Over the years, I’ve come to rely on several tried & true practices that make air travel (particularly international travel) significantly more enjoyable and less stressful. Here are some of my tips to improve your travel experiences — all of which are done before you even leave home.
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1. Create a packing list
This may seem like an obvious one, packing lists make it that much easier to remember everything you want to pack. But they also give you a chance to re-evaluate what you truly need to take with you.
Taking that packing list with you on your vacation will also help ensure that you’re not leaving anything behind when it’s time to come home. There are many online resources that can give you a template to work with, but the easiest option is using smartphone apps like Packing Pro. They will start you out with a baseline template for your list and allow you to customize it to your needs. Best of all, it’s always with you on your device!
2. Organize yourself with packing cubes
Now that you’ve made a list of everything you want to take with you, use packing cubes to organize your suitcase. My favorites are the eBags packing cubes, which come in a variety of sizes and colors. Many people like to roll up their clothes to reduce wrinkles. I’ve found that with the packing cubes, I simply fold my clothes in half (or thirds) and can fit much more than I would than by rolling them. The structure provided by the cubes prevents your items from shifting around the suitcase, thus reducing wrinkles. Bonus: if you travel with children, give them each their own colored cubes so that you can separate their things from yours.
For the most part, I use medium-sized cubes for my clothes and a small cube for my bras/underwear. The large cubes can come in handy for bulkier items like maxi dresses or blazers – just keep in mind that they do take up the entire width & length of a 21” carry-on suitcase so you may find them too big. You will be amazed how much more you can fit in your suitcase with these cubes! As an added bonus, when airport security wants to inspect the contents of your bag, they won’t leave it a mess as they can easily remove/replace the cubes. When you arrive at your destination, easily unpack by just unzipping the cubes and placing them in a drawer or shelf – makes repacking a breeze!
3. Buy a handheld luggage scale
Save yourself some stress and weigh your luggage before you head to the airport. I’ve had this digital luggage scale for several years now. With today’s baggage fees, trust me, this will be a sound investment. Most major airlines have a maximum weight of 50-lbs (23kg) for your first checked bag. However, if you’re flying a budget airline your carry-on weight allowance may only be between 15 and 20-lbs (8-10kg). Avoid being forced to pay extra fees for an overweight bag or scrambling to move things between bags while impatient travelers wait behind you. If you weigh your bags at home, you can rearrange your belongings peacefully… or simply decide to leave some things at home.
4. Sign up for STEP and review passport requirements
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free program from the US State Department that allows you to register your trip details and provide emergency contact information for the local US Embassy/Consulate at your destination. In case of an emergency, the Embassy will be able to contact you or help friends & family get in touch with you. You can also opt-in to receive alerts from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country.
As soon as you’ve decided to book an international flight, don’t forget to check your passport’s expiration date. Is it set to expire within 6 months after your trip? You should consider renewing that passport now. Even countries that don’t require visas for entry have regulations for how long after the visit your passport must be valid. For example, the European Union requires that your passport be valid for at least 6 months past your departure from the Schengen zone. For those of you with a US passport, visit the US Department of State’s website for entry requirements specific to your destination.
5. Confirm your hotel reservations in writing
This is especially important if you use third-party booking services like Expedia or Booking.com. It can be very stressful to arrive at your hotel only to find out that they don’t have a reservation on file for you — which happened to me many years ago. It can also become very expensive to call those US-based booking sites from abroad to try and fix the situation. Avoid this stress by confirming your reservations two weeks before you’re scheduled to leave. This will give you time to resolve any issues from the comfort of home.
I prefer to send an email directly to the hotel’s reservations desk to confirm the full name the room is reserved for, the number of guests, check-in/check-out dates, and the room type. Print out a copy of that email confirmation as a backup (or have it available for offline use on your phone), which will show the name of the employee who confirmed your reservation if you encounter issues on arrival. I’ve never had an issue receiving a response from hotels within a day or two, and ever since I started doing this have always arrived to have a room waiting for me.
6. Create a custom Google Map
Take advantage of Google Map’s “My Maps” feature where you can pin important places to your trip. I use this to pin my accommodations, tour meetup points, and restaurant/bars I was to try, You can also map directions to/from different points. Don’t forget to make the maps available for offline use so that you can use them without data plans or wifi.
I’m positive following these tips will help make your travels more enjoyable and remove common stresses that accompany international travel. Leave a comment below and let me know your favorite travel tips.