Monday, August 20, 2012

Travel Tips: Before You Go

Over the years as a semi-regular traveler via the airways, I’ve learned a few things that have made my current travels less travailing. I don’t pretend that there’s anything here that is completely original or brilliantly insightful. A lot of it seems pretty obvious to me, but since it also seems like many people are unaware of some of these matters I’ll share them anyway. This first section will feature tips on what to do before you go.

- Select your seat as soon as you can. If you have elite status, most airlines will allow you to do this online immediately after you book. Don’t wait and get stuck in the middle.

- Use SeatGuru to determine which seat is the best one for you. All you need to know is the airline and flight number and Seat Guru will tell which type of aircraft is flow on that route and what the best seats are. You can find out about things like whether your seat reclines, if the under seat storage is limited, whether the seat has power outlets, and whether the seat’s location might make it hard to sleep (too much noise or light from bathroom doors opening). This information is helpful on shorter domestic flights. On long-haul international flights, it’s critical. I pull up the airlines web page on one browser tab and Seat Guru on the other when I pick my seat.

- Whether you carry on or check your luggage, try to pack as much as you can into as smallest size bags that you absolutely need. Lugging around big bulky luggage is not fun. Roll your clothes up and use mini sized toiletries. I can go on a two-day business trip with nothing more than a backpack.

- Buy decent luggage. You don’t need to spend thousands on this, but don’t go cheap. I have a Swiss Gear upright suitcase that I purchased at Target that’s durable and easy to travel with. I also have a laptop backpack with plenty of compartments for other gear that I regularly use. I can pretty much go anywhere in the world with these two pieces for up to two weeks at a time and have everything I need.

- The check in or carry on? debate rages even more ferociously now that airlines regularly charge for checked luggage and space in overhead bins has become an ever more precious commodity. My position is that it all depends on the situation. If you have elite status with an airline or are sitting in business class, I’d say carry on. You won’t have to worry about finding a place for your bag and you avoid the delays and possibility of lost luggage if you check in. But if you don’t have status or you aren’t concerned about time on the way out or the way back and will be gone for than a few days, then there’s nothing wrong with checking your bag. I go with whatever option is best suited to my circumstances at the time.

- If you like to read, you should ALWAYS have reading material with you. You never know where you’re going to get stuck and for how long. Don’t be caught without something to read. The best way to assure this and also follow the tip about packing small is have a tablet or an e-reader. I used to bring three books and as many or more magazines on long trips. I still pack at least a mag or two for those times when we’re not allowed to use portable electronics devices (SAFETY you know), but other than that it’s just my Kindle Fire. That gives me books galore and access to my Wall Street Journal subscription.

The next installment will focus on tips to make your time at the airport less stressful and more enjoyable.