In my ongoing quest to make my toiletry bag as small as possible, I’ve taken to travel tubes that fit in the palm of my hand.
Case in point: Truefitt & Hill Sandalwood Travel Kit comes with a tiny 10 ml shaving cream and a matching aftershave balm, plus a disposable razor. And while you’d think they would be empty after three goes, miraculously, they’re not. Plus, they do double-duty, layering on the sandalwood, cedar, lavender and citrus notes, so you don’t have to pack a fragrance (although I do anyway). T & H is always spot on with clean, manly, Britishy scents reminiscent of the good old days, also offering cream and cologne sample packs online that are also extremely packable. Truefitt & Hill Sandalwood Travel Kit, $19, truefittandhill.ca.
Cheap Flight FAQs
When should I book? What day should I fly? How do I get the lowest price?
The same questions crop up time and again, and there never seems to be definitive answers – it sometimes seems like a moving target out there when it comes to booking a flight. BUT, I’ve tried to amalgamate the words of wisdom from a few big travel brains into my post here.
First off, let’s look at price jumps. Airlines use “dynamic pricing” a practice of setting prices based on demand. They don’t just price flights according to the time of day or their popularity, but on how interested you seem to be in a particular flight. They know this via the cookies stored in your browser that keep track of your browsing behaviour – little files of data created by a website, so you don’t have to fill in the same details over and over again when you visit a site. It’s the more persistent cookies you have to shut down. To avoid this, you need to disable the cookies, use your friend’s laptop or use either Skyscanner.net and Momondo.com, both sites that don’t hike prices in this way.
With regards to shopping, book on the weekends, because the traffic online drops way down as the business world stops looking for cheap last-minute fares. As well, airlines post their best deals on the weekend, because they know that’s when the bargain-hunters are hunting. Tuesday is also not a bad day to book, because that’s the day airlines try to offload seats that didn’t sell on the weekend.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are still the cheapest days to actually fly. This is also related to the volume of business traffic on all the other days. Maybe your long weekend away is Saturday to Tuesday? Being flexible in this way saves money, and the difference in cost can sometimes be enough to warrant an extra night in a hotel.
Wondering when to press Book Now? The number of days in advance that you should book varies from expert to expert, but the nice people at Frommer’s suggest these below as a benchmark:
- 57 days for domestic flights
- 77 Caribbean
- 90 Americas
- 140 EU
- 160 Asia
These are all more than you thought, aren’t they? Last-minutey people: Change your wasteful ways, and start saving.
Prep Your Travel Stomach
Depending on the strength of your constitution and often in spite of it, it doesn’t hurt to watch what you put in your mouth the day before you get on a plane. Or train. Or automobile. Twenty-four hours before you leave the house:
1. Skip the ceviche, the tuna tartare – any raw fish or meat.
2. Take a pass on burritos, hot sauce, jerk wings, etc.
3. Keep alcohol intake to a dull roar to avoid dehydration and heartburn.
4. No poutine, heavy pastas, giant steaks or anything greasy (i.e. fast food).
5. Avoid gassy foods such as cabbage or beans.
6. Soda pop and fizzy water just pre-bloats your about-to-bloat-even-more body. (I sometimes have to sit on Tim’s stomach after a flight.)
7. Some experts say fasting before a flight helps fight jetlag, but the jury is still out on that. If you do, just try not to pass out.
8. As you get older the above rules become increasingly important. Eat at your own risk. Plain toast, anyone?
Travel More Now
How can you travel more? By ticking off these important steps.
1. Believe it. Adopt the mindset that “you can do it” rather than mentally shutting down your travel dream once you envision it.
2. Schedule it. Pick the best time of year to visit your destination, then assign it a month (and a year).
3. Plan ahead. Buy the flights as soon as you can, so that when travel time comes, they are paid off. (Can you use credit card points?)
4. Research deeper. Research to find discount accommodation options (family-run B&Bs, hostels) so you can splurge elsewhere. Figure out what you want to do in advance, so you don’t spend money needlessly while you’re living the holiday, caving in to expensive excursions.
