15 Top Travel Tips
Make Flying a Breeze
By Deborah S. Nelson, Author/Publisher VRTG
Stressed while flying? Try some of these 15 top travel tips to turn travel stress to travel bliss on your next journey. Fumbling with your passport, people behind you shoving … and like, where is my cell phone? Oh, my God. My purse is gone! Is this you? (It was me). If you are anything like this while flying, read on. I hope that even just one of these travel tips will have you flying like a pro!
I am a people watcher. And probably my most enjoyable people-watching is “airport-people-watching.” Mesmerized by all types of people at airports, by far, the most intriguing are those confident people who make flying look like a breeze. I admire the nicely dressed, highly organized, overly composed travelers. I assume they must be first class tickets holders to be so calm.
I want to be like them, I want to dance the travel jig like them. I closed my eyes and wished. Think again, girl. I snubbed my own thought. By contrast in reality, I find myself continuously fumbling—searching for my passport, boarding passes and struggling not to lose my cell phone in the process. Lines back up; people behind me grow impatient, making it even more stressful. I have lost passports, tickets, sweaters, sun glasses and my favorite pillow due to airport trauma.
Where is the TSA When You Need Them?
Entering the woman’s restroom is like stumbling through an obstacle course—the challenge, to wrestle unwieldy bags into stalls while avoiding ripping doors off hinges, and simultaneously praying for toilet paper. Waiting in lines, ugh, the primping I must endure—holding my breath, I glance away from women changing diapers, brushing teeth, applying deodorant—infractions I deem should all be against TSA rules!
Once, so shaken, I left my laptop at security—it dawned on me as I glanced admiringly at an attractive TSA sign reading: Forget your Laptop? Yes, I did! Heart pounding, I raced back to retrieve my laptop. Phew! As an author, my laptop equals my livelihood. Read on to discover and learn about travel tips that can turn travel stress to bliss.
The Romance Is Gone
Since 911, flying makes travel less romantic and more challenging. We all yack about it and agree about the randomness of the rules and items that pass through “security” much more dangerous than any three-ounce plus liquid could be. Yogurt gets by sometimes, sometimes not. But, TSA is here to stay. These are precious government jobs and like most price hikes, you won’t see a miraculous return to the lower price tag. This arm of government is already entrenched and unlikely to go away any time soon.
Therefore, in order to romance flying once again, we must manage our travel by learning and implementing some of these travel tips. I recently returned from a 13,000 mile journey from The Dominican Republic to Hawaii. My return trip was great! After four flight segments to Hawaii destroyed my latest super-duper lightweight checked suitcase, I needed new luggage. A trip to Ross for Less (discounted designer items) set me up for the return trip. I changed my whole way of flying. With new bags and a new travel system, I now resemble the composed travelers I have long admired.
Here are 15 simple, powerful travel tips to help your next flight be a breeze, too! See if you can find just one of these travel tips that makes your journey easier. Some of these travel tips may seem self-obvious, but as simple as they are, if you will remember to implement some or all of them pre-flight, you’ll feel a world of difference, post-flight.
Travel Tip 1. Ditch Checked Bags.
I used to take my big super-duper lightweight bag to the UPS store to weigh it before traveling. I did not want to pay an extra fee for overweight, which can be up to $100. But I ditched that whole process! Going with only carry-on luggage is helpful when traveling both internationally or domestically.
The local airlines in Europe and Hawaii charge for checked baggage when traveling between countries or Islands. Save time when going through customs and upon arrival. Your luggage cannot be lost, and you avoid that lengthy wait at the baggage carousel. Most airlines charge at least $25 for a checked bag, so you will save at least $50 per trip. When I arrived in the Dominican Republic, sans checked bag, I was the first through customs (sometimes a very long wait) because I was the first one off the plane! It was lovely; I felt free, light and composed. If you are one not to travel light, read on through the rest of the travel tips for other great ideas.
Travel Tip 2. Four-Wheel Power.
Now that you have ditched that 50-pound suitcase, you can afford to buy the smaller carry-on luggage with four wheels! I paid only $44 at Ross for Less for a carry-on bag with four wheels and layers of outside pockets, plus extension zipper. If you must stuff extras for the return trip, that zipper extender will allow you to do so. The good thing is the airlines do not weigh carry-ons (shhh…let’s not give them any ideas).
I love four-wheels! Instead of dragging and lugging and pulling that thing behind me, my little suitcase is like a pet on a leash. On smooth floors it’s easy going, and with one finger on the handle, it rolls along healing obediently by my side. Besides looking good, there’s no sweat or exhaustion! I just stack my one personal item on top of it and go. No shoulder straps, no purses, just my little pet luggage.
Travel Tip 3. Getting Through Security.
You are allowed one carry-on bag plus one personal item and these must pass TSA Security. This, loosely defined, can be rather huge! I recommend a soft luggage bag. I bought the largest purse-like soft luggage bag allowable. It holds a laptop, smallish purse plus a change of clothes, cosmetics bag with contact lenses case, the magic three-ounce toothpaste, shampoos, and conditioners in case of an overnight stay, some instant oatmeal packets, and favorite tea bags. A second personal carry-on might be a roomy backpack which works well as one personal item. Get something with lots of outer pockets. I have even seen over-sized carry-on soft luggage with wheels, which is also a good idea. It is best to find one with at least one outside zipper pocket for your ID & boarding passes.
