Whether you're already an expert traveler or you just want to travel like one, these 10 tips will help you along the way. And we have more to come, which I will post as a Part Two in an upcoming column.
1. Back up important documents in electronic form.
New Jersey lawyer and frequent traveler Karl Piirimae offered the following advice for backing up any documents that would be catastrophic to lose, such as your passport, travel insurance policy, itinerary confirmations, scans of your credit cards and more: "Important documents should always be on a flash drive on your person; for overseas travel include a PDF copy of the face page of your passport."
If you want to use a more remote approach, you could put backups on a service like Dropbox; or for even more security, use InfoSafe.com, which employs encrypted and password-protected security methods to protect your information while allowing access from any Internet-connected computer.
Tip 1b: when I write down any sensitive information, I break it up and insert unexpected characters to make it hard to decipher what it might be. So for a (fictional) credit card number 4110 1421 3134 5345, the note might look like this:
password 1: 411014
Area code: 213
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2. Collect and store all street addresses ahead of time.
Before you travel, send yourself a single e-mail that contains all the local addresses you will visit on your trip (hotels, offices, attractions, museums, etc.), then make sure to save it on your phone (that is, make sure you check your mail on your phone before your regular e-mail application pulls it off the server).
Then, as you tick off your various destinations, you can check back on the same e-mail, and click on the addresses to launch a mapping application.
Say you do this at the airport on public Wi-Fi, but are shortly going to be without Internet access, such as in a rental car. If you switch to "List View," you will be able to read turn-by-turn instructions, even if your phone is not tracking your location in real time. I've done it -- it works great.
This tip assumes you have a smartphone, but could also be applied to your laptop or tablet, or to any publicly accessible Internet connection, such as Internet cafes, library computers, etc.
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3. Log your parking spot electronically.
It's not a great feeling to get jostled on an airport parking shuttle bus as it slumps around an immense parking lot, and have no recollection at all of where you parked. By the time you walk away from your car at the airport, your mind has already moved on to other logistical concerns, and your vow to remember the location can be very quickly deserted.
Instead of relying on your memory to come through after a long trip, take a photo of the parking lot section sign with your phone or digital camera. Then forget about it until you get back, when you can check your phone or camera for the picture of the parking lot sign closest to your car. You can also record the info in a voicemail to yourself; anything but leaving it to memory and chance.
4. Check multiple airline seating chart Web sites.
Ceci Flinn, an American based in London who travels frequently for business and pleasure, says simply, "SeatGuru.com rocks!" However, it is important to note that recently, airlines have been changing their seat configuration and numbering systems quite a bit, particularly in the aftermath of multiple mergers, in a move toward more consistent row and seat numbering systems. This has presented a challenge to all of the airline seat chart Web sites. On three flights I took this winter so far, SeatGuru was unable to offer reliable seat reviews. As this shakes out, I recommend that you check more than one seat review site in hopes of finding the most current information, or at least to get a second opinion. Others include SeatMaestro.com or SeatExpert.com.
Andrew Wong at SeatGuru parent site TripAdvisor wrote the following this week in response to an inquiry about this issue: "You are correct, there have been lots of changes on both the [Continental] and [United Airlines] front. We are trying our best to keep up with the changes and generally we are. Where there is some confusion is when a user is thinking they are flying on one aircraft and then it's operated by another aircraft (CO for UA or vice versa). On our map search tool, we use OAG (airline) data to show which aircraft type is scheduled to operate a particular flight. We then land a user to the appropriate map based on this data. This might change from time to time which adds to the complexity."
How to Get the Best Airplane Seat
5. Count front to back, do the alphabet right to left, on ALL planes.
Despite changing seat maps, some things you can, well, count on. Traveler Tre Horoszewski offers the following simple tip: "Realize that there is a system to seat numbering on ALL planes regardless of airline. This saves time in finding and taking your seat. Higher numbers in back, letters run from right to left as you face the back of the plane. I can't recall the number of people who don't seem to know/understand this and hold up boarding."
Yes, the seats are right to left -- when facing the back of the plane, A is the window seat on your right.
6. Get water on the other side of security.
Everyone seems to know that air travel dehydrates folks considerably, but you would never know it from how little water is provided by current in-cabin service routines; often you'll get only 8 - 10 ounces of water all told even on a long flight, unless you are chewing your ice.
Of course, you can't bring water with you from home, because security checks allow even less liquid: three ounces (or 3.4 ounces, to be more precise). You will have to stave off dehydration yourself, which is why I recommend buying a big bottle of water immediately after you pass through security.
Shelli Gonshorowski, a producer at Peter Greenberg Worldwide, has an interesting solution: "I am always dehydrated, and hate the water on airplanes. Since traditional bottles can be cumbersome, I fly with the collapsible bottle 'flasks' -- they fill up to 16 ounces, and when finished are thin as paper."
7. Similarly, buy your own food -- or order ahead.
Another recent development onboard is the frequent need to feed yourself, even when airlines offer meals for purchase. To decrease waste (and I believe also to decrease craft weight), airlines are understocking on food, and seem always to run out of the best menu items halfway down the aisle at mealtime.
The simplest approach would be to eat before your flight, or bring your own food. A more hardcore approach is to order a special meal when you book your flight -- it could be vegetarian, or kosher, or anything that gets your meal off the main food cart coming down the aisle. Two things happen when you do this; first, your meal is served first, before the full cabin service starts, and second, the food tends to be more fresh. I traveled with a friend more than 25 years ago who always requested kosher dishes, as he knew he would get fresh, hot meals, and it still works often enough.
8. Bring your E-ZPass tag with you.
Whatever electronic toll collection system you use at home might also be valid on the toll roads in the place you're visiting, so check ahead. When I got my own E-ZPass tag, the instructions said I should glue it to my windshield. I chose not to do this, and now throw it in my carry-on whenever I am traveling to an area that accepts it; then I just put it on the dash of my rental car for the duration of the trip.
9. Do a double pass when you pack.
IndependentTraveler.com Editor Sarah Schlichter has a foolproof packing process, useful both coming and going: "For me, packing is a two-step process: gathering everything I need, and then putting it all into my suitcase. So I use my packing list accordingly. Each item gets a check mark once I've laid it out on my bed or dresser, and then I strike through it once it goes into my bag -- which helps me make sure that everything I intend to take actually comes with me! The very last thing I pack is my packing list. I use it to double-check that I'm not leaving anything behind in my hotel room before I come home. (On the rare occasions when I check a bag, the packing list also serves as an inventory of everything I've brought, just in case the airlines lose my suitcase.)"
Use Our Interactive Packing List
10. Don't check security line lengths; check how fast the security agent is working.
Any hardcore traveler (heck, any grocery shopper) has bolted for the shortest line only to have it take the longest time. Gillian Williams, President of the Rensselaerville Institute - School Turnaround, offers the following tip for getting through security faster: "When needing to bolt through security, look at the screener at the machine to determine shortest line time -- not the people in the line (well, except babies and wheelchairs)."
Can't get enough travel advice? See 10 More Hardcore Tips for Frequent Travelers.
The Independent Traveler
Editor's Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, which also owns SeatGuru.com.