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A Million Mile Flyer’s Tips for Maximum Efficiency Travel (Part 1)

I’m this close to getting million mile status on United, which will give me and Mark gold status for life (economy plus and shorter security lines always, y’all), and when you tally up the miles I’ve flown on other carriers over time, I’m well above the seven digit threshold, which is a much cooler-sounding way of saying: I’ve spent waaaaay too much of my life on planes and at airports. (At an average cruising airspeed of 475-500 knots/546-575 miles per hour, that works out to 75 full days in the sky. And it’s actually longer when you factor in the slower speed during each flight’s descent. That also doesn’t count airport time, which is certainly another month or two.) This also works out to more than 1000 take-offs and landings – and another 1000 hotel nights – so it’s safe to say I’ve had pah-lenty of time to figure out the tricks to travel as efficiently as possible.

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Just driving the jet bridge. No big.

Speaking of travel, reminder to Twin Cities folks that Carl from 1500 Days, Noah and Becky from Money Metagame, some other special guests and I are having a meetup Thursday (tomorrow!) at Minnehaha Regional Park. Look for us on the picnic lawn or at picnic tables in area N on this map starting at 6 PM, and bring something to sit on along with anything you’d like to consume.  Around 8:30, we’ll move to Brit’s Pub downtown to join up with the meetup being led by Physician on FIRE that’s going to the state fair.

When I sat down to write all this out, I quickly realized that there’s way too much info for one post, so today we’re talking about travel strategies for maximum efficiency, and next week I’ll share packing tips, including how and why I never check bags, even if I’m going to multiple destinations in coldest winter and need to wear business suits. (Only exception: when we’re flying with skis. I have yet to find a hack that will make those fit in the overhead bin.)

So fasten your seat belt low and tight across your lap, make sure your tray table is stowed and your seat is in its full upright position. And let’s dig in.

max efficiency travel

I love travel, despite the less pleasant aspects of it, and I believe firmly that going into it with the right attitude makes a world of difference. Every time I fly, I see people who are nervous, who are quick to start yelling the second the flight is delayed for 10 minutes, or who look terrified, like deer in headlights. And I can’t help but think that they are having a very different, far less pleasant experience than I am, even though we’re on the exact same flight. So let’s start with attitude.

Always Pack Your Sense of Humor

I used to let travel delays get me worked up, but much like Mark and I decided to institute the work complaint ban a few years ago, I also decided that I was going to treat anything bad that happened – any flight delay, misconnect or other random mishap – as a comedy of errors. Because there’s generally nothing you can do but sit there and wait it out, I’ve discovered that it’s far more pleasant to laugh about it than to get agitated.

Be Kind

Everyone in the travel industry has a hard job. Those nervous, angry and scared flyers I see are people that gate agents, flight attendants and TSA agents have to deal with constantly, which makes for a stressful job. Be kind to everyone whose job it is to get you somewhere safely, or to welcome you to a hotel after a long journey, because it’s the right thing to do. But also, doing that might occasionally get you a perk, like a free drink on a flight or a nicer hotel room. (Free airline upgrades don’t just happen anymore because you happen to be nice, so let that dream go. But free hotel upgrades happen all the time.)

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They might invite you to hop into the cargo hold, too

Become a Trusted Traveler

If you fly even once a year, sign up for TSA Precheck, or – even better – Global Entry, which gets you Precheck along with speedy passage through immigration when you return to the U.S. on international travel. (If you don’t have Global Entry, download the Mobile Passport app, which also makes customs a breeze.) Precheck and Global Entry are each good for five years from your next birthday, and – fun fact – if you sign up right after your birthday, you get almost six years for the price of five. So worth it. Even if the Precheck security line is longer than the regular security line, it moves much faster.

Plan for the TSA

Even if you have access to the Precheck security line, you still have to go through security. So plan for that. Don’t wear your most complicated lace-up shoes, don’t carry a ton of metal and change in your pockets and, if you travel with food, pull it out and put it in its own bin before you put your bags through. Food confuses the scanners and often warrants secondary screening, and it goes much faster if they’re just looking at one food container instead of digging around in your whole bag.

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Flight Times Matter

If you care about being on time or catching connections, pay attention to on-time rates for different flights. But generally, delays tend to cascade as the day goes on, so your best bet for on-time flights is very first thing in the morning. I know. Flying at 6 AM is a bummer. But you’ll always be on time and never miss your connection when you do that. (If you see me at the meetup Thursday night and wonder why I’m yawning, blame the 5:55 AM flight.) And if you care about upgrades, your chances of getting them are best on Saturdays and Wednesdays.

