Little is more miserable than getting off a six-hour flight, spending an extra hour in the airport to get off the plane, get all your baggage, and huff it over to the main transport hub and then realising you have no idea where you parked your car.
I try to avoid parking at the airport, mostly because I don’t want to pay a small fortune to leave my car in a lot while I’m on holiday. But the few times I’ve done it, I had make a very concentrated effort to make sure I’m remembered its location. This has, at times, even included attaching a sticky note to my dashboard to remind me not to run for the terminal without marking down my location.
I don’t have a bad memory. I just have a bad memory for parking. Here are some tips we can all use to ensure we never get off a long-haul flight at some ungodly hour and find ourselves wandering the parking lot in search of our cars.
Go (sort-of) old school
As mentioned, one of the first things I do when parking my car at the airport — after I leave whatever reminder I’ve left for myself in my car or on my phone — is to write down anything and everything I need to know to remember where my car is. That includes:
The name or number of the parking structure
The level or row where my car is located
If applicable, the number of the parking spot (or at least, the number of the “section” my car is in)
If I’m parking long-term, I’ll even sometimes write a brief description of neighbouring cars — ”sandwiched between bright red and blue” — in case they’re still around when I get back and that helps me spot where I am
Obviously, it never hurts to take a picture of your spot and/or the surrounding location, to give yourself a visual reminder later. In fact, your smartphone can be your best friend in this situation: scribble down all this information as a note, a to-do item, or even an email to yourself, and you’ll be set once you’re back in town — assuming you haven’t lost your phone on your trip or burnt through its battery playing games on the flight.
Apps can help!
Both Apple Maps and Google Maps allow you to drop a pin for your car’s location on a map. As long as you’re not stuck in some underground parking bunker with no connection, you’ll at least be able to zero on on your car’s vicinity — even if that pin won’t indicate exactly which level you’re on. (For that, you’ll want to add some contextual notes to the pin, which you can do in both iOS and Android).
You can also ask Siri (“Remember where I parked my car”) or Google Assistant to help out, too. It’s a very handy trick if you forget to mark your car’s location and your hands are already full with other essentials, such as your passport, your carry-on bag, six charging cables, et cetera.
If you forget to do this step, don’t stress out. Pull up Apple Maps or Google Maps anyway, as your driving helper of choice might have already saved your parking spot on your behalf. Every little bit helps when you get off the plane and just want to go home.
Let someone else handle it (or avoid the airport entirely)
It’s no secret that airports love charging you as much as humanly possible for you to stash your car in a garage or lot on their property. And why not? People are either lazy or don’t like taking public transportation / taxis / rideshares and airports are more than happy to accommodate these cars for a hefty fee.
If you truly need white-glove service on your next trip, you could check to see if your airport has some kind of a valet service. Leave the car with them and then shoot them a text when you land on your return trip. They’ll dig out your car for you and drop it right off. Yes, this will cost you a small fortune, but that’s convenience for you.
For everyone else, myself included, I recommend investigating whether there are any other parking services near your airport. You can often find alternative garages or parking lots for much lower rates than what your airport charges. With luck, these parking places will be a bit smaller, too, which minimises the possibility you’ll lose your car. They might even be better-staffed to help you find it when you return.
The downside? You’ll probably have to take some kind of shuttle back and forth from the actual terminal. This will add a little time, but you’ll likely save a lot of cash — especially if you’re going away for a few days or weeks.