This week, I’m taking a break from The Future of Travel Series to do something a little more practical.
I had a chance to catch up with a lot of friends over the holidays and invariably the question “I don’t have time to research blogs and Flyertalk for years. What are the 3-5 things I should know about travel?”
So here’s my attempt to distill my worldview into a few helpful tips, for people who maybe don’t want to make this a full time thing. Feel free to share with friends and family who just want a single link.
1) Stop Overpacking – Don’t Check Bags
The overarching theme of many of these tips is “simplify.” Don’t add unnecessary complexity into your trip.
One of the easiest ways to make your travel experience less complicated is to stop taking so much stuff. I often feel bad for those people that you see at the airport lugging massive bags for one week trips. I never check a bag unless I’m taking liquids home (like wine or whiskey). Except for maybe skiing, I think it’s completely possible to get away with never checking a bag even with combined work and leisure trips. Here’s how:
Pro Tip: If you’re traveling for more than 5-7 days, consider just doing laundry.
That way you can economize and take far fewer changes of clothes. It’s easy to find an Airbnb or Homeaway rental with a washer/dryer, even if it’s just at one destination on your journey. But cutting that suitcase in half means saving hundreds of dollars in bag fees, taxi luggage surcharges and chiropractor bills from back issues that result from lugging a massive suitcase around.
There are also plenty of places that will do what’s called “wash & fold” (just regular laundry) and charge by the kilogram. Prices vary worldwide, but it usually costs less than $15 for all of the clothes in my roller suitcase and they turn it around within 24 hours, so it’s trivial to drop off and pick up.
Lastly, investing in a roller suitcase that’s carry on size compliant will save a lot of pain and heartache standing in line to check and weigh bags. No fun at all. You also save time by avoiding the baggage claim or the possibility of lost luggage. That 40-50mins of extra waiting per flight really adds up quickly.
Pro Tip: Consider ditching or storing a bag and picking it up again
Want to go to some of the Thai islands, but have stops in Singapore and Bangkok as well? Having a few days in Zurich before hitting the ski slopes? Most international airports and train stations have luggage storage options that can simplify your bag logistics. I’ll often stash a change of clothes in a weekend bag (my personal item) to take with me on sidetrips and leave my roller suitcase at an airport — especially if I’m on a 23 hour layover.
2) Be your own advocate
Another source of complaints comes from passengers who never take the initiative or even look at their reservation after booking. Travel is the art of rationing out finite resources. You need to make your needs clear so that the airline or lodging provider knows what to do with you.
Pro Tip: Choose a seat so you’re not stuck in the back or middle seat.
Many people complain to me that they got crappy seats. So I ask when they bought their tickets and am usually met with “well months ago!”
Does the airline let you assign seats at booking? Take advantage of it! Do they charge for it? It might be worth paying for seat assignments if avoiding a middle seat is that important to you (for me, it’s honestly not a big deal for flights under 4 hours). After booking, look at your reservation on the airline’s website. If you don’t see a seat assignment, you don’t have one. Unless you’re flying Southwest or an airline that doesn’t assign seats, you will be assigned one at check in. However, by then, only the middle seats in the back will likely be left.
Pro Tip: Do your research on backup options
Ok, so you’re stuck with a delay. They happen. But you don’t just have to sit there huffing about. Get on the internet, check the airline’s website or app and see what options you have.
First determine if the cause of the delay is within the airline’s control (crew, mechanical/maintenance and inbound aircraft count, weather and ATC delays do not). If it is, you’re going to have a much easier time convincing the airline to rebook you. If it’s something like weather or ATC, very likely no planes are likely getting out, so there’s little reason to stress when very little can be done.
Second, determine whether there are downstream dependencies – did your two hour layover now become a -30 minute layover? Ok you’re going to miss your connecting flight and it’s in the airline’s interest to rebook you.
Next, just do a basic search on Google Flights. If the airline is still selling a ticket from wherever your are to where you want to go, then that’s probably your best option. Go to a gate agent, service desk agent or call the airline with that itinerary picked out. Don’t rely on the airline computer systems to give you the most optimal itinerary or rebook you automatically because you’re going to miss a connection. Many carriers whitelist their own websites on their onboard Wi-Fi, meaning that you can rebook yourself while in flight instead of waiting to land. Expertflyer can be helpful too, but that’s a paid tool.
It also helps to understand which carriers are really close partners. American, British Airways and Iberia are more likely to rebook on each other. So are Delta, Virgin Atlantic, Air France, KLM and Alitalia. United, Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian and ANA all have joint ventures together and share revenue from routes any of the two carriers fly. Use this knowledge to your advantage.
If your UA flight cancels and everyone is trying to get on the next United flight, propose a flight on Austrian or Swiss to an agent instead (if there’s space). They’ll likely be thankful that your solved your own problem.
Lastly, put the delay in perspective. 30 minutes isn’t going to make a huge difference, especially if it’s your last flight. Make sure you aren’t spinning wheels just to get home within 10 mins of your original flight.
As an aside, I think you’re setting yourself up for failure if you’re scheduling events right after the time that you’re supposed to arrive in your destination. Maybe that really important business meeting should be scheduled more than an hour after touchdown…
Just grab a coffee and a pastry and watch another episode of Game of Thrones. I always bring snacks so I don’t get hangry during tarmac delays.
Pro Tip: If you have a special request, make it known – but also consider that it might not be for you
If you’re traveling with an elderly parent, or several kids, or need special assistance, be sure to give yourself more time and longer connections. Let airport and airline personnel know of your needs — in many cases airline agents can document your record in the notes if you call in so that other agents can see it. If you require a special meal, don’t assume the airline will have it. Even if the airline confirms a special meal (fewer and fewer do so these days) consider just bringing what works for you onboard rather than risk going hungry.
Lastly, if you have particular needs, consider if the destination or activities are for you. If you have bad knees, perhaps Machu Picchu might not be a good idea. Get easily carsick, perhaps skip yacht week. Germaphobe? Maybe a bungalow in the jungle or tropical island isn’t for you. 5 kids? A Tokyo Airbnb that fits you may cost a fortune. Be sure that you aren’t setting yourself up for a hard time or being strong-armed by friends or family into going to a place that’s just not a good fit.
To Be Continued
Since I can never seem to write an article under 1000 words, I’ll be adding the second half of this piece next week. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, I partly wrote this article to share with friends who want the zeitgeist for better travel. Do you have any tips that have helped you? Share them in the comments below!