Top Ten Air Travel Tips (for now, anyway!)

In the last four years I’ve done a little traveling.  I’ve flown and drove in England, Scotland and soon Cornwall, and flown to tour Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.  Also I’ve been traveling back and forth to Oregon to see my daughter in college.  I’ve learned a few tricks; I’m sure I’ll learn more the hard way each time I travel.  Here are ten tips that I find useful and perhaps you may, too:
1. Don’t rely on travel agents to do the right thing.
For my first vacation four years ago, I made a trip to my AAA office.  Since I was traveling to England, they couldn’t help me except for booking the plane flights.  I looked into all kinds of tours, and finally gave them all up and booked our lodgings, rented a car and off we went under our own sails.  We stayed at interesting places and received good rates, too.  However, the travel agent booked our return flight to the US and the connecting flight home so closely together that it didn’t take customs into consideration and our flight was gone long before we even collected our baggage (which also goes through customs.)  Fortunately it wasn’t one of the major flights.  Look online and find the configurations of the airports, and see how far it is to get from one terminal to another, especially if you must switch airlines.  Remember that you have to check in at the desk when you change airlines, even if you’ve been ‘checked through’ at the beginning.  Otherwise your luggage will be enjoying a tour of your destination while you await another flight. I overheard one woman frantically calling her travel agent because her plane landed in San Diego but her connecting flight was booked from Carlsbad airport, and she didn’t know.  After a frantic and expensive taxi ride  she found the plane was late, which made everyone miss all connecting flights.  She wasn’t happy.
Also when booking online through TripAdvisor, Expedia, Travelocity, or any of the other dot-coms, keep comparing.  TripAdvisor compares costs of flights from many different organizations, but try going through the airline’s website.  For my upcoming trip to Cornwall, TripAdvisor came up with roundtrip for two at over $5,000.  I almost dumped the whole trip.  I went outside, visited the chickens, cooled off, then came in and checked United, where I have the Mileage Plus program.  The trip came out to roughly $2500.  Still a lot of money, but half of what had been proposed.  Plus I earn mileage for the trip which I can use when booking flights to and from my daughter’s university.  If you want to do it right, do it yourself!  The best laid plans can go awry with one late plane or a little fog over San Francisco (I try to avoid changing planes there), so go with the flow.
2. Bring dental floss
When we went on an 8-day boat tour of the Galapagos Islands, something inextricable wedged in my teeth. On a small boat for eight days, I had no way of obtaining floss.  My gum swelled and was distracting.  I wish I had brought dental floss.  Besides its regular use, dental floss is strong enough to be used as string or thread to tie up or on errant clothing, luggage tags, bandages, and much more.  Plus it has its own built-in cutting device that isn’t considered a weapon.
3. Leave lots of time to switch terminals.
If you have an International flight, you will probably have to go to a different building entirely than the domestic flights.  You’ll probably have to not only walk a great distance with your luggage, but take a tram to the other building.  It can take 45 minutes from gate-to-gate if you are a fast walker and the tram isn’t full, and then you must check in at the desk and deal with your luggage again.  So when booking your flight, make sure you leave a lot of time between flights.
4. Read reviews of airports.
Often when you book flights online, the information given is a pack of lies.  Reading reviews of the airports and flights may give you tips about surprises that would have completely messed up your trip.  For instance, a flight into England with a connecting flight to somewhere else in Britain may not even be at the same airport, and the fine print or initials may escape your notice.  In fact, for many flights you must travel from Heathrow to Gatwick airports, and reviews say that with traffic it could take a couple of hours to travel, plus going through customs, gate check in, etc.  Some flight packages say there are only one or two stops, but actually there is a third hidden one where you must deplane and board another.  This happened in Bogotá, Columbia on the way to Ecuador.  Machine-gun –bearing, camouflaged soldiers stood guard all throughout the airport since it is such a hotbed for drug smuggling.