Get the Best Seats

Here’s something that I wish wasn’t true: even as a 1K status flyer on United, I almost never get upgraded on cross-country flights, and it’s 50/50 on any flight over an hour. (And I’m about to jump down from 1K to gold at the end of this year. Please keep me in your thoughts during this trying time.) So I’ve made it a science to figure out how to get and keep the best seats in economy. First, know your aircraft. Most mainline airline flights in the U.S. are narrow-body planes like the Airbus 319 and 320 and various iterations of the Boeing 737. On these planes, the only real difference between seats is whether they have slightly more legroom or a criminally negligent amount of legroom. So of course if you can sit in economy plus or whatever your airline calls premium economy, all the better. But if you can’t, you can still try to make your seat experience positive in a few key ways:

1. Unless you have the seating chart for every plane memorized for every aircraft in a given airline’s fleet (it’s a sickness), use SeatGuru when you book your ticket to get you into a decent seat to begin with.

2. If you’re flying with a companion, don’t choose seats right next together, but choose a window and aisle on the same side (example: 27A and 27C). If the plane doesn’t fill up, you get a row to yourselves, and if it does, then you make someone’s day who thought they were stuck in a middle seat when one of you trades with them.

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Flying to FinCon last year in the A and C seats, with a coveted empty middle seat between us. Our faces confirm that we’re flying at 6 AM.

3. Especially if you are a solo woman traveler, I can’t recommend enough booking a bulkhead seat. These seats have the tray tables in the armrests, because there’s no seat in front of you, and as a result they have longer, wider armrests which are marvelous for keeping nextdoor neighbors more contained in their seats and minimizing some of that spreading.

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The bulkhead row, with big fat armrests compared to normal coach seats

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More insulated from neighbors. I love you, bulkhead window seat.

4. If you’re hoping for an empty seat next to you, choose a seat as far back as you can in your section in a row in which the other desirable seat is already taken. In United narrow-body planes, 12F is the seat most likely to earn you an empty middle next to you because it’s usually the non-reclining row in front of the exit row, and gate agents tend to seat standby passengers starting on the A side of the plane, so 12E is usually the last seat in economy plus to be taken. In the back of the plane, the last E seat before the lavatory has good odds of staying empty, so long as the D seat is taken. (Otherwise a couple wanting to sit together might grab it.) And if you’re truly serious about increasing your odds of an empty middle seat next to you, keep an eagle eye on the seating chart on the app, and move your seat if you see things shifting around as standbys clear if you think you’ll improve your odds.

Work Your Angles

No matter how good a sense of humor you keep about it all, things will go wrong. Flights will get canceled. Connecting flights will take off without you. Endless weather delays will pop up out of nowhere. Keep your cool, but then work every possible angle simultaneously to get rebooked in the way that works best for you. Stand in line at customer service while at the same time calling the customer service line and tweeting at the airline. And while you’re on hold with everyone, research your other flight options – including on other airlines – so that you know exactly what to ask for and whether there’s space on those flights before you get to the front of the line. Most of the mainline carriers will book you with another carrier if you’re significantly delayed, but you’re out of luck if you’re on Southwest or one of the super budget carriers.

Never Unpack

We’ll get into what to pack next week, but a core principle of efficient travel is to spend as little time packing and unpacking as possible. And that means never fully unpacking. Whichever bag you use as your primary carry-on should contain the basics at all times: toiletries, medication, pajamas/workout clothes, chargers and any travel accessories you always like to have with you. Same for your small personal item that houses your everyday carry items. I’ll share a peek into my bags when we talk packing lists, but among the things that only ever leave my bag for an occasional wash are: packing cubes, hanging toiletry bag, sleep kit (eye mask, ear plugs, meds for emergencies), dirty clothes bag, ballet flats in bag, cube with pajamas/workout clothes, computer cable, iPhone charger, headphones, backup power supply, travel pillow, umbrella and a few other odds and ends. Which means I never use time trying to find those things or putting them away, and packing for any trip is a matter of throwing in a few changes of clothes, and then pulling out dirty laundry when I get home.

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Never leaves my travel bag

Create Systems and Habits So You Don’t Leave Things Behind

I’ve traveled with colleagues who are constantly leaving things behind, and I’ve always been determined not to be one of those people. Mostly because it’s annoying to have to spend money to repurchase something, but also because it can throw a wrench into your plans if you leave your cell phone charger and have a dying phone when a client is trying to reach you. That’s why it’s important to create good habits and systems so that you don’t leave things behind. A few things that I do that help a ton are:

1. Avoid spreading out all over the hotel room. In the main bedroom, choose one area like the desk where you’ll set things down, and concentrate everything there so you’re more likely to notice if you’re leaving something behind. In the bathroom, place anything you take out of your toiletry bag on a towel or washcloth so you’ll see it when you’re packing.

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Everything contained in the bathroom. Yes, I use olive oil that came with a salad in first class as my face moisturizer. What?

2. If there are instances when you have to deviate from that approach, create visual reminders. I need to take my razor into the shower, and to avoid forgetting it, I leave its case open either on the towel with the other items, or just below my toiletry bag.