5. Save like you’ve never saved before. Start a fund meant only for the trip, and set a weekly or monthly contribution goal.
6. Keep saving. Contribute all the extra funds you can: dividends, work bonus, piggy bank, $10 lottery ticket win – everything.
Travelling With Kids
My mother used to tease us that she employed a gin-soaked rag to keep us quiet in the car on long trips.
That accounts for my sweet tooth. She could well have, but likely not, and it certainly would be frowned upon in this day and age. With more and more children taking to the skies, parents need all the tips they can get. Start with a few of these.
1. Choose a destination where the change in climate is not too drastic.
2. Make a very detailed packing list (even if you think you don’t need to), writing down everything from the basics to weather-appropriate clothes.
3. Resist the urge to pack the entire nursery. Resorts and hotels worth their salt will have larger items like high chairs, usually at no charge. Ask them before leaving home.
4. Pack more of things you won’t likely be able to buy.
5. Schedule your flight to coincide with nap time or fly overnight. If the airline offers it, book a bassinet.
6. Opt for a direct flight, and nothing that lands too late at night.
7. Give her a bottle or sippy cup for takeoff and landing, to help ease any ear trouble.
8. A small cooler can come in handy for milk and food. (Flight attendants won’t let you use the fridge.)
9. Bring compact, multi-faceted toys and games only, including your iPad.
10. Do you have a new toy to surprise him with halfway through the trip?
11. Beware: Children’s Gravol can sometimes have a reverse effect.
12. Relax. Your children can sense your stress.
Save Money at the Airport
Airports are notorious for prompting you to keep opening your wallet. Here’s how to avoid spending a ton of cash before your plane even leaves the tarmac:
1. Rather than shelling out for the taxi fare, persuade a friend or relative to drive you to the airport. Then return the favour another day, or another way.
2. Take a bus, train or the local transit to and from the airport, even if it means leaving home earlier—and packing lighter.
3. Take an empty water bottle through security, then fill it up on the other side. You don’t need to pay $4 for a bottle of water post security-check.
4. Coffee up at home.
5. If you’re not going through customs, bring foods that are easy to pack—sushi, burritos, sandwiches—and skip the (usually mediocre) departure lounge food.
6. Stay out of all the shops! Bring books, magazines and sundries like batteries and confections with you. Plan ahead.
7. Skip Duty Free completely. Always be suspicious of people who want to sell you something too hard.
Never throw caution to the wind. Take all the right steps to make sure flight connections flow as smoothly as possible.
1. Mentally prepare yourself for weather delays – for the planes, and for the trains and automobiles that lead up to your initial flight.
2. Book flights as early as possible, and go with the morning routes. There is more chance of correcting a connecting problem if it occurs early in the day.
3. Leave lots of time between flights in case your starting leg is behind schedule.
4. What’s the weather in the connecting city for the flight you’re thinking of booking? Many people ignore this, so don’t be one of them. There’s more chance of weather delays in New York than in Miami, for example.
5. Consider that smaller connecting airports will have fewer problems, less people, less traffic, etc.
6. Can’t handle it? Pay the extra money to fly non-stop.
Let’s face facts: There are times in your travels when things are going to go awry.
The trick is to be armed with these few simple tips on document safety.
1. Travel.gc.ca/travelling will help you find pre-travel information on countries you’re thinking of visiting, so you can nip problems in the bud.
2. Head to travel.gc.ca/assistance/embassies for a list of embassies and consulates that provide services to Canadians abroad, in case things are looking dire.
3. Visit ppt.gc.ca if you lose your passport. This site is also good for fraud alerts and information on identity theft.
4. Always travel with both electronic and paper copies of your complete travel insurance plan.
5. Keep jpgs of your passport and driver’s license, plus all medical info and insurance info, tucked away online on Google or Dropbox or some kind of cloud.
6. Always look on the bright side. There’s bound to be one somewhere.
Why to Buy Travel Insurance
You’re either one of those people who won’t leave home without it or someone who just throws caution to the wind—AT YOUR PERIL.
