I’m honored to get to be a contributor to one of the world’s leading advice and travel deal websites, johnnyjet.com. My story, 10 tips for maximizing a family ski trip at Keystone Resort, Colorado published yesterday. If you only follow one travel site (well, two if you count mine), Johnnyjet.com is well worth adding to your newsfeed. John is one of the handful of travel writers whose day job is travel writing and he’s traveled some 150,000 miles a year for over a decade.
His website offers a wealth of tips and is loaded with travel tools to help you become a travel expert yourself. He’s appeared on TV from The Today Show, CNN, MSNBC to The Travel Channel, BBC Travel and Ellen, heard on a variety of radio travel shows and featured in Travel & Leisure, Forbes, USA Today, Outside Magazine and countless others.
I first met John when he was speaking on a panel of travel experts at the Los Angeles’ Times Travel Show around 2000. I approached him afterwards to ask how I could get into travel writing and he suggested Book Passage’s annual Travel and Photographer’s Conference in Corte Madera, CA. My first assignment there, “Scared Shitless on Safari” landed in Traveler’s Tales’ best-selling travel anthology, Sand in My Bra & Other Misadventures: Funny Women Write from the Road. It was always a pleasure to share a table with John at travel press luncheons when I lived in Los Angeles.
John’s number one travel tip (especially when flying) is to simply be nice to everyone. If you’ve met John, you’ll know without a doubt, that’s no act. You’ll find my story next to John’s piece on his recent trip to “Shingles Hell“, a passport stamp I’m unfortunate to also share. Thanks for the writing opportunity John and well wishes on a speedy recovery.
Let’s face it, flying Business or First Class rather than coach makes a world of difference particularly on longer flights. Ditto for a rental sub compact to a luxury vehicle. And the same goes for hotel rooms. But you don’t always have to get just what you pay for. Here are few tips to increase your odds of getting bumped up on flights, rental cars and hotel rooms.
- Pick a Frequent flier program, but not just any one. Airlines headquartered in the city you live in will yield more fellow passengers competing for the same upgrades. So consider picking one headquartered elsewhere to increase your odds. If you live outside of San Francisco, where Virgin America is headquartered, you might start there.
- End of day. Check in or plan to pick up your rental car at the end of the day. When it comes to rental cars and hotel rooms, you might find yourself in luck as that luxury SUV or swanky hotel room would otherwise just sit empty.
- Now open for hotel reviews. New hotels are in need of lots of praise to spread the word. Casually suggesting you’re eager to help write a glowing review could yield you that coveted uber nice room with the view. Generally speaking, the bigger the hotel, the more rooms it has to upgrade.
- Within reason. “Just ‘cuz” may not be that compelling but if you truly have a good cause for asking, ask away. Being a loyal member of an airline, hotel or rental car club is a good one if you don’t have any other reason. If you’re traveling for a special occasion: honeymoon, anniversary, birthday or you have a medical reason, it never hurts to mention it. Nice people finish first, so certainly don’t take the demanding, cranky or entitled approach.
- Know people or have connections. Memberships to AARP or AAA can have clout or ask if they have other partnerships. You could find yourself pleasantly surprised.
- Never hurts to ask. You’d be surprised what a simple cheery, “Can you upgrade me?” can yield. More often than not, a friendly agent is looking to make someone’s day.
- Shoot an email or comment on social media. A quick email to the hotel’s general manager about how stoked you are about your upcoming stay could pave the way for an upgrade. Likewise, a comment on Twitter and Facebook accounts could also set the stage for a sweeter stay.
- A note from the Dr. If you’ve recently had a medical condition that warrants extra leg room, say, knee pain, pregnancy or any other legitimate medical reason, a note from the doctor could serve as a reason for an agent to be more generous in upgrading an airline seat, a rental car company bumping up your sub compact or a hotel giving you a room closer to the escalator.
- Cash in miles. Suppose you wanted to use miles for an upgrade but a seat wasn’t available at the time you booked your flight. Expert Flyer’s Flight Alert service will let you know when an award seat becomes available on a particular flight. This brilliant Seat Alert service will let you know when better seats become available in your category — an aisle, window or in a higher class.
- Look the part. Decades ago, everyone dressed their best when flying, suits and dresses with white gloves. These days, sweats and tennis shoes are more the norm. If you want to find yourself sitting outside of coach, dress for success. And if you’re with a child, looking well groomed and especially well mannered could be just the ticket.
