Welcome to our new column, The Traveler. Allow me to introduce myself: my name is Monique and I’ve studied abroad in two different countries ( Nepal and England), lived in four ( Nepal, England, Belgium and the U.S.) and I have a severe travel addiction!
With this regular column I’ll be bringing you articles on travel/studying abroad in general, and perhaps some notes on travel and culture and places to visit or not to visit. I hope this column will increase your desire to study abroad and visit new places, learn about different cultures and meet new people from different backgrounds.
For my first article, I’m going to touch on a topic that all of you have had or will have experience with: Airport Security. Sure, everyone complains that security takes a long time these days, but remember - these people are there to keep you safe, so stay patient. I’ve had my shoes scanned (Boston, USA), my laptop fiddled with (Boston, USA), my bags searched (many countries), my camera film opened (Singapore), my bags sealed shut (Kathmandu, Nepal), my purse’s contents dumped out because my lipstick container is metal and it looked suspicious on an x-ray machine (London, England), been patted down (Kathmandu, Nepal and Calcutta, India), and the list goes on. In short, no matter where you go, you’ll encounter airport security in its various forms.
If you’re traveling for study, you’ll encounter security quite a lot. There are many possible reasons people can be searched at an airport, such as age (young people are searched more), having lots of luggage, having one-way or open-ended tickets, traveling alone, and even being rude or evasive to local airport workers. Chances are that at some time, somewhere, you will be picked to have your luggage searched. Here are some important things to keep in mind when it happens:
Don’t take it personally
The security staff are not out to get you, they’re just doing their job – keeping the airport and airplanes safe. You may be picked for a search due to one of the categories I mentioned above, some other category, or they may simply pick every 10 th person in line. In short, you don’t know why you were picked so do not jump to conclusions and assume that security staff have unfairly targeted you.
Just because your bags are being searched, it doesn't mean you are in any trouble. If you start being mean or you act rude to security staff, you will almost certainly cause more trouble. Patience is very important when traveling as random baggage searches are a fact of life these days. For example, last January my mother was traveling to London and her arm was in a sling (as she had broken her arm). Her bags weren't searched, but her sling was searched, just in case! Also, when I moved back to the USA from the UK, I had a 5-foot duffle bag on wheels, a trekking backpack, a carry-on bag and my purse. Given that I’m only 5 feet 4 inches tall (1.62 meters), I’m certain I stood out. Most people don’t carry that much luggage – I just happened to be moving to another country and couldn't afford to ship anything. Because of carrying all of the luggage, I was searched going to and coming from London.
Don’t worry if the security person doesn't speak your language
It’s not critical that you both speak the same language, although it does help. Hand signals can be very helpful, just make sure you use ones that are easily understood. Some basic hand signals vary slightly from region to region, for example, the “come here” motion in North America is a hand, palm up, being pulled towards the body while the fingers close over the palm. In many parts of South Asia, it’s very similar, but the hand is palm down. If you’re in doubt as to whether a particular hand signal is rude, then don’t use it (don’t use the “thumb’s up” sign in Latin America – trust me, it’s quite rude!), but chances are the official has dealt with this kind of situation before and will make himself or herself perfectly clear, even if he or she only uses hand signals.
I can’t stress this one enough. The security staff and airport officials are there to keep you safe. While the definition of what is polite varies from country to country, basic courtesy will be appreciated no matter where you are. If in doubt, ask yourself if your grandmother would be proud of how behaved. Treating the staff rudely is quite disrespectful. Travel is stressful, but there’s no need to take it out on airport personnel.
Don’t worry about missing your plane
The security staff will likely ask to see your tickets and/or boarding pass when they search your luggage, so they will know when you flight is scheduled to leave. They will also make sure you get to your plane on time. My fiancé was once held up at the check-in desk for 45 minutes due to an incorrect computer entry. Once it was all sorted out, a security official brought him through the security area personally and to his plane, to make sure he made the flight. If they know your plane leaves soon, they will make every effort to be sure you get on the plane.
So stay calm, be polite and don’t worry. If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about. By cooperating with the airport officials, you will get to your airplane and destination much faster.