hard to pull off when you don’t know how much it costs to check a bag, or what to expect when you go through airport security.

So how can you deal? Reviewing these tips before takeoff can boost your confidence, making your trip easier and more worry-free.

Best advice for first-time flyers

1. Check the airline’s luggage requirements

It’s easy to overpack — but if you do, it could cost you. Before your flight, visit your airline’s website to review luggage size and weight restrictions, as well as baggage fees. While these vary by airline and fare paid, here’s what you can typically bring with a standard fare on a major airline:

  • Two carry-on items for free: one full-size carry-on the size of a small rolling suitcase or smaller, and one small personal item, such as a purse or backpack
  • One checked suitcase (often, one weighing under 50 pounds) for $25 to $30. Checking additional bags could cost more

If your carry-on bag is too bulky, you may have to pay to check it. Likewise, if your checked bag is over a certain size, you may have to pay a higher-than-usual fee to check it. It’s best to avoid these surprises, if possible.

“If you’re a nervous flyer, little things can really set you off,” says Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie of New York City, founder of the travel blog The Globetrotting Teacher. “Even if it’s not a big deal, and you get to the check-in counter, and they say, ‘Oh, by the way, there’s a $30 bag fee,’ and you weren’t expecting that, that could just be something that rattles you.”

Remember, if you pack light enough, you could avoid baggage fees altogether.

Having an airline credit card can mean waived checked baggage fees, as well.

2. Pack essentials in your carry-on

If you’re packing anything that’s hard to replace — say, prescription medicine, contacts or glasses, or important paperwork — put it in your carry-on bag. This way, you won’t be without that item in the rare event your checked bag goes missing. You’ll also want to pack some in-flight entertainment, such as your laptop, headphones and a book or magazine.

Just make sure you’re following the Transportation Security Administration’s rules for what you can pack. You can’t, for example, bring a big bottle of contact lens solution in your carry-on, but you can bring a 3.4-ounce bottle. And keep in mind that if your carry-on bag is too big to fit under the seat in front of you, you may have to check it. More rules may apply if you’re flying internationally.

“The overhead compartments fill up quickly,” says Jeff Klee, CEO of, an online travel agency based in Calabasas, California. “If you’re in the back of the plane, you might find that there’s no more room, and you’ll have to do a gate check of your bag at the last minute, which isn’t particularly fun.” Checking your bag at the gate means your full-sized carry-on bag will travel with the other checked bags during the flight, rather than in the overhead bin.

3. Arrive at the airport two hours early

Catching a plane isn’t like catching a bus; it’s a much longer process. In fact, the TSA recommends showing up at least two hours before takeoff for domestic travel, and three hours for international travel.

Ultimately, you need to give yourself enough time to get your boarding pass, check your bags and go through security before your plane starts boarding. Sometimes, that takes 10 minutes. Other times, especially during peak travel times, it can take much longer.

It’s worth keeping in mind that boarding the plane isn’t a free-for-all, either. Airlines typically start boarding passengers 30 minutes before takeoff in groups. Generally, a boarding time will be printed on your ticket.

4. Keep your ID handy

Decades ago, airport security was relatively lax. “There was one point where you could just walk up to a gate, whether you were flying or not, whether you had ID or not,” Klee says. Nowadays, TSA agents check IDs for passengers over 18.

Save time by having your ID card, driver’s license or passport handy as soon as you step foot into the airport. You’ll need it when checking bags and going through security, and you don’t want to hold up the line while rummaging through your wallet.

5. Wear easy-to-remove shoes

Going through airport security might be the most stressful part of flying — but if you know what to expect, the whole rigmarole can feel much less taxing. Typically, unless you have TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, you have to:

  • Remove your shoes (unless you’re 12 and under or 75 and older)
  • Empty the contents of your pockets and remove your hat, belt, jacket, wallet and bulky jewelry
  • Remove your laptop and liquids from your bag
  • Send these items — and your carry-on bag — through an X-ray machine
  • Walk through a metal detector or a body scanner (or opt for a pat-down)

Preparing for this — say, by wearing shoes you can easily slip on and off and making sure the items in your carry-on are TSA-compliant — can make the process faster.

6. Respect other passengers’ space

These days, flights are generally fully booked, and most seats offer limited legroom. This might stress out your fellow flyers, so be sensitive.

“If any of your stuff or body parts are going into another space that’s not yours, you really have to be mindful of that,” Sills-Dellegrazie says. “It can be as simple as, you put your ponytail over the top of the seat and now it’s hanging … across someone’s TV screen, and you don’t even realize it.”

Similarly, if you wear perfume or cologne, eat smelly foods or listen to loud music, you might unintentionally upset the person sitting next to you. Of course, you can’t plan for everything — maybe you’re traveling with an upset child, for example — but do what you can to avoid an in-flight faux pas.

