After all this time of staying home, the mask-wearing and the vaccine-taking, that magic carpet ride that is travel is taking flight once again. We’re planning vacations to those long-awaited bucket list destinations or simple weekend getaways.
Before you make the reservation, here’s a refresher course of a few basic travel tips that you may have forgotten or maybe didn’t know in the first place, most of which I learned from my years on the road, in the air and on the rails.
Up in the air
— If you’re flying a once-daily international nonstop, it’s a good idea to get to the airport as early as possible to avoid traffic delays. In Atlanta, for example, the once-dailies include Turkish Airlines to Istanbul, Korean Air to Seoul, and Qatar Airways to Doha. Atlanta’s traffic is notorious, with dead standstills being not uncommon. Allow an extra hour or so for traffic, or your once-daily may be taking off while you’re stuck on the interstate.
— Turbulence happens. Wear dark colors for flying in case that glass of tomato juice or red wine or cup of coffee goes awry. That cute pink outfit covered with a nice cabernet sauvignon suddenly becomes not so cute anymore.
— Flying with a companion? Try to book opposing aisle seats. You’re still close enough to talk, and neither of you is stuck in the dreaded middle seat or crammed into a tiny window seat.
— Southerners are often the savviest fliers. We can practically set our watches by late afternoon spring and summer thunderstorms, the ones that often shut down airports for hours at a stretch and delay flights for what seems like infinity. Try booking flights as early in the morning as possible to avoid weather-related delays.
Across the ocean
— Bonjour! Jambo! Hola! Ciao! If you’re traveling overseas, learn a few words or key phrases of the language of the country you’re visiting, if nothing but hello, goodbye, please, thank you, I’m sorry, and excuse me. And smile. A little international friendliness goes a long way.
—This one is especially for country-hoppers who like to cram visiting a dozen European nations into three days’ time. Always look both ways before you cross the street or road. Driving is on the left side in some countries and on the right in others. A few extra moments of caution can prevent you from being mowed down by a speeding car based on the assumption everyone drives American-style on the right-hand side of the road.
— Flight delays happen, so take enough prescription medications to last one or even two more days longer than you originally plan. That’s to avoid what could turn into a real medical emergency because of not having enough medicine. If you’re in the U.S., you could get your pharmacy to call another pharmacy in the city in which you’re stranded, but if you’re overseas, you may not be as fortunate and end up in trouble.
— You’re off on that dream trip to Paris or London or any city with fine restaurants that you’ve read about and have been salivating to visit. Dinner prices can be prohibitively budget-busting, but you can still get the experience of dining at a renowned restaurant for much less money by checking to see if the restaurant has a separate lunch menu. Entrees with all the fixings can be half the price of the dinner menu.
On the road
— Take an extra car key and keep it in a place separate from your own, perhaps in your traveling mate’s purse or pocket. If your keys are lost or stolen, then you have an extra to get home again.
— We all love Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze and those other GPS gizmos, but sometimes long stretches of rural road have no cell service. An old-fashioned paper road map comes in handy for those moments. While getting lost can be half the fun of travel, be aware that technology may fail in remote areas.
— Keep a small, collapsible cooler in the trunk of your car. You never know what you might need it for leftovers from a meal, flower cuttings from a beautiful vine, or some to-die-for cheese or butter from a local market.
— A slow tour aboard a horse-drawn carriage is often the way to learn about a city. Think Savannah and Charleston. Instead of just barreling off blindly on your own when you get to a historic city, first take a tour and hear what the well-trained guides have to say. After that, you’ll have more knowledge of sites worth exploring, plus excellent restaurant recommendations.
— Check your spare tire before a road trip. Just because you have one hiding in the trunk doesn’t mean it’s in working order. Give it a good look before hitting the road.
— Renting a car for your travels? Before driving off the lot, find out where the gas tank is located on the outside of the car and where the release is on the inside of the car. That knowledge will come in handy when it’s time to refuel.
In the suitcase
— When it comes to packing, if it can leak, spill or break, put it in a plastic storage bag with a strong zipper. Nothing can ruin a vacation more than opening a suitcase to clothes covered with lotion, shampoo or mouthwash.
— If you can’t carry your suitcase up one flight of stairs on your own, you’ve packed way too much. There is no need for a new outfit every day of your trip, and it’s perfectly fine to wear the same things over and over. Heavy luggage is no one’s friend, especially if you’re traveling to an old, wonderful inn or hotel in Europe where elevators don’t exist.
— Pick out one basic color when planning your travel wardrobe. Gray or black works well, as does red. One pair of black pants does it all from pairing with a tee-shirt during the day to a fancy top at night.
— Most older hotels don’t have nearly enough electrical outlets to charge your electronic gadgets such as your phone and tablet, so take along at least a three-outlet plug. They’re lightweight and inexpensive enough to always leave one in each piece of your luggage so you’re never caught without one.
— If you find yourself on an extended trip or on a flight with severe weight limits and can’t take many clothes, then consider spray deodorant over stick. Lightly spritz the inside of your clothes to keep them fresher and smelling nicer for longer stretches of time.
In the hotel
— Cities have myriad name-brand hotels like Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt and Holiday Inn, but be aware that places like New York and London may have dozens of properties of one name. When you check in, pick up a card with the hotel’s name, address and phone number. If you get lost, don’t speak the language, or just need to call the hotel, the information is at your fingertips to give to a cabdriver.
— Always request two key cards, even if you’re by yourself. Keep one away from the other, not only in case you lose one, but also if your cell phone zaps it clean. You then have a spare without having to go all the way back to reception, which can sometimes be a long walk along endless hallways and wings of places like Opryland Hotel or the MGM Grand.
— Save a ton of money by opting for a room without a view. Just get a regular room and enjoy spending the extra money you save, sometimes hundreds of dollars for a room sans view, for activities and dining options. After all, you’re only in the room for a short time, and at night it’s too dark to see the view anyway.
— Ask for a hotel room away from the elevator or stairwell, both of which can be noisy sleep thieves, or one that’s in the middle of the hallway and not facing the street. Stuck in one anyway? There’s an app for that. Search for terms like white noise, sound machine or nature sounds, then it’s on to sweet, quiet dreams and an all-around better vacation experience.
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