We’ve all been there: You’re in the airport and suddenly your kids are starving. Or—dream scenario—you realize you’ll actually be able to read a book or magazine while the little ones watch movies on the plane.
Airport purchases are inevitable. But there are still some things you should never buy at the airport, especially if you’d rather save your money for your actual vacation.
1. Bottled Water
Yes, the no-liquids-through-security rule can make it seem hard to stay hydrated without shelling out for expensive bottles of water near the gate. But if you bring some empty reusable water bottles with you (especially those collapsible water bottles that won’t take up a lot of space), you can fill up once you’ve gone through pre-flight screening.
“So many airports now have water bottle refill stations available,” says Harriet Baskas, who writes the Stuck at the Airport blog. “And even though many take-out restaurants at airports sell water, most will give you a cup of tap water for free.”
2. Snacks and Gum
It really pays to stock up on nonperishable snacks, candy and gum before you get to the airport. “If you take a look at the prices for airport food, you’ll see you’re usually paying two or three times more than what you’d pay at the supermarket,” says Maria Lianos-Carbone of A Mother World.
Hit the grocery store before you head to the airport in order to avoid paying those high airport food costs. Or if you’re heading home from a fun vacation, gather snack supplies when taking care of another pre-flight necessity. “When you’re filling up your rental car [before returning it], run into the convenience store at the gas station,” says Kirsten Maxwell of Kids Are a Trip. “Snacks are a huge one for me; I will not buy those at the airport.”
3. Health and Beauty Products
Here’s another area where you’ll wind up paying a lot more for things than you would at the drug and grocery store. So pack a travel bag ahead of time filled with pain relievers, bandages, lip balm and any other must-haves (in TSA-approved sizes and formats, of course).
4. Neck Pillows, Blankets and Other Travel Gear
“Don’t buy the ones they sell in the airport,” says Lianos-Carbone. “They’re overpriced and have been touched and tried on by many travelers walking through the airport.”
Consider it a life lesson for the kiddos on being prepared and surviving travel challenges. Ask them if they know how much a neck pillow costs at an airport. “I’ve had my kids ask if they can buy headphones and my answer is no,” says Maxwell. “You just have to be on the flight without them or get them from the flight attendant. My wallet stays closed while we’re at the airport.” (Her one exception: a hot meal.)
5. DVDs, Chargers and Other Electronics
Avoid buying DVDs at the airport, especially if you’re traveling internationally. You might run into DVDs burned in different formats that won’t work on your computer or Blu-ray player, or even pirated versions of movies.
And you may feel a sense of panic if your phone or tablet chargers didn’t make it into your bag. But if you buy one at the airport and it doesn’t work when you get to your destination or back home, you’ve basically thrown your money away.
“I know people are desperate when they forget them,” says Kyle McCarthy, editor of Family Travel Forum. “But you’re much better off once you get to your destination asking a local person for a legitimate store recommendation.”
6. Activities and Entertainment
A long airport layover can be tough, especially for little ones. But you’ve already spent a lot of money on your trip, so there’s no need to shell out for a new game or coloring book to the keep the kiddos from going stir crazy while waiting for your flight.
A lot of airports have free art or history exhibits, observation decks and other no-cost fun that can help keep everyone occupied. “I’d encourage families to seek out the airport’s information booths,” says Baskas. “They often have free items—trading cards, coloring books, stickers, ‘wings’—that make nice treats.”
Related: Road Trip Games for Families
Unless you’ve got a kid who collects snow globes from their travels (like Maxwell does), it’s typically a good idea to buy your vacation souvenirs before you get to the airport.
“It feels more authentic to go to an actual market or a local vendor and buy a souvenir from them,” says AJ Ratani, who writes the 2 Idiots Travel blog with his wife, Natasha. “The airport feels like a big shopping-mall type of place. And typically things at the airport are at least twice the price, because they know you don’t have another chance to buy it unless you fly back there.”
Beth Luberecki is a Florida-based freelance writer who writes about travel, business, and lifestyle topics for a variety of publications and websites. She enjoys exploring destinations close to home and farther afield with her husband and tween-age daughter. Visit her website at bethluberecki.com or find her on Instagram at @bethluberecki.
Items to Pack Before You Get to the Airport
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