7. Have a backup plan ready

Now for a game of “worst-case scenario,” first-time flyer edition: What happens if you miss your flight?

First, take a deep breath. If you miss your plane because of unforeseen circumstances, such as a major traffic delay, the airline will often put you on standby for the next flight without charging extra. Just remember that you generally need to notify the airline within a couple of hours of missing your flight to get rebooked for free.

If it looks like you’ll miss a connecting flight, check the smartphone app offered by your airline or the screen in the airport to find out which gate your flight departs from, and whether you’ve actually missed it. If the flight is delayed, you may still have a chance to board. But if you miss the connection and the airline was responsible, you can generally also rebook that flight free of charge — and maybe even get some free meal or hotel vouchers for the hassle.

The key in both cases: Be proactive. Have the airline’s customer service phone number handy in case you get stuck in traffic, so you can call as soon as possible. Or if you’re already at the airport, go to the customer service desk and asking about rebooking. Missing a flight can be a setback, but it doesn’t have to derail your travel plans.

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15 things you need to know about Belgium for a perfect trip

Despite being one of the smallest countries in Europe, Belgium has a lot to offer travelers – medieval castles, modern architecture, a world-renowned fashion scene, great food, and more than 1000 brands of beer – really!

Belgium also has not one, but three official languages. Luckily, more than half of Belgians speak English, so it’s easy to get around – just be aware of the monolingual road signage (the language will depend on where in Belgium you are). Here are our top tips to help you make the most of a trip to Belgium.

1. Pack a raincoat

Influenced by the weather systems of the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, Belgium has a temperate maritime climate characterized by frequent precipitation and heavy cloud cover. The temperature rarely climbs above 22°C (72°F) in the summer, and thunderstorms are frequent – so you’ll want to pack rain gear, regardless of what time of year you visit.

2. Make the most of your trip by traveling around

There’s so much to see in Belgium, and it’s easy to travel from one place to the next by car or train, so we recommend splitting your time between several destinations. Get lost in the atmospheric streets of Bruges, hit the museums and fashion boutiques in Antwerp, lace up your hiking boots in Hoge Kempen National Park – the country’s only national park – and visit the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Grand Place in Brussels. Most cities are within a few hours of one another, making it easy to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time.

3. Bring pocket change in case you need to spend a penny

In Belgium, free public restrooms are virtually non-existent. Most public facilities charge and few accept credit cards, so you’ll want to carry loose some euros and cents in change. Expect to pay around €0.50 (US$0.54) per visit – get into the habit of using the washroom before leaving the hotel or restaurant.

4. Swap taxis for public transport when you arrive in Brussels

Taxis in Brussels are among the most expensive in Europe – a cab ride between Brussels Airport and the city center will cost at least €3 (US$3.30) per km. While we won’t judge for splurging after a long-haul flight, the city’s excellent bus, tram and metro system will take you almost anywhere you need to go from 6am to midnight, seven days a week, including into town from the airport (for as little as €7/US$7.35 in total). For cheap, low-carbon transport, consider renting a bike through a bike-sharing platform, such as Villo!.

5. Don’t rush to rent a car

Belgium is car-friendly in many ways – you can drive from one end of the country to the other in a matter of hours, and nearly all the country’s motorways are fully lit at night. It’s also super easy to rent a car on the fly, thanks to car-sharing apps such as Poppy and Cambio.

At the same time, driving in Belgium can be quite an undertaking. Signage is mostly monolingual, and the names of places depend on which language is spoken. For example, the German border city of Aachen might appear on Belgian signs as Aix-la-Chapelle, the Flemish city of Ghent is also Gand, and Liège is also Lîdje, Luik and Lüttich.

6. When in doubt, speak English

Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French and German. Dutch (specifically, the Flemish dialect) is primarily spoken in Flanders in the north, while French is mostly spoken in the southern region of Wallonia, and German is the default in eastern regions of the province of Liège. Brussels (also known as Brussel and Bruxelles) is officially bilingual, speaking Dutch and French.

With language at the center of Belgium’s knotty cultural identity debate, it’s best to speak English if you’re unsure of the dominant tongue wherever you happen to be. You’ll likely find that most people, especially in big cities such as Antwerp and Brussels, speak flawless English anyway.

7. Recycle like a Belgian

Belgians take recycling very seriously. In fact, the country boasts the highest recycling rate for household packaging in all of Europe (an impressive 94.9%). While you should always take care to recycle and reduce when you’re on the road away from home, you’ll want to be especially mindful of this when traveling through Belgium.

