A trio of stress-free travel tips

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I travel a lot for business and I have seen it all, from drunken fights in the terminals to people crying at the gate because they missed their flight, to travellers at  security acting like asses, thinking it’s all about them. All of this drama can be easily avoided. Keeping your stress level down is the key to having calm and pleasant  travels.

My top 3 tips to help make your travels less stressful:

Tip #1: Be early.
I’m sure you hear that one all the time, but it’s true and bears repeating. If you want a less stressful travel experience, it’s the best advice I can give. You don’t have to arrive 3 to 4 hours early, but try to arrive with about 2 hours ahead of your departure time. That gives you time to get through security, find your gate, and then relax. You could even get in a workout by forgoing the plane train and walking to your concourse for the extra steps. Whatever you do, you won’t have run through the airport like OJ to make your flight. Tip #2: Join a security program.
TSA Preè, CLEAR, and Global Entry are all programs designed to get you through security checkpoints and customs faster and stress free.

TSA Pre√® is managed by the Transportation Security Administration and costs $85 for 5 years. It allows you to leave your shoes, belts and small jackets on. You  don’t have to take anything out of your carry-ons, like laptops and liquids, either. TSA Pre√® is currently available at more than 200 airports with 54 participating airlines nationwide.

The process is easy; the online application takes about 5 minutes to complete and then you schedule a 10-minute in-person appointment that includes a background check and fingerprinting. Enrollment centers are available at most airports. I completed my application at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport before a flight and it really only took 10 minutes. All you do is look for the TSA Pre√® line at security (it’s usually the shortest line) and minutes later you are on your way. I love it and would not travel without it. On the rare occasions when the Pre√ lanes are closed, I’m beyond annoyed that I have to go back to taking off belts and shoes and pulling electronics out of my carry-on bag.

TSA Pre√ website homepage

• Instead of using traditional ID documents, CLEAR uses biometrics – your eyes and fingertips – to confirm your identity. CLEAR takes care of verification so you can walk straight up to the security bins without any hassle. CLEAR is currently available in 26 U.S. airports (check the website for the list), so if you travel to any of those destinations a lot, it’s great to have. Fill out an online application and go to the airport where you can complete the process in about 5-10 minutes. You’ll be guided through the security line right to the bins. No stress!

CLEAR requires a deeper dive into your personal life. Imagine a credit check for travel and it costs $179 for 1 year. That’s a little pricey, but if you travel a lot it is well worth it. I joined when Delta SkyMiles members could join for $79. Note: If you are Diamond Medallion member, CLEAR is complimentary.

You can add family members for $50 each year. My experience with CLEAR so far has been OK; there were a few times when the TSA Pre√® lines were shorter, but overall, I’ll keep CLEAR. You can also use CLEAR and any of your airline status or TSA Pre√® together to get through security lines even faster.

CLEAR is also expanding to security checkpoints at stadiums and arenas like Yankee Stadium and CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

CLEAR website home page

• For international travelers coming back into the USA, Global Entry makes the process of going through customs a breeze. Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the U.S. through automatic kiosks at select airports. The benefits include no processing lines, no paperwork, access to expedited entry benefits in other countries, availability at major U.S. airports, reduced wait times, and you are eligible for TSA-Pre. All great reasons to join.

There is a one-time non-refundable $100 enrollment fee (even if you are rejected). You fill out the application online and, like the other programs, visit the in-person enrollment center closest to you for an interview. They ask you questions, take your photo and collect biometric information (for example, scan you fingerprints). Once approved, you are on your way to less stressful international travel. I will have to complete the trifecta and join Global Entry soon.

Global Entry Website home page

My wife likes her privacy so she wasn’t comfortable with all of the background checks. When we travel together, I breeze through security lines and wait for her on the other side. My hope is that, as we travel more, she’ll see the benefits and join me in these programs.

Tip #3: This final tip is a mental tip.
Pack your patience. Every time I travel, this phrase is on my mind. No one wants to be stressed, but sometimes – most of the time – you have no control over your travel once you buy your ticket. So, with this in mind, patience is definitely a great virtue to have. Granted, there are certain situations that are stressful and time sensitive, like a death in the family or a business meeting that can’t be rescheduled and I realize all bets are off then. But unless you want to end up talking to airport police or meeting an airline employee whose day is just as bad as yours, keeping your wits about you can make or break your travels.

What are some of your tried-and-true tips for less stressful travels?

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