I love to travel.
And when I say travel, I mean flying on a plane through the friendly skies to somewhere that is at least 2 states away. Don’t get me wrong, I have served my time in car rides for family vacations and youth group conferences. However, after years of endless hours in cars, I'll take a cushioned seat, arm rests, a cup of coffee and seeing the other side of the country before the day is done any day. I enjoy travel so much I have had multiple jobs that included travel coordination. To the point where I can book multiple flights, car rentals, hotel reservations with typed up travel information for a trip that is less than 24 hours from time of booking. So, with my experience in professional and personal travel, I have compiled a list of helpful and handy tips for traveling.
There is an ideal date and day for purchasing tickets. For international trips, it's best to book your ticket 90 days out. If you're traveling within the USA, 60 days is best. Wednesdays tend to be the best day for price drops. Kayak.com and Google Travel are great sites to search flight options from different airlines all at once. But know that Southwest and JetBlue prices don’t show up, so you will need to check those separately. Also, just because the departure flight is ideal on one airline, doesn’t mean you have to purchase the return flight with the same airline. Kayak calls it a hacker fare, but you can purchase one-way tickets to find the best price and the best schedule.
Choosing seats is different for everyone. Some people insist on the window for two reasons, controlling the window and having something to lean against if you want to take a nap. Some people (me included) will always want the aisle seat. I enjoy having the freedom to move freely when needed. Decide what matters to you, but if you don’t choose a seat when booking, you are getting a middle seat.
A quick mention regarding layovers: if a price of a ticket looks amazing, check the layover time. I am betting the price is low because the layover is either 30 minutes or 3+ hours. 30-minute layover is begging for you to miss your connecting flight. 3+ hours in an airport is learning what the theorized “purgatory” would be like. And what you saved in the price of the ticket, you will spend on food while stuck in the airport for that long. Some tickets offer those 10-hour layovers, and if you aren’t checking luggage, you can go explore the city you’re waiting in. A lot of people will use that tactic while traveling internationally for a bonus country experience.
At The Airport
If it can be avoided, don’t check bags. Always remember the golden rule of travel: only take what you can carry. If you need help carrying your luggage, you brought too much. This also means remembering the 3 oz or less rule. The only item that needs to be 3 oz or less is a liquid. Ask yourself, is this a liquid? If the answer is yes, then buy travel bottles, take what you need and leave the rest. If the answer is no, you don’t need to worry about it. Still, take only what you need.
Also, TSA pre-check is worth it! It's $85 for five years and worth every penny. You can keep your shoes, belt and jacket on while your laptop stays in the bag. There's no separating the bag of liquids either, and significantly less wait time.
At the Vacation Spot
Search for the hotel that has free breakfast. It’s convenient and also saves you money. Hilton and Hampton are great hotels that have fantastic breakfasts. A hotel with a shuttle is a definite plus, and worth adding to your search. If a hotel doesn’t have free Wi-Fi, don’t stay there. Who doesn’t offer free Wi-Fi?
If you’re traveling alone or with a couple of friends and the city has a fantastic public transportation, or your hotel has free shuttle, skip the car rental. If you are traveling with little kids or there isn’t public transportation, find the deals. If you have a CostCo membership, their travel site is amazing for deals. Check with your insurance company to see if they have deals or discounts with specific companies. Always look into connections with your employer, insurance, bank, etc to see where you can get the best deal.
Finally, travel outside of the peak times. Yeah, it is ideal to travel during holidays and summer, but everyone is traveling then. Figure out when it is off season for where you want to go. You will get deals upon deals! Except, don’t travel to Europe in August. No one is in Europe in August, they’re all on vacation. Go to Florida and California a couple weeks before the big holidays. Try out the northeast in October, fall in New England is beautiful.
Think outside the box when it comes to vacations. The way I see it, life is an adventure.
And when you look at every day in life as a chance to go on an adventure, you create lasting memories and deeper connections with your loved ones. Some of my favorite travel memories were based on being open to the experience. From going on a small adventure to a coffee tasting experience with a friend nine years ago and still laughing about it, to traveling to Washington D.C. to run one of my dad’s bucket list marathons with him, and never forgetting his hydration choices during the race. From trying an eel dish in Paris that I still crave, to running a half marathon on the Vegas strip with a couple friends, being offered warm bites of potatoes at mile 12 (we still don’t understand that offering). When traveling with friends and family members, we have shared experiences we never would have except for traveling together. And every great story, every great miracle started with God calling and sending people somewhere they weren’t expecting to go. Be like Abraham, Isaiah, Ruth, Nehemiah, Jesus's disciples and Paul, open to something new.
Be willing to go off the beaten path, because you never know what memories you will create when experiencing the unexpected vacation.
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