After all that time spent staying at home, wearing masks and getting vaccinated, that magic carpet ride of travel is taking off again. We are planning vacations to these highly anticipated destinations or just weekend getaways.
Before you make the reservation, here’s a refresher course of some basic travel tips that you might have forgotten or 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.
In the air
– If you take an international nonstop flight once a day, it is a good idea to get to the airport as early as possible to avoid traffic delays. In Atlanta, for example, single newspapers include Turkish Airlines to Istanbul, Korean Air to Seoul, and Qatar Airways to Doha. Atlanta traffic is notorious, with dead stops not uncommon. Allow about an extra hour for traffic, or your once-a-day can take off while you’re stuck on the freeway.
– Turbulence occurs. Wear dark colors to fly in case a glass of tomato juice or red wine or a cup of coffee goes awry. This pretty pink outfit covered with a pretty cabernet sauvignon suddenly doesn’t get so cute anymore.
– Are you traveling with a companion? Try to reserve seats in the opposite aisle. You’re still close enough to talk, and neither of you are stuck in the dreaded middle seat or crammed into a tiny window seat.
– Southerners are often the wisest aviators. We can pretty much set our watches before the late afternoon spring and summer thunderstorms, the ones that often shut airports for hours at a time and delay flights for what seems like endlessly. Try to book your flights as early as possible in the morning to avoid delays due to weather conditions.
Across the ocean
– Hello! Jambo! Hola! Ciao! If you are traveling abroad, learn a few key words or phrases of the language of the country you are 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 in three days. Always look both ways before crossing the street or road. Driving is on the left side in some countries and on the right side in others. A few extra moments of caution can save you from being hit by a speeding car, assuming that everyone is driving American on the right side of the road.
– Flight delays do occur, so take enough prescription medication to last a day or even two longer than you originally planned. This is to avoid what could turn into a real medical emergency due to lack of enough medication. If you are in the United States you can ask your pharmacy to call another pharmacy in the city you are stuck in, but if you are overseas you might not be so lucky and end up in trouble.
– You go on that dream trip to Paris or London or any city with great restaurants that you have read and hailed to visit. Dinner prices can be prohibitive, but you can still get the experience of dining at a renowned restaurant for much less by checking to see if the restaurant has a separate lunch menu. Dishes with all fixings can cost half the price of the dinner menu.
On the road
– Take an extra car key and keep it in a place separate from yours, perhaps in the purse or in the pocket of your traveling companion. If your keys are lost or stolen, you have an extra charge to get home.
– We all love Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze and those other GPS gadgets, but sometimes long rural roads don’t have cell service. An old-fashioned paper roadmap is useful for these times. While getting lost can be half the fun of traveling, be aware that technology can fail in remote areas.
– Keep a small collapsible cooler in the trunk of your car. You never know when you’ll need it for leftovers from a meal, flower cuttings from a beautiful vine, or cheese or butter to die for at a local market.
—A slow ride in a horse-drawn carriage is often the way to discover a city. Think of Savannah and Charleston. Instead of rushing blindly when you arrive in a historic town, take a tour first and listen to what the well-trained guides have to say. After that, you will have more knowledge of the sites to explore, as well as some great restaurant recommendations.
– Check your spare tire before a road trip. Just because you have one hidden in the trunk doesn’t make it work. Give it a good overview before you hit the road.
– Rent a car for your trips? Before leaving the parking lot, find out where the gas tank is on the outside of the car and where the clearance is on the inside of the car. This knowledge will come in handy when refueling.
In the suitcase
– As for the packaging, 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 with clothes covered in lotion, shampoo or mouthwash.
– If you can’t carry your suitcase on your own, you’ve packed way too much. You don’t have to change your outfit every day of your trip, and it’s perfectly fine to wear the same things over and over again. Heavy luggage is no one’s friend, especially if you are traveling to an old and beautiful hostel or hotel in Europe where elevators do not exist.
– Choose a base color when planning your travel wardrobe. Gray or black works well, as does red. A pair of black pants does it all from a jumpsuit with a tee during the day to a fancy top at night.
– Most older hotels don’t have enough electrical outlets to charge your electronic gadgets like your phone and tablet, so take at least one three-outlet outlet. They’re light and inexpensive enough to always leave one in every baggage so you never get stuck without one.
– If you find yourself on an extended trip or flying with severe weight limits and can’t pack a lot of clothes, consider spraying a deodorant on a stick. Lightly spray the inside of your clothes to keep them fresher and smarter for long periods of time.
In the hotel
– Cities have a myriad of branded hotels like Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, and Holiday Inn, but be aware that places like New York and London can have dozens of properties with the same name. When you check in, pick up a card with the hotel name, address and phone number. If you get lost, don’t speak the language, or just need to call the hotel, the information is on hand to be passed on to a taxi driver.
– Always ask for two key cards, even if you are alone. Get away from each other, not only in case you lose one, but also if your cell phone zaps it. You then have a spare without having to go back to reception, which can sometimes be a long walk along the endless hallways and wings of places like the 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 the extra money you save, sometimes hundreds of dollars for a room without a 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 a room in the middle of the hallway and not facing the street. Stuck in one anyway?
There is an application for that. Look up terms like white noise, sound machine, or nature sounds, then move on to sweet, calm dreams and a better vacation experience.