I know it has been a while since I have last written. I’ve been on many adventures since then – France and England again, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany and across the U.S. – so I hope you’ll pardon my absence.
Since people always ask me how to travel, I wanted to write a quick post with the travel items I couldn’t live without, as well as other tips I’ve developed on my journeys. These are meant principally for international travel, but some can also be used for domestic trips, too.
Here it goes:
- Buy a backup battery for your phone. These range from $10 to $80, and they’ll hold one or two full battery lives, depending on which you select. It’s pretty simple: you charge it, then you hook up your phone to it using your USB or lightning cord that comes with your cell. You can use your phone while it’s charging and it will still have another full battery left to use. I’ve had great success with Anker products. It’s always comforting to know (especially in a foreign country) that you’ve got plenty of battery life left, especially on a long day.
- Use a passport wallet. I’ve got a big purse, and there’s nothing more terrifying than thinking you’ve lost your passport in that black hole of a bag when you’re overseas. My passport won’t fit in my typical wallet, so I’ve invested in a passport wallet. For years, there haven’t been many options that weren’t bulky or impractical for carrying any place other than around your neck (and let’s be honest, that looks ridiculous). But never fear! Now, Etsy, Amazon and others have loads of chic choices for the savvy traveler. You can typically fit your passport, ticket, reservation confirmations, credit card and even a hotel key. Here’s one I just bought.
- Buy a foreign SIM card. First of all, do not travel without a wireless plan. I know many people who think they can just hop on WiFi somewhere to check emails or communicate with loved ones. But for me, I prefer the security and accessibility of using my phone overseas. You can sign up for an international travel plan with your provider, but a much cheaper option is to buy a re-loadable SIM card and swap yours out for it when you arrive overseas. America is notorious for its pricey phone services, so you’ll be pleasantly surprise that you can get much more “bang for your buck” internationally. I use the JT Telestial SIM card, which connects to local networks for data and talk, no matter where you are. There’s a modest fee to set-up the SIM card, and you can recharge it on the Web, on their mobile application or via text, and you can also use their online portal to check how much data or how many minutes you have left. I typically pay between $50 and $150 to use my phone pretty freely for a week or two when I’m traveling. It’s well worth it.
- Use TripIt. Of all the travel organization tools out there, TripIt is, by far, the best. After you sign up, you simply forward all your travel confirmations to firstname.lastname@example.org and instantly, they are grouped together by trip. TripIt allows others to see and manage your trips – including fellow passengers. travel agents or others handling your arrangements. It manages your itinerary, providing directions from the airport to your hotel or your jet ski rental to your spa appointment. TripIt keeps track of all your travel reward programs, alerts you if better seats are available on your flights and stores your pertinent information (emergency contacts, passport data, etc.). Best of all, their mobile app is easy to use and very helpful when on the go. The program is free, but I paid to upgrade it to enjoy additional perks and added security.
- Let your financial institutions know you are traveling. Make sure you call your bank and credit card companies – even if you don’t plan to use a particular card – to put a travel alert on file for your account. You don’t want to be stranded without access to cash or your line of credit. Check to see if there are any daily limits to withdrawing cash, especially overseas. Most financial institutions establish these to prevent identity theft, but you might be able to get them to lift any limits your account might have. Keep in mind, too, that many banks have certain hours of operation, and that if you are traveling internationally, it might be hard to contact them to resolve any issue. Prevent headaches by working this out in advance.
- Sign up for travel credit cards.This seems like a no-brainer, but many people miss out on spectacular discounts and special deals that these cards offer. I’m not encouraging anyone to get in debt (pay off that balance every month!), but if you travel at least once a year, these cards are a must-have. I have the Chase Sapphire Rewards Card and the Capital One Venture One Card. In addition to offering double points on all travel, both have special deals for booking trips directly through their sites, as well. Their introductory offers are fabulous, too. And most importantly, they have no foreign transaction fees. That means you can swipe your card as often as you like abroad without fear of incurring financial penalties.
- If you’re traveling with another person, try my favorite seat trick. If you are booking early enough, book one passenger in the window seat and another in the aisle seat, leaving the middle seat available. As you can imagine, the middle seat is the last to be selected. On a flight that’s not full, it is less likely that the middle seat will be chosen by another passenger. You will be more likely to share a row with just the two of you than if you two sit side-by-side with one of you in the middle. If another passenger has booked the middle seat, you can simply offer to have one of you switch with him or her (which you would have had to do, anyway, if you booked the two seats together).
- Sign up for Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check. If you’re an international traveler, Global Entry is your best bet because it also includes TSA Pre-Check for your travels within the U.S. If you’re more of a domestic flier, TSA Pre-Check is sufficient. Both are great ways to skip the lines (especially on international travel) at customs, immigration and TSA. It’s well worth the money, even if you travel only a handful of times each year.
- These are the airports I avoid if possible: Atlanta (ATL), Philadelphia (PHL), Newark (EWR), Detroit (DTW), Denver (DEN), Kansas City (KCI) and New York – JFK (JFK). These are my least favorite because of one of the following factors: poor planning/too spread out for layovers, sub-par amenities, dirty or substandard conditions, bad delays, long TSA lines or bad staffing.
- These airports are perfectly pleasant: Washington – Reagan National Airport (DCA), Houston – George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), New Orleans (MSY), Portland, Oregon (PDX) and San Diego (SAN). Here, you’ll find quick(er) TSA lines, more options for amenities, fewer delays, better staffing and good facilities.
There you have it! What are your favorite travel tips? Leave them in the comments below.