Let’s face it — international travel has become less fun and more of an ordeal. These days air travel can be so arduous that it impacts our desire to visit distant “bucket list” destinations. Airplanes are jammed, routes are indirect, fares are higher, and a variety of fees for checked luggage and more are on the rise. As we age those security lines seem endless, long walks on concourses seem like forever distances, and having to go to baggage claim to retrieve and recheck luggage an unnecessary evil. But there are ways to minimize some of this and its cost on our bodies, time, and wallet. Some are common sense; others are less obvious.
When making airline reservations, consider flight criteria that improve the value of your travel experience. This might include convenient flight times with shorter connections, services (meals and entertainment) provided by the airline, and even the flight’s on-time service record. Most of this information can be found on the airline’s website. Bring your patience to the search, finding the information isn’t always intuitive.
Online travel search engines, like Kayak and Expedia, package roundtrip flight options. I use them as an airline routing source then go to that airline’s website, where I can pick the route I want. It has been years since I booked a roundtrip ticket from anyone other than directly from the airline(s).
Check out one-way flights in order to pick and choose the times and connections that are most convenient for you. Airlines are notorious for suggesting either the outbound or return flight at a less desirable time plus a longer than desired connection. The days of offering a discount for booking a roundtrip ticket are gone, so take the time to pick your most convenient flight times. And look at the total flight time specified; the shortest one doesn’t typically show at the top of the list.
If you use a travel agent, be specific about these desired travel times.
If you don’t have Global Entry, Nexus (Canada) or Sentri (Mexico), sign up today – see http://usa.immigrationvisaforms.com/travel/global-entry-pass for information and applications. Not only does a handy “Trusted Traveler” card help you avoid hours of standing in immigration or security lines, it can easily make the difference in making an international connection. When downloading your boarding pass, make it a habit to fill in your Trusted Traveler number. Those words don’t stand out on the boarding pass form, but filling them out with the number on your card almost always assures you “Pre-check” status. If you have this “trusted” designation, and it doesn’t appear on your boarding pass as TSA Pre-check, call the airline and start the boarding procedure over. It may not be convenient, but it is better than standing in a major airport’s hour-plus security line, then having to remove your shoes (one bonus for those of us age 75 or older — the TSA usually will not require you to remove your shoes). While separate Pre-check lines are not always opened, going through security with a Trusted Traveler card is still simplified.
Lightweight, soft-sided, rolling carry-on suitcases save on baggage charges, but equally important, they can enable you to make a connection with a different airline without having to retrieve checked baggage then re-enter the departure area through security again. Even partner airlines with code-share agreements can arbitrarily decide not to transfer any checked baggage.
If you see me in an airport and I look as if I may be headed for the Arctic, it is because I am boarding a long flight and wearing two to three layers of clothes: the first layer is something comfy for sleeping, the second is a fleece top to keep me warm during the night, and the third includes my heaviest coat, which I’ll put in the overhead compartment. I’m also wearing the bulkiest shoes I’ll need for the trip. These are typically hiking boots.
Whenever flying on an outbound flight, I’m also likely to be lugging emergency snacks: I never travel without hard-boiled eggs, unsalted individually packed almonds, a protein bar or two, and dried fruit. Add to this, any not-too-messy leftover from the previous dinner.
Always carry a food or retailer “designer” (Lululemon, Whole Foods, Macy’s) shopping bag filled with food/snacks for the trip. This is not included in your one-bag limit for boarding a plane. Packed below my snack are clothes and items that wouldn’t fit in my suitcase. Airlines don’t appear to have a problem bringing food aboard, and they have never noticed that the rest of the bag is full. I also wear a fanny bag exposed on my back. It holds personal items and its front appearance looks like a belt. Keep in mind that pockets come in handy for stuffing small items.
No-iron is the key to packing light and simple. Pack clothes that can be easily washed and dried, and do not require ironing. Don’t carry anything that you can easily purchase at your destination, such as a spare T-shirt or out of season cold/warm weather gear you might be tempted to bring “just in case.” A little planning can reduce the need for cramming more clothes — and weight — into your suitcase. Wash personal items with your hotel’s amenity shampoo. Small re-sealable plastic bags occupy virtually no packing space, and come in handy for carrying items and food along your journey.
Think in threes — underwear, pants, shirts or sweaters, scarfs — and take them all in one color to better mix and match. Also consider leaving some of what you might have packed at your destination. Anything bought as a souvenir can use that empty space.
Yes, it’s all a hassle but worth the trouble in order to keep on traveling more comfortably.
Tucson native Mary Levy Peachin is a freelance travel writer and book author who specializes in scuba diving and sport fishing articles. She continues to enjoy adventure/active travel in the autumn of her years. She has visited all seven continents, and written about all of them. www.peachin.com