It’s been a while since I’ve written. I think that one day in Amsterdam put me over the edge on traveling. NEVER! Actually, I did take a traveling hiatus this summer. Felt almost like I was enjoying summer vacation with the school kids. It was a wonderful time to stay in my house, spend time with family and remember how fun it can be to stay at home!
My short break didn’t really exclude all traveling, just the big international trips. I look forward to sharing about a few short trips I made in the upcoming weeks. However, I’m back on the road and sitting at the British Airways lounge in Cape Town, South Africa after a wonderful week in one of the world’s most beautiful cities. I plan to write all about this latest adventure, but I want to wait to post pictures. Look for that post in the next week or so.
While I was enjoying the comforts of my home this summer, I made a list of lessons that I’ve learned over the past years when traveling. Some of these might be a big “Duh!” to you, but I think others could be very helpful in making sure your travels are as stress-free as possible. Some may think there is no such thing as a stress-free trip, but I can tell you there is. I’m living proof that with the right mind-set and following a few of these tips, one can survive the rollercoaster of airports, public transit and such!
1. Get the right suitcase!
I have to make this my very first tip, and quite possibly the most important. In the last fours years, I’ve run through 5 suitcases. I have gotten blisters from lugging heavy suitcases through emorous airports and cities. I’ve run at full speed with bags bouncing all around behind me to catch my flight. I’ve clipped numerous ankles and other peoples’ bags trying to navigate through crowds. And I say…NO MORE!
If you plan to travel often or at all…get a suitcase with four rotating wheels. As far as I can tell, this is the only part of the suitcase that makes a difference. With four rotating wheels, you can keep the suitcase upright removing most of the weight from your hand. You can simply push it along with you, in front of you or behind. You can also manuever through crowds much easier as you can direct the suitcase with just a turn of your hand. Honestly, I will never buy another suitcase without this feature. Go to the department store and put your purse or some weight in a suitcase and give it a try. You’ll see what I mean!
2. Always carry on…always!
I used to ignore this advice from my colleagues who’ve travelled for many years. Why carry all my bags when I could just check and worry about it when I land. I have had a bag lost and that’s really not fun, but for me the real reason to carry on is all about convenience. Have you seen the movie “Up in the Air”? The main character, Ryan Bingham, gives a lecture to a novice traveller about the time wasted with checking bags. He is SO right! I can print my boarding pass at home and walk right up to security. Yes, I have to pull out my little baggie of liquids but no big deal. My very least favorite thing about traveling is coming home, being so close then waiting and waiting at baggage claim. Ugh! So close but so far!
If you’re thinking there’s no way you can fit all your clothes, toiletries and shoes in a carry-0n. Wrong! I have spent 2.5 weeks going from Bali to China to London (each with different temperatures)…all with my carry-on. It is possible. Give it a try and see if you really missed something while you’re gone.
3. Wear or pack GOOD shoes
My biggest problem with packing is shoes. I always want options for shoes. I acknowledge that I do have a shoe problem, in life. Once I travelled for one week with 6 pairs of shoes. I think my worst record was 9 shoes for 2 weeks. Again, I know I have a problem and that’s the first step, right?
What I have learned is, to help you maximize space in your bag, to wear your bulkiest shoes on the plane. I will usually wear my tennis shoes to make the most room in my bag. If you want to wear boots during your trip, wear them on the plane so you don’t take up so much room in the suitcase. And always, always, always make sure you have one pair of shoes that are absolutely comfortable. I have shopped in too many cities for shoes because of blisters and it is NOT fun. Shopping for shoes just because, now that’s fun!
4. Never put your bag behind you
It’s always a given that you should keep a close eye on your bags, but when you put your bags in overhead on the airplane NEVER put them up behind your seat. Try to stay at your row or ahead of your row.
Have you ever noticed that people practically explode out of their seats when a plane lands? Many, many people including myself do not like sitting on planes and want out as quickly as possible. And there is no way in hell they are going to step aside so you can walk the opposite direction of the exit, up the aisle to get your bags. I have seen people get stuck on a plane until everyone is off because they have to walk back a few rows to get their bag. People will not let you get back there if they are trying to get off.
However, they may pass your bag up to you. So, if you have no choice but to put your bag up behind you, you might have a slight chance of getting some kindness from a fellow passenger…but only if it’s a couple rows back. I have done this a lot. But if your bag goes all the way back, give it up. You will be sitting there until the whole plane is unloaded.
5. Check your gate number frequently
When you are on connecting flights and not familiar with airports, make sure you regularly check gate numbers. Once I had just a 40 minute layover, and they told me my gate was near where I got off the plane so I headed to Starbucks for a coffee. I then went to the gate to find out it had been changed and was way, way on the other side of the airport. Ugh! Very unnecessary hussling followed and I really didn’t enjoy that coffee too much. O’Hare is notorious for changing gates sometimes 3 times before a flight takes off. Just keep an eye on it and you shouldn’t find yourself rushing.
6. Take a business card from the hotel
When you’re traveling in very foreign cities where English is not well understood or spoken, make sure you take a business card from your hotel when you venture out. All hotels should have them, or at least write down their address for you. This can be very helpful when you take a taxi and need to get to your hotel. I highly recommend this for countries in Asia, where you can’t even understand the letters of the address. It’s saved my behind many, many times.
7. The Golden Rule
My last tip for today is simply to practice patience when traveling. I know it sounds much easier said than done, but I have witnessed so many people get irrate and all bent out of shape because flights are delayed or changed. No matter what anyone believes, the airlines can NOT control the weather. They just can’t. Yes, there are some ridiculous rules when flying that don’t make logical sense but they are what they are. I’m not going to get my blood pressure up for things that I can’t change.
Now, I have definitely lost my cool when faced with despicable customer service. That is unacceptable. However, I always think it’s better to realize that any obstacles in travel are not about me, there’s no plot to ruin my plans. And that it’s most important for me to stay positive so I can enjoy every moment of my travels.
So, that’s all I have for now. I keep notes as I travel about little things that I learn, sometimes the hard way! I hope some of these might be helpful to you so that you can get out into the world and enjoy traveling as much as I do.
In the spirit of transparency, I am now in the American Airlines lounge in London Heathrow. Showered, fed and ready to get one step closer to home. Cheers!
Up Next: The Beautiful Mother City – Cape Town, South Africa