International Airport Tips

Is this your first overseas vacation? Never flown on an international flight before? Wondering what to expect at the airport? Keep reading to find out how early to arrive, what to expect at TSA and flight transfers.

You need your passport!

As mentioned in a previous blog post, you need a passport anytime you travel out of the country.

You will need your passport at several times at the airport so it’s best to keep it somewhere you can get it out easily but also where it is safe. A purse or backpack with zippers are good locations.

DO NOT put your passport in your checked bag! Or your vacation will be over – or at least delayed – very quickly.

You will be asked for your passport when you check in/check a bag, at several points by TSA, when you board, and by the immigration authorities of the country you are visiting.

Keep it handy, in a single location that is secure.

What To Put In Your Carry-On

Your prescription medications and cash! Do NOT check these in your checked bag in case it gets lost or stolen.

I like to print out (yes, print!) copies of our reservations, receipts, passports and flight information just in case our phone dies or something is amiss and I can’t find the information quickly on my phone.

Limit your liquids in carry-on! Only bring what you really need for the short airplane ride. Hand sanitizer, decongestant, lotion etc… All of these must be less than 3.5oz and everything else should go into your checked bag (if you are not checking a bag, keep reading).

A change of clothes in case you spill something or they get ruined for some other reason. I also throw in a bathing suit in case our room isn’t ready when we get to the resort.

Headphones can be nice to plug into the airplanes entertainment system. You can buy these on the airplane if necessary.

It can be cold on the airplane so I usually bring some kind of jacket or sweater.

Arrive 3 Hours Early

You need to arrive at the airport at least 3 hours before your flight if you are flying out of an international airport and non-stop to your destination.

This gives you plenty of time to check in (15-30 minutes), get through TSA (15-90 minutes), and get to your gate (15-30 minutes) – depending on the airport.

If your flight has a stop in between and you are flying out of a smaller airport, then you may not need to arrive so early but at most airports – 2 hours is the minimum time recommended.

Check in with airline

These days you can check in online for all airlines and for domestic travel, there is no need to go to the counter to talk to an agent unless you need to check a bag.

However, when flying International, an airline representative will need to see your passport so you will need to check in with them ahead of time.

You can do this before going through TSA or after. The lines are usually shorter at the gate, but get progressively longer as the flight time gets closer so I usually do this while we check out bags.

Carry-On Only? Or Checking a Bag?

This is a debate that many people consider when traveling. When traveling international, this creates even more problems because checking bags can be very, very expensive on certain airlines.

Many people take pride in being able to pack a week’s worth of stuff into a single carry on but it does require some creative thinking and sacrifices.

If you’re not sure – keep reading to figure out if you should just plan to check a bag.

Bringing lots of sunscreen or liquids?

If any of your liquids do not fit in a 3.5oz container then you’ll need to check a bag. TSA limits liquids in carry-ons to 3.5oz.

This includes your sunscreen which can be expensive and hard to find in small containers.

Plan to Bring anything back?

If you plan to bring back any souvenirs, keep in mind that you are only allowed one carry on and one other personal item (purse, shopping bag etc.) so if you plan to bring more than a couple of shells back, you might consider checking a bag.

What about wet/smelly things….

Yup, your stuff is going to smell pretty bad after spending a week in a tropical destination – do you want to carry all your dirty clothes around in the airport on the way back? Check it and forget about it!

Will it Slow you Down?

The first 1/2 mile of dragging a suitcase around is not problem – but if you have to transfer flights at Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta, then are you sure you want to drag that thing all the way through the airport while you transfer to the next flight? They’ll transfer it for you if you check your bag.

Waiting for that bag can seem like forever!

The one draw back to checking a bag is the need to go pick it back up. This is the waiting game that most people have to play… “Is that mine, no… Is THAT mine?… no…” This alone will make you re-consider your decision next time.

Fortunately, its usually only a few minutes before your bag arrives and they have really made progress at Montego Bay on this effort as it used to take 20-25 minutes for bags to start arriving. Now they usually start to show up just as we get out of Immigration.

We personally go ahead and check at least one bag because it’s a lot easier to just drop it and forget about it and not have to drag it around everywhere. Plus you do not have to worry about TSA/liquids and we need a lot of sunscreen.


If you have never passed through TSA, you are in for a treat!

Just kidding – for most people – this will be the low point of their trip.

If things go smooth, you’ll be done and on your way to the gate in 15 minutes or so.

If it’s one of those days, you could be waiting in line for as much as 90 minutes!

By knowing ahead of time what you can bring through security and what to expect you can save yourself some time and inconvenience.


This is the number one thing that will get you pulled out of line – only 3.5oz sizes – if you try to hide your big bottle of shampoo in the bottom, they might find it on the X-Ray, pull you aside and have you remove every item from your bag.

No Weapons or anything that might remotely be considered a weapon!

Envelope openers, key chains with big metal pieces, ice pick, kitchen knife, lost bullet from when you went hunting – you would be surprised at what the TSA might confiscate

so it’s best to go through any carry on bags before hand and make sure you’ve removed any questionable items.

Just Check the Bag already!

I know it’s expensive – but if you just go ahead and check a bag, your carry on will become much lighter and you’ll get through TSA a lot faster.

By checking a bag, my single carry on only has clothes, a bathing suit (to change into immediately at the resort in case our room isn’t ready), a book and a couple of toiletries and snacks I need for the flight.

Prepare for Price Shock!

Planning to grab a quick meal at the airport? Did you just realize you forgot something?

Buying anything including fast food will cost you a lot of money at the airport – especially at the gates / after you have passed through TSA as they know they now have you trapped!

If you really need something then there are usually a ton of stores with just about anything you might need for traveling (they count on this) so it’s worth taking a look. Just be prepared to spend a lot of money.

Flight Fuel

Most flights these days do not include food service unless you are flying first class and some cheaper flights might not even have a beverage service.

If you are traveling to a Couples Resort – know that you have a 1 & 1/2 hour bus ride to get to any resort so if you’re starving – waiting to get to the resort may not be best. You are also not going to want to wait at the airport just to eat.

For this reason, even though the prices are high, we usually grab a sandwich or salad to eat on the flight to Jamaica.

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