Friday, May 27, 2016

How To Be a Less Frazzled Traveler

Hours-long TSA lines, missed flights and delayed baggage have been the stuff of legend as of late.

Having recently encountered some missed connections / flights, some of my own doing, some not - I thought this would be a good time to share some of my learnings about minimizing risk and preparing for the unexpected when traveling.

1.  Take redeye flights whenever possible

Taking less popular times means you get to avoid traffic getting to the airport, and lines once you arrive.

You also save on one night's hotel while being able to arrive early in the day at your destination, which allows you to maximize your vacation.

A side benefit is also that you don't waste any precious PTO stuck in a plane cabin: if able, sleep on the plane and then you're ready to go sightseeing or anything else on your To Do list, as soon as you arrive at your destination.

2.  Invest in a known traveler program that lets you go through shorter security lines: TSA PreCheck, Global Entry or Clear

Skip the longer lines for security by signing up for a program that essentially 'pre-clears' you to be a known traveler so you can go through 'express' lanes when going through airports.  There are various programs out there: take your pick from those that best suits your needs:
  • TSA PreCheck: if you plan to mainly travel within the U.S.
  • CLEAR: if you plan to travel a lot between participating cities in the U.S.and ID verification is your biggest pain point
  • Global Entry: if you plan to travel internationally as well as within the U.S.
Below is a quick table showing the differences and benefits of each:

3. Always keep a miniature personal care kit in your carry on 

Some people are fantastic at traveling light, and never need to check a bag in the first place. I'm more  prone to overpack in efforts to be prepared for every possible need - but this approach backfires if the airline loses, delays delivery or otherwise separates you from your luggage. And, you don't want to be forced to purchase overpriced staples at the airport / hotel gift shop, nor to have to cab out to a local store especially if the airline puts you in an airport hotel which typically doesn't have anything walking distance.

So, in your carry on, aside from the essentials like your phone, charger and earbuds :) always have a complete personal care kit including TSA friendly travel sized products so that you won't be left hanging should you be separated from your suitcase. Great items to include:
  • At least one spare pair of underwear!! 
  • Spare contacts / glasses (these are the hardest to replace while traveling!)
  • Facial cleanser & moisturizer (if hotel bar soap doesn't do it for you or you have skin sensitivities)
  • Shampoo & Conditioner (yes hotels provide this, but if you are particular about your products - E.g. no sulfates, then it's a good idea to bring along your own)]
  • Shave kit
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste (though hotels will usually provide spares on request) 

4. Invest in a "travel bungee" to keep bags in order

In the event of a rebooked flight, you may have to haul your carryon gear long distance through the terminal whether to reach another gate or to exit altogether for a forced overnight stay.

As a chronic overpacker, I've found this very affordable Travelon travel bungee ($15) to be an absolute lifesaver in keeping my roller bag and giant purse in tidy order (and so that I don't have to lug the purse on my shoulders at all).  This bungee is great for any Duty Free or other purchases you make while at the airport too, to just add on to your roller and keep hands free for passports, boarding passes, IDs etc.

5. Store airline and hotel loyalty phone and member andnumbers in your phone before you travel

In case of delayed or cancelled flights, you are likely to be waiting in a long line at customer care (ironically named because most of the time it feels like they don't) - you'll want to feel like you're doing something to find alternatives and more in control of next steps.  Contacting airline call centers directly is a good idea (both the one you were traveling with, in hopes of waived / reduced fees, and other airlines if getting on with your travel is more important to you than costs) - but internet connections at airports are often the most questionable at the time when you most need it, so instead of wasting time trying to look up phone numbers when you're battling possibly hundreds of other passengers to secure alternative solutions, have the numbers pre-stored in your phone so you can get right on with hopefully productive conversations.

6.  If you are someone who needs to work out everyday

And you are a swimmer...pack a swimsuit in your carry on.  It doesn't take up much room - and most hotels do have a pool - and it's a great full body workout without any extra gear to lug along (have you seen Olympic Swimmers' bodies?! Ok, so your few laps at the hotel pool won't get you in that kind of shape, but you get the idea: it's a good full body workout).  Or, stay at a participating Starwood Hotel and they will provide workout clothes, shoes and socks for rent at $5 per day. 

Having your frequent flyer number handy as well would help to identify you as a loyal customer in hopes that they will provide a bit better service (yes, ever the optimist).

I also like to have my hotel loyalty phone and membership numbers handy for those times when you're forced to stay overnight - the central call center can both help you locate the closest and best options to fit your needs, as well as check your points status to see if you are eligible to redeem for the stay vs. paying out of pocket.

Best of luck in your travels and have a great Memorial Day weekend everyone!


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