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3. For cell chargers, get in the habit of never just leaving the charger plugged in, or if you do, only plug it into your computer, not into a wall outlet. I’ve now trained myself to unplug the charger and put it back into my bag whenever I unplug my phone from it, and I’ve never left one behind ever.

Prioritize Sleep

No matter how fun it is, travel is exhausting, so prioritize your sleep. Ask for a quiet room in every hotel you stay in (sometimes this gets you upgraded for free), and book long-haul flights based on time to minimize jetlag. The later you can arrive in the day, the better. Those east coast flights to Europe that have you arrive first thing in the morning European time are the absolute worst for jetlag. And make yourself sleep on the plane if it’s intended to be an overnight flight, no matter how many dessert platters they bring you, and even if you manage to get your independent movie players to sync up perfectly. #nerds

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Go to sleep! Bad traveler!

Don’t Wait Around

There are so many things in travel that you don’t need to wait around for, so free yourself of these times sinks! You don’t have to wait for the rental car receipt. You can just drop the car with the keys in it and go catch your flight. (They’ll email you the receipt.) You don’t have to check out in person from your hotel. You can either check out on the app and drop your keys in the express checkout box in the lobby, or you can do the slightly jerky but still legit method of just leaving your keys in your room and peacing out. And if you drop the habit of checking bags, you will never again need to so much as look at an airline ticket counter. Which means you also don’t need to have your cab or Lyft drop you off at any particular airline drop zone, and can instead figure out which door is closest to security and get dropped there.

Pack Power

There are never enough plugs, and half the time the promised plugs on the plane don’t even work. Bring a power brick with you on every trip.

Don’t Bring Home Hitchhikers

If I’ve ever happened to see your hotel room, there’s a good chance I’ve shouted something like, “Eek! Get your suitcase off the bed!” Everyone does this, and everyone needs to stop now. Why? Because bedbugs are back. Like for real. Only put your belongings on hard, non-upholstered surfaces like desks, coffee tables and dressers. If you get bitten, it’s not awesome but it’s not the end of the world. (I’ve been bitten many times. At very nice hotels. In the U.S. Usually on the face.) What is the end of the world is also taking those bedbugs home.

And then there are germs, which you also don’t want to bring home. Don’t freak out too much about germs in hotel rooms, but do wash your hands after handling the TV remote. (Or don’t touch it at all.)

Maximize Your Benefits

I won’t try to tell you how to travel hack, but if you’re not already consolidating your travel with one airline and one hotel megachain, change your ways right this second. If you don’t travel often, and your singular motivation is to travel as cheaply as possible, then fine. Shop 100% on price, use Hotels.com points and get every chain bonus. But if you care about quality of travel, it pays to be loyal, which means booking directly through the airline or hotel chain and sticking with them. And not just because of upgrades, though those are awesome. But because you often get free stuff when you consolidate business with one company, like free breakfast in the Starwood lounge that you can sneak all your FinCon friends into.

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All freeeeeeeeeeee

And more importantly, straight up better service. Every airline has a different phone line for each status level, and you can bet each one has progressively better service than the last. If you might get silver status on an airline, that automatically bumps you ahead of everyone calling the general number when a huge row of thunderstorms cancels all the flights on the east coast. Certain status levels also have flight change fees waived on the day of travel, get checked bags for free, or have greater availability of award tickets. But also, upgrades.

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Or maybe you get invited to guide the plane out one day

Drink the Tap Water But Not the Plane Water

Don’t waste time or money buying bottled water. Drink the tap water out of the hotel faucet, preferably filling your own water bottle instead of using the questionably clean glasses in the room. (See any dish washing equipment on that housekeeping cart? Nope? Exactly.) But never drink the airplane water.

UPDATE: Skip Housekeeping

During your hotel stay, keep the “do not disturb” hanger on your room door the whole time and skip the housekeeping. First, this avoids any concerns about the security of things you leave in the room. (Though don’t leave super valuable stuff behind if you can help it, and never travel with high-value items you don’t truly need to have with you. Leave ’em at home.) Second, this saves resources like water, electricity and cleaning supplies from being used unnecessarily. Third, it avoids anyone knocking on your door before you’re ready to be awakened. You can always grab more towels or shampoo off the cart if you need them. But do tip your housekeeper by leaving a fiver or more on the desk when you check out, because they did still prepare your room for you.

Watch for the Salute

After the tow cart unhooks from the plane and backs away, the marshal with the sticks will salute the pilot and send them off. Watch for it. It’s like your own little Easter egg.

Your Turn!

Got any travel tips you can add? Let’s hear ‘em? And any questions you’ve still got lingering? Ask away!

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101 replies »

  1. Great tips! One to add is to consider bringing a cable lock to secure your laptop in hotels. I’ve found that the availability of a safe is inconsistent.

    Thanks for the reminder about TSA pre-check. I don’t travel as much as I used to for work, but every time I do I kick myself for not having it.

