When traveling, divide your clothing into clear plastic, zippered sweater bags. One bag for shirts, one for pants, etc. They stack and keep everything neat.
Imagine yourself carefree and blissful, basking beneath a swaying palm on the pristine sands of a sun-swept beach, sipping your favorite cooler, occasionally glancing at the playful surf, and savoring the soothing rhythms of a distant calypso band while tropical breezes dance around you. Now imagine the hassles it takes to get you there.
As you spend these chilly days of winter wistfully mapping out plans for a getaway later this year, you must confront the modern realities of travel -- airport security, crowded flights with cramped seating, flight cancellations, luggage restrictions, baggage fees, etc. The potentials for aggravation might tempt you to simply stay home and watch the Travel Channel.
Yet before you scrap plans to experience the joys of distant destinations, consider some tips and tricks to make your journey easier and well worth it.
The right attitude
To begin with, build the right attitude into your travel plans, knowing that your trip will not be perfect. Period. Some predicaments will be out of your control. But you are in control of the way you react to the inevitable hiccups. Expect the unexpected. Leave cranky behind. Be nice. And prepare for good times.
“Fridays and Sundays are the busiest and most expensive days of the week to fly,” says travel agent Alisa Robinson, at Salem-based Sunny Day Travel. “Booking less frequently traveled days of the week – Monday through Thursday - could save $60 to $100 per ticket.”
A travel professional for 20 years who specializes in senior travel, Robinson says you’ll find the best flight deals if you book three months in advance. And she says travel agents may also be able to find less expensive fares than you would find yourself on the Internet. Additionally, package deals that include flights, hotels and car rentals can often mean extra value.
When possible, avoid connecting flights. Though it might save a few bucks, it increases the chances of problems.
Luggage and fees
Beside the ever-changing cost of flights, airlines keep us guessing about luggage fees. And it pays off, big time, for the airlines. Last year alone, according to the Department of Transportation, U.S. airlines racked up $3.35 billion in baggage fees.
It is up to travelers to find out if they are allowed one bag without extra charge, or how much extra bags will cost, typically up to $75 each. Bags that weigh more than 50 pounds are also subject to an extra fee.
Sturdy suitcases that were the norm for years, can easily weigh 15 to 20 pounds when they’re empty. That limits what you can put inside, especially if you want to add a few souvenirs. You may wish to consider investing in a lightweight travel bag, with wheels. They’re often available at thrift shops for a few bucks.
As a frequent traveler, I have a few tricks of my own:
Buy a baggage (or fish) scale to weigh your bag in advance and avoid a costly surprise at the ticket counter.
Instead of one large shaving/make-up kit, get two half-size kits which squeeze more efficiently into small spaces.
Pick one wardrobe color scheme, requiring fewer bulky shoes.
Wear a fleece jacket on board. Serves as a blanket and pillow.
My very favorite packing tips
- Divide clothing into clear plastic, zippered 18-inch-by-12-inch-by-3-inch sweater bags (Available online for a few dollars). One bag for neatly folded shirts, one for pants, one for socks and underwear, one for sweaters and a light weight robe. They stack. They keep things neat, separate from things you’ve worn, and it’s easy to see what’s inside.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requires us to:
Limit carry-on liquids – like eye drops, sunscreen, shampoo, contact lens fluid - to 3 1/2 ounce containers. They must all be in a one quart, see-through zip-top bag. Liquids in larger containers should be put in checked luggage.
Remove and separate oversized electronics like laptops and full-size video game consoles for screening.
Send coats through X-ray or pack them in checked bags.
Remove all items from your pockets.
Remember that body piercings may set off alarms.
Tell security if you are unable to remove shoes because of a disability, medical condition or a prosthetic device.
Tell security if you have metal implants.
Avoid locking checked luggage with anything other than an approved TSA lock; available online or at airports and luggage stores.
Be prepared for additional screening if religious garments are loose fitting and can conceal items.
When in doubt, leave it out
If you’re unsure whether an item will be allowed, put it in your checked baggage or leave it at home.
Sylvia Spaulding at Quest Tours and Treks in Salem tells of an elderly client who was reduced to tears when airport security in Ireland seized the souvenir letter opener she inadvertently slipped into her carry-on bag.
It’s a good idea to keep your cell phone charger in your carry-on in case of unexpected delays.
Spaulding specializes in senior tours. She strongly recommends that travelers:
Go online to print out their boarding passes the night before.
Pay for their luggage online before heading to the airport.
Stay overnight at a Park and Fly hotel near the airport if they have an early flight. Avoid the worry of freeway delays.
Show up at the airport early, anticipate long lines, and make it is a leisurely experience. Do a little shopping or people watching in your spare time.
Have easy access to identification, such as driver’s license, a state issued ID card, military ID, and passport if traveling out of the country.
Pack a bag of snacks to munch on while waiting for flights or in flight. The airlines are likely to give you nothing more than a beverage and some pretzels.
Despite the cost and challenges of travel, we travelers are propelling the airline industry’s bottom line to new heights. The International Air Transport Association says industry profits are likely to hit a record $19.7 billion in 2014, up 50 percent from the year before. However, airline fares are expected to dip only slightly in 2015.
Inconveniences aside, the rewards of travel await you. So dust off your suitcase and start making plans. That swaying palm tree is waiting for you. Bon Voyage.