As an international traveler logging on average 125,000 air miles a year, I am repeatedly asked by friends, family, and colleagues for travel tips based on my experiences. I thought- what a great opportunity to write a blog about this topic! There is no doubt that following simple tips and tricks can help to ease the pain of travel and make it more efficient and manageable, and even enjoyable. Thus, I came up with the top 5 tried and true tips based on many long hours traveling internationally. I hope you enjoy and please feel free to provide feedback.
- It’s all about the apps. Leverage technology by using apps; almost everything you need to travel can be done via app. I have an entire folder on my iPhone filled with dozens of these. All of my preferred carriers (more on this in the next tip) such as United, Hertz, Marriot, etc..have apps where I can book hotels and flights right from the app in a manner of seconds. Take the time and set up your accounts with credit card info ahead of time, which will allow you to book directly from the app; this has saved me many times. I recall one nightmare, turned manageable, where my apps saved me from a restless night in an airport this past summer. I was in an international airport waiting for a connecting flight home; we were just about to start boarding and I received an alert from United (via text-awesome!) that the flight was cancelled. I immediately went on my Marriott app and booked a local room. Within a few minutes, the gate agent made an announcement that the flight was cancelled; it turned out that all flights going out of that airport were being delayed until the next morning as the airport was shutting down for a severe storm. Within minutes, hundreds of people were scrambling to get accommodations. During this chaos, I quietly and calmly walked to my uber, which took me to a nice hotel and led to a comfortable night’s sleep. Had I not had the app ready to go, I would have been with the masses trying to book a room, most of which were sold out very quickly. There are also some great apps for logistics, such as weather apps, and flight trackers. Absolutely use your smartphone for smart travel.
- Choose one primary carrier for your travel. When you use one airline, rental agency, hotel chain etc… you earn valuable points and gain status. Having one carrier also makes booking easier as you have somewhere to start with your planning. Going on popular sites like a Kayak are great and very helpful if you have a lot of extra time, but I find these sites provide so many options, it can get confusing very quickly. When I need to book a flight, I go right to United (my preferred airline) and can see flight options in a manner of seconds. Even if you don't travel often enough to gain points worth anything significant, the fact that you are a preferred member will give you some leverage with the carrier for upgrades etc…
- Take photos and screenshots of documents, boarding passes, and reservations. Regarding important travel documents like driver’s licenses, passports, and global entry cards, I always have a photo of these on my iPhone in a password protected folder. This is a necessary back- up in the event these documents are lost or stolen. Regarding reservations, many people take paper copies or rely on emails of hotel, air or shuttle reservations; I would recommend taking screenshots of those emails or confirmations instead. This will streamline the process and also keep things in one place. Also, don’t be afraid to take a photo of something you need to remember while traveling. Have you ever parked your car in a parking garage and forgot what level or spot you parked in? There is a simple tip to combat these senior moments; right after you park, take a quick photo of the level or spot. In unfamiliar areas, before I leave the parking garage, I may also pull up my location on google maps and then take a screenshot, its then right at my fingertips later in case I get turned around in an unfamiliar area.
- Go light! One of the most valuable and traumatic experiences I had was when my checked luggage was lost on a long international trip. I will spare you the details, but this forced me to exist with literally the shirt on my back and bare essentials for an extended period of time. When I realized that I was not going to perish, I actually enjoyed being light and mobile. There is no doubt that this newly adopted agility has helped me to be quick on my feet and avoid missed flights, trains etc.. Additionally, I realized that if I need something that I didn't pack, I just buy it, this is the fun part. I have done up to four weeks of international travel with just a carry on and briefcase/backpack; trust me; you can do it! Remember, when you pack, lay everything out and then cut out about 2/3 of it. Think it through and pack smart by including essentials and items that have multiple uses. Such as a jacket that when rolled can double as a pillow; or a scarf (yes, fellas, you can rock it) that can be used for warmth, sun protection, and a dozen other things.
- Look up! This is probably the number one tip I can provide because it can save your life! This is what I call situational awareness or checking in to your surroundings. Media coverage of international events does not help with the anxiety most people feel about travel, but I can say with confidence that traveling is not as dangerous as it is portrayed. Travel is risky, yes, this is true, but no more risky than getting in your car every day. When traveling, enjoy the surroundings and the adventure, but remember to always pay attention to what is going on around you. I have had many experiences that illustrate how valuable this mind-set is, such as when in a foreign country, my colleague and I quietly ducked out of a demonstration that was building, a situation many did not notice until they were in the throes of a full-on protest. This is not to imply that one must always be paranoid and anxious; but today’s world is not what it was, so don’t be naïve enough to be in a bubble; look up!
I hope these help; I guarantee that if you follow these few simple tips, your travel experiences will become more efficient and enjoyable. Safe travels!