Thursday, December 30, 2010

FIRST LAW OF EASY TRAVEL: NEVER CHECK A BAG

FIRST LAW OF EASY TRAVEL: NEVER CHECK A BAG
2 weeks ago as I was sitting in my hotel room in Las Vegas, overlooking the beautiful lights atop the MGM Casino and hotel, fresh off my flight nearly 25 minutes earlier-I was pre-checked in to my room, keys waiting, no lines- and probably a good 65 minutes ahead of the other folks on my flight still waiting on their bags (the bags that actually made it to the baggage claim) it occurred to me that:

1. I sure do travel a lot these day; 
2. A lot of funny and interesting stuff happens on the road;
3. Maybe some others could use some of the tips I've picked up along the way;
4. Maybe this is a good time to start documenting my journeys- I'm not getting any younger!

I travel mostly for work- but I do LOVE to travel. I think I've gotten pretty good at it actually. In the past 3 years I've been pretty much everywhere- from Hong Kong to New York to Los Angeles to Anguilla then Antigua to the trip I'm returning from right now- Paris.

As I am sitting on this flight right now I am reminded of a cardinal sin I committed today- I did not check my connecting flight seat when I arrived from Paris to Chicago. Oops. I'm smack dab in the middle of the plane, middle seat, stuffed like a sardine between two strangers. My husband is a few rows back- same situation. He is not so jovial about it.

Well sometimes it can't be avoided, flight delays, long security lines. But we sat for over two hours at a poorly lit pizza/burger/ice cream café in Chicago’s ORD airport, post-customs and re-security run through. I got some food (craving pizza since I smelled some amazing Italian bistro a few blocks from the Eiffel tower last night and haven’t stopped thinking about it since), then I got a Venti Iced Green unsweetened tea at Starbucks, thought about starting this blog, even stood in line to get a refund for a botched seat upgrade attempt at CDG (Paris’ Charles De Gaulle airport), helped a complete stranger figure out his strategy for making a job interview tomorrow at 9AM 110 miles from Des Moines after his flight to Des Moines was just canceled for weather (Dude- an 8:05PM flight to Minneapolis is leaving out of gat C-24! INSIST they put you on that one. You’re going to a place same driving distance from either Des Moines or Minneapolis… use your head dude! If all else fails, hop a train to Midway and take the last SW flight to Minneapolis at 9PM or- here’s a thought- DRIVE yourself the 4 hours. By the time you get out of the United Customer Service line you could have been there!)

But no- I did not remember to check which seat I was in and since I booked through an online flea market (travelocity) and not direct through the airline (ideal) I was stuck with what some computer (a retarded one) thought would be my desired seat selection. Yes I know, sometimes you can pick your seat even on Travelocity- but often that is not an option avail at time of purchase.. and SOMETIMES they change that up on you for NO apparent reason.

So I have some rules I live by on the road. Want to hear them? You might glean some insight- or maybe you might think I’m a little bit anal when it comes to travel but just like anything- perfection comes with practice and repetition.

The KEY to this whole thing is being able to PLAN AHEAD PROPERLY and gather data about your trip before you go. Sounds obvious right? Well you’d be surprised how many times I’ve seen folks from MIA to LGA show up without proper winter jacket and have to spend a few hundred bucks while they are there just so they don’t freeze their asses off.

Think through your days, nights, what you can wear twice (or more!) and get away with it. What the climate will be not only at daytime but at night, will you be walking outside a lot, how many days and nights you need to plan for and will you be required to be dressy, work casual, etc.

Rule 1:
NEVER check a bag.
 Huh?? I need shoes, outfit changes, liquids!
Uh- no you don’t. Remember that trip you took last spring. Maybe a trip with the girls to Rosemary Beach or a wedding at Seaside I bet. You packed like a buh-zillion items, it all seemed like a good idea as you were pulling left and right out of your closet at home (well maybe this will be cute!) but you only actually wore a few items- half the stuff stayed in the bag. You had so much you forgot a few necessities like your toothbrush, didn’t you? Then you had to RE PACK all that crap which took forever because you don’t know how all those things that fit in the first time were getting back into your bag. Then you had to check your bag onto your flight right? Spent an extra 20-40 minutes to do that instead of walking right to the security gate. Then you had to pick it up after the flight right? Another 20-40 minutes (Assuming you didn’t spend another hour in baggage recovery / lost bags office trying to find it when it never came off the belt) Another 20-40 minutes. Max- on a round trip, that’s 160 extra minutes or longer you could have been spending sipping a nice red wine at the hotel bar or freshening up for a dinner date in your clean, cool hotel room with your toothbrush you remembered to pack from home. 

Look- TRUST ME- Unless work or the US homeland security force requires it, don’t check a bag. Wanna shop while you are traveling- mail your dirty clothes home and wear the new stuff. No time like the present right?

