Friday, April 11, 2014

My Top 10 Travel Tips

I've been thinking a lot about traveling lately. Maybe it's the influx of visitors from out of state and out of the country who flock to Florida during springtime for relaxing beach days and fun filled theme-parks or perhaps it's the fact that I'm long overdue for a vacation! ;) The last time I traveled was when I was 5 weeks pregnant which was Christmas of 2012. We got so busy with work, saving money and planning for baby that we hadn't even planned a weekend getaway nor recently before hubby left for China. I find myself daydreaming about some of the fabulous places we've visited over the past few years. I feel very fortunate to have traveled to nearly 30 countries. I know some of you travel quite a bit also-whether it be for work or pleasure but there are some of you who rarely get the chance, so I thought I'd share some of my personal travel tips with you to make for a smoother trip. For those who travel often, today's post will be a refresher.

1.  What to Wear When Flying-You don't need to wear 4" stilettos to look stylish while traveling by plane, likewise, you shouldn't resort to sweats to be comfortable for a long flight. The key is to dress in layers, wear fabric that has a bit of stretch and breathes well and that doesn't wrinkle beyond belief such as linen, nothing says 'I just sat on a plane for 12 hours and look like a wrinkled mess' quite like linen. If you're heading somewhere warm, pack it into your suitcase instead. Jeans, khakis or a dress are all suitable. Flats are the best option as you're less likely to trip while navigating the airport/boarding the plane and if you find yourself nearly missing your flight, it's a lot harder to run with heels! ;) I typically wear a tank top or tee with a cardigan because airplane temperatures change in-flight. In winter months, I keep my scarf with me in my carry-on bag in case it gets drafty. I generally wear a pair of skinny jeans with a bit of stretch and add a pop of color and pattern to keep it interesting-ballet flats are my go-to for footwear.

2. You Can Never Arrive Too Early- Whether you're cruising, flying, driving or taking a train, always give yourself lots of extra time by checking in early. I always give myself 2 hours for domestic and 3 hours for international flights. When driving to catch a cruise, we always give ourselves a few extra hours. There's nothing worse than the feeling of being stuck in traffic or rushing through the airport wondering if you're going to make it in time for your trip! While we're on the subject, when you book a flight which has a connection, make sure it provides a reasonable amount of time to get from one gate to the next. I've been in the scenario a few times now where I've had 15 minutes to get to a whole other terminal and watched my airplane pulling away from the gate as soon as I arrived to it. That's not fun! Obviously sometimes between weather issues, etc., you won't always be able to avoid it every time but by planning in advance, you reduce your chances.

3. Extra Legroom is Worth the Fee-If you're flying coach and you're tall like I am, you'll appreciate extra leg room. There are a few areas on the plane that allow for extra legroom (they are emergency exits) but due to their popularity over the years they went from free to an up-charge. If you're flying for an hour or two, no biggie but if you're flying for 3+ hours I highly recommend the upgraded seat as it feels far less confined. You can stretch your legs out an the beauty is, in certain seats such as the seat closest to the front of the plane just behind first class, there is nobody in front of you to recline their seat back towards you-bonus! The typical fee range is between $25-50 per flight.

4. Less is More While Packing-I'll admit, when it comes to traveling for pleasure I'm not the expert on packing lightly because I like options and I like taking photos and don't want to be wearing the same thing over and over again. I will tell you though, that traveling with less luggage and weight makes things far more enjoyable! If you're hiring a porter and bellhop everywhere you go then it may not be an issue but if you're lugging that luggage yourself, especially if you're traveling with kiddos, do yourself a favor and become a pro at packing clothing that can be worn multiple ways and is versatile. Over the years I've become much better, if I really have to I can pare down and make it work. With the extra fee for second and often even first pieces of luggage, less bags mean more savings also. All in all, it's less stuff to re-pack on the way back home as well which can save you time and hassle. Here's a list from a previous post I wrote on what not to forget when packing.

5. Air Miles- Start a frequent flyer program with every airline your fly on, you never know when you'll be flying that particular airline again and for longer flights, the points can add up quickly. It's always good to inquire about airlines that are in affiliation with others where your points can be added. Keep the cards in a file folder marked travel so you don't have to tote them around in your wallet and if you find yourself flying one airline over another, try to continue to be consistent as you'll accumulate points faster. Another great earn miles faster is with a special credit card such as Aeroplan where you earn points just for buying everything you normally would, but collect faster for grocery, drug store and gas purchases. I love that they even have a sliding scale on spending to so you can determine how many miles you'll gain annually. As with all credit cards, as long as you pay your cards down in full each month, it's advantageous.

