You have been patiently waiting, counting down the days and packing your bags ready for your upcoming summer adventure in the USA. Travelling can be stressful for many people, so I have put together a mini-guide to make life a little bit easier for you when that magical day finally arrives!
Before You Leave The House
- Once you have squeezed everything in your suitcase, make sure to weigh it! Overweight luggage can be seriously pricey, even if you are only overweight by a kilogram or so! Buy a luggage scale – electronic ones are usually the most accurate – and take it with you for your journey home too.Most airlines flying from the UK to the USA usually allow 23kgs for a checked bag (unless you have upgraded or are a member), but check with your individual airline before you fly – you can find more information about baggage on the airlines website.
- Make your suitcase noticeable – especially if it’s black!
There are usually at least 200+ black suitcases whizzing round on the conveyor belt when you arrive at your destination. Make your life easier on arrival by either buying a crazy patterned suitcase (like me!) or add a noticeable luggage tag/ribbon/elastic belt to your existing suitcase to make it stand out from the crowd.
- Ensure your hand luggage is the correct size/weight.
I am yet to have my hand luggage measured or even weighed on a flight to the USA, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry! Again, visit your airline’s website to find out the maximum hand luggage dimensions/weight allowance.On trips to the USA, you are often allowed to take a ‘personal’ item as well as your hand luggage item. This could include a laptop, a small handbag, a coat etc. For example, this year I flew with Thomas Cook and I had a Pink rucksack as my hand luggage item (full to the brim by the way, the story of a serious overpacker!) and a laptop bag as my additional item (I also managed to squeeze three pairs of shoes into that along with my laptop – I have serious problems, I know).
This one is probably already well known, as it has been around for a few years now, but make sure that any liquids you have in your hand luggage are less than 100ml and in plastic bag – this includes make up, lip balm, hand sanitiser etc. You can pick up a plastic bag at the airport once you check in if you don’t have any at home.
- Check in online. Most airlines now allow you to check in online up to 24 hours before you fly. If you didn’t want to pay for a seat when you first booked your flight, check in as soon as you are able to to try and bag a good seat! I like to sit by the window and admire the view but I often find that if you choose a seat in the middle section of the plane, you get more than one seat to yourself! The last five times I have flown to/from America, I have had an entire row to myself! BINGO!You will need your booking reference to check in online – find this on the email confirmation sent to you from the airline when you booked the flight.
- Have all the correct documents stored safely in your hand luggage.
- Passport (with visa inside).
- Boarding card and flight itinerary.
- Visa forms – this includes your DS-2019 form and SEVIS receipt.
- Spare passport photo.
- Insurance documents – usually found on your camp agencies website.
- Camp information (contact details, camp address, camp contract).
- Onward travel instructions to your camp (if necessary).
- International driving licence (if you plan on hiring a car whilst on your travels).
I like to store all my documents in a plastic zip-folder to keep them all together, and to stop them being lost in my bag (and there’s always so much stuff in there, they would be so easy to lose!).
At The Airport
- Plan your journey to the airport beforehand. Have you made plans for how you are going to get to the airport yet? Maybe someone will give you a lift, you are catching the bus or even a train. I travelled on the train this year (as my parents clearly don’t love me enough to wave me off!), and booked my ticket a couple of weeks in advance for a cheaper deal. If you are planning on travelling by bus/train, remember to also pack your ticket and any railcards you may need.Make sure your chosen method of transport is running on time the day of your departure, and that there is an alternative way to get to the airport if yours happens to be cancelled/delayed.
- Arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare.
Most airlines recommend you are at the airport 3 hours before your departure time for flights to the USA. This may seem excessive, but it’s better to be able to mooch around the shops or grab a bite to eat before you board than having to run through the airport at the last minute because the queues were huge at security and you didn’t arrive in time.
- Pre-plan flight entertainment. 7 hours is a long time to sit in one seat, especially if you didn’t pack any form of flight entertainment in your hand luggage. Most planes to the U.S. usually have individual TV screens in the back of the seats, but remember to pack some headphones that you can plug into the screen.Other ideas for entertainment can involve iPods, iPads/tablets, books or magazines.
- Snacks, snacks and more snacks!
Plane food isn’t always the best, although the Thomas Cook meal I had on the way here a couple of weeks ago was actually edible (for once!). Again, 7 hours is a loooooong time so stock up on snacks for the journey. This is also the last chance you will have to eat English food for a while, so treat yourself to a bag of Quavers, a bar of Dairy Milk and a bottle of Ribena (or one of the many other wonderful snacks we take for granted in England!).Some airlines, American Airlines/British Airways/Virgin Atlantic included, offer a complimentary drinks service on board. Thomas Cook sadly do not, so make sure you take water on the plane with you – high five for hydration!
- Complete the customs declaration arrival card prior to landing.
The airline staff will bring round a blue customs form that you will need to hand in to the security/border staff when you arrive at the airport. Although they have these forms in the airport, it saves SO much time if you have already completed the form.The form is blue, and will ask for your personal information, the address you are staying at in the U.S. (put your camps address unless you have been advised differently), passport information and questions about the items in your luggage.
- Have the necessary documents ready for immigration. The border agents will require your passport, visa forms and the above customs arrival card. Have these documents out of your bag/folder and ready to hand to the agent when you are called to the desk, speeding up the process for everyone involved.Sometimes agents may ask you to provide proof of your onwards journey out of the U.S., so make sure you have a copy of your flight home details.
- Plan your onward journey. Camps often provide you with instructions on how to get to camp once you arrive. If you are not already aware of this, speak to your Camp Director before you leave for America so you are not stranded at the airport! Your onward journey may involve a connecting flight/bus/train, or you may be collected from the airport if your camp is local.Follow my simple travel survival guide and your journey to the States will be stress-free this year!