1. Trip cancellation.
2. Trip interruption.
3. Medical emergency.
4. Earthquake. Don’t laugh. This happens.
6. Terrorist attack.
7. Labour strike.
8. Beached cruise ship. This happened to my auntie once, and she had to come home in her pajamas.
9. Death in the family (see Point 2).
10. You have elderly and/or rickety parents (see Point 9).
Bonus Reason. Your own death!
Check with your insurance agent, and if you don’t have one, it’s worth the effort to shop around first.
Manage Pee Breaks
Pee breaks on the road can be a challenge. Don’t be caught with your pants down.
I will not soon forget the first time I saw someone use one of those old-fashioned public pissoirs in Amsterdam. I thought: seriously? Isn’t Europe a first-world place? Gross. Since then, I have gone to the bathroom in places I would rather forget. My new mantra: Get over yourself and get on with your business. Here are a few tips:
1. Always take advantage of a washroom when one is available, even if you don’t think you have to go.
2. Be mindful of your water intake if there is even a remote chance of getting stuck in traffic. (I once flew to Montreal with a bursting bladder, because the plumbing at Billy Bishop Airport was malfunctioning that morning and there was turbulence the whole way.)
3. Carry a few sachets of disinfecting wipes in your day pack. Good for skinned knees, too.
4. A small bottle of hand sanitizer is great for sharing with the group/kids.
5. Pocket extra napkins from the lunch table, in case you need them later.
6. Keep a few coins on you in case the toilet has a toll. Or an attendant.
7. When presented with facilities that are not what you’re used to (i.e. holes in the floor), just roll with it. At least you’ll get a good story out of it.
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Help make tourism sustainable for everyone involved, including the communities you’re visiting.
Show your support of International Women’s Day. The amazing people at G Adventures’ Planeterra share these tips:
1. Research your destination in advance to find small businesses that support social causes for women.
2. Eat at local independent restaurants whenever you can. The hospitality industry spreads wealth throughout the developing world unlike any other industry.
3. Support the micro-entrepreneurs—the women you see selling food, working at markets or making their own wares. Pay fair prices that value the time spent on the crafts.
4. Support non-profit organizations, as many will focus on women’s empowerment, education, training and human rights.
5. Experience local culture by going with home-stay accommodation.
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Avoid Travel Mistakes
You think you’re a savvy traveller? Review this tell-tale list. Chances are good you are making at least one of these frequent pre-trip blunders:
1. You might hope the price you’re looking at online will go down, and in some cases you may turn out to be right, but most often – not. Book airfares as early as possible to get the best price.
2. Your passport should be valid for six months prior to your return date. This can pre-empt a few conundrums, but mostly being turned back at the airport because the country you are visiting has this entry/exit requirement.
3. Check to see if the country you’re visiting requires a visa. Visas can be required in advance of travel, on arrival at the destination or electronic clearance (eVisa).
4. Make sure the name on your passport matches the name on all your travel documents and tickets.
5. Make two copies of your passport – one for your luggage and one to leave at home with a friend. Make a third copy for under the insole of your shoe, if you’re one of those people for whom that would not seem odd.
6. Always travel with a bit of currency of the country you’re visiting. What if there is no bank machine or currency exchange at the airport and you need cash?
7. Buy a good guide book and/or research your trip at home online, rather than in your hotel room, wasting precious holiday time.
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The Middle Seat
Does it seem like you always get stuck with the middle seat? Take these tips to heart to avoid it all together – or at least make it more palatable. (Wouldn’t it be nice if they just made the middle seat a bit bigger?)
1. Check in online as early as possible to avoid the middle seat completely.
2. Once at the airport, ask at the check-in desk and even at the gate if any other seats have become available since you checked in.
3. Once you’ve accepted your middle-seat fate, pray that you get two slim Jims on either side of you.
4. Put most of your stuff in the overhead bin, so you can have maximum legroom. And don’t worry if you have to ask the aisle person to get up let you into your carryon.
