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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Trep's Travel Tips (part I)

[written in the departures lounge at the Chennai Airport]

Here are some tips I've been meaning to share... so while I'm waiting for my flight to be called, I'll jot down as many as I can.  Feel free to add your own:

1.  Use a full-service travel agent wherever possible (the kind with a 24 hour emergency number).  You may save a couple of bucks using the on-line deals and airline portals, but when flights are canceled or rescheduled... or you need to make a change to your itinerary mid-trip... it's sure nice to have someone who can do the grunt work for you.

2.  Get your immunizations!  If you are going to the third world (or any developing country, for that matter), go to your doctor and get whatever immunizations are recommended for your destination(s).  Make sure you go well in advance of your trip as some shots need to be given multiple times.  Also, if you are going to a country where Malaria is prevalent, make sure to get a prescription for malaria pills (and take them!).  If you haven't had a Tetanus shot in the last 5 years, have your doc throw one in for good measure.

3.  Don't be shy about demanding the good seats on the plane.  Someone is going to be enjoying the extra legroom in the emergency exits and bulkhead seats... it might as well be you.  Your travel agent might be able to help you with this, but more often it is up to you to check in as early as possible (many airlines allow you to do this on-line up to 24 hours in advance) and try to get your seat assignment locked up.

4.  Eye shades and ear plugs.  I can't place enough emphasis on the importance of these two things in your travel kit.  If you have the bucks (which I clearly don't) spring for the Bose noise canceling headphones which can double as a portable concert hall for your iPod.  You will sleep on the flight like never before.

5.  Tank up on water for a day or so before the flight and take a half an aspirin (or a whole baby aspirin) before you board.  Make sure you also drink during the flight and get up to stretch at least a few times on long flights.

6.  Dress in loose clothing for the flight and wear slip on shoes.  Not only will the shoes make security go easier, but the combination of kick-off-able shoes and loose breathable clothes will make your flight much more enjoyable.  I actually bring a pair of pajama bottoms (Old Navy) and an old tee-shirt in my carry-on bag and change once the lights go out.

7.  If the flight is not full (a rarity these days) try to scope out an empty row while people are still boarding.  ten minutes before they close the door you can jump over there without attracting too much attention.  Stretch out and enjoy!

8.  If you are the kind of traveler who has trouble falling asleep, don't bother with Ambian and other prescription sleep aids.  I have it on good authority from an anesthesiologist that Benadryl is just as effective at inducing sleep (if not more so), and it is not habit forming or an overdose risk.

9.  Get on the good side of your flight attendants.  Compliment them on a pretty pair of earrings of a handsome watch... and ALWAYS thank them for the littlest thing they do for you.  They have a thankless, mind-numbing job.  Anyone who takes the time to treat them with respect will be singled out for extra-nice treatment.

10.  When you land make sure to go to the bathroom while you have only your carry-on to worry about.  Once you get your luggage you are helpless (unless you are traveling with someone who can watch it for you).

11.  Hopefully you booked your hotel in advance of your flight.  Most good hotels have a hotel courtesy shuttle.  The day before your flight fax them your flight info and ask them to send a car or van.  Having that guy standing there with the little card with your name on it is a welcome sight after a long flight.

12.  OK, you didn't arrange the courtesy pick-up.  Your bad... do it next time.  Meanwhile, NEVER take a ride with one of the parasites that stand around the arrivals gate saying "Taxi... you need a ride... touring... hotel... really cheap...".  Sure most of them are just trying to make a living, but some of them are going to take you to a dark alley and take everything you own.  Do you really want to play those odds.

13.  While we're on about security, I never take the first taxi offered to me... even if I have been standing in a long line.  Call me paranoid, but I like being able to choose my own cab.

14.  When you get to your hotel, be nice to the people checking you in.  They often have the ability to upgrade you to nicer rooms if the place is not full.  give them a reason to do so.  Also, ask what services are included in your stay.  Free breakfast, bottled water and laundry services are often there for the asking if you know to ask.

15.  On the subject of laundry... hotel laundry is your friend.  Whether it is free or not, your really only need three or four changes of clothes (at the most!) and I have often gotten away with two on shorter trips.  Having freshly washed, pressed and folded clothing is a huge morale boost when you are away from home... and nobody cares that you wore that outfit the day before yesterday. 

