A while ago, the New York Times, only my favorite newspaper in the entire world, published a terrible article about travel tips from (supposedly) “seasoned travelers.” It was entitled, “How the Tough Get Going: Silicon Valley Travel Tips.”
It’s been bothering me for a long while.
While I admit that there were some gems in there , a lot of the article was complete and utter rubbish, and irresponsible to boot. No Tim Ferris, I am not going to pack a starter pistol in my luggage so I can ensure my bag gets special handling. Neither am I going to leave my car on the street for days on end because parking tickets are cheaper than airport parking. (Where I live, they will tow your ass. And I don’t have the time, energy, or virtual assistance necessary to get a car out of the impound lot.) And I will skip the disposable underwear (FOR THE LOVE OF GOD), please.
So first, let me tell you my real travel tips. From me, someone who flew over 150,000 miles last year and will probably fly over 75,000 this year and has always flown over 50,000 miles a year since 2004. (Most of it in the back of the plane.)
Let’s call them “Travel Tips from a Girl from Long Island” because at the end of the day, I’m not a very fancy person. I’m more of a practical person, a normal person, a normal person who wants to get off a plane and feel normal and well-rested and READY.
1. Tylenol PM is your friend. I cannot believe the New York Times piece did not mention Tylenol PM as any seasoned traveler will tell you that this is your secret to sleep and jetlag. Take two of these after takeoff (wheels up people) and you will be dosing within 40 minutes. When people tell me they can’t sleep on planes, I want to slap them and say “THAT’S BECAUSE YOU’VE NEVER TRIED.” Last year in particular, I made it my JOB to sleep on planes. Tylenol PM is also excellent when you’re in a foreign country and it’s 2 a.m. and you are staring at the ceiling of your hotel room. One time in Israel, I was out of Tylenol PM so I went to the pharmacist — a good New Yorker — and explained what I was after and done. The Israeli version of Tylenol PM.
2. Use TripIt.com and the app. Forward all of your hotel, flight and car information to one email address and it all magically appears within TripIt.com and the app, along with directions and weather. Then, when you get to your destination, you can just whip out your phone and tell the taxi driver where to go. No confusing mishmash of reservation printouts.
3. Buy this extension cord. You can thank me later when you’re in your hotel room that only has one plug by the bed and you want to charge your iPhone, iPad, laptop and Blackberry, all at the same time.
4. You’ll be surprised how good nasal spray feels. I complained recently about how dry my nose gets during travel and someone suggested I get some saline nasal spray. I feel a little dorky carrying it around, but let me tell you…pretty awesome. It makes me feel NORMAL after a long flight.
5. Use the stupid socks. Just like I feel dorky with my nasal spray, I also feel dorky wearing those compression socks. But after a trip back from Tokyo to London in 2008, I am now a believer. They are tight and uncomfortable when you are wearing them, but when you take them off on the other side of the pond, your legs just feel so much more awake and normal.
6. Introduce yourself to the person next to you. I’ve met a lot of interesting people this way. Most people are interesting. Some people are boring, some people are obnoxious, but most people are interesting. The first time someone formally introduced themselves to me on a plane was around 2004, when an American serviceman sitting next to me introduced himself as we got ready to depart Chicago for London. This guy was the nicest, most wonderful person in the world and we spent some time chatting upon departure and landing. Most importantly, he knew when to shut up. You should know when to shut up too.
7. Listen to Channel 9, if they have it. I LOVE listening to the pilots and air traffic control talk. Some of my favorite flights have been across the Middle East, where you listen to one air traffic controller in one country pass your plane off to the next air traffic controller in the next country. I am such a dork now that I will often get on the plane and ask, “Is the Captain going to turn Channel 9 on?” United calls it Channel 9 but other airlines might call it something else.
8. Be loyal to an airline. If you know you are going to fly more than 20,000 miles in a given year, try to consolidate those miles in one place. Even the most basic Premier status on United gets you priority boarding and free baggage. A big deal these days.
9. Get an airline credit card. I have a United Club Card along with a Starwood American Express Card. To be honest, I really don’t need the United Club Card for Club access it gives me. I use it mainly because it gives me 2x the points on any United purchase, and 1.5 times the points on any general dollar spent. It also gives me Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum status, but this is a new feature that I have not tried yet. The Points Guy has a good write-up over here. (And I would just highly recommend his site in general.) Because of the large annual fee, I would not recommend the United Club Card for most people. It’s just for mileage whores. But there are plenty of other airline cards out there. GET ONE.
10. CHECK YOUR BAGS. Many people will disagree with me, but seriously, if you are flying a route like Chicago => London, there is no reason not to check your bag. If your bag for some odd reasons misses the 4 pm flight, it will be on the 6 pm flight or the 9 pm flight. Since 2004, only once have I reached the other side to find my luggage missing. And that was only because I flew Denver => Chicago => London and had a tight connection in Chicago. The bag showed up at my flat in London about 10 hours later. I forgave them. Personally, I would rather have ten outfits for a week of travel than chipping things down to four outfits in a carry-on, and I hate schlepping things through airports. That being said, I always carry-on two easy-pack outfits, two changes of underwear, and a t-shirt, just in case. And I do get nervous about checking my bags if two different air carriers are involved or if I have a fancy event to go to. In short, if I know that once I get to wherever I’m going, I’m not going anywhere, I just check my bags. (But I ALWAYS clearly label my luggage and include a sheet of paper on top of my packed luggage with my address, just in case. And my bags all have three name tags on them each.)
11. Noise Cancelling Headphones. Get some. I don’t need to write much about this. But I will say that my Beats Headphones are actually more noise-cancelling than my Bose Noise Cancelling-headphones, even though the Beats are not noise-cancelling.
12. Karma pays. Be nice to the screaming child, the harried gate agent, and particularly any flight attendant. There has been at least one occasion where I have received complimentary business class champagne in coach just for being a nice person. (I give up my seat a lot so old people and families with young children can sit together.)
I feel like I could write about this topic forever, but I’ll stop now. What are your travel tips? Tell me what you got.