As a frequent traveler (sneak peek at this year’s travel stats- I’ve flown over 55,000 miles in 2015!) and a constant researcher of all things travel related, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to travel as hassle-free as possible. And with holiday travel right around the corner for many of us, today I thought I’d share some of tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way- both as a reminder to myself as I fly out next week, and to help you as you make your way to visit friends, family, or far away holiday locations.
Opening photo Credit: © ChungKing / Dollar Photo Club
Arrive at the Airport Early
Really. Like earlier than normal. Give yourself and extra hour, or two.
I tend to err on the side of ‘getting to the airport way too early’ for any flight but during the holidays it’s truly needed. Why start your trip out stressed if you don’t need to? Besides additional travelers, there are additional travelers who aren’t used to traveling and take longer checking in and getting through security, and that all adds up to delays. Getting to the airport early will allow you to wait in these lines with extra patience, and perhaps a little help for your fellow travelers, because you have lots and lots of time.
If you dread waiting at the gate you could consider purchasing a one-time lounge pass, if you don’t already have access. Lounges can be considerably quieter and more comfortable than sitting at the gate, and some of them offer enough food selection they can double as your pre-flight meal. One app I’ve recently learned about that can help with this is Lounge Buddy. You input your trip details and the app will show you which lounges are available and their price (if they offer a one-time pass). They also have a holiday promotion for select US airports that will give you 100% of your lounge access purchase through the app back in LoungeBuddy credit. Sadly Houston isn’t on the list but that’s OK as I have one pass left just waiting to get me into the United lounge for my upcoming trip to the UK.
Reconfirm all your Reservations
This is always a good idea but more so during the holidays so any issues can be resolved sooner than later. Also if you are planning to use AirBnb it might be a good idea to reach out to your host a little earlier than normal so everything is in order before Christmas or New Year’s and then everyone can enjoy their holiday. I also like to print out all confirmations and tuck them away in my travel folder, even in this day and age of technology. Some never need to be pulled from the folder but it is nice knowing they are there if I can’t retrieve them on my phone due to a dead battery or no data service.
Charge All Devices
Speaking of dead battery I do try to minimise this as much as possible by charging everything the night before I leave. Normally I charge things all over the place -nightstand, desk, bathroom counter- you name it. But the night before a trip things are all charged together and normally right beside my suitcase or carry-on. I don’t want to forget a device or its charger. I also swear by my external battery now as it has been a life (well at least sanity) saver on many occasion. Just don’t forget to charge it before you leave too.
Know Your Airline’s Baggage Rules
Nothing stinks more than getting to the airport, putting the suitcase on the scale, and seeing the number go over the limit. Trust me, I know. I once was about 4 lbs over and the thought of the $200 overweight fee did not sound very appealing. Luckily for me the ticket agent turned a blind eye and sent my suitcase on its merry way but it doesn’t always turn out like that. I have seen people with their belongings on the airport floor as they redistribute items in their bags and I don’t want that to be me.
With United Airlines my confirmation always tells me what my baggage allowance is, but if that isn’t on there it is always worth checking. One airline may allow 23 kg while another only allows 20 kg. Please don’t assume they are all the same.
Once known then you need to weigh your bag. I’ve used the weigh myself and then weigh myself+my suitcase trick on my bathroom scale for years and it hasn’t let me down yet. Then last year my parents got me a luggage scale and I go around weighing everything now. Suitcase, carry-on…even my purse (I really lug around way too much in my purse). It’s also small enough to bring with me which would have helped 5 years ago when I was facing that $200 overweight baggage fee on my way back from Europe.
Additionally, at the holidays, you are likely traveling with gifts and will be bringing some home you received. You probably thought about buying things that are light and have accounted for that in the weight of your suitcase, but friends and family might not have so it is best to allow yourself a little cushion for the flight home.
To Wrap or Not to Wrap
Speaking of gifts -should you bother wrapping them or not? Nah, this year isn’t the one to get all fancy with your gift wrapping. Just pack a few gift bags, some tissue, tags, and a roll of tape and you’ll be all set when you arrive. If TSA searches your bag then you won’t arrive with unwrapped gifts and no way to get them wrapped back up.
Additionally the TSA has an app with a “Can I bring?” feature that allows users to search if an item is permitted or prohibited. This could come in handy if you’re bringing things you’re not used to traveling with and don’t want to be delayed at security. This app seems to be hit or miss though with users whether they can get it to work or not. Personally I’m not having much luck but other reviews I’ve read swear by it. Your best bet might be to just visit their website ahead of time to get your questions answered.
Travel Apps to Try
There are ton of apps out there for travelers to help you with every step of your trip. When they say ‘there’s an app for that’ -well they mean it.
Some to try include a booking app, like Kayak, for your initial reservations and also to look up flight alternatives if flights are delayed or cancelled. Armed with this knowledge you can help the airline rep help you faster and you might be less likely to end up on a undesirable flight if you’re able to give them suggestions for the flight you want.
Once the airfare is booked you’ll want your airline’s app to provide you with updates, enable you to check-in online, change your seats, watch the standby and upgrade list, and for a mobile boarding pass. One tip I use for mobile boarding passes in foreign countries is to check-in online while on WiFi and then screenshot the boarding pass in case a lack of data won’t let me retrieve it at the airport.
And my most used app while traveling? That’s easy- XE currency converter. With the free version you can monitor up to 10 currencies at a time and it is just simply easy to use and reliable. I have used it for years.
Off-Site Airport Parking
Learn from my (expensive) mistake last Christmas and make your reservation for off-site airport parking ahead of time. I have used the same parking lot for years and have never made a reservation but December 26 at 5:30 am it caught up with me. I turned up and was told “I’m sorry but we’re full”. Oh no! On to the next parking lot, then the next, and before we knew it we were parking at the airport. :-( Book in advance and you won’t have to worry…or pay through the teeth when you get home.
Once you’ve parked take a quick photo with your phone of your parking spot and/or the little ticket they give you with that information. If it gets lost along the way on your trip you’ll have all the information you need to call the shuttle and get right back to your car.
I’ve posted before about making the best of long haul flights and still do those things on my own flights today. Even if you’re not flying long haul overnight, some of these ideas can still make your short domestic flight much more enjoyable. Noise cancelling headphones to drown out the plane and listen to a movie or audio book so you don’t hear the crying babies and loud talkers. An eye mask to block out some light for a little nap or just to rest your eyes. And a sweater or scarf to keep the chill off. The flight might only be a few hours but these little things will make it a relaxing few hours to kick off your trip.
If you only take one tip from this list, let this be it. When all seems to be going wrong just remember it’ll pass and it doesn’t have to ruin your whole trip.
Presents got squashed in your luggage? Your family will understand. Delayed or cancelled flights? You’ll get there eventually. Better to be safely on the ground than on a plane with an issue in the air. All problems will have a solution. By staying calm, cool, and taking a deep breath you’ll get through them. And if you can muster a smile too you’ll most likely find friendly strangers willing to help you find a solution to your issue, or you can just laugh together at the situation you find yourselves in. It’ll likely make for a good memory of your trip, and a great story to tell your friends and family when you finally do make it to your destination.
There you have it. A few of the tips and tricks I use to make travel this time of year a little more enjoyable and hassle-free.
Wishing you safe and happy travels as we head off to visit friends and family this holiday season!