Monday, December 15, 2008

PinkBird's Pointers: Travel Tips

It's the Holidays...and what am I doing? What are a lot of people doing? Traveling. So, I have finally compiled all of the "PinkBird's Pointers" (travel tips) in one place (I've also added a few new ones):

1. Before you start packing, pull your bags out and let them air out for a couple days. Better yet, before you store your luggage away after unpacking, leave dryer sheets (if you have them), lavender sachets or even small bars of soap (dry ones, that you aren't using...the ones from hotels work nicely) in the main pocket of your luggage.

2. If you tend to have to travel last minute, why not keep a checklist of essentials in a pocket of your luggage so if you have to pack in a hurry, you won't forget anything. Along those same lines, my toiletry bag is almost always packed and ready, so when it's time to travel, I can grab my case (with travel toothbrush--I use a Toob, shampoo, etc), and toss it into my bag.

3. When using self-check in (and isn't that all there is anymore?!) at the airport, if you have bags to check, make sure the kiosk you're checking in at allows you to check your bags at it. I know the American Airlines counter at ORD requires an agent to be working the kiosk terminal for you to be able to check your luggage there. I'm sure there are others like it.

4. Are you bringing your laptop? There are newer types of bags that allow security screeners better views of your computer without taking it all out. Also, if you are bring a laptop to a place that will have internet access and/or internet cafes, do you really need your guide/travel books? Most guidebooks can be bought in .PDF or even .mp3. (Some even have maps and things you can put on your iPod). I know a couple that will scan into their computer any maps or guidebook pages and save them to their laptop. This cuts down on the amount of stuff you are carrying.

5. Before you travel, clean out your wallet (or have a special travel wallet). You don't need to be carrying around every business card or grocery store saving card you've ever gotten. And, if you have a lot of store credit cards, do you really think you'll use them? Only bring the essentials. It cuts down on the amount of things you are bringing and the amount of things you could potentially lose.

6. This is not so much a tip as a rant...I'm really sad that a number of airlines are now choosing to charge passengers for their first checked bag (and I thought charging for the second bag was crazy, yeah I know--the heavier the plane, the more fuel it uses, etc. etc) so I think, do whatever you can to carry on your luggage! I used to do this all the time, until the airlines started cracking down and then there's the whole "no liquids" thing. I doubt that charging people per bag will make airline ticket prices decrease, so head over to OneBag for great packing tips to get all your stuff into one bag, which hopefully you can carry on! (Edited to add: what if they gave you a discount for a light bag? Or only charged for the first bag if it was over a certain weight?)

7. I love carabiners (D-ring) and ball-chain key chains! i use them to secure the zippers my day pack or carry-on bags. Sometimes if I just throw all my stuff into my backpack the weight is off balance and the bag will begin to unzip, so I just clip the zippers together to avoid that. Plus, I figure that hopefully if someone is trying to sneak into my bag, I'd feel them fiddling with the ball-chain key chain or carabiner before they got too far. I also use them to hang random things that may not fit into my bag or that should not be in my bag--like muddy shoes, water bottles, jackets, etc. (Funny side note: an Australian women I met in Ecuador asked me about the carabiner on my bag, saying it's a good idea, then said that it "must be an American thing" because she'd never seen them before).

8. So, you just survived an 18 hour flight through multiple time zones with only a quick layover..upon arrival you manage to score a cab and manage to get to the place you'll be calling home for a few days. You hit that bed hard...and sleep well, for about 8 hours, just like you should. But, when you wake up, you're eyes are all puffy and red...not pretty. What should you have done differently? Sleep on your back. Some how gravity helps diminish the puffiness under our eyes. (You should also drink lots of water while traveling!)

10. I always pack extra safety pins--in a variety of sizes. You just never know what things could break, rip, or just need to be held together. On a recent trip, one of the The Guy's backpack's zipper pulls was ripped off in transit (so sad) and a large safety pin helped.

11. I'm really not paranoid nor do I think people are all out to steal my stuff...but....Get a luggage lock for your bag--both regular and one with a stainless steel cable, (something like this). Seems simple enough, but these days with all the TSA stuff, a lot of people travel without locking their bags (as I do all the time, actually). But, if you're not sure about the security of a hotel or hostel, or are traveling with valuables that you want to leave in your room (or if you have to pay to rent the room's safe) lock them inside your bag. Sure, you could just use your luggage lock, but I like the added security of a small lock with steel cable that easily loops through zippers and the slats of a chair, table or other room fixture. No one can take your locked bag if it's securely tied down (of course, make sure it's not locked to something that can easily be removed!). Having a cable lock also helps for lockers too, since it's flexible. (Also, don't forget about bags that are slash-proof, with steel wire inside the fabric, or steel mesh backpack locks that cover your entire bag!)