    • if you do get bedbugs (or think you have), kill them with heat…
      Put *everything* through a super-hot wash (>50C) and then straight through a really long and hot dry, and then again (& again). The hotter you can get your items the shorter the time you’ll need to keep the items really hot.

      If you really really don’t want to put a particular item through hot washes / dryer then bag it and pop it in the freezer for an extended period.

    • It’s super important and anxiety-relieving to do a bedbug check immediately upon entering a hotel room!

      Steps:
      1. Put your bags in the bathroom (where bedbugs are unlikely to be).
      2. Armed with your phone’s flashlight turned on, uncover all 4 corners of any bed in the room. Pull up all the bedding (including any mattress covers) and look for any small bugs, their feces, or other indications that they’re there. The bugs themselves look like small appleseeds, but any brown or red staining (little droplets for example) is also an indication that there is bedbug activity (even if you don’t see them!).
      3. Using your flashlight, try to take a look behind the headboard to note if there is any movement or activity.
      4. Check the baggage stand holder for bugs as well, also using your flashlight.
      5. IF NO SIGNS: Put your bag on the desk or another flat surface (as Tanja suggested) and rest assured that you’re not going to bring bedbugs home with you.
      6. IF THERE ARE SIGNS: Leave the room immediately with your bags. There can be bedbugs in one room without there being a hotel-wide infestation so notify the front desk and ask for a room as far as possible from your original room. Do your check again there, being EXTRA diligent. If there is activity here as well, you’ll need to find another hotel. But if not, you should be in the clear.

  2. Some good advice here. I’m also a big time traveler. Some added thoughts.

    The lounge is like gold. Get a card that gets you in. Sure it might be packed and hard to find a seat just like the general bathrooms and even have limited bathroom options at some airports, but even the snacks are better then blowing twenty dollars on airport food. All the better if you have high end lounge access where they serve meals.

    1000x recommendation for global entry. Tsa pre and an online boarding pass save hours even if you just go domestic.

    I’ve found the roll method of packing clothes to be the most efficient for ensuring everything gets in carry on.

    Bose noise canceling headphones are also priceless on a plane.

    Avoid any flight before 8am departure, getting up at the crack of dawn to go to the airport will destroy your whole week. If you must get a hotel the night before at the airport.

    • Funny… I disagree with you on almost everything! Hahaha. Shows this stuff is still up for debate. Your notes also tell me that you live near a big hub airport. ;-)

      I don’t think the lounge is worth it anymore. They have all gotten so packed and the wifi in the main airport outside the lounge is far better these days than it used to be. If someone gives me a free lounge pass, I’ll take it, but I don’t pay for it.

      Also have a point in my next post about how noise-canceling headphones are not worth the space they take up. If you’re just going for a night or two, then fine. But if you need to pack a lot in, those unitaskers gotta go.

      And early flights are the only option if you have to connect and don’t want to chance it. But if you’re flying from hub to hub, then you generally have backup options, and I can see why you’d avoid the early wakeup.

      • Funny how the airport changes the scenario. You did get it right, I go out of three major hubs: Philly, Newark, and Baltimore. Each one seems to have certain regions it’s better at. I usually only do non direct flights when I’m going really far, like Australia from the east coast.

        As for the Bose headphones you should checkout the new version. The size profile has massively shrunk.

  3. Really good tips!

    For international trips I found the anti-jetlag “diet” to help tremendously. There is a complicated version, but I only ever implement the easy version, which is: calculate breakfast time at your destination and stop eating 12-16 hours in advance. It is really easy to do and you usually just have to skip one crummy airplane meal.

    This is highly specific, but at SFO, if you arrive by BART and are flying United (or international), skip the silly AirTrain – walking is way quick for terminal 3. It took me longer than it should have to realize this because I just followed the signs.

    At least last year, Marriot “matched” united gold status and got you into their lounges. Not sure if this promo is active this year since I reduced my travel a bit, but looking for tricks like this can get you some free breakfasts and/or happy hours.

    • I’ve never had the willpower to try the jetlag diet, but thanks for the rec. Amen on the Airtrain to BART at SFO! And the Marriott/United gold match deal is long-standing. No indication that it’s going away post-Starwood merger. I only have lifetime silver Marriott status, but with lifetime gold on United, I should always have some hotel benefits. (Fingers crossed.)

  4. Great tips, as often as I travel, I certainly can incorporate some of your tips. :)

    Maximizing all of your benefits is very important. You “earned” the benefits, it’s silly to waste them.

  5. Okay, okay, finally going to get around to signing up for precheck right after my birthday this year. We’ve gotten it randomly before and it is SO awesome.

    My best hack to getting a whole row? Bring your family of three and you fill it up 😉

  6. “If you’re flying with a companion, don’t choose seats right next together, but choose a window and aisle on the same side (example: 27A and 27C). If the plane doesn’t fill up, you get a row to yourselves, and if it does, then you make someone’s day who thought they were stuck in a middle seat when one of you trades with them.”

