First time travelers may have visions of goats on the runway for certain countries, but they may be surprised. Most are quite nice in comparison to the other infrastructure in their country. This is their front door, so they try to make a good impression. There are exceptions.
I love airports because they are like a microcosm of the world with all the different people. After a time of mission work in Haiti, I love my pre-flight experience in the Port au Prince Airport. They have air-conditioning, good toilets, and a coffee shop with wonderful coffee and a great ham and cheese croissant.
Arriving and Leaving the Airport
Inside or outside the airport, do not show your personal information or travel documents to any unauthorized person. Authorized individuals will be wearing a uniform or have credentials such as a name tag.
At a foreign airport, especially in a third world country, outside will be many people who are looking for an extra dollar or two. This could be beggars, criminals, or just honest people who are trying to make some money. Do not be intimidated, just look like you know what you are doing and wade through the crowd with your eyes open.
Do not give money to beggars on the street, you may cause a small riot. Crowds seem to stay in check until a “feeding frenzy” happens then mayhem breaks out. If someone starts giving out dollar bills, then everyone will get in on the action. When you see a poor beggar, your heart may melt but it is best to keep your head and keep walking.
When it comes to carrying your luggage, the best scenario is to carry your own bags. This may not always be possible if you are bringing extra supplies. Generally, if you need assistance, the safest people will be in uniforms or at the very least a name tag. You need to be prepared to tip them so have an appropriate amount of cash easily accessible.
Even if you are planning to carry your own bags, be prepared to say no several times. The porters can sometimes be quite assertive, and you will need to tell them “No!” kindly but firmly.
Having a host meet you at the airport with transportation is the best situation possible. It may be necessary to send money prior to your arrival so he can arrange transportation.
If you are obtaining your own transportation at the airport, often there will be a desk where you can arrange for a taxi. These uniformed or designated taxis may cost a few dollars more, but the security is worth it. Car rental may not be an option in a third world country or be advisable.
Customs, Immigration, and Security
The flight attendants usually give you an immigration form to complete on the plane but not for every country. Arriving at the airport you will normally go through immigration first, where they will stamp your passport and take your completed immigration form. You will likely receive some visa documentation which you need to securely stow.
Next you will retrieve your luggage from the luggage carousel. The carousel area in some countries can be a little cramped and chaotic. You need to have all your bags for your group identified with flagging tape or ribbon so they are easily recognizable. Do this for your carry-on bags too, because some times they get gate-checked. After you collect your luggage, you will be processed through customs, and then out the door for your ride to your destination.
Departure from the airport will be a little different. First, you will check in at the airline desk where you will leave your checked bags. After check-in you will need to go through security and then to immigration in that order. Immigration will stamp your passport and sometimes retrieve an immigration form you received on arrival. Do not be surprised in a foreign airport to go through two security checkpoints with the second one into the gate area.
Always be kind and courteous to the agents and officers.
There is nothing worse than losing your travel documents or having them stolen by your carelessness. Security pouches are a good place to keep your documents for in-country travel. However, when you are flying and going through immigration and customs you need them to be accessible.
There are some clothes readily available that are more conducive for travel than your normal attire. You can find pants, shirts, and jackets with zippered pockets. They are great for travel. Having a shirt with a zippered or button pocket is a great place to keep our passport secure when flying.
Some people like a crossbody bag to keep their money, passport, and cell phone secure. Other folks like a small backpack. Whatever bag is used, it should have a zippered closure instead of a Velcro or flap closure.
You need to make two photocopies of all travel documents including visa information and the information page of your passport. It is important for you to take one copy with you and leave one copy with a trusted family member. If you lose your passport, the information will help to expedite your replacement at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate Office.
Don’t forget to pick up a souvenir in the airport gift shop. Keep your eye out for a divine encounter in the airport. I have had some profound and good encounters with strangers in airports. God has put you on the same path, for that day anyway. Enjoy the Journey.