Jetting off for a weekend getaway certainly warrants an effort to fit it all in one carry-on per family member. You’ll save time on either end without having to check or retrieve bags (or worry that they’ll end up in Timbuktu.) For longer excursions, checking bags is probably unavoidable, but there’s an art to getting it all in under weight restrictions. Here’s the Globetrottermom Seal of Approval way to pack smart.
- Make a list. The last minute packer sans list ends up with too many unnecessary items and missing essentials. Save the list for similar trips in the future you can easily tweak to fit the destination.
- Check it twice. Omit redundant items your hotel might have on the other end. For example, packing your hair dryer, travel iron makes sense when staying in less lavish places. With upscale toiletries at more luxurious properties, you can omit many of your toiletry items.
- Watch your weight. Most airlines have limitations on weight and size of baggage. It helps to ask yourself if having your very own golf clubs, surfboard and skis are worth the extra $100 to tote it round trip or would you be just as happy to rent (and not have to keep track of) your own from home.
- Travel size your toiletries. If you must have that special conditioner from your salon, opt for the travel size over the economy sized you’ll hardly make a dent in while traveling. Ditto for make up. (Ask for samples next time you’re at the cosmetic counter to save for trips.) And if you know a mini toothpaste tube won’t cover the whole trip, pack two minis and discard one as you go. It’s a little thing, but lots of little things add up to make a big difference.
- The 411 on the 3-1-1. If you opt to get it all in on your carry-on, remember TSA’s 3-1-1 rule. All liquids brought onto planes must be in 3.4-ounce bottles (or smaller) and inside a single, clear, quart-size zip-top bag. What’s a liquid and what’s a gel? Prescription medication is exempt but be sure to check TSA’s website for a full list of toiletries and gift items you can carry on board or in checked baggage. In many cases, shipping liquid and gel gift items is the way to go. Like that delicious blueberry jam you picked up at the gift shop in Nantucket? That’s a gel, and you’ll have to down it at the TSA checkpoint or chuck it.
- Let’s get personal about personal items. That stylish new clutch bag that looks darling with your travel ensemble… if you can only fit your house key and lipstick inside it, you’re better off leaving that in your luggage and opting instead for a backpack, laptop bag or larger purse to carry on board.
- Let kids pull their own weight. If you’re traveling with little ones older than 2 (who have purchased an airline seat) they each get a personal item and carry-on allowance too. A backpack on wheels allows them to carry their own stuff. It’s ideal if it fits under the seat in front of them so they’ll have access to it more easily during flight. A rule of thumb from moms of kids under age 5 is a new toy each hour of flight. Play dough, sticker or coloring books, small toy cars. Don’t feel like you must rely on electronic entertainment to make it through the flight meltdown free.
- Wash and Wear. With the rising popularity of vacation homes like VRBO, many include laundry rooms. So you can circle through a round of a few outfits, then wash and repeat. Nylon or other quick dry fabric lingerie can be hand washed and dry quickly.
- Multi-purpose wear. The tunic that doubles as a cute little black dress is one less top or dress you have to pack. The tube top beach dress cover up that’s also a long skirt, ditto. For guys, the hiking pants with the zip off shorts make sense when you’re say, trekking the alps on a warm afternoon, then dining at an outdoor café in cooler temps at sunset.
- Pick a color. Any color. Seasoned travelers often swear by the black trip, the blue trip or the brown trip. Where every outfit goes with same color strappy sandals or a smart walking shoes. Wear your bulkiest shoe (hiking boots or tennis shoes on board). Too many color combinations usually yields having to pack a closetful of shoes.
- Layer. The buttoned-down shirt that peeks out of V-neck sweater today stands out on its own tomorrow, paired with a tie. And mix n’ match. You know the quintessential turn 7 pieces into 21 outfits type of pairing you’ve seen in umpteen fashion magazines that fill a whole week’s wardrobe. Start looking at your closet through that lens.
- Sorting it out. Packing cubes make sense particularly when you’ve got a lot to pack for on a longer stay and/or you’ve got several family members clothes in one suitcase. Like when you’re hustling to get to the front gate of Disney World when it opens. It’s much easier to find the right kid’s socks and underwear when it’s color coded by packing cube. It’s also easy to sort by type of item (socks, lingerie, shirts, pants, jewelry, etc.) or by outfit or dressy vs. casual wear.