    Mind blown. This is so obvious once I read it. Red Bird and I fly together all the time and never thought of that. Thanks!

  7. I try to stay at Embassy Suites when traveling with my family of 5. The perks are a full free quality breakfast with omelet bar, happy hour in evening (4 free cocktails and light refreshments), a pull out couch in the living room area (I have two teens that don’t want to share a bed), and hotel are pretty nice overall. Only negative is they are not in prime tourist areas as its more geared to business people.

  8. More bed bug tips: Take one of those super big ziplock bags to store your luggage in while in your hotel or Airbnb. While you can wash or freeze your clothes or other items, it’s hard to fit a suitcase in the washer! Store your dirty clothes in the plastics bag as bed bugs are attracted to them. Store your suit case as far as possible from the bed or other soft furniture. On top of the desk is okay, in the tub is even better. There is a bed bug register where you can check your hotel to see if they have had a bed bug problem in the past.

    • For years, it wasn’t really a choice if I wanted to keep my job. Now we’re focused on flying less and an trying to combine multiple destinations into one trip with trains and buses serving as intermediate transit. Plus little things like filling our water bottles in the airport so we don’t need plastic cups on board, etc.

      • Serious question, how many plastic bottles do you have to save to make up for taking one more flight? (In terms of environmental impact overall I guess, but I was really thinking in terms of tons of carbon). I fly about once a year but I get plastic water bottles about half the time I fly.

        • According to one online flight carbon footprint calculator, one roundtrip flight from San Francisco (SFO) to Newark (EWR) has a total flight footprint of 0.60 metric tons of CO2e. One roundtrip flight from Reno (RNO) to Philadelphia (PHL) produces 0.55 metric tons of CO2e. That’s pretty consistent with another calculation I’ve seen that flight produces 0.24 pounds of CO2e per passenger per mile.

          A calculation from sciencing.com estimates that one 500-ml plastic bottle of water has a total carbon footprint equal to 82.8 grams (or 0.18 pounds) of carbon dioxide.

          So, you would have to save approximately 6,667 bottles of water to offset a single roundtrip flight from San Francisco to Newark.

        • Thanks for doing the math, Mike. To me that doesn’t negate the imperative to improve where you can. We’re flying less, and disposable plastic still has an impact, even if I was still having to fly a ton for work. The best thing you can do for the environment is not have kids and preferably die young, but obviously that’s terrible advice. So the best we can all do is reduce wherever possible, in as many ways as possible.

        • The ratio is way out of whack when you look only at carbon output — you’d have to save all the bottles to offset one flight. BUT, it’s not a zero sum game and it’s worth looking at the good you can do everywhere. Plastic bottles and cups are largely unnecessary, they require oil to be extracted which is destructive and contributes to our challenging geopolitical landscape, and they mostly end up not being recycled or even existing forever in one of the ocean plastic gyres. So it’s always worth avoiding disposables, not to mention it saves you a whole bunch of money!

  9. You have flown a LOT… wow. It’s kinda scary once you add it all up though… glad you’re FI huh? :)

    And these are great tips – I can’t wait to see part 2!

  10. The only tip I have to add is using a carry-on back pack with a small packable backpack/bag. The carry-on goes in the overhead and the small bag has all of the stuff you might want for inflight comfort.

  11. Great advice, Tanja! And there are some good tips in the comments as well. I’ll add one more:

    Another reason to go for those early morning flights is that the main cabin seats and tray tables are often not cleaned between flights. We always bring sanitizing wipes with us to wipe down the tray tables, seat backs, arm rests and seat belt buckles. It’s part of our pre-flight ritual once we are settled down in our assigned seats.

    Ever wonder why you always get sick after air travel? Read this article:

    http://time.com/4877041/dirtiest-places-on-airplanes/

    • +1 for the sanitizing wipes here! Not just for the plane itself (and I also wipe down everything whether or not I use the tray table) but general traveling, too. Eating from a food truck, street food, or food court? Yep, wash before eating. Going hiking? Also ideal. Even just wiping off your face to feel more refreshed after a long day of travel is nice.

      Recently we got some squeeze water filter bottles (Sawyer brand if curious), after realizing they would be useful for more than just camping. It’s usually not difficult in the US to find a drinking fountain, but anywhere that the water is sketchy or not free (hello, Europe), you could fill these up from the same tap as when you use the bathroom. Also if you failed to fill before you got on the flight, would make the airplane water into drinkable water!

      • The making airplane water drinkable point is a good one! Otherwise I tend to think that filtering water is overkill, and most places have entirely clean, drinkable water these days. But if you feel better filtering it, then go forth and filter! ;-) On sanitizing everything on the plane, I’ve seen lots of people do this, but I know you can’t *really* sanitize everything with even a serious scrub with wipes, so I instead think of everything as radioactive and try to touch as little as possible, avoid using the tray table (the dirtiest thing on the plane) and avoid touching my face. I’ve gotten sick remarkably little considering how much I travel (and considering how lousy my immune system is!), so I think that’s another good approach. :-) But as you can tell, I’m all about staying away from germs, so fully support using the wipes!