6. If Something Isn't Up to Par, Speak Up!- Too many people save up for months for a dream vacation only to become disappointed with certain details along the way. The flight was cancelled to due mechanical difficulty and instead flies out the next day losing a day in the process, the hotel room you booked is not at all like what you saw online or there was construction outside your window, the cruise cabin you booked was supposed to be non-smoking and you can smell smoke wafting from the crew bar on the deck above you or maybe the rental car you booked had features in the car that wouldn't work properly making your trip less enjoyable. Whatever the case may be, speak up! It's your vacation at stake! By the way, all of the examples shared here are ones I've personally experienced and received upgrades or compensation for by bringing it the attention of the appropriate person. Sometime there may not be another hotel room or cruise cabin available but you may get a serious price reduction for the inconvenience.

7. Read the Reviews-Before I book any trip, whether it be a cruise via a certain ship or cruise line in general, or buy tickets for an excursion or choose a hotel, I ALWAYS read the reviews. Sites like not only offer some of the best prices but the reviews are very candid and have helped sway me one way or another upon making my decisions. There is no better way to know then to read about others' experiences first hand, often there are little hidden tips too about extra perks at the hotel that you may not have known about otherwise or suggestions for great restaurants in the area, etc. When I comes to cruises in particular, this is a MUST! Why? Because unlike a hotel, you cannot just pack up and leave, it becomes your temporary home for the length of your vacation.

8. Make a List & Check it Off-Some people do fabulously well when it comes to packing last minute, unfortunately I'm not one of them, it leaves me feeling a bit frazzled. My husband on the other hand, is notorious for this however when we travel together he typically asks to use my toothpaste because he forgot his or sunscreen, lip balm, etc. I find list work really well and if you travel pretty often, it's helpful to create a list that you can reuse again and again in Microsoft word with check boxes so you can check things off as you place them into your luggage. I usually print out my list 3 days in advance so that I can run out and buy anything I'm out of and will need such as mints, an extra memory card for my camera, earplugs for the flight, travel size containers for toiletries, etc. The key is to only check it off once it's in your bag so you can't leave anything behind. I leave the final list the day of in my bathroom with the toiletries I'm packing. This method has never failed me and I highly recommend it.

9. Tours & Excursions- A note on organized tours and excursions... they are typically more expensive when purchased through a hotel or a cruise ship. Having said that, especially when you are traveling via a cruise ship, they will ensure you get back onto the ship in time for the port departure time and if they don't the ship will wait for you as they have not only several passengers but also crew members. The locals will offer you a cheaper price but there are no guarantees. Sometimes reassurance is better than saving money. My husband was a professional speaker working on a ship, we were in St. Thomas enjoying a beach day. Let's just say that the taxi driver never came back and picked us up when he said he would. We waited a little longer than had to catch another ride in an area where taxis don't frequent and it was a bit of a drive to get back to our ship. It involved us jumping off a bus we were lucky enough to find and flagging down a police officer whom we paid $20 to give us a police escort back to the ship. Adventurous and nail-biting-yes but not a great feeling when you  can hear the ship making one of three 'all aboard' calls. Thankfully we made it with time to spare but we've been extra cautious ever since that episode.

10. Pack Your Carry-On Bag Like It's All You Have- With the fees of even a first piece of luggage these days, many opt to pack for their entire trip's worth of belongings into a carry-on bag (if it's a short weekend trip or only for a day or two). We've all heard horror stories of people having their luggage lost. Perhaps the worst one I've heard of is a lady who had her luggage lost before boarding a cruise ship for 10 days! She ended up having to buy everything from toiletries to a swimsuit on the ship and clothing and undergarments as soon as she reached her first port! Meet aviation guidelines on bag size and ounce limits on toiletries. Pack any prescription medication, makeup, 3 days worth of clothing by mixing and matching, 5+ days worth of undergarments (for a longer trip), 1 swimsuit (if you're bringing one), 1-2 pairs of shoes (wearing your bulkiest pair). Roll your clothes and they will not only fit better but end up less wrinkled. God forbid anything goes awry, but if it does, you'll be prepared and not scrambling. If you want more tips, here's a post I wrote when this blog was in its infancy titled all about How to Pack a Carry-on Bag.

*A general overall tip, opt for toiletry bottles that have a screw on lid, the pop top/flip top don't always stay closed. I arrived in Rome once with shampoo over a portion of my clothing as the container slightly flipped open (and it was wrapped inside another bag. Thankfully it was an area with mostly swimsuits and it all washed out. A good rule of thumb if you use the pop/flip top are to cover the lids with tape from one side of the bottle to the other-that works well too in preventing a mess. I always place any liquids inside ziploc bags and then wrap inside another grocery bag-which I reuse on the way home for dirty clothing or a pair of shoes.

Here are some Airplane Etiquette tips and some Cruise Ship Etiquette guidelines if you happen to be new to either.

There are SO many other things to consider while traveling but these are the top 10 tips that come to mind from my personal experiences. Now it's your turn, I'd love to hear what YOUR best travel tips are!

Thanks for Reading!


*image sources: (1), (2)

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post however all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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