5. Stake your claim on the most comfortable sections of both arm rests. (You’re entitled.)
6. Fall asleep. Maybe work in a bathroom break first.
7. Read, work, meditate, make to-do lists, watch a movie, pretend you’re on the subway. Just try to take your mind off everything and you’ll be home in a flash.
8. Shell out for the Premium Class upgrade and stop yer whining.
Best Seat on the Plane
Just a few things to think about, regarding the cabin being your oyster.
1. Never book the front row. Sure you’re in the front row and one of the first ones off, but you’re also really close to all the front-door activity and the galley, both noisy, which is especially bothersome if you want to sleep. Speaking of which, this is also where they often seat the parents, because the bassinets hook onto the wall in front of them.
2. Seriously, never book the front row. Seats directly behind Executive Class on some aircraft don’t have a partition, so your tray is in your armrest, my friend. And maybe also your video screen. (Plus, you have to smell their delicious food while you eat a cardboard wrap.)
3. Always check in 24 hours from flight time. Not right before you leave for the airport. There may be roomy seats in the emergency aisles not already booked by the seven-foot giants.
4. Try to seat yourself with another single. Doing this leaves the middle seat empty. Chances are good that if the flight isn’t full no one will sit there.
5. Don’t sit in the row directly in front of the emergency exit row. These seats may not recline.
6. Don’t sit too far back. These seats are louder because they’re behind the jet engines or (even louder) propellers. You also have to wait longer to both get on and off.
7. At all costs, don’t sit in the back row. Have pity on the people who are booked here that missed the Change Seat button at online checkin.
8. Visit seatguru.com to see where to sit on your particular aircraft. They will help you find the best seat, flagging problems with various areas of every aircraft currently in the sky.
Nobody wants to go on holiday with you? Gee, I wonder why. Consider that you may be a complete pill to travel with. Is it time to clean up your act?
1. Be on time for the trip. No one wants to guess if your alarm went off or not. Travel is stressful enough without you adding to it right out of the gate.
2. Don’t be any of these things: whiney, fussy, grumpy, bossy, shirty – any of the ill-tempered words that end in “y.” Just calm the hell down.
3. Never complain unless it’s warranted. See “whiney.”
4. Never fixate – on how awful lunch was, on what to buy your mom, on a bad night’s sleep. Fixaters – rhymes with haters – distract others from enjoying their experience.
5. If travel plans change, just go with the flow. Dealing with the unexpected is all part of the adventure.
6. Learn how to nap. See “grumpy.”
7. Learn how to shut up. Especially if you talk to yourself.
8. If you need some time alone, say so. And encourage your companion to do the same.
P.S. This is not a mean post.
How to Pack a Suitcase
Packing a suitcase needn’t be an eat-the-frog exercise. Just follow these easy steps:
1. Absolutely everything in your suitcase needs to match. Break it down into neutrals and one colour palette. Live and breathe “mix and match.”
2. Embrace the “Power of One”: one jacket, one suit, one skirt, one pair of blue jeans, one pair of khakis, one swimwear item, etc.
3. White shirt, black shirt, blue shirt, repeat. Tan pants, black pants. Versatile neutrals can then be dressed up with colourful accessories that weigh much less.
4. Washable smalls allow you to pack half as many.
5. Pack a few items that are on their last legs, then just wear and toss.
6. Outerwear needs to be either on your back or made of scrunchable nylon.
7. Four pairs of footwear max: dressy, casual, running, flip-flops. Make sure at least one pair is waterproof.
8. Pack miniature toiletries that do double-duty (moisturizer with sunscreen, shampoo with conditioner, scented lotion).
9. No books or magazines-tablet only. Speaking of which, you don’t need both a laptop and a tablet.
10. Pack the point-and-shoot not the SLR, and leave things like travel steamers and coffee makers at home.
Avoid Traveller’s Diarrhea
Sadly, booze doesn’t kill bacteria. Here’s how to avoid traveller’s diarrhea.