  12. +2,500 flights. If I had regular destinations I would leave a luggage bag at hotels, have the dry clean it, and unpacked in my room before my next visit. Saved time washing and a lot of strength carrying stuff around. Agree with all other tips! Amazing write up.

  13. Great tips! From someone who once did bring bed bugs back home unknowingly it’s definitely something to look out for. And I’ve found if you catch it fast enough nicer hotels will sanitize your luggage for you.

    • Oh man! And yes, if you find them and show them, the hotel will USUALLY do everything they can to help, because they don’t want word getting out. But I’ve also had VERY fancy hotels ignore me even when I sent them pics of bedbug bites on my face. (No joke.)

  14. Great compilation! Here are a few things I’d add:

    On sleeping: a white noise app is great if I get stuck in a noisy room (by the elevator or with noisy guests next door). Even better: see if you can check in early or choose your room in advance to maximize your chances of a quiet room on a high floor. Also: to maximize sleep when faced with 8am East coast meetings when you are flying from the West coast, plan on an outfit that comes together easily – no ironing, no fussy buttons, etc.

    On not losing things: I always put any food or medication in a nondisposable bag (I use a cloth food bag). I had the unfortunate situation of having my prescription meds thrown out because I left them in a paper bag. In my defense, the bag was most definitely not empty and was nowhere near the trash so it never should have been touched.

    On eating efficiently: For cross-country flights I like to know in advance what I will be eating because of time zone issues and potentially having to skip a meal. I bring something or hit a familiar take out spot so I can be assured to eat something healthy and filling. Similarly, I like to take a walk immediately after dropping off my stuff at the hotel to get water and the next morning’s breakfast (usually yogurt and fruit). This makes me get a little exercise after sitting most of the day and is cheaper than going out to Starbucks, even when I splurge on the fancy yogurt.

    I would love to hear other tips for eating well and inexpensively, seems like that could be its own post!

    • I agree with everything! Though I’m a bigger fan of earplugs than white noise apps, and your meds getting tossed story is one of many reasons I don’t get housekeeping services during my stay. It’s not a hardship to flip the bed back together and to hang up a few towels. ;-) Still, I’m sorry that happened to you!

  15. Love it! One more tip: don’t share your plans on social media. Wait until you get home to say “look what we just did!” Otherwise you’re telling the whole internet “my house will be empty next week” …

    • AMEN! People really do not think that stuff through, and in this day and age, you have no idea who is watching what info you put out there. Post your pics after you get back! It’s not that hard! (In our case, we only talk about travel plans beforehand if one of us will be home or we have someone house-sitting. If the house is going to be empty, we say nothing until we’re back home.)

  16. Great tips, especially pulling suspect items out of your bag at the TSA lines. It saves a ton of time when you pull out the items preemptively. Otherwise, they dig through your bag to find the items and run it all through again, and leave you standing there awkwardly. I usually carry a paper bag from trader joe with my plane snacks in it, and that usually passes even when I’m flying Spirit or other budget airlines. Nomnomnom.

  17. Loving the tips. I have a sibling who has to travel a lot on the government’s dime. When convenient, he’ll buy my ticket and I’ll reimburse him; having the same last name, the airlines sometimes give me his standards free upgrades.

  18. I recognize that airport in Reno. Worked there almost 20 years before achieving FI about a year before you did. Who do you know that would escort you on the ramp to play with the toys?

  19. Flights we’re on for pleasure are usually fully booked, making the odds of an empty middle seat pretty low. So we book two aisle seats across from one another. That way neither of us gets stuck in the middle seat, which we both despise. Yes, you may sit next to a stranger who did get stuck in the middle, but odds are that’s going to happen anyway. At least we each get one armrest mostly to ourselves, service carts not withstanding. And we can reach across the aisle to hold hands or say hi during the flight.

    • That’s a great strategy, too! Love the image of holding hands across the aisle. :-) And it’s definitely true that flights are more full these days. The emptiest flights are on Wednesdays and Saturdays, because those are undesirable travel days for people with conventional schedules. But if you can fly off-peak, you have a better shot at an empty middle!

  20. Love it!

    I was once on business travel with a colleague where we were on the same flights / sharing a rental car, and when I suggested stopping by the grocery store for snacks, he was all, “Great idea, I also need to pick up some water.” To which I replied, “Ummm, why not drink water from your hotel room?” It didn’t occur to him to drink from the tap, like, at all (and he 100% bought bottled water anyway…). 😂

    Taking travel delays like a champ is also so critical. Some of my best travel memories are actually delays on trips with good friends. 😊

    Not sure if a travel tip or not, but you can make some fairly balanced meals with a hotel microwave and fridge. Going to have to get more creative sans microwave, but we’ll manage! 😃

    • It makes me pessimistic for the future when I hear stories like that, of people who don’t know where water comes from. ;-) And yes! You can cook tons in a hotel room. I am bringing my immersion water boiler to FinCon (it will make an appearance in tomorrow’s Part 2 post here), though you don’t really need it if your room has a coffee maker. There’s a lot you can do with just boiling water!