8. There’s no need to tip in Belgium

Tipping in Belgium isn’t a standard practice, nor is it expected, as most service staff are paid a fair living wage. Furthermore, most restaurants automatically include a 10–15% tip in the bill. If you think the service was excellent and want to leave more, you can always leave a few euros on the table after your meal.

9. Extend a hand in greeting

How do you greet people in Belgium? It depends on where you are. Most people in Brussels prefer a handshake, while most folks in French-speaking Wallonia will turn a cheek for a kiss. To play it safe in these Covid-aware times, we recommend extending a hand to test the waters.

10. Don’t leave your shopping for Sunday

If you need to stock up at the supermarket or buy souvenirs, don’t plan on doing it on a Sunday. As most Belgians are Roman Catholic, many shops are closed on Sundays, including major grocery stores and banks

11. Drink beer, lots of lovely beer

Belgium is home to over 300 breweries and more than 1000 types of Belgian beer. So, it’s practically a requirement to imbibe while you’re there (and honestly, you might be judged if you order a glass of vino instead of a homegrown brew at the local pub). Try everything from pilsners and witbier to Trappist ales and naturally fermented lambics.

Oh, and don’t expect to chug your Duvel out of any old glass. Belgians love their glassware, and you’ll find a dizzying array of options, from tulips and flutes to goblets and tankards.

12. Smoke pot if you like (but be smart about it)

In Belgium, adults 18 and older can enjoy cannabis for recreational purposes. Possession is decriminalized, and it’s legal to possess up to 3 grams of cannabis, so long as no “public nuisance” is caused. However, don’t expect to find cannabis-serving ‘coffee shops’ of the kind found in the Netherlands; Belgium is not nearly as pot-friendly as its northern neighbor, so puff discretely.

13. Can you drink tap water in Belgium?

Yes, you certainly can. Some even say the tap water is even better than the bottled mineral kind you get in the supermarket (bring a water bottle to save on plastic).

14. You can feel safe about being yourself

In 2003, Belgium became the second country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, and the country’s long-held progressive values and vibrant nightlife make it a top destination for LGBTIQ+ travelers. Brussels has long been the center of the scene – the city’s La Demence event draws partiers from all over the world 12 times a year – but even smaller towns such as Bruges and Ghent are getting in on the action.

15. Have fun – but be cautious of petty crime

Generally speaking, Belgium is a safe country with relatively low crime rates. For most travelers, the biggest risk is pickpocketing and bag-snatching in crowded areas. However, in recent years, there has been a rise in terrorist attacks across Belgium – travelers should exercise vigilance, particularly in Brussels, where international organizations, including NATO and the EU, are headquartered.

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Tips for Safe Travel in Mexico City

Like all major capitals on the planet, Mexico City has lights and shadows in terms of the treatment of tourists or business travelers.

While it is true that spending a few days in the Aztec capital is the most fun and interesting, due to its great offering of museums and typical places to visit and learn about its great culture, it is also true that we always have to be vigilant to avoid that someone takes advantage of us and intends to overcharge us or that we are exposed to walk, without knowing, in unsafe places where we can suffer the theft of our money or belongings.

Since Mexico City is one of the largest in the world, the distances to travel are generally very long, so it is necessary to use a means of transport, and we must ensure that it is safe, efficient, and does not cost us too much.

The tips that we can share start from the arrival at the airport where there is a wide range of brands of taxi companies offering to transport us to our hotel; these are very reliable transfers from a safety point of view and, as far as cost is concerned, most offer similar rates, but it is suggested to ask the price to compare before deciding on any.

It should be noted that a good option is to request service on the Uber app that in Mexico City has many units that provide reliable and safe service.

In case of requesting it at the airport, you have to make sure that you give the appropriate information of the door where you want to be picked up and always enable the locator option that presents the platform display. The driver almost certainly does not speak any English, but that doesn´t matter because all the necessary information is at hand in the app.

Once you get to the hotel and head somewhere, always use the Uber service or the controlled taxis at the hotel entrance. Keep in mind that these taxis are much more expensive, sometimes ridiculously expensive, although they are very safe and the driver speaks a little more English. What is completely unthinkable is to take a cab from those who pass freely on the street because they don’t guarantee any security for the customer. This type of transport should be avoided at all costs, even if it means important savings.

For example, if you want to visit the Museum of Anthropology of Mexico City, one of the most important in the country, a must for all those who want to know more about the culture of this splendid country, a safe and fun option is to do it on board the Turibus, a double deck bus that offers several routes throughout the city with free getting on and descents and fixed fare during the day. For example, the user comes down to one site, visits a place somewhere around, and with the same ticket can reboard and continue with the tour.

