If life is a journey...
...it shouldn't have to happen in a middle seat in coach. This page is
about how to travel well. No matter how much anyone travels, there
are some basic things that separate the men from the boys, the savvy
women from the giggling girlies.
Learn to pack: There is no excuse to check luggage
- ever. Why is carry-on important? It never gets lost, is never
delayed and allows you flexibility with tight connections and
changing flights at the last minute. I have done 10 days to Europe in
an 18 inch wheelie without having to wash clothes. Even the most
restrictive European carriers allow this size in carry-on as long as
it isn't too heavy. If I go over 10 days, I do laundry once at the
hotel or have them do it. Vacuum packs reduce size, but not weight,
so I use them where I know weight won't be measured.
If it doesn't fit in a carry-on, don't
take it. A basic foundation for this is to have your allowed toiletries and
essentials in a small pack that can fit in any of your bags. If they
don't allow liquids or gels, buy your toothpaste and other
essentials in powder form. Get
Eagle Creek folding packs in each small size for formal clothes that
might wrinkle. Buy as many high quality microfiber shirts and pants
as practical - they never wrinkle and are light. Don't pack coats,
sweaters or sweatshirts as they always fit in an overhead bin, even
if it is full of luggage.
If you buy a lot of stuff at your destination, mail your worn
clothes home to make room in your luggage. Even better (this
originated with my wife Mary Lou), wear all your oldest clothes for
your non-contact days and throw them away or donate them to a local
church before you come home.
Use luggage that works. I have found Tumi the best
from a design and durability perspective, but it is pricey. Best
left to those who have to live out of a suitcase a lot. Discontinued Tumi
models go for half price at luggage outlets. One step down in
quality, but a lot cheaper is TravelPro - discounted everywhere. A
good basic combo is an 18" wheelie and a medium sized computer case
that can hold a small Eagle Creek fold-up pouch. If you buy basic
black, get a colored strap for it so no one grabs it off a shuttle
Focus on one airline, hotel chain, etc.: If you
want to be treated well, you have to build clout. I am currently at
lifetime levels of Platinum on American Airlines, gold on United Airlines and
platinum on Marriott's loyalty programs. I rarely buy a first
class seat or a suite at a hotel, but I almost always sit in first
class and often stay in suites. There are many additional perks
associated with clout. It's good to be king.
Even if you only fly 25,000 miles a year, make
sure all the miles are on one airline. Watch the airline & hotel websites to catch special
deals that elevate your status at an accelerated pace. Once you get to any level on one
airline or hotel, write an email to another and ask them to match
that level. Even at the lowest airline status levels you can
pre-board flights, upgrade inexpensively on cheap tickets and get
Get a GPS: A
small handheld GPS can be a time saver of enormous proportions when
you have to get somewhere on your own in an unfamiliar place. You
can even use them in-flight on many airlines (United - yes, American
- no) if you have a window seat. For driving, I use a
which is about the size and weight of a wallet.
It has both North America and Europe maps built in. For hiking, I use a
Vista, which is about the size and weight of a small cell phone.
Modern GPS's like the Nuvi and the eTrex have a street level
look-up capability and very comprehensive street maps included. You
can enter any street address and it will find the spot and then
direct you there. They also include points of interest, hotels,
restaurants and gas stations. Exotic country maps can be bought and
loaded via the microSD card.
Learn the unwritten rules: Many important small
things are not written down anywhere. For example, American Airlines
does meal selections from the front of the plane traveling east (even
numbered flights) and
from the back traveling west (odd numbered flights). If you want to choose from the rubber
chicken, overcooked fish or soggy pasta versus only getting the soggy
pasta, choose your seats accordingly. Bigger planes have bigger
galleys and correspondingly better food, along with more experienced
Pilots have a tendency to leave the seatbelt sign
on way beyond its actual need. If you want to gauge whether there is
any turbulence to be concerned about, listen for when the
captain tells the flight attendants to be seated. If they are
strapped in, you should be.
Many planes have unique seating arrangements that allow single
seats in business (United 767s - 10A, 10F, 11F) or pairs (versus 3)
in coach. Some plane layouts have unique open areas (American 757s
seats 10A & 10F in coach have no seat in front of them - giving
about 6 feet of legroom). Exit rows are the best seats in coach because the seat in
front of them does not recline. Stuck in coach on a United 757? Get
seat 8E. It may be a middle seat normally, but on that plane it's an
exit row with no seat on its right side. Ask the counter agents what
alternatives are available in seats. The agents also have incredible
latitude if your travel is disrupted. Always ask how you might be
upgraded. American Airlines allows its coach frequent fliers to sit
in business class seats on its 777s
for LAX-DFW flights at no
Bring your own entertainment: This can be anything
from music to books to work.
Just have a smooth way to break away from chatty Kathy who is trying
single-handedly to empty the galley's bar or from the overbearing
salesman who can't stop explaining his fascinating products or
amazing female conquests. I use a tiny Creative Labs MuVo Micro N200
1Gbyte MP3 player, my phone or the Garmin Nuvi built-in MP3 player with the very compact Etymotic ER4P or Shure E4 earphones.
I've also added XM radio capability with a Pioneer Inno. For
computing, I carry a portable and a small Windows tablet, just in
Prepare to be surprised: Don't freak
out. If you do, people in a position to help you will be motivated to help
someone else - like me. Travel is adventure and the most colorful stories
happen because of problems.
Get an unlocked GSM phone:
US wireless carriers charge a small fortune for international
roaming. If you buy an unlocked GSM phone you can pop in a local SIM
card in almost any country and use international minutes that will
cost a tenth of what your US carrier charges (I got my black
Motorola Razr for
$200 at My World Phone
http://myworldphone.com/index.html). An 'unlocked' GSM
phone is one that is not provided by your carrier. If you get your
phone at a discount with a service contract from your carrier, they
add software that prevents you from using any other carrier's SIM
Security remains a joke at all US airports. Every frequent flier
knows this. To minimize your delays in these stupid, inconsistent
and ineffective systems, prepare ahead. Learn how to walk
through the metal detectors (quickly and through the middle), and what sets them off. Get
anything that sets them off into your carry-on bag ahead of time.
You will minimize your security delay as well as help those in line
behind you. Sign up for
Global Entry. For $100 for 5 years, it whisks you past customs
and immigration lines that can cost you hours in the US entry points
and automatically gets you TSA Pre-check domestically.
On a personal security note, while I have never
been robbed or pick pocketed, I know people who have. I use two
small wallets in two separate pockets whenever I travel with either
one able to get me through the trip. I also wear a real money belt -
the kind that looks like a normal belt - with a $20 dollar bill and
copies of my passport, drivers license and medical insurance ID
folded inside of it. You can find real money belts on the internet
In 2015 I have begun to use
international travel health insurance. It is relatively cheap ($40
for 10 days), and answers the problem of what to hand to a medical
professional if injured in a foreign country. It is primary
insurance, so they know they will get paid.
Mackey Group, Inc.
© 2002 - 2015