  21. Always pack snacks. I can’t count the number of times our flight has been delayed, so the people counting on meal service are starving, while we’re eating our nice snacks or meal and feeling sorry for them. You’re not missing any good food on the airplane anyway (assuming US carriers).

    Buy a collapsible water bottle to get through security, then fill it up in the terminal.

    Similar to what you said about covering all angles, Tiffany from One Mile at a Time says in the event of extreme delays/cancellations, treat it like the zombie apocalypse and keep moving. Even if you have to connect by going backwards or fly into a nearby airport and rent a car, you can often get to your destination faster than the most obvious or direct routing. (If you know the delay is Chicago, route around it, if you know it’s a line of thunderstorms affecting the whole East coast, you may have no options.)

    Also, figure out your options in advance – in April, we were flying to Nice via Heathrow. Our outbound was so delayed we were going to miss our connection, so the computer tried to put us on the next flight into London–but into Gatwick, and then we’d have had to get across London to our connection! I knew that would not work, so I was able to ask for a later flight out of Heathrow instead.

    • Yes to snacks! This is a big topic in Part 2 on packing! And I MOSTLY agree with Tiffany, but it helps to look big picture at your options, because usually you are best off trying to fly out of a hub airport, so you have more options. If you move backward to a small airport and then more delays happen, you’re out of luck because they have so few flight options to begin with. But absolutely yes to looking at alternate options if you’re going to misconnect. Airline employees generally won’t suggest alternate destinations, but if you’re flying into DC, for example, there are three airports there, and a dozen more within an hour or so’s drive. Think regionally!

  22. Good list and I don’t have much to contribute but a few thoughts:

    -I like your ‘have a system idea’. I do this as well and when in the hotel or airport I use a carabiner and lite cordallete that I keep all critical things clipped into. The mental model is living on a portaledge where everything has its place and everything is close at hand. If I sleep in an airport I clip my bag and jackets to my belt. A carabiner is also an effective pair of ‘brass knuckles’ if you need them. I never have but I want my wife to have that option.

    -That said I don’t wander through airports with a bunch of crap hanging off me. You have to maintain a sleek profile when traveling. I also dress relatively well, nice jeans and black button up as I can wear those clothes for days. Lavilin deodorant so I can still sweat but don’t smell and comfortable shoes. I only use a backpack and really can see no reason ever to use a roller bag. I enjoy being my own pack mule. It keeps me fit. Run up & down those airport stairs and beat everyone on the escalator to the rental car lot. I use National so this is critical.

    -Agree do not buy water where the water is drinkable. Hotel gyms generally have good water if the tap water tastes horrible. Flying is not good for the environment so don’t compound the problem with other bad traveller behaviors.

    -Pack for 3 days and then recycle. Hotel wash service is often very fast and sufficient. I use a dry bag and sea to summit soap to wash running gear. All dirty clothes end up in dry bag on way home. Bring twine to dry clothes over the fan while your away.

    -Pack a shampoo bar and don’t touch the hotel stuff unless it’s high quality then regift that shit. Had Le Labo at one place I was at and wife loved that stocking stuffer. :)

    -Plan every meal in advance: flying out CDG, grab a baguette sandwich in the city before heading to the airport where they are double the price and half the quality. Always have nuts and dried fruit if your hungry never eat the shite food they hand out on the plane and never be in a situation where you eat stuff you would never eat at home. A handful of nuts and berries will keep your stomach happy for hours.

    -In the US, only order appetizers when you eat out. Portions in most of the country are too large and you’ll overeat which will cause all kinds of unpleasant residual effects for a traveller for days: gas, bloating, constipation etc. You’ll learn.

    -Travelers should never drink and drive anywhere ever even 1 drink. I think this goes for everyone but I realize it’s hard for non city dwellers. Yes I drink.

    -If Starbucks is the only option their oatmeal with blueberries and extra nuts and cinnamon is not bad.

    -Eye mask & Drone music, or the Noisli App & regular earbuds will drown out anything in a hotel or airport if you need to sleep. Practice sleeping to drone music with headphones at home. I can sleep through anything now, frackers with hookers in next room (check), an airport full of people stranded by an ice storm for 20 hours where they kept the bars open (check), wife and dog synchronized snoring (check)

    I’ll stop.