12. I've said this before, but it's worth repeating....whether you're on a road trip, holiday, or international trip, please don't forget your sense of humor and kindness. Yes, gas prices are high, yes, immigration lines are long, yes, trains get delayed, but don't let it ruin your trip. While bearing in mind cultural differences, the Golden Rule may seem cliche but, "treating others as you'd like to be treated," can go along way while traveling.

13. Remember, just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean you’ll automatically become someone new--with a new fashion sense. It’s fine to want to blend in to the place you’re visiting, but just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean you should back all those “what-if” or “someday” clothes that hang in your closet. If you never wear it when you’re home, chances are you won’t wear it while cruising the streets of Venice, or hitting flea markets in New England.

14. Regardless of where you are, when you’re checking into your hotel pick up a business card, notepad, or pen from the counter with the hotel’s name, address and phone number on it. Keep this with you, you never know when you’ll be riding with a cabbie who doesn’t know where you’re hotel is located, or if you have had a long night and simply don’t remember the address.

15. Travel with a unique wallet or coin pouch (in addition to your money belt/clip, and of course don't keep all your money in one place). This is not something I would have thought to do intentionally, but a few years ago while on an extremely crowded bus in Mexico I was standing, holding the bar, being jostled and practically groped. As the bus began to slow for a stop, I looked up and saw that the man who had been next to me was holding my change-purse/wallet in his hand. I’d been pick-pocketed. I shouted and grabbed at him, and got my wallet back (much to the surprise of the man and the people on the bus). I think it helped that I had a distinctive wallet.

16. If you haven’t heard of Seat Guru, now you have. Go to to help you find the best seat on your flight.

17. Today's last tip is actually something my dad told me about. You see, we have backpacks/travel packs that we love and that we've had for years (and I don't think Kelty makes them anymore). We've taken these bags everywhere! When the something on inside lining of my bag started to wear away my dad suggested using Shoe Goo to fix it. I simply used an old paint brush, and painted it over any spots that were thin or had small tears. Good as new! A few things to note if you do decided to use Shoe Goo to fix your luggage or pack. Use it outside or in a very well ventilated area. Also, it does carry a Prop 65 warning so use it with care.

18. Join hotel and airline rewards programs. This may seem obvious or even silly (especially if you're thinking, "I never stay at ____ Hotel") but...a few stays here and there can earn you rewards. For example, last summer we spent a few nights at the Hyatt Regency in Baltimore's Inner Harbor (it's not a bad hotel, especially if you stay on the Regency Floor). Then, recently we spent one night there over a weekend. A few days later we got an email telling us we'd earned a free stay. We didn't even know we were working toward a free night, and now we have one to use at any Hyatt, and depending on where we stay, that will be a savings of up to a few hundred bucks!

19. Can I get this at home? If you experience an awesome snack, an wonderful bottle of wine, a lovely beverage, or beer, take a picture of the label so you’ll know exactly which one you had. (You can also keep the cap, label or package, but this can get messy and lost). Who knows? Maybe you can find it when you’re back at home.

20. It's no secret, I'm crafty, and I love to make things. So, when I'm traveling I live to look for thrift stores (in England and parts of Europe called Charity Shops), craft stores, bead shops, and the like to buy unique beads or charms that I can then make into one of a kind memory jewelry when I return home. I'm also quite lucky that I generally travel with people who are either crafty or patient and will wander around and not complain while I'm comparing beads and chatting with shop owners.

21. When traveling, I often like to bring a shawl-size scarf to function as a sweater substitute, scarf, head wrap, or even a blanket on a train. I bought a lovely scarf in Morocco last year and wore it quite a bit while walking around cities near the sea. I looked good and liked the fact that I was wearing something "local." The scarf also gave me several different looks as well as layers for cooler weather. (Tip 4.5: Layers! pack items you that are versatile and that can be added or subtracted in layers for warmth and comfort!)

22. Pack with color coordination in mind. This means, if you’re a “match your shoes to your purse to your belt” person, pick one color, like black or brown, and go with it. This way you’re not packing a belt, shoes, or handbag in every color. Also, you'll want to be comfortable, so if those cute red ballet flats are a bit snug, why not leave them at home.

23. I will start with how to score free tickets. Just ask. Yup. Ask at the check-in desk if they will be needing volunteers to give up their seats. I have noticed that American Airlines usually announces over the PA if they need volunteers, but United may only put up a "message" on the flight info board behind the desk. Either way, it doesn't hurt to ask, you may be put on a list and they will call you if they need to give up your seat. And, if they do, you will get a voucher for a free flight (and sometimes for meals and hotels too, depending on how much time there is between the flight you should have been on and the one you will be bumped onto). If you have a few hours to kill, or don't need to be to your destination in a hurry, why not wait a few hours and get free travel in return? Also, asking if they need people to volunteer before they make the PA call, can put you at the top of the list. Just remember to be polite and friendly...the flight attendants will take note of that.