I have a travel duo that goes with me everywhere. A black backpack (built for hauling camera equipment) with a laptop case, front pocked and deep bottom pocket where a full Nikon with lense pack fits nicely and his partner in crime- a bright red roller bag made by swiss army luggage that I bought at target for under $100 bucks. It’s not sexy- but that 20” roller can pass through any bitchy PMS-ing flight attendant or gate guard (they WILL at some point make you stick your bag in those metal sizer bins that I swear are half the size of the overhead bins) The backpack not only fits all my computer and camera when I need to bring one, but also fits nicely under the seat in front of me. The red roller bag- because I don’t over-pack it ‘til it is ready to burst, always fits in the overhead of regular sized planes. I usually gate check when I’m on the smaller planes when ALL the other roller bags are gate-checked. You get it right off the plane which is easy. Not at baggage claim.

What about liquids do you say?
Liquids? That’s easy. There are some tricks. Know that I am a girl with long dark hair. I am not a tom-boy who can just airdry and go. I wear make up- LOADS of it- and I use a very expensive face care system that my skin drinks up daily in the attempt to stay young and hydrated (It’s called SKII and it has changed my skin in such a good way I SWEAR by the stuff and have bought it for most of my friends by now) http://www.sk-ii.com

Of course they only allow one quart size bag with liquids and the bottles can’t be more than 3.4 FL ounces.http://www.tsa.gov/311/ I’m not sure what your beauty regime requires but you should figure out what you use – and really need- per day. For example, I know that a certain sized travel bottle will last me 5 days with a 2x per day use. If I’m gone longer, I bring more.

Contact cases are GREAT for holding special liquids since they don’t leak. Also you can get little mini jars for crèmes and pastes of all sorts. Just be sure to write what they are in sharpie if you are the sort like me to get confused easily.

A lot of min-perfumes are avail so you can still smell like your signature self when on the road.
You also don’t need a hair dryer. Honey- trust me- every hotel above Super 8 status has one and if they don’t you can get one from the front desk. Even in Europe that is the case. Curling or flat iron on the other hand- yes you need to bring your own.



Also, Hairspray- the good kind (Ellenet rocks) comes in travel sizes. The travel size aisle at Target is a pretty good one. Also, some airports (Washington, Nashville, etc) have zip lock bags if you forgot to put your liquids in one.

What about all those outfit changes! Ladies- Leggings are a godsend. You can roll them up, bring 2 pairs, wear them with cute and hot knee high boots and a long cardigan- you are good to go. I’m telling you best thing you ever did. Ditch the heels. Not only do the hurt to walk in through airports but they take up SO Much room!

Ok- sometimes we do need to bring the heels- so in which case- you will likely have to wear your boots on the plane which is fine. You just have be even more careful with what you pack and planning as I’ve said is the name of the game.  

Another tough call is the tennis shoes. Sure we love to work out in the hotel gym or at least SAY to ourselves  “I’m going to work out while  I’m traveling!” and then get so busy doing what we are doing that doesn’t end up happening. So first, ask yourself, do you have an hour or so extra per day to do any working out plus getting ready for your eventful trip activities (so that’s 2 hours total for me). Does the hotel have a gym or a safe outdoor area to jog? The other option is if you are into yoga or pure barre like this gal, you can download pod casts or even the videos on itunes and pretty much get away an in-room work out that will make you sweat and doesn’t require the use of tennis shoes. I go back and forth on this one. I have them with me now and did use them in Paris to not only walk around but also to use the elliptical at the gym.  But on my shorter trips or really intense work trips, I will just ditch the shoes for morning yoga in my hotel room which I love.

Keeping your suit or dress wrinkle-free is generally pretty easy. I use the thin plastic sheets in which dry cleaners send home your clothes. They are always in my closet and if you put your suit in the bag, suck all the air out and fold neatly on the top of everything else, it generally stays wrinkle free. You can also pack a mini steamer. I got a great one at target which I carry when I have a lot of work or dressy clothing needs.
So that’s pretty much it. Plan ahead really well, research the climate and what your specific needs will be and then get you some travel companions that will always carry on and never cause you problems. Remember if you have these 2 items (backpack and roller bag) you CANNOT bring a purse too. You need to consolidate before going through security or they will make you get out of line and do it before going any further. It’s really stupid but I guess they gotta draw the line somewhere. The other option if you want that purse to come along is depending on it’s size, use a bigger ‘purse’ instead of the backpack but if you travel with a computer, make sure it fits first.

TIP: To help you move through security faster, have your liquids pre sorted and put them in your purse or backpack where your laptop is so you don’t have to mess with removing anything from the roller bag at all. Just send it down the conveyor belt, remove your shoes, ALWAYS separate your laptop in a separate bin and then a separate bin for your scarf or jacket and liquids can go in there.
Works every time- I promise!!

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