    • +1 to traveling with a carabiner. Endless uses. So really the tip is: think like MacGyver when traveling. ;-) And agree on all the rest, except that oatmeal isn’t friendly to everyone with food restrictions, but in that case, just figure out what your go-to is in an emergency. I have two meals worth of snacks on me at all times for this reason. ;-)

  23. Great list of tips. Just renewed our Global Entry memberships. It is the best $100 we have ever spent on travel. Of course this time I used a credit card that reimbursed us for the charge, so it makes it even better!

    It’s a small tip, but when traveling internationally on long haul flights, if I am flying by myself I like the aisle seat in the middle section. Less of a chance that the people sitting next to me will get out of their seats in my direction. Especially if it is a couple sitting next to me, then they will definitely go out the other aisle. So I only have to get up when I need and want to.

    How was the Polaris experience? I’ve yet to try the new product. I recently got an at the gate upgrade to London but it was the older Continental lie flat seats. Still not complaining as it was lie flat…

    As a former airline employee, I am definitely jealous of your on the tarmac experiences!

    • Interesting tip about the middle seat on long-haul flights! I always end up with someone sleeping in my lap if I’m not at a window, so that would be my hesitation. ;-) But certainly your logic makes tons of sense!

      We got the full Polaris experience going to Taipei this year, and it was definitely better than the old 777 layout with four lie-flats in the middle. But for all the space the new pods take up, they are not nearly as roomy and comfy as you’d expect. Still, they’re an improvement, and you already experienced the dining aspect of it, so that’s the same. The new bedding is nice, but you probably also got that, too. Honestly, I wouldn’t bend over backward to get on one of the Polaris 777-300s if you can get on the Dreamliner instead. That’s a better plane IMHO and 2-2-2 rather than 1-2-1 is still plenty comfy.

  24. Love this post. One tip to pass along: using contact lens cases for small quantities of toiletry items. I use one that has moisturizer on one side and a mix of pills (ibuprofen, claritin, sleep aids, etc.) on the other, and another for hair products. Saves so much space!

  25. I mostly practice what you mention, and will lament if I need to drop to Platinum from 1K as well.

    However, while early flights are typically cancel proof, in the event of severe weather, if your equipment doesn’t arrive, you can be SOL (recently happened on a EWR-SEA flight for me.

    Another tip, when calling customer service lines: if you don’t get what you want from the first agent, try again. Like in every job, people have good/bad days, some are more competent than others. For my EWR-SEA trip, on the 3rd try I got an agent who thought to rebook me to Portland, which saved my trip.

    I disagree about the value of TSAPre and Global Entry. While I have both, if you only fly once a year, I don’t think the time savings are worth the cost, especially if the traveler is frugal…

    If you travel internationally, it might make sense to stock some appropriate currency. I always have Euro and GBP on hand. Also makes nice gifts to those traveling abroad if appropriate

    • It helps to know your own airport and likelihood of weather challenges for sure. I most often flew/fly the early RNO-SFO and I’ve never seen the equipment not show up from SFO the night before. But if your early flight has its equipment come from O’Hare or another snowy airport, then you might have more cancellations early, and that’s no fun. And absolutely yes to calling back to get a better answer from customer service!

      Re: Global Entry and Precheck, I would never tell anyone how to spend their money, but you’re the first person I’ve ever heard say it might not be worth it. ;-) I think most people hate the security experience enough to do anything they can to make it slightly better. But obviously you have to do what feels right for your own situation!

      I used to stock currency but now just hit the ATM when we land, if it’s even needed. Most countries are relatively cashless these days, though some surprisingly aren’t, like Japan.

  26. If you are planning on getting Global entry don’t pay for TSA Precheck. It is included with Global Entry.

    I also second the fly early recommendation, not just for non-hubs but for any flight out of the New York Metro Area. New York Airports are small (land wise) in relation to their plane volume and delays cascade quickly. I know this from working 2 years at LGA and JFK in a non airline roll. (I have heard the tower informing an airplane at JFK they were number 72 for departure.)

    I do check bags often but not all the time and don’t find it too much of a time sink. Much of the time I could carry on but then I have to “drag” the large carry on through the airport with at least one connection. Instead at the most I carry on a small backpack. Domestically Delta now has a get miles if we don’t get your bag to bag claim within 20 minutes of the plane door opening or we give you extra miles. Most of the time with this policy my bag is on the claim before I get there.

    • Indeed it is! Though it’s tougher to get GE than Precheck because you have to get to a gateway airport, which isn’t close to everyone. So do what’s right for your situation.

      And hey, if you’re cool with checking bags, no problem! The main potential issue is that it limits your ability to standby for better flights in the case you’re delayed or hung up. Most of the time you can only make switches like that if you didn’t check bags.

  27. So I clearly didn’t read this post before camp and you totally called me out on it haha. No more bags on beds for me!

    Packing is THE WORST so I love the tip about never fully unpacking to make things easier. I’ll need to buy some duplicates of things I do use at home (sadly earplugs are something I use every night. Thanks, sleep issues!) but that sounds so worth it!

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