As a high strung traveller studying abroad with a crowd of “go with the flow” peers, I had my fair share of experiences running through duty free and almost missing our flights. American airports differ significantly from the airports abroad. Understanding the layout and airport norms as well as knowing how to navigate security are fundamental to a smooth travel journey.

Airport Layouts: Duty Free?

Most American airports shoot passengers out right at the terminals. Although there might be a long walk from security to the specific terminal, there is nothing separating security from the terminals. I remember my first time flying out of an International airport I was stunned by the set up. My friends and I were already late to our flight, as there was a road closure right by the airport, but we breathed a sigh of relief once we got to security with 20 minutes until boarding. When we asked the security staff if we should make it to our terminal, they told us it was a 20 minutes walk from security to gate 1… we were gate 15.

At first I was extremely confused. What sort of maze did they install to make it a 20 minute walk to our gate? The answer was two words: Duty Free. International airports have malls which sell duty free make-up, perfume, and food leading up to the gates. In some airports (predominately the ones with budget airlines) these duty free sections are km long. There is nothing more humbling than running with your carry on through duty free. Do yourself a favor and prepare enough time to leisurely walk through duty free. Who knows, you might even find yourself a souvenior!

Airport Norms: Check In Fees

Budget airlines are known for nickel and dimming their customers. One of the most common ways they do this, aside from stingy carry on rules, is by charging for in person check in. Check in for most flights opens 24 hours before take off and closes 2 hours before take off. Each airline has an app that can be easily used for check in. My friends and I found that the closer to take off you wait to check in, the better chances you have to get a window or aisle seat (this is specific to airlines like Easy Jet and Ryanair). Budget airlines such as Ryanair charge about $60 for checking in at the airport.

Airport Norms: Unknown Gates

When flying budget airlines abroad it is likely that you will not know your gate until 20-30 minutes prior to boarding. This can cause a lot of anxiety, and if you are like me you will be constantly refreshing your app. Take a deep breath, grab a snack, and settle down near one of the screens. Every airport will have a large screen updating the flight status and gates. Make sure to consistently check the screen to see if there have been updates about your flight. Gate changes are common!


Security at international airports flow much smoother than in the US, so long as you follow the instructions. International airports require passengers to put all liquid items (3-1-1 rule) in a quart sized plastic bag before entering security. The airports provide plastic bags and have places for passengers to rearrange their luggage prior to the check point. I recommend keeping liquids in a quart sized bag for every time you travel to avoid wasting time packing your liquids at the airport.

There are some liquids that consistently triggered the security machines, specifically micellar water. The commonly used make-up remover showed up as bomb material at multiple airports. My friend who traveled with her micellar water had to have her entire bag searched and tested for bomb substances. She also had to be given an intensive body search. The airports abroad do not have as many staff available to do body and bag checks. The entire bag and body search process took 40 minutes because we had to wait for someone to get to security to do the procedure. Save yourself the hassle and don’t bring micellar water.

Me boarding a plane after almost missing the flight.