July may be ending, but there’s still plenty of time left to travel this summer. If you’re lucky, you have a fun vacation planned to see your bestie or significant other, or maybe an exotic family vacation. If not, you may be flying back to school, which requires every ounce of traveling expertise if you want to get all your possessions back to South Bend. I have traveled domestically and throughout Europe, so here are my best tips for traveling like a pro.
1. Pick your shoes wisely.
This may seem like a no brainer, but I’ve watched a few too many females tottering through the airport in heels and platform to start with anything else. I like to assume the best, but plan for the worst when it comes to air travel. This means that I wear sneakers, TOMS, or boots. You never know when you hour connection is going to turn into a 20 minute connection that involves running through multiple terminals. Be prepared. Don’t forget that your feet swell when you fly, so looser shoes are usually more comfortable. You also should avoid shoes that are complicated to take off and put on, because security requires you to remove your shoes. And I personally advise against sandals, because who wants to walk barefoot in the airport.
2. Print your boarding passes in advance.
I know that online tickets are convenient, but some airlines don’t use them (like Frontier) and occasionally the entire computer system goes down and everyone without a physical boarding pass has to stand in line to receive one. My dad had this happen on a flight he was on, luckily he was prepared with his printed ticket. I recommend having your boarding passes all set to go before you get to the airport. It saves you time, especially if you’re running late. You don’t have to stand in line (unless you’re checking a bag). And you don’t have to pay to print your ticket at the kiosk (like you do if you fly Spirit).
3. Know specific airline policies.
Travel is fantastic, but can also be quite expensive. As a result, I shop around for the cheapest fares, taking into account the perks offered by various airlines. Knowing the quirks of the airline you’re flying can help you guarantee the best travel experience (and even save you money). For example, Southwest allows you two free checked bags, which is great if you have a lot of luggage, However, they don’t assign seats, so checking in as soon as possible (or paying extra for automatic check in) is important if you want to avoid a middle seat. They also are not listed on any third party sites that compare prices, so always be sure to check southwest.com.
Another good thing to know is that American Airlines has started price matching some of Southwest’s fares. So despite not being a budget airline, you can get some good deals. I just flew AA from Denver to Chicago for $79 because of their price-matching. Other things to know are which airlines only permit you a personal item, and charge you for a carry-on (Spirit and Frontier). Buying your bags in advance, especially on the budget airlines can save you anywhere from $5-$15 dollars, so plan ahead. And be sure to check if checked baggage is cheaper than paying for a carry-on (Frontier and Spirit). Airlines like Frontier and Spirit also have increased fare and baggage fees for peak travel times, like Thanksgiving until after New Years, so they may not always be the cheapest options.
4. Pack smart.
Packing can be one of the hardest parts of travel. Whenever possible, I pack only a personal item (my backpack) and a carry-on (my Vera duffle bag or wheeled luggage). It may sound tough, but I’ve managed it for trips longer than a week. Granted, I’m a bit of a packing pro. I packed for a semester in London in just my backpack, duffle bag and checked bag (yay no fees!). My best advice is not rolling your clothes as small as they go, but differentiating between what you need and what you want. For a weeklong trip, I usually pack 3 pairs of pants, plus 2 pairs of leggings, 5 camisoles, 10 shirts, 2-3 cardigans, a jacket (usually I wear it or put it in my backpack), a sweatshirt (depending on the weather, I wear this to the airport), 8 pairs of socks, 10 pairs of underwear, 2-3 bras, a dress that I can dress up or down, 1-2 pairs of flats, a pair of sneakers, 1-2 pairs of TOMS, a pair of heels or platforms (if I know I have something dressy), plus my toiletries (which I put in my personal item for easy access).
Electronics and cords always go in my backpack, for easy removal when going through security. I usually put a small purse in my personal item as well. Don’t forget to bring an empty water bottle (it will save you a ton of money in the airport), some light snacks, your headphones and a book. Try to avoid bring anything that’s too big or heavy. I like to layer when I’m traveling and basics are easier to mix and match. Leave big items like your hair dryer at home, if you can. Checked bags take extra time and occasionally get lost, so try to avoid them whenever possible.
5. Give yourself enough time.
It sounds obvious, but arrive at the airport with time to spare. Plan for traffic and lines at security, and don’t forget to take into account the time it takes to park, or delays due to buses and shuttles. I like to give myself enough time to take a wrong turn, get caught in traffic, face a terrible security line, go to the bathroom and get Starbucks. You don’t have to build in time for all of these things to happen, but a little extra time can be the difference between having time for lunch and a bathroom break, and being forced to pay $5 for a bag of peanuts and use the plane bathroom. Bringing your own water bottle to fill not only saves you money, but helps you hydrate. The more water you drink, the better you’ll feel after flying.
Try to avoid booking tight connections, because delays are inevitable, and know the size and layout of any airports you’re connecting through. If you want up to the minute accurate information for your flight, try checking out an app like Flight Aware. It’s free and tells you everything from the status of the inbound plane, to your departure and landing gates. A little extra time to freshen up in the bathroom is always nice and it’s great to have an opportunity to stretch your legs. If you need help with anything, patience, a big smile, and genuine friendliness can go a long way. Happy flying and safe travels.