5. Pack as little as possible, under 22 lbs.
You really don’t need to bring much: you aren’t moving.  Bring a bar of soap for washing yourself and your clothing and invest in some good travel clothing that dries quickly.  An excellent way to dry wet clothing is to lay it flat on a towel, roll the towel up, then with a partner or by stepping on one end, wring the towel as hard as you possibly can.  The clothes inside will be just barely damp and will have a better chance of drying overnight hung out in the bathroom or over the heater in the room.  By packing light clothes and washing often, you can get away with a small rolling suitcase and another small bag or purse or backpack, neither of which need to be checked as luggage.  Keep the weight of a bag to 22 pounds or under if you will be traveling on small aircraft because many have weight regulations.  Leave a little leeway for souvenirs on the return trip.  Besides, waiting for your luggage to magically appear can add half an hour or more to your airport time, and if your luggage is lost, getting it back can be chancy.
6. Switch to solids or powders if possible; use tiny plastic bottles for everything else.
Liquids must be in containers no larger than 3 oz, and all liquid containers must fit neatly in a sandwich bag.  I have no problem with security regulations because that is what must be done to try and protect us from the crazies.  To make life easier when traveling, use creams, solids or powders when traveling to keep the liquids to a bare minimum, and transfer any liquids into small plastic travel bottles that you label clearly and put tape over.
7. Put all pharmaceuticals into plastic zip-lock bags, liquid or not.
Something will spill.  Count on it.  A lid will pop off or something will break, and then toothpaste will be all over your jeans, or nail polish all over your medications.  I put soap and razor in one plastic baggie (the soap will be wet when I put it back in), medications, bandages, Imodium, travel sickness pills, daily small baggies of vitamins or daily medications, and any other dry stuff, into another plastic bag.  Toothbrush and paste and floss go into another.  When in the hotel, I put the bag with the soap in the shower, the bag of toothbrushes by the sink, and the other bags on the counter so everyone with me can get at them.  It is so easy to pack up and keep anything wet or breakable from contaminating everything around it.  I have also been told that putting your passport, license, and money into a plastic zip bag is a wise thing to do, so in case you survive a crash landing in the ocean, getting home will be very easy because all of your important things have been waterproofed.  I haven’t done that.  I’m taking my chances.
8. Be polite and kind to airline personnel, particularly those at the gate.
What an awful job!  As bad as working at the DMV.  These people are smiling through gritted teeth while being insulted and harassed and cursed at by people who are suffering through their travels. These scapegoats have loved ones and sore feet and car trouble, just like everyone else.  Be nice to them with a smile, especially if they are grumpy looking.   They are probably that way because the last guy just made life hell for them.
9. Drink lots of water.
By the time your body tells you it is thirsty, you are already a little dehydrated.  Travel dehydrates the body.  Drink lots of water, even if you need to squeeze down the aisle and cram yourself into the tiny lavatory because of it.  All those germs your body is trying to get rid of will be washed away better, your digestion from the strange food will be eased, and swelling and aches from sitting so long won’t be so severe when you have adequate water in your muscles.  Tea, coffee and alcohol dehydrates, so drink pure water.
10. Bring your own food.
It is no longer a given that you will receive a meal on a flight, or even the so joked about packet of peanuts.  Many flights offer nothing, or just beverages, or have a selection of horrible foods to purchase.  Often boxed lunches include a cold sandwich, a packet of salty pretzels or chips, a packet of cookies, and more condiments than you could ever hope to use.  Being vegetarian, it is very difficult to eat adequately on long flights that don’t offer standard meals.  However the vegetarian food when we do get it has been pretty good, all-in-all.  Since I used to travel with children and with my mother who needed to keep her blood sugar up, I’m used to baking small muffins or sandwiches the day before the trip.  I try to make things that will last several days.  Even after reaching our destination we’ve resorted to eating our snack foods for several days between meals.  For most people who are used to fast food and eat meat, it is easier to buy from one of the stores at the airport and carry it onboard, but I find home cooked food helps keep tummies stable.
Hopefully these tips can help if you aren’t already familiar with them.  If you like to travel, don’t put it off.  See what you want to see while you can.  Time flies, and so should you.

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