Top ten die hard travel tips

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:

  1. 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).
  2. Ear plugsBring 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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).
  7. Roll clothes 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.
  8. 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).
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.

27 Responses to “Top ten die hard travel tips”

  1. pn

    If you’re checking luggage, throw a toothbrush, toothpaste and a mini deodorant in your carry on. On long trips, a quick toothbrushing and face washing can really make you feel human again. Plus when (not if) they lose your luggage, or if you’re stranded in an airport late at night, it’s nice to have the essentials handy (those little shops aren’t open 24 hours).

    I’ve also heard that a lot of hotels carry common cell phone power adapters, in case you forget yours.

    Reply
  2. Scott

    Thanks PN. I forget which airline it was, but on an international flight their little kit for economy passengers had a tiny toothbrush and toothpaste tube in it.

    This reminds me: never carry full size toiletries. You can buy sample size ones at any drug-store. Makes a big difference packing-wise for things like mouthwash or shaving cream.

    Reply
  3. Metatone

    Have an idea of what kind of distance you’ll be travelling by what method (foot, train, bus, car, etc.) and make sure you pack accordingly.

    I used to just believe “always pack less, less to carry is good” but there are convenience issues. For example:

    If you’ll have dead time in a city before leaving, but have to check out of the hotel you need more than one bag. Some things (laptop for me) you just don’t want to leave in the concierge’s room, but anything else you can leave behind, if you’ve got a reasonable bag to leave it in.

    Otherwise (like me today) you end up carrying a lot more than you need to around as you sightsee…

    Reply
  4. Marina @ Sufficient Thrust

    I’m short (5′) so I always go for the window seats — I can curl up and sleep a lot more easily than in an aisle.

    I try hard to arrive at the airport as close to departure time as possible (1-2 hours? Never!) but I also get to know my local departure airports for errand-running opportunities. For example, I can mail a package or donate a bag of spare change at PDX, saving myself a drive or two.

    My main travel advice is always: don’t stress about it. You might miss your flight, your luggage might get lost, you might never find your gate. So what? I promise, you’ll survive.

    Reply
  5. Scott

    Marina: I used to always go for the window for the same reason – being able to lean against the window made sleep easier. But something has happened as I’ve gotten older: as long as I’ve gotten enough exercise before I fly, I can sleep in any seat – thus the aisle wins out for reasons stated above.

    Reply
  6. Jeff

    Great list! Being short myself, I also opt for the window seat for the leaning comfort. I also bring a sleep mask for those 8+ flights and hotels that might not have dark curtains.

    When I go to conferences I never stay at the conference hotel. Sure, the conference hotel is convenient but staying at a hotel a few blocks away allows you to walk a while and actually enjoy the city you’re visiting. I also encourage everyone to take those personal days on business trips to interesting places. Remember to enjoy life a little.

    Reply
  7. Cheryl

    I’d maybe contradict you on one point you made, to “make sure to cram socks or underwear inside any shoes you’re packing.”

    Socks yeah but I’d avoid doing that to underwear… you probably don’t want to stick clean underwear into a the sweaty shoes where you stick your feet, especially as you’ll probably wear the undies before you wash them…

    Reply
  8. tehnyit

    Great tips. Having just travelled a few times between Sweden and Australia the last few months, I can certainly say that most of these tips are very worthwhile.

    I would also add the tip of knowing the local security rules during transiting in airports as they are always different. While transiting in Bangkok, we saw many bottles of wines and spirits confiscated at security points because the on-board liquid security laws. The poor travellers must have purchased the while transiting without knowing the regulations.

    Reply
  9. Albert

    Great post.

    I also prefer window seats because you can lean and sleep better and also have a better view, but as I am tall I will consider isle next time for long travels.

    One item I have problems with are shoes. They are heavy and take place. How many pairs you carry?. One for the day and another more formal?.

    Do you bring many shirts or use the hotel laundry?. Use undershirt?.

    How you decide how to dress if you don

    Reply
  10. Alan K

    My #1 tip is never check bags. Always carry on. It saves time and removes the possibility of losing a bag. In my last 8 family trips when we have to check bags, a total of 5 bags were lost by the airlines.

    Here is my clothing list for a Mon-Fri business trip:

    – 2 pair shoes. One gym shoes, one black casual shoes
    – 2 pair pants
    – 3 shirts (wear each twice if you wear an undershirt)
    – socks, tshirts, underwear
    – light weight windbreaker or sportcoat depending on the trip
    – 1 gym shorts
    – 1 sweater or fleece for cold weather

    I usually have enough space left in my carry-on bag for more if the trip needs something different.

    Remember that you can wash undergarments in the sink if you run out. You can also find cheap cleaners in a city if you get shirts or pants dirty.

    I also like the bose noise canceling headphones. They take a lot of stress out of a flight for me because they cut out all the engine noise.

    Reply
  11. dermot casey

    Soctt

    On earplugs. Yes you need earplugs but the soft foam ones are terrible. Get Quies
    http://www.quies.com/en/pgs/index.htm

    They are wax. You shape them to your ear and they will cut 90%+ of all noise.

    My wife put me on to them.

    Dermot

    Reply
  12. Ptr.Mhac

    Scott,
    I thought this was a Top-Ten? What’s number 11 doing in there?

    Seriously, thanks for this list. It will help me greatly when I begin travelling (internationally at least) some time soon.

    :-)

    Reply
  13. Nancy McGough

    Here’s my tip: Pack undies and socks in mesh laundry bags. They weigh nothing and are an easy way to compartmentalize things. And if you do a load of laundry, you can use them for what they were intended, washing fragile things like bras, stretchy exercise clothes, etc. Another tip: Don’t forget to bring a bag for dirty laundry!

    Thanks for the useful tips.

    Reply
  14. erotikshop

    Here is my clothing list for a Mon-Fri business trip:

    – 2 pair shoes. One gym shoes, one black casual shoes
    – 2 pair pants
    – 3 shirts (wear each twice if you wear an undershirt)
    – socks, tshirts, underwear
    – light weight windbreaker or sportcoat depending on the trip
    – 1 gym shorts
    – 1 sweater or fleece for cold weather

    Reply
  15. Nikki

    Thank you so much =] I don’t know if I can avoid eating airplane food on a 17 hour flight, but I might try this time.

    I suggest using zip lock bags (big & small) for a lot of stuff. I label all of mine with masking tape and permanent marker… chargers, cards (games), toiletries, hair stuff, undies, socks, etc. It keeps everything organized and if something were to spill, everything has a little protection.

    =)

    Reply
  16. Trista Johnson

    If possible I try and pack clothing and undergarments I can leave behind. It gives me more room for fun things to bring home from my trip. Note: always buy a bottle of water to take on the plane. I was stuck on a plane for 9 hrs. After the earthquake in Japan.

    Reply

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