With these two carry-ons I was able to fit most of what I had brought in my bigger suitcase. With my four-wheeler, I stack my over-sized one personal item on top, and off I roll! As long as your “one personal item” fits under the seat in front of you, it can be surprisingly roomy. You’ll be required to remove your shoes, belts, and anything that could set off a metal detector. Laptops need to be scanned and must be removed from their bag and placed in a bin to go through the detector. Try to be nice and smile; the TSA people have a difficult and stressful job and most appreciate small kindnesses.
Travel Tip 4. Hold onto Your ID.
This is by far the most nerve-wracking development since 911. As a result, you are constantly being asked for your passport and boarding passes. I lost a passport and a driver’s license while flying and experienced airport trauma. It is easy to have your ID out and mindlessly set it down and forget about it. Expensive to replace, a lost ID can cause major problems.
Keep your ID with your boarding passes and make them handy in an outside zippered pocket of your carry-on. If you try to keep it in your wallet or purse, this can create a lot of fumbling, frantic scrambling and digging. Just unzip, show, and go. Quickly take it out of this outside pocket—easily put it right back in, same spot every time. Resist putting anything else in that pocket except your cell phone and charger. You should be able to easily grab either without digging, scrambling, or risking losing money or credit cards in this process.
Travel Tip 5. Get Hands Free.
One trick to traveling incident free is to use a small purse or wallet for your money and credit cards. Keep this small light-weight purse inside your big carry-on so your ID is less likely for it to be lost or stolen. Carrying a purse on your shoulder or in your hands makes it more difficult to be aware continuously, during distracting situations. With your purse inside your second personal carry on, your hands are now free. Put your laptop in a thin case and store it inside your personal item. You’ll have it on the plane handy at your feet. You can simply take it out of the personal item and place it on the belt during the TSA security shuffle.
Travel Tip 6. Your Feet’s Shoes.
Get smart about the shoes you wear in the airport. You’ll be required to remove them each time you traverse through security. Airports can be large and require lots of walking. Comfortable sandals, walking quality flip flops, or lightweight slip-on walking shoes are best. If your feet get cold, wear socks. Boots or shoes with laces are difficult and time-consuming to remove. I wore boots to the airport once because I was going to a cold place. After several legs of flying, my feet were so swollen it took a major effort to get them on again after passing through security. Be strategic with the shoes you wear to the airport. Using one of outer pockets in your main carry-on, you may easily put on different shoes after you have taken the others off to move through security.
Travel Tip 7. Get Some Class.
My sister gave me this idea. This is a great feature for long layovers which is the airlines lounge. You entry fee is your first class ticket, or a charge of $50 United (also American Airlines) will admit you to its first class lounge. Recently, I needed to endure a six-hour lay-over in Honolulu and wanted WIFI. The wireless service in the Honolulu airport was only available in spotty areas for an unknown fee. Additionally, I did not know where these spotty areas were.
The first class lounge provided instant access to wireless as well as snacks and drinks. With an all-night ten hour flight ahead, followed by another 20-hour lay-over, I decided to go for it. It was great! I highly recommend it if you need wireless for work. If you can get by with a light snack when traveling, enjoy a cocktail or two prior to boarding.
With snacks, cheese, crackers, cookies, drinks and unlimited wireless, I was comfortable. With lots of outlets I charged up my electronic equipment. It was peaceful and quiet, like a library. Handy bathrooms without lines and with larger stalls were pleasant. Now I understand why people with first class tickets seem so composed. They probably hang out in the first class lounge in between flights.
Travel Tip 8. Control Your Cell.
Most men carry a cell phone on their belt. This is advisable if you are set up for this. Women do not usually wear belts so I designate one zippered pocket on the outside of my one personal item (gigantic carry-on-purse-like luggage) for my cell phone. Many people lose cell phones on airplanes. When traveling, this is the least desirable time to lose your cell phone. Assign one handy place for it and its charger. You don’t want to dig for it in a purse or carry-on. Place it in one of the outside zippered pockets of your personal item carry-on so it will be with you when the plane takes off and lands.
It is also a good idea to charge it on the plane if they have power outlets under your seat. Most planes offer this now as charging cell phones in airports can be problematic. You may need to call a taxi or text your ride. The phone needs to be charged and right at your fingertips.
Travel Tip 9. Eating the Vittles.
Eating in airports and on planes is my least favorite aspect of flying. One solution is to fast from food and only drink juices or water. That’s drastic, I know. The other solution is to eat expensive junk airport food; chow down at a restaurant, or eat in an airport restaurant slowly if you have time between flights. Most food is not allowed through security. Often I buy a muffin and eat it with the free drinks on the plane. If you have time, this may be preferable to buying food on the plane, which is usually super processed, as well as expensive.