24. I hate to iron, (and, rarely do), especially if I’m on vacation. I also hate travel-creased clothing. You can buy a travel-size bottle of spray-on wrinkle removers. But, what I have found works even better is to pack a small spray bottle that creates a nice fine mist. Fill it with water when you reach your destination and mist your clothes then just smooth out the wrinkles with your hand. Plus, if you're traveling in hot areas you can the use that spray bottle to mist yourself for an instant cool down (I had a friend in college that would do this, I always thought it was such a great idea).

25. Small travel-sizes packages of tissues are great and have so many uses (seriously!). I carry them in my purse when traveling (or going to music festivals) because they can be very helpful if the bathroom is out of toilet paper. I like to use a non-disposable cloth handkerchief also, but sometimes they can just get messy and take up needed room in my carry-on or purse.

26. As a woman, I like to pack a few skirts because they look dressier (and pack lighter) than jeans or shorts and they are much cooler in warm climates. Long or short, skirts can work with anything and are easily dressed up or down. (Plus, they make using a squat toilet so simple!)

27. If the airline does loose your luggage and you have to buy new things (clothes, razors, toothpaste, etc) make sure you keep your receipts! By sending the airline copies of the receipts they can—and will pay you back. Interesting story...British Airlines (whom I later found out is notorious for lost luggage) lost our bags when we returned from a trip to Africa. It wasn't too bad as we were going home. But, we still had to go buy little things like toothbrushes and my husband needed a razor, etc. It cost about $25 to replace the stuff we needed, after sending letters with copies of our receipts to BA they sent me an apology and a check (for more than 4 times what they “owed” me to show how “truly sorry” they were!)

28. I have heard this tip, but have never tried it, becuase it seems like it could be annoying...but you might like it...when traveling through airports and train stations, tie bells (or other noise makers) to your luggage, that way if someone walks off with your bags, you'll hear it.

29. Save those little bottles of hotel shampoo, I usually prefer to bring my own shower supplies (and not all places will even have them waiting for you, like hostels or foreign hotels) but if the hotel does have complementary shampoos, my husband will use it, and if I’ve got room in my bag I’ll keep the bottle to refill with my own shampoo to bring along on our next trip.

30. I love zipper seal baggies! I pack them everywhere I go. Extra zip lock baggies are perfect for cosmetics or toiletries that may have leaked, or the rocks and shells you find along the way, or even if your watch breaks, you have someplace to put all the pieces until you can get it home.

31. Begin packing early (but not too early)...maybe at least the weekend before you plan to leave, gather everything you plan to pack in a laundry basket and leave it. The next day go through this pile and take out anything that you probably won’t wear (if you have a “maybe” pile, make it a “no” pile) or anything that’s not interchangeable/coordinated to at least 2 other things in your pile. Take out anything that would leave you heart broken if it were to be “lost” in the void of lost luggage or stained while traveling. Now, leave this newly thinned down pile until days before the trip (or the day before/day of, as I usually do). As you’re packing this stuff into your bag you can keep thinning it out. I believe you should never have to repack a bag before you leave home because you’re bringing too much stuff. (Arriving back home with too much stuff is another story).

32. I love my Chaco sandals for traveling...they slip on and off easily, but are built well enough to do real walking/hiking. They are also “strappy” and mine are solid black so they can pull off looking “nice” or even sort of dressy if need be. They also take up much less room in my pack than sneakers.

33. You can buy or make a special Travel Journal (see my previous blog on how to make your own journal HERE) or just pack a small notepad along to write down special moments, names of places, ideas or images that you don’t want to forget. It can help too to write down details about photos that you take—I tend to come home with hundreds of digital pictures and there are always a few that I wonder about. Writing specifics down can really help when you get home.

34. According to a few airline wesbites, if you are bringing gifts, it's best not to wrap them--even in your checked bag. But, ask the airline before you leave home just to be sure.

35. I always pack an extra tote bag with me. I use a decent size Patagonia tote that folds up small. I've used it for a day trip to Bondi Beach while in Sydney; we packed our towels and beach gear in it. I've used to when returning home from Morocco with two Moroccan rugs. And, I've used it afer buying too many sake sets in Japan. I won't travel without it because you never know.

36. And, of course, don't forget to back your sense of humor and your listening ears. Across the world people generally need and want similar things. The differences are in the details. And, it is in those details that traveling really becomes worthwhile. Happy trails!