I take 10-15 trips a year, which puts me in the mid-range of air-travelers. I’m not a platinum club guy with zillions of miles and a pocket full of first-class upgrades, but I’m out of town enough that little hacks and tricks make a big difference. Here’s my list:
- Always take the aisle. On the great window vs. aisle debate, I’m a aislephile. Here’s the argument: on the aisle you can put your carry-on overhead and get to it whenever you want, freeing the space under the seat in front of you for total feet comfort. Yes, you have to get up to let people go to the restroom, but my legs are grateful for getting a chance to walk around. Bonus tip: always take your shoes off. Amazing how much more comfortable this is, just make sure you wear clean socks (and that your feet don’t stink).
- Bring ear-plugs. These little guys change the travel experience. They cut the noise on planes, or in bad hotels, by more than half, making it possible to sleep in either place. They block more noise than any i-pod head-set will, and they’re way smaller than those Bose Noise canceling things. They’re also cheap: you buy 30 of them for a few bucks at any CVS or drug-store. Go for the soft foam ones, the others are like cramming rocks in your ear.
- Ask hotel reception for a better room. When you check in there are always many different rooms they can give you. Want a view? Ask. Want a quiet room? Mention it. It takes 10 seconds to ask and at least 50% of the time I’m given some kind of choice that I would not have known I had.
- Know your airplane. Most online reservation systems tell you the exact model of the airplane you’ll be on. This means you can use seatguru.com to get the details on specific seats you want to request. Be warned: requesting a seat from expedia or orbitz is not the same as the airline guaranteeing you those seats. If in doubt, call the airline, not your online travel service.
- On business travel to cool places, ask for personal days. If your company sends you to Paris to attend a conference, ask for a couple of days personal time. They’re already paying your airfare, by far the most expensive part of most trips. Leverage it. Ask for them to cover the hotel for a couple of days, split costs or to simply not count those extra days as vacation. Even if you pay all the expenses for those extra days, it will still be vacation on the cheap.
- DeStress: all you need is a credit card and a passport. There are a thousand things to worry about when traveling, but these days, unless you’re going to be backpacking in Guatemala, all you need is ID and a credit card. You can buy just about anything anywhere, certainly if it’s in the realm of clothes/gadgets/books/hygiene items. And worst case, for a price, any good hotel with a concierge can get you almost anything you need. So when I freak out, I just check to make sure I have my ID and a working credit card (always check your outstanding balance before you leave).
- Pack in 3D: Roll your clothes. The secret of packing is thinking 3-d. If you roll your clothes, lay them flat, fold, and roll, they make better use of the 3-d space in any luggage. Also make sure to cram socks or underwear inside any shoes you’re packing.
- Never eat plane or airport food. Only an idiot eats things simply because they are offered. It takes 10 minutes to stop at a good sandwich shop on the way to the airport and it’s worth the effort. Air travel is hard enough on your body, but the evil things they feed you on planes are worse. I always make sure to have a sandwich and an apple (travels well, protective outer coating, and has more fiber than most airplane meals).
- Grab a business card from your hotel when you check-in. Put the card in your wallet as soon as you get it. This guarantees if ever you get lost or drunk, you can just hand the card to any cab, in any country, speaking none of the local language, and you’ll get home. If you are in a foreign country, ask the desk for a business card in the local language (sometimes it’s on the back of the same card). Also useful if you get lost: call the hotel, say you’re a guest, and they’ll help you out.
- The Concierge is your friend. It was only a few years ago that I understood what these people are really for. They are basically paid to be your local friend, with advice, recommendations, and contacts waiting for your use. Need to find a restaurant? Ask. Need tickets? Directions? Advice on finding a gift for your spouse? It’s all a phone call away. One trick: they’re busiest at check-in time and pre-dinner so if you need advice best bet is to catch them at off times (and ahead of time). If you’re asking for more than a recommendation, or you know you’ll need their help more than once, give them a tip. They’re worth it.
- International: have someone meet you at the airport. The most stressful thing for me when visiting foreign countries is figuring out airports. It’s too easy to get ripped off if you don’t know how much a cab should cost, where to change money for a fair price, or how to find out if there’s cheap public transit that you can use. Hiring a car service, which typically costs about as much as a cab, they’ll be waiting for you in baggage claim with a sign with your name on it, escorting you straight away to your hotel. This will drop your stress level by half. They can also give you local tips on where to eat and where to buy that thing you forgot. Search your network for friends of friends, or ask your client, and get someone to meet you there (Make sure to buy them dinner or bring them a gift in return).
Have some tricks of your own? Help me out on my next trip.