16.  Bathroom swag.  I can't help it... I'm addicted to bathroom swag.  Especially in the really good hotels.  Not only do the soaps and shampoos come in handy for those tiyulim and camping trips... but sometimes you can sample moisturizers and lip balms that you would never have bought on your own.  Oh, and those little shoe buffer things are priceless for a last minute touch-up before an important meeting.

17. If you aren't a member of the members club at the hotel where you are staying, ask to join when you check in.  It is free and will usually get you a free paper on your door in the morning and maybe a happy hour pass for drinks in the afternoon.

18.  Don't be a tip victim.  In many places in the world there will be hordes people who will try to get a tip for simply standing near you during some part of your transit or for simply touching your bag as you get out of a cab.  Tip generously when someone is a genuine help but handing out tips to everyone within arms reach is going to attract more vultures... not less.

19.  I always read up on the local culture where I'm going and try to learn a few basic phrases of the local language.  But once you are settled in your hotel, ask a clerk or waiter for an explanation of any local customs or costumes you find interesting.  If you ask with respect you will get an education that can't be found anywhere else.  If you are lucky, they will offer to give you the name and location of the best places to shop for local gifts and handicrafts (i.e. not the usual tourist crap).

20.  Sleep on the side of the bed away from the phone.  I can't remember who gave me this bit of advice, but pound for pound, it is the best travel advice I have ever received.  Sure you have to skootch over to answer your wake up call in the morning... but that also helps make sure you don't roll over and go back to sleep.  But everyone sleeps on the side of the bed by the phone so that part of the bed is more likely to be lumpy and saggy.

21.  Stay away from the 'courtesy bar' at all costs.   Why pay 6 bucks for a candy bar (or 12 for a can of nuts) when you can buy them for real world prices within a block of the hotel.  Better yet, make a note of all the stuff that always tempts you in the courtesy bar and buy a bunch of it before your tip.  I usually bring a bottle of wine to enjoy at some point during long trips.  I put it in a tube sock in the checked baggage  to keep it safe.

22.  Sign up for a service like iPass before you go abroad.  They have WiFi hotspots all over the world (including the Chennai departure lounge) and it will let you surf the web for free in airports, cafes and hotels nearly anywhere you go.  Yes, there's a fee... but nothing like the fee most places charge for an hour's worth of service.

I have more to add but my flight to Delhi has just been called.  Feel free to share your own travel times.

Posted by David Bogner on November 19, 2008 | Permalink


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Here's another travel tip to add to your list:

Buy yourself one of those horseshoe-shaped travel pillows. Last I checked, they weren't expensive, and they aren't hard to find. Those airline pillows do little good. I could never sleep on planes until I bought myself one of these...and then, the first flight that I used it on, I slept 7 hours out of 10.

Posted by: Lena | Nov 19, 2008 5:33:52 PM

My travel tip-
Hit the airport bar for a couple of drinks pre-flight. Great way to relax before the stressfull boarding. Alcohol plus the cold medicine makes for a VERY enjoyable flight!

Posted by: Dan Eisenberg | Nov 19, 2008 8:15:50 PM

Yes... the slip on shoes. Having just gone through airport security in a pair of Converse hightops with our son who was wearing Converse low-tops I am in full agreement with you. What was I thinking?

Posted by: Alice | Nov 19, 2008 8:34:49 PM

I know it's not Doctor recommended, but my best advice is:


(and lots of it.)

Posted by: dfb1968 | Nov 19, 2008 9:19:13 PM

вау дайте две

Posted by: Reedlyextitty | Nov 19, 2008 11:45:13 PM

My aunt always says the only way to fly to Israel (from JFK) is to go first class and take two valium.

Posted by: Baila | Nov 20, 2008 12:01:45 AM

Don't hesitate to have an extra jumper or/and a scarf at hand (in your backpack for instance) as night flights may be cold.
I agree with Trepp, be nice to flight attendants they will be nice with you and you might always get extra attention(s).

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Nov 20, 2008 12:10:34 AM

Be small. That way, when you have to travel in the back of the bus, it's no big deal.

Posted by: mochassid | Nov 20, 2008 7:45:45 AM

I second the "buy a travel horse-shaped pillow (inflateable). Is great!

Posted by: rickismom | Nov 20, 2008 9:33:54 AM

Why gripe?! You are in one of the best hospitals in the world
You certainly would not want to be this sick in any country 100 miles in either direction from where you are.
Stop kvetching and get well
Let the doctors do their job...
you are fortunate

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