1. Three little words: “No ice, please.” Only consume ice that you know has gone through a water-purifying system.
2. Drink bottled water, and make sure you witness the cap being unsealed (the same goes for beer).
3. Stick to cooked foods and be wary of salads and raw vegetables that may have been washed in unclean water.
4. Don’t eat unpasteurized milk or cheese.
5. Eat just the fruit that you can peel yourself.
6. Iodine drops and chlorine tablets can be purchased at camping stores if you think you bottled water may not be available where you’re headed.
7. Dukoral is available from the pharmacist counter without a prescription. Consult your doctor first, and follow the directions carefully.
Navigate the Language
With the exception of a few places (not mentioning any names!), people like it when you at least try to speak in their native language.
1. Buy a couple of different language apps for your phone and practice with them well in advance of your trip. (Read the reviews first.)
2. A pocket phrase book can be pulled out at lunchtime not only to help order food but to refresh your phrases for the afternoon’s shopping trip.
3. Don’t be afraid to try; people will appreciate your effort. Practice on tour guides, restaurant servers and passers by.
4. The five must-learns include: Yes, and no, hello and good-bye, please and thanks, where is the toilet, two beers please and may I have a receipt, please?
5. You should also learn how to count to 10. (In case you need to order 10 beers.)
Save or Splurge?
Just like clothes-shopping, memorable travel experiences come with a high-low mix. Here’s how to save or splurge like a pro.
1. Stopover in Minnesota? Save at a discount hotel chain.
2. Stopover in L.A.? Splurge at a boutique hotel on the beach.
3. Spending a fortune on flights? Save on the hotel (or rent an apartment).
4. Quick business trip by yourself? Save with a web deal, then splurge on a nice meal or a massage.
5. Taking your parents? Splurge on Mom; play it by ear with Dad.
6. Taking the kids? Save as much as you can. (They won’t care.)
7. Backpacking for a week and dog tired? Splurge on the thread count.
8. Never likely visiting your destination ever again? Splurge on something memorable.
If you’ve ever been rolled on the street before you know how utterly soul-sucking it is. Here’s how to avoid pickpockets.
1. Carry your wallet in a front pocket, with the opening facing down.
2. Be alert in busy areas. Pickpockets target train stations, bus stops, crowded street corners and street performances.
3. Be wary of diversions: If someone tries to get your attention or brushes up against you, make sure your hand is on your wallet.
4. Turn backpacks into frontpacks.
5. Carry handbags across your body or under your arm, with the flap facing your body.
6. “Snatch-and-grabs” are considered violent crimes. Just let them have it.
Use Travel Time Wisely
Ever sit beside somebody who didn’t even bring a book? (Is there a WordPress emoticon for “moron”?) Here’s how to use your travel time in the best ways possible.
1. Use travel time to relax, not to work. Power-down and give your brain a break.
2. Load your iPad with that documentary you’ve been meaning to watch or that video tutorial you haven’t yet had time to wrap your head around.
3. Review a language app of the foreign country you’re heading to (quietly, of course). Even 10 simple words and phrases can go a long way—and two of them better be “please” and “thank you.”
4. Is the flight attendant/tour guide handing out local newspapers? Brush up on the news of the day at your destination, so you’ll have something to add to the local chit-chat. This is an especially good idea if you’re travelling on business and meeting up with foreign colleagues.
5. Never forget this all-important travel rule—plane, train or bus: Sleep when you can.
Ease Airport Stress
There is no reason to dread the airport. Here are some things to improve your experience.
1. Very oddly, many people don’t check in at home online. What on earth is wrong with them? You’re smarter than that.
2. Go easy on your blood pressure by leaving yourself lots of time to get to the airport. Do you really want to risk missing your flight for an extra half hour of sleep. Never trust the highway to be uncrowded (or even open).
3. Use a scale to weigh your luggage before you leave home. This let’s you avoid repacking at the check-in desk when they tell you you’re overweight. Realize that if you do have to do this, everyone will be watching you – and hating you.
4. Avoid wearing excessive jewellery or clothing with metal bits to the airport, so your security check will be a breeze. This is one of the leading causes of airport stress.