This service has information in English, among other languages, about the points of interest that are traveled along the route and offer a brochure of information about restaurants and bars that are located in the different areas that transit. While this is a very safe service for the visitor, it should be noted that you should never lose sight of your wallets and belongings. Don’t be too confident even if you feel very safe.

If you prefer to go on walking tours and enjoy the attractions of the city or go to shopping areas and restaurants, the recommendation is to do it in the daytime. Always avoid walking at night, even if the distance you plan to walk is short. For example, when leaving for dinner at night, you never have to venture for a walk even if your hotel is a few blocks away. Always do it in a controlled taxi or with a transport app.

These are some of the tips to consider to enjoy the great attractions that Mexico City offers its visitors. Avoid a bad experience due to overconfidence. Always remember that it is better to exaggerate precautions and not suffer unpleasant consequences.

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Travel photography tips: The one thing you should never photograph

Imagine yourself in Sydney, or maybe Melbourne, walking along a standard suburban street. You’re carrying a camera as you explore the neighbourhood, a big DSLR with a long lens.

You turn a corner, onto a quiet cul-de-sac, and there’s a child playing outside a house, in their front yard. Perfect. You get a little closer then raise the camera and start snapping away, taking photo after photo of the child as he or she plays in the garden. Great. Maybe you’ll put it on Instagram later.

This sounds… weird, huh? Creepy. In fact, you just wouldn’t do it. You would probably call the police if you saw someone else doing it.

And yet, this is what travellers do day in, day out, as if it’s completely normal. Not in the fenced communities of the developed world, of course – not in Sydney or Melbourne or London or Paris. Because that would be weird.

Instead, we do it in poor communities in the developing world. In villages. In small, struggling communities. We turn up with our fancy cameras and our iPhones and we take photos of children, strangers to us, like it’s completely normal, like it’s OK, even without their express permission, and certainly without the permission of a parent or responsible minder.

I’ve seen it happen for years. I’ve seen it happen recently. Check your social media feed and I’m sure you will find evidence of it.

Why do travellers do this, photograph foreign children in poor communities? There are a few justifications. The most common is that this is a simple, universally understandable way to interact: you take a photo, then you turn the camera around and show the child the photo. Everyone laughs, you have fun.

And I can see that that’s real, that’s genuine. But it still doesn’t change the fact that these children aren’t tourist attractions, they’re people, and they can’t properly consent to having their photo taken. And they definitely can’t control what you do with that photo once you’ve walked away and gone back to your nice hotel with wifi.

Have you uploaded their image to the internet, to your social media feed? Have you geotagged the location, thus revealing to the world where these particular children can be found? Have you sought the dopamine hit of clicks and likes without really taking into account the rights and the desires of the people in your picture?

There’s another explanation for this behaviour, and it isn’t a pleasant one. Essentially, travellers from the developed world tend to feel a sense of paternal ownership of people from communities in developing countries.

We feel a right to treat poor people – and let’s say it out loud, usually people of colour – differently to the way we approach people back home. Picture that suburban street in Sydney or Melbourne. You would just never take a photo of a child in a situation like that. But travellers feel confident to do it in poor communities because the same rules don’t apply.

It’s colonialist. It’s entitled. It’s frankly racist.

It’s also usually entirely self-serving, particularly for those who insist on appearing in the photo with the children to later post on public forums. It’s a way of projecting to the world something about yourself – here I am in an orphanage, in a school, in a village, just mixing with the little poor kids, and we’re all having a great time.

You’re not taking photos like that or posting photos like that to social media for any other reason than your own gratification. And meanwhile you perpetuate the stereotype of these children and their communities needing help from the developed world, or just being so overjoyed by your mere presence.

Here’s something else to consider, too: it’s actually quite condescending to even imagine that you’re flipping the camera around and showing these kids an image of themselves for the first time. That might have been true when you were travelling 10 or 20 years ago, but these days smartphones rule the world. Half of your subjects probably have cameras of their own. They’ve seen what they look like.

Plus, if you’re there visiting them they probably live in a touristy area. This is not the first time a white person with an iPhone has rocked up.

Travellers and travel providers are starting to wise up to this. I was on a tour recently with G Adventures (for full disclosure, I was travelling as a guest of the company), and the rules for the group were announced on day one: no taking photos of children, unless you can obtain the permission of their parent or guardian.

That’s a rule that every traveller on every trip should be going by. It might sound like this is the fun police ruining potential, genuinely good interactions between travellers and residents of other countries, but you only have to think back to that Sydney or Melbourne street to realise that what you’re doing isn’t right.

In fact, that’s generally a great question to ask yourself any time you’re doing anything while travelling, though particularly through the developing world. Would I do this at home? Would this be OK in my country, in my city?

If the answer is no – just don’t do it.

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