Trip planning can be stressful, but there's no reason why you shouldn't be prepared. Knowing what to expect out of airports and planning ahead will relieve much of the stress associated with airport travel.
Packing your bags
Packing your bags may seem simple and straightforward, but following some simple rules can both lighten the load and ensure that you get through security smoothly.
First, determine the need for carry on vs. checked in luggage. Carry on luggage you have in your possession at all times during your flight. Checked in luggage you leave with your airline and pick up at your destination's baggage claim. As a general rule of thumb, trips longer than one week will necessitate checked in luggage (unless you're planning on never changing your clothes).
If you are checking in luggage, be sure to pack at least one change of clothes in your carry-on bag (you are allowed one carry-on piece of luggage and one personal bag). Although rare, sometimes checked in bags are lost or delayed, and should this happen, it's best to be prepared.
For carry-on baggage, you will be allowed one bag to be stowed in an overhead compartment and one personal bag.
Figure out the type and amount of clothing you will need. A week long business trip out of country will require more items than a few days at a resort. Will you have access to an iron? A washer and dryer? Also be sure to plan for the weather - if a usually tropical location is going to be cooler during your visit, don't get caught off guard. Ensure that your wardrobe matches the purpose of your trip - shorts won't be of much use if you will be spending all of your time in meetings.
For short trips, pack your toiletries in a one-quart sealable plastic bag. Be sure that all liquids and gels are in containers which hold 3.4 oz. or less (see the TSA guide for more details). Have them handy so you can take them out as is required in security checkpoints. Many suitcases have an external zippered pocket - the perfect place for your them.
For longer trips, your toiletries can go in a larger plastic bag and packed with your checked in luggage. The 3 oz. rule does not apply for liquids and gels in checked luggage.
Bringing a laptop and/or electronics? Make sure that you save space for them in an easily-accessed location as well, as you may be required to remove them at the security checkpoint.
Make a list of everything that you think you will need. Eliminate any items which are bulky and easily purchased or borrowed at your destination. Staying in a hotel? Many hotels provide basic toiletries like shampoo, shower caps, etc. Be sure to check the TSA's list of prohibited items and eliminate anything which is on the list.
Now that you have your list, you can start actually packing. Start with your clothing. Fold everything in half, then take the heavier and bulkier items, and tightly roll them into a cylinder. Start at the bottom of the suitcase with the heavier items of clothing, and work your way up to the lighter items. If you are checking luggage, include any jackets and coats - if you bring through security, they must be x-ray'd.
Nice shirts/blouses/dresses which cannot be rolled can be folded and placed on top of the rolled clothing to minimize wrinkling.
Shoes can be placed along the sides of the suitcase, and filled with your rolled up undergarments and/or socks.
If you are planning on taking anything back with you, keep that in mind as well. Remember there are weight limits for checked baggage (check with your airline for weight details).
Airports can be intimidating, but knowing what to expect will give you the confidence you need to get through the airport efficiently and without hassle.
There are two P's to airport travel - Preparation and Patience.
Now that you've packed your luggage, there's only a few things to take care of to ensure that everything you have is airport-friendly.
Take a mental inventory of anything on your person which may set off the metal detector (keys, belt buckles, change, etc.), and ensure that it can be easily sent through the x-ray. If you set off the detector, the TSA is required to pat you down and use a hand-wand.
Wear shoes which are not too tight and can be easily taken off. The reason for this is two-fold: 1) you will have to take your shoes off during security screening and 2) your feet can swell while in flight and wearing tight shoes can be uncomfortable.
If you are able to print out an e-ticket, it is advantageous to do so. This is especially helpful if you are not checking baggage, as you can often skip the check-in line and use an automated ticket machine to print your boarding pass. Even if you are checking in bags, an e-ticket can speed up the process.
Since delayed flights are an unfortunate reality of travel, bring something to pass the time (books, games, mp3 players, etc).
Look up ahead of time which terminal (if applicable) your plane is leaving from. Often times you will have to take a tram from your check in location to your terminal, so know ahead of time where you need to go.
Depending on the destination and the airport, you may face long lines. They could be from 15 minutes long to over an hour, so plan accordingly. For domestic flights at most airports, 90 minues is sufficient if you are not checking bags, 2 hours if you are. Flights abroad should be given 2+ hours, depending on the airport. If possible, contact someone you know who has flown a similar flight out of the airport in question.
Check-in and security lines at international airports can be long, so it pays off to be early. It's better to get to your gate an hour early than to have to run to make your flight.
After you have checked in, locate the security gate, stand in line, and have your boarding pass and ID ready (State ID or drivers license for domestic flights, boarding pass and passport for abroad).
When you have cleared security, all you have to do is find your gate and wait for your flight!