5. Pack a home-made snack in your carryon for the airport lounge, and select a seat away from the gate, away from the TV and clear of any loud people.
6. Earplugs are also not a bad idea.
Don’t Get Sick on the Plane
Try to be as rested and nourished as possible when you board. Then…
1. From the second you board the plane until you are at your destination, never touch your face. Eye and nose rubbing is taboo.
2. Wipe down arm rests and your tray table—especially the latch—with a Wet One. Ignore the looks you might get.
3. Only drink water you can see is coming from a bottle. (The ice is OK.) Never drink the coffee or tea. Airplane water holding tanks are seldom cleaned or replaced and are germy as hell.
4. In the lavatory, use the anti-bacterial gel instead of the soap and water. Bring a small bottle of your own to use once you’re back at your seat.
5. The seat pocket in front of you is a cesspool of germs. Never put anything in it. Avoid over-handling anything that is already in the seat pocket. Do not take the free magazine with you when you deplane.
6. Forego the dab of antibiotic ointment in the nostrils. It’s a myth.
Pack a Proper Carryon
Because checked bags have a habit of disappearing, always pack these items in your carryon. No excuses:
1. All prescription medications, especially ones you can’t live without.
2. All jewellery. Many homeowner insurance policies don’t cover jewellery if it’s lost while you’re travelling. Leave the diamond tiara and all your Rolexes at home.
3. All electronics, including computers, cameras, recorders and phones. Pack the chargers and cords, too, if there’s room and you think they may not be replaceable at the other end of the journey.
4. Nothing unnecessary. Do you really need both the laptop and your iPad in an already full carryon?
5. Anything fragile, such as camera lenses.
6. Just ONE guidebook, people. Keep the rest of your travel notes bookmarked on your laptop.
Save for a Holiday
People don’t travel because they think they can’t afford it. This is not the right mind-set. FIND the money. It’s worth it! Here’s how to save for a holiday.
1. Start browsing for vacation packages well before the holiday season begins. The earlier you book, the more likely you are to save up before you travel.
2. Tuck away a few dollars every week or every paycheque. See if your bank offers an automatic savings option.
3. Timing is everything. Travelling just before or after high season can lead to savings and some destinations offer deals during these low periods.
4. See if you can redeem any points collected on your credit card.
5. Consider spending your vacation locally—at a neighbouring community or a country inn or spa. You don’t have to go far to feel like you’ve been away.
Buy the Right Luggage
With such a deep well of total crap luggage to buy out there, you need to NOT SETTLE!
1. Decide if you are a soft or hard case person.
2. If shopping in person, look for the lightest luggage you can find, but nothing too flimsy.
3. Always go with the next-to-largest size, or at least one size up from what you think you need. You probably don’t need all three sizes of the same case.
4. Steer clear of black to avoid carousel conundrums.
5. Extra pouches, compartments and dividers inside just means less room for your stuff. Find a balance.
6. Veer away from too many outer pockets, which are too tempting for handlers in shadier airports. Zippers and tags can also catch on other bags on the carousel.
7. Never buy the lowest-priced model. It will just wear out faster.
8. Only buy bags that come with a good warranty.
9. Shopping online can yield the best discounts, but pay attention to the dimensions: It could be too small or too big when it arrives at your door.
Sleep Better on the Plane
Take the sting out of getting up at zero-dark-hundred or boarding at midnight. When you have to get up at zero dark hundred or board at midnight, here are a few tricks to help you sleep better on the plane.
1. Choose a window seat nowhere near the bathroom or the galley noise. Avoid the bulkheads where parents with infants tend to get seated.
2. The back row and the row in front of the exit door row may not recline.
3. Put all carryon luggage in the overhead bin, leaving the space under the seat in front of you for just your feet.
4. A neck pillow and ear plugs go without saying, but throw on an eye mask as well.
5. Take off your shoes, so your feet can swell freely.
6. Keep sleep aids simple: melatonin, Gravol.
7. Tell yourself, “It’s currently 4 a.m. where I’m landing.” The power of suggestion really works.