travel tips

Get ready for The Girl’s exhaustive list of travel tips! There are a lot. She should be sorry, but she’s not.

Be prepared.

  • Make sure your passport is up to date if you’re flying internationally. Don’t just look at the expiration date, make sure the contact information is accurate too!
  • Print your boarding pass and, if traveling internationally, your itinerary as well. Your itinerary is the best way to mollify suspicious border or customs officials, as it proves you at least shelled out the money for a return trip. Public libraries have computers and printers you can use for a small fee (The Girl’s charges 5¢ per page).
  • Have contact information if you’re meeting someone at your destination — written in the margin of your itinerary is a good place to keep it, at least for the flight. UK border control always asks The Girl exhaustive questions: The Guy’s name, address, phone number, employment — once, even his boss’s name and phone number, address of the company where he worked, how long he’d worked there, and what he did!
  • If you’re a nervous flier, talk to your doctor about anxiety medication. There’s a lot out there that clears the system quickly with no grogginess or addled thinking, and it can make a world of difference.
  • Check your airline’s carry-on size limits. The maximum dimensions for carry-ons should be listed on the company’s website; a lot of companies also put that information in emails confirming your flight or reminding you to check in, as well.
  • Know what you can and can’t take with you. For those traveling in the US, the TSA’s website has a search bar that allows you to input the item you’re unsure of and gives you a definitive answer. So while The Girl has to check her teeny but very pointy embroidery floss scissors, it turns out nail clippers are okay.
  • Pay close attention to your email and/or, if you downloaded it, the airline’s app. The Girl once had a flight moved four hours forward, to 7 am, less than 24 hours before it was supposed to take off! That could have been a nasty surprise (and wound up causing an all-night airport party, by which she means, she spent the night at the airport).
  • If you’re familiar with an airport you’ll have a good idea of how long it’ll take to get to a connecting flight; use your best judgment for layover lengths. However, if you’ve never been somewhere, try for at least five hours of  layover. You’ll have time to get to your next gate without too much stress, get a snack, use the bathroom, flip through a trashy magazine hidden inside a sophisticated magazine, and go through customs if needed. If nothing else it’ll probably feel good to stretch a bit and go for a stroll around the terminal.
  • If you take medication regularly and you’ll run out while you’re gone (or the day you get back), ask your pharmacy to get a “vacation override” from your insurance company. Make everyone’s lives easier by having the dates you’ll be gone and the places you’re visiting on hand, because the insurance company will ask. Keep in mind: some plans require you to start that process before they’ll enter the override for the pharmacy, some plans require you to transfer your prescriptions to a pharmacy where you’re going (especially domestic travel) to fill there, and some plans don’t have this override at all.
  • Don’t consume alcohol or caffeine 24 hours before your flight. They’re both dehydrating, and that plus dry plane air is a bad combo. Make your flight so much more comfortable by avoiding two things for a day. You can do that, right?
  • Going somewhere nobody speaks your language? Learn, or write down on a slip of paper to carry with you, some basic phrases — where is the bathroom/train station/bus stop/hotel name/major sightseeing location/taxi, please, thank you, sorry, can you take my photo, I’m allergic to _____, it hurts (and you point to the relevant location). If the language uses a different alphabet, your best bet might be to find a travel book or website and trace the relevant phrases with translations so you can just point to the necessary  phrase if all else fails.
  • Bring an empty water bottle with you to the airport. Most have bottle refill stations or at least drinking fountains. Stay hydrated on that flight and you’ll feel better when you land.
  • Do you have dietary restrictions? You can request a special meal on all the major airlines and almost all the minor ones. Look into it!
  • If your flight arrives in the morning local time, it’s worth it to try to sleep on the plane. Benadryl takes 8-10 hours to clear your system so use it with caution.

Pack smart.

  • Ideally, your trip through security will look like this: show ID and boarding pass, store ID and boarding pass in a convenient pocket; put shoes, coat, and anything in your pockets in a tote; put liquids, camera, and phone in another tote; if required, put your laptop in its own tote; step through the sensors; tuck everything back into place; head toward your gate. The line to get to security is usually the slowest part of the ordeal, but once you’re through this should only take about two minutes if you’ve packed properly.
  • When you get into your seat, use a surface disinfecting wipe on everything before you touch it. The trays might be wiped down, but is that done with bleach? What about the armrests? The inside of the seat belt buckle? The overhead buttons? Catching the travel crud puts a serious damper on the beginning of a vacation.
  • Brightly colored straps or luggage tags are eye catching, but if they’re too matchy-matchy they might look too much like someone else’s.
  • Decide ahead of time what goes in which bag. You typically get a carry-on bag and a “personal item” (a purse is a common example); the personal item gets stowed under the seat in front of you. This typically means about five inches of clearance, so shoes probably won’t fit, but it’s the perfect place for a laptop and all your chargers. just don’t forget it’s there when you’re pushing stuff around with your feet trying to get comfortable.
  • Put a little travel-size mouthwash and some toothpaste in your personal item. This can go a long way toward making you feel human after a long flight!
  • Keep a change of clothes in the bottom of your personal item. If you or your checked bag is delayed you’ll be really glad you have this. Plus it’s padding if you’re traveling with a laptop or tablet. You don’t want to hear that distinct crunch from forgetting your laptop is in a bag and setting it down too heavily!
  • Your personal item is the perfect bag for books, snacks, headphones, medication, boarding passes, phone chargers, laptops, spare clothes, liquids, and anything you don’t want to suddenly become separated from if the overhead bins run out of room.
  • If you’re bringing any medication, make sure you have enough for three extra days in case a flight is delayed or missed. And for goodness’ sake, don’t put it all together in a baggie! Leave it in the bottles you got from the pharmacy. Not only does that make your security check easier (on you and the TSA), but if you need emergency medical attention at any point, medical personnel will need to know if you take antidepressants, anxiolitics (anti-anxiety drugs), sleep medication, even antihistamines. A quick look at your prescription bottles will tell them immediately something that could take five or ten minutes of research per pill.
  • If you’re checking a bag, put the heaviest items like shoes on the bottom, where the wheels are. It helps keep balance so you don’t have to hold the bag upright while juggling your ID and boarding passes in the bag-check line.
  • Get one of those bag straps so your stuff doesn’t go everywhere/vanish entirely if a zipper breaks.
  • Keep electronics on you if you can; they can easily fall into the pocket of a disreputable bag handler, even through a zipper.
  • Keep zippers closed with zip ties rather than locks. Yes, anyone can get into your bag by cutting them, but the TSA has no problem with zip ties as of this writing (February 2016). Put a couple more zip ties at the very top of your bag and the security officer who opens the bag might even retie the zippers for you.

