Dance the Travel Jig
I am a people-watcher—and, my favorite type is “airport-people-watching.” By far, the most intriguing are the confident people who make flying look like a breeze. I admire the highly organized, nicely dressed, overly composed travelers. I assume they are first-class ticket holders to be so calm. I want to be like them, I want to dance the travel jig with them.
As I closed my eyes, I 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, sunglasses, and my favorite pillow.
Entering the woman’s bathroom is like stumbling through an obstacle course—the challenge, to wrestle unwieldy bags into stalls, and simultaneously praying for toilet paper.
Waiting in lines, ugh! The primping I endure—I glance away from women changing diapers, brushing teeth, applying deodorant—infractions I deem should all be against TSA rules! Once I left my laptop at security—realized when I glanced at a TSA sign reading: Forget your Laptop? Yes, I did! Heart pounding, I raced back to find it still there. Phew! As an author, my laptop equals my livelihood. Of course, that sign was not meant just for me; but in my massive relief, I felt it was.
The Romance is Gone
Since 9/11, flying makes travel less romantic and more challenging. We all yack about it and agree about random rules. Items that pass through “security” are more dangerous than any three-ounce plus liquid could be. Sometimes yogurt passes through and sometimes it does not. However, TSA is here to stay and this government arm is already unlikely to go away.
Therefore, in order to enjoy flying, we organize our travel. I recently returned from a 13,000-mile journey from the Dominican Republic to Hawaii. My return trip was great! However, the four flight segments to Hawaii destroyed my latest super-duper lightweight suitcase, and I needed new luggage. A trip to Ross for Less (discounted designer items) got me ready for the return trip. I changed my whole way of flying. With new bags and a revised travel plan, I now resembled the composed travelers I admired.
Here are 15 powerful tips to help your next flight be a breeze. If you remember to implement them pre-flight, you will feel a world of difference, post-flight.
1. 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 to be lost. Carrying a purse on your shoulder or in your hands makes it more difficult to be aware amidst distractions. 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. It will be on the plane, handy at your feet. Take it out of the personal item and place it on the belt during the TSA security shuffles.
2. 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 process! The local airlines in Europe and Hawaii charge for checked baggage when traveling between countries or islands. Save time upon arrival and when going through customs. 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 at my international destination, sans checked bag, I was first through customs (sometimes a long wait) and I was first out the door! It was lovely. I felt free, light, and composed.
3. 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 an extension zipper. If you must stuff extras for the return trip, that zipper extender will allow that. 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 a carry-on behind me, my little suitcase is like a pet on a leash. On smooth floors, it is easy-going, and with one finger on the handle, it rolls along obediently by my side. Besides looking good, there is 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.
4. Holding Onto ID
This is by far the most nerve-wracking development since 9/11. You are constantly being asked for your passport and boarding passes. I lost a passport and a driver’s license while flying and was traumatized. It is easy to have your ID out, then mindlessly set it down, and forget about it. Keep your ID with your boarding passes 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, the same spot every time. Resist putting anything else in that pocket except your cell phone and charger. Just easily grab either without digging, scrambling, or losing money and credit cards in this process.
5. Your Shoes
Get smart about the shoes you wear at the airport. You will be required to remove them each time you pass through security. Comfortable sandals, walking quality flip-flops, or lightweight slip-on 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—and after several flights, my feet were so swollen it took a major effort to get my shoes on again after passing through security. Using one of the outer pockets in your main carry-on, to put on different shoes, and move through security.
6. Get Some Class
The airline lounge is a great feature for long layovers. Your entry fee is your first-class ticket, or a charge of $50 will admit you to most VIP lounges. Recently, I needed to endure a six-hour layover 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 VIP 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 layover, I decided to go for it. It was great! I recommend VIP lounges, especially 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. Plus, with lots of outlets, I charged 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 hang out in the VIP lounge between flights.
7. 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 allowed. It holds a laptop, a smallish purse plus a change of clothes, a cosmetics bag, the 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. 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 surprisingly roomy over-sized personal carry-on atop, and off I roll! Be sure your one personal item will fit under the seat in front of you.
8. Control Your Cell
Most men carry a cell phone on their belts. Women do not usually wear belts so I designate one zippered pocket on the outside of my personal item (gigantic carry-on-purse-like luggage) for my cell phone. Many cell phones are lost on airplanes. Traveling is the least desirable time to lose your cell phone. Place your phone 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. Once you land, you may need to call a taxi or text your ride.
9. Score Good Seats
One key to making flying a breeze is to secure a seat towards the front of the plane. Forget about aisle or window seats, as the front of the plane trumps all! When you buy a ticket online, you are asked to select a seat, and you are offered upgraded seats 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, you will be settled into your seat and will be less exhausted lugging your bags down the aisle. And, once you land (if you have ditched your checked luggage) you will be first in line at customs and into your hotel Jacuzzi, while the people in the back are still at the airport, slogging bags around.
10. Eating the Vittles
Eating in airports and on planes is my least favorite aspect of flying. One solution is to fast, and only drink juices or water. That is drastic, I know. The other solution is to eat expensive airport food; chow down at a restaurant, or eat in an airport restaurant slowly if you have time between flights. 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 people 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 to bring your own tea bags and 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.
11. Staving off Boredom
How do you avoid boredom while flying? Does your cell phone come prepared with your favorite songs? Bring a headset of your own, so you can plug in. Some airplanes provide headsets for free and some do not. You never know. Some airlines provide TV or movies; use your headset by plugging it 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. All forms of entertainment are light and easy to pack in your one personal item.
12. Keep Yourself Warm
Most airplanes are air-conditioned. If you are sensitive to refrigerated air, if blankets are provided, they are usually too thin to truly be called blankets. I curl my own travel blanket into a tiny roll and stuff it inside a small zippered pillow. Bring a pair of warm socks for those long night flights. Layer your clothing so you may take off layers or put more on according to the weather on the plane or at your destination.
13. Sleep Like a Baby
For “red-eye” flights, a neck pillow is helpful. They are u-shaped squishy pillows that cushion your neck from the hardness of the plane. Some VRTG travel writers take melatonin supplements for night flying, or nighttime aspirin to enhance sleep. Be careful with this. I once took melatonin and became so relaxed while waiting at the gate, I missed my flight! If you wear glasses or contacts, pack the contacts and a three-oz. 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 nighttime 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 lesser of two evils.
Your other option is a hotel, which comes with added stresses and expenses of getting to and from the airport and re-entering security. Should you opt for a hotel, find one with a free shuttle service near the airport. Check the shuttle schedule if your flight is an early or late one. 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 a night in Frankfurt Airport. As I dozed off, a homeless man quietly snatched my purse from under me. I awoke instantly and chased 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.
14. Frequent Flyer Miles
Sign up for the mileage club with airlines to collect miles. Even if you think you will not earn enough miles for a ticket, 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 the airlines have similar programs but details vary. It takes a few minutes to apply. Keep track of your number, and include it every time you book a ticket. You can even use frequent flyer miles to buy a ticket for someone else.
15. Cultivate Travel Awareness
If you sense 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. Stay on your toes, follow your intuition and be aware of subtle signs and signals. 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.