Some buy alcohol at airport shops to spike their free drinks. That can work, but if your preferred drink is wine, you would need to bring a wine opener. (Will that pass through security?) One thing you can do to supplement food choices, is bring your own tea bags and bags of instant oatmeal. When they come by with the drinks ask them for a cup of hot water in addition to the drink of your choice. Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water. Still looking for some travel tips that you can use? Keep reading, we have plenty more.
10. Score Good Seats.
One key making flying a breeze is to secure a seat towards the front of the plane. Forget about aisle seat or window seat, as the front of the plane trumps all! When you buy a ticket online, you are asked to select a seat, and offered upgraded seats all associated with being near the front of the plane. When you get to your gate, produce your boarding pass and your ID. With a smile and your kindest voice, ask the agent for a seat closer to the front of the plane.
They usually have a few upgraded seats left unpurchased. They must use those seats, as most planes fly full these days. Seats towards the front of the plane are likely to be equipped with electrical outlets to charge a phone or laptop, and extra legroom. Being near the front of the plane makes it faster to settle into your seat and less exhausting lugging your bags down the aisle. And once you land, if you have ditched your checked luggage, you’ll be first in line at customs and into your hotel room Jacuzzi while the poor people in the back are still at the airport, slugging bags around.
Travel Tip 11. Staving off Boredom.
How do you stave off boredom while flying? Does your cell phone come prepared with your favorite songs? Bring a headset of your own, so that you can plug in. Some airplanes provide headsets for free and some don’t. You never know. You won’t have to buy headsets or wait until they pass them out. Some airlines provide TV or movies; you may use your headset by plugging into their system.
Domestic airlines expect you to “swipe your card,” to pay for movies. Bring a good book to read on the plane. If you are bringing your laptop, keep it plugged in and charged. DVD’s are an option if you bring some of your own. All forms of entertainment are light and easy to pack in your one personal item.
Travel Tip 12. Keep Yourself Warm.
Most airplanes are air conditioned. If you are sensitive to refrigerated air, the “blankets” provided (or sometimes not provided) are really too thin to truly be called blankets. My own travel blanket curls up into a tiny roll, stuffs inside of a small zippered pillow. Bring a pair of warm socks for those long night flights. Layer your clothing so you may take off or put on more layers according the weather in the plane or at your destination.
Travel Tip 13. Are You Sleeping?
For “red eye” flights, a neck pillow is helpful. They are u-shaped squishy pillows that cushion your neck from humming, movement and hardness of the plane. Some VRTG travel writers take Melatonin supplements for night flying, or night time aspirin to enhance sleep. Be careful with this. I once took Melatonin and became so relaxed that in the morning, I missed my next flight!
If you wear glasses or contacts, pack the contacts and a three-ounce container of solution in your personal carry-on item. Bring a case to locate and protect your glasses as you will sleep better with lenses or glasses put away. For night-time layovers, a hotel or sleeping in the airport will be your only options. My preference is to sleep on the plane rather than in an airport. If my flight spans overnight, I buy tickets with more layovers—the best of two evils.
To Hotel or Not to Hotel … that is the Question!
Your other option is a hotel but comes with added stresses and expenses of getting to and from the airport and reentering security. Should you opt for a hotel, find one with free shuttle service nearby the airport. In addition, check the shuttle schedule if yours is an early or late flight. I once reserved a hotel with a free shuttle to find it not running early enough to make my flight. Taxis to and from airports are expensive.
Consider your safety. Last year, I spent the night in Frankfurt Airport. As I dozed off a homeless man quietly snatched my purse from under me. I instantly awoke to chase him through the airport before he finally gave it up. With the hyper-focus on security, you would think an airport would screen out the homeless, but apparently the Frankfurt airport-shopping mall is the crash pad of choice! German security is not like security in U.S. airports. When traveling, it is best not to make assumptions. The next two travel tips bring you closer to travel bliss.
Travel Tip 14. Cultivate Travel Awareness
If you are sensing that something is not quite right, move on. For example, one of our travel writers recently ran across a stressed waitress complaining about her cook, saying it might be 25 minutes or more for her meal. Even though she had time, Emily drank her juice and moved on to another food option. If something feels negative, move on.
Do not force or push yourself to the edge while traveling. Rather keep alert, and stay on your toes, follow your intuition and be aware of subtle signs and signals. These travel tips will help you to avoid serious delays. When going through security, cultivate a happy positive attitude. When you really think about it, these TSA officials have some of the worst jobs on earth and a little smile means a lot to them.
Travel Tip 15. Frequent Flyer Miles.
This one is the last of our travel tips. Flying for free lowers your stress level, so go ahead and sign up for the mileage clubs. Even if you think you will not earn enough miles for a ticket, but you can sometimes use miles for upgrades or a first class ticket. American Airlines allows you to donate miles to charity or transfer miles to friends or family.
All airlines offer similar programs but details vary. It takes a few minutes to apply. Keep track of your number and include it each time you book a ticket. You can even use frequent flyer miles to buy a ticket for someone else. Flying free is a stress free experience, and upgrading to first class is the most stress free of all. Most of these travel tips seem obvious and simple to do. The problem is that we forget to plan ahead and implement the easiest of travel tips. Next time you fly, take one of your favorite travel tips here, and implement it. You’ll be so happy you did!
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