Get comfy.

  • If you’re a frequent traveler, noise-canceling headphones are a must. If you really don’t fly much a pair of earplugs should be fine. Either way, you want something to cut down the noise, since you’ll be hearing it for 3-15 hours.
  • Pick your seat thoughtfully. The Girl likes to sleep and spread out a bit, so she usually picks a window seat to lean against the wall. If you’re generally an active person or are concerned about deep-vein thrombosis, pick an aisle seat so you can get up and walk every couple of hours.
  • Use an unscented moisturizer, especially if you have dry or sensitive skin. If your hair is prone to drying as well, use a leave-in conditioner too.
  • Wear your coziest lounging-around clothes. The Girl goes for a baggy pair of sweatpants, a tank top, a light sweater with a hood long enough to cover her eyes, and slip-on shoes, but a skirt or leggings would probably be comfortable as well. Wear layers! If you’re really concerned about keeping up appearances, go change in the bathroom right before your flight lands (or better yet, after — more room, better lighting for people who wear makeup).
  • If you need to fart, just do it. Holding it in for the length of your trip will be extremely uncomfortable and the changes in cabin pressure could make it dangerous. The people around you may be annoyed but if you look around all annoyed too they’ll most likely blame the row in front of you. The smell will go away soon.
  • Use a travel pillow to avoid napping on your neighbor’s shoulder. Unless your neighbor is cute. Then you can conveniently forget you packed a travel pillow. We won’t tell.
  • Braid your long hair. It’ll keep it from getting tangled and staticky and/or all over your neighbors. The Girl’s hair is so long it’s gone past her hips and she might have to do more than braid it on her next flight!
  • If you have a long layover, do yourself a favor and walk for as much of it as possible.
  • See if your airport has a lounge. Even if you’re in economy class they may let you in (for a fee), and they could have snacks, treadmills, showers, or massages. Set an alarm on your phone or watch, or ask the staff to help you keep an eye on the time.
  • Bring snacks for the plane. The Girl favors carrots, celery with peanut butter, random raw veggies that need to be eaten before they go bad (she sees you in that fridge, red bell pepper, you can’t hide forever), even trail mix. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it doesn’t have a strong smell. Something you find delectable could be awful for your neighbors. On that note…

Be polite.

  • Pay attention to the safety briefing even if you’ve flown a thousand times. People make mistakes when they panic, and people who know what to do are way less likely to panic. You could save lives in an emergency by shutting up and leaving your headphones out for ten minutes.
  • The middle seat gets as many armrests as they want. One? Fine. Both? Fine. They have the middle seat. Give them this one, small comfort.
  • If you need to get up, push yourself up off the armrest rather than pulling yourself up with the headrest of the seat in front of you.
  • Be nice to the airline staff and gate attendants.  If your flight is late and they haven’t said why, they don’t know why. Harassing them will help literally no one.
  • Shower the morning of or the night before your flight, wear deodorant, leave your shoes on if you have stinky feet, and for goodness’ sake brush your teeth.
  • Say hi to your neighbors but don’t be that person who won’t shut up on the plane. As fascinating as your stories undoubtedly are, your neighbor may have just had a 14-hour layover after another flight and could be too polite to tell you they don’t care.
  • The space between your seat and the seat directly in front of you is yours. The space under the seat diagonally in front of you and to your right is not yours. That is your neighbor’s. Do not put your feet there.
  • If the person behind you is extremely tall and keeps nudging or bumping your seat every time they move, just deal with it. They can’t help it, and turning around to snark at them only makes everybody cranky. You’re uncomfortable, they’re uncomfortable; you’re all sardines, so bear with it until you land. It’s temporary. It’ll be ok. Shhhh.
  • Do not shove other people’s bags around in the overhead bin to cram yours in. If some gentle rearranging with normal human strength makes room for your bag, great. If not, find somewhere else. Don’t assume something in a shopping bag is durable. It might not be.