On Sunday May 19th, I will finish the tail end of an epic journey that started March 12th and included, Ho Chi Minh City, Phan Thiet, and Phu Quoc in Vietnam, Dubai in the UAE, Bath, Brighton and London in Great Britain, not to mention, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Berkeley, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Atlantic City and Washington, D.C. During this entire time, I stopped home in New York City for only nine days.
I had weather ranging from 100 degrees and 90 percent humidity to 35 degrees with wind and rain. I needed to dress casual, business casual, in a suit and tie, and I needed workout clothes as well. I traveled in planes, trains, and automobiles as well as tubes, subways, buses, cabs, trolleys, and often by foot for three or four miles to get to my destination.
It was a blast! I learned a few things have changed in travel recently, so here are eight of my latest and most useful tips for the occasional traveler as well as the seasoned veteran.
1. Set Up Your Phone and Credit Cards Before You Leave
Roaming is still expensive, but most smartphones work on wireless in foreign lands. Call your carrier and check your options. Sometimes, you can buy a phone with time for cheap which is well worth it for the connectivity. Let your credit card companies know you are going to distant lands or you may find yourself cutoff at the worst time. You'll need your card available for the best exchange rates.
2. Invest in Decent Luggage
There is nothing worse then broken luggage on a long trip. For a few hundred dollars, you can get indestructible, easily packable roller bags that are well worth the investment. I have used only two bags in the last 20 years thanks to Briggs and Riley. For carryon, I switched to a backpack. This Tumi T-Tech is my new favorite. It's big enough to carry all I need but it's light, compact and with leather trim looks nice for any meeting. I keep my luggage packed with all my toiletries and travel items ready to go at all times. And don't forget to pack a swimsuit because you never know when you'll need it.
3. Wear TSA Friendly Clothes
TSA is the worst part of travel these days. The new scanners require no items on your person. I wear slip on shoes and drawstring pants to avoid the belt issue. Put all your pocket items in a light jacket or sport coat while in line so you can just put the whole coat in the bin. It's still a hassle but you might be able to skip the whole thing with TSA Pre✓™.
4. Check Your Bags
Yes really! Thanks to new electronic tracking systems, today there is less than a 0.3 percent chance of luggage being lost. Plus, little time is saved by keeping it with you. In most airports, by the time you actually disembark, go to the bathroom, train to the main terminal and get to baggage claim, your luggage is nearly there. Meanwhile, by checking, TSA is faster, you can pack any size shampoo, avoid scrambling for overhead space, and you get an easy, lightweight walk through the terminal. You can avoid fees with frequent flyer status or an airline credit card. Then enjoy plenty of room to relax on the plane. For a little more legroom, after take off, take your carryon from under the seat and tuck it behind your legs. It acts like a footrest and allows you to stretch your legs.
5. Bring a Book (an actual book) and a Pillow.
E-readers are fine, but any flight will leave you with over 90 minutes of non-electronic time. This is my favorite reading opportunity. I always keep a new novel to entertain me and I never have to charge it. My other must-have is this new Samsonite adjustable pillow. I shaped it for many uses on planes, trains and for use in hotels. It beats any inflatable by far.
6. Get a Small Laptop
As a writer and video guy, I find tablets (even with keyboards) grossly inadequate for serious editing work. And sadly, my MacBook Pro 13" was proving too big to open on some domestic coach flights. I love my new MacBook Air 11". I tested it successfully in the tightest of spaces, and I love how light it is. If you prefer PC, get a small netbook. The cloud helps you use a small laptop for travel even if you need the big screen at home, and you'll be thrilled with the portability for walking and full features out and about. Don't forget a power adapter for all those weird plugs.
7. Use Cabs as a Last Resort
Taxi cabs are hands down the most expensive form of transportation in most cities. They're convenient for short distances if traffic is not terrible, but public transportation is best. Do some research and use the subway, metro or underground. You'll save a ton of dough and get to see the flavor of the city by people watching. Or better yet, if you can time your meetings appropriately and if weather permits, take long walks and really experience the foreign lands you're visiting.
8. Consider Airbnb
I've stayed in my share of hotels, which were mostly fine. But Airbnb is now my lodging approach of first choice, especially in foreign lands. I used it twice on this adventure for three nights in Dubai and six nights in London. In each case, I had my own room with all the amenities of any hotel, and my hosts were delightfully friendly, and better at inside knowledge than any concierge I've known. I stayed in beautiful homes at a total cost savings for the nine nights of more than $2,000 overall compared with hotels in the same vicinity.
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