13 June 2011

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

A few days ago I flew several thousand miles back to the United States from Germany. Leaving my Love is always incredibly difficult, as is leaving all the excitement of adventure and travel; but the three years we have been together have taught quite a bit about patience, trust, and smart ways to save money and ways to ease the long flight between continents. Today I'd like to share some of the tips and tricks I've gathered, and perhaps inspire you to do some travelling of your own!

The very most important thing about traveling internationally:

Be aware that American credit/debit cards, including Visa, do not work in either the EU or in England. Most American cards do not have the computer chip necessary to work in stores or ATMs. (See photo comparisons of the American and European.) This was a big, big surprise to me. Plan accordingly! And now, onto more good stuff.

Buying the Ticket
It is fairly common knowledge that one must shop around for airplane tickets in order to find the best price. Some companies, such as Orbitz and Expedia, are well known; however, I've found that these are often overpriced - I've found tickets for more than $200 less than they were offering! Instead, I suggest you check out Cheapoair, Kayak, Mobissimo, Travelzoo, or Vayama for better deals and to compare prices with those you find on the airline's website, Orbitz, and Expedia.

Some more tips:
  • The time when you purchase the ticket matters. Late at night, early in the morning, and on weekdays you will find better deals; weekend afternoons and evenings always display the most expensive tickets.
  • When day of the week you fly matters: Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays are the most expensive days to travel.
  • Be flexible! If you are able to, see what prices might be if you change your stay by a day or two. If you're really flexible, try a week.
  • Generally, the more in advance you buy the ticket, the cheaper it will be. However, some airlines and travel sites offer last minute deals - but don't count on these if you simply must be somewhere!
  • Always allow yourself plenty of time to check prices. Ticket costs fluctuate on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, and the more often you check, the better you can decide when is best to buy.
  • Prices drop like a stone in September and skyrocket in May. (Think of it this way: when children are out of school, prices go up.)

What to Wear When Flying
When I fly, layers of comfortable clothing are my very best friends. The departure city, airport, airplane, and arrival city are likely not all the same temperature, and wearing a tank top, long shirt, and sweatshirt help to keep warm or cool. Jeans usually become uncomfortable quickly, especially if I hope to sleep on the flight; I've taken to wearing leggings instead. Comfort is especially important if your journey is very long; usually I am on the go for about fourteen hours when traveling to see my Love.

To make the security line a little easier, wear slip-on shoes, don't wear jewelry (fingers also swell on long flights, and rings become uncomfortable, as can earrings), and avoid a belt if you can.

A few more thoughts on going through security:
  • Pack all your large bottles of liquid (lotion, shampoo, perfume, etc.) in the baggage you'll check. Use a small ziplock bag for smaller items that you want to take with you; they'll ask you to take it out at security.
  • Take out your laptop as you stand in line; you will always be asked to have it separate from your other bags!

What to Bring on the Flight
Long flights can be both boring and uncomfortable. To make them more enjoyable, take these things with you and keep them in arms' reach:
  • An empty reusable water bottle - I have this one - in your carry-on bag. While you won't be able to bring any drinks through security, you can find a water fountain at your gate and save yourself from overpriced drinks and dehydration on the plane.
  • Things to keep you entertained: books, crochet (don't bring knitting - security wouldn't like the needles), iPod, crossword puzzles, travel art journal, etc.
  • Warm socks! My feet always get cold on long flights, and often my feet swell uncomfortably in shoes.
  • An eye mask may seem to be only for the well-seasoned traveler, but is an investment that will help with passing the time and overcoming jet lag. Plus, you'll never know when it will come in handy in everyday life, like on a long car ride or in a too bright dorm or hotel room. They have stylish ones, too; I bought this for myself a few months ago.
  • Toothbrush and travel-sized toothpaste. This is a must for long overnight flights, and helps me feel both hygienic and happier than when I traveled without them. Target sells toothbrush cases and travel-sized toothpaste, both for one dollar.
  • A ziplock bag with moist baby wipes, which can help keep hands (and faces) clean and unsticky throughout the flight.

And just a few more things (my goodness, this is a long post) about traveling:
  • British Airways is one of the best airlines I have ever flown. Their staff is always courteous, accommodating, and professional, the airplanes are spacious and clean, there are far more options for films and music during the flight, and they are reliable and punctual. I highly recommend them.
  • My Love and I have different thoughts on which seat is most comfortable on a long flight. I prefer the aisle, so that I can get up easily without crawling all over someone else; he prefers to have a window seat so that he can lean against the wall to sleep. It's all a matter of preference, I suppose!
  • Always bring cash with you, at least fifty dollars or the equivalent, for just-in-case-of-an-emergency.
  • American banks will exchange money for you, but it takes a few weeks to sort it out; plan ahead! In England, post offices will change money; in Germany, a bank will do it if you know someone with an account there.
  • Companies in the airport that change currency for you take a big commission and you will lose money. One upside to changing money with Travelex is that they will give you a free debit card with the necessary computer chip.
  • When you have a layover, leave at least one hour between connecting flights on different airlines; two hours is better. This time will be spent getting through security and running from one gate to another. Keep in mind that some airports are enormous and walking time between two gates can be upwards of twenty minutes, even for the same airline. International flights also board much earlier than domestic ones, and it's far better to have too much time than too little.

Whew! And that, friends, is everything that I can think of, for the time being. I suppose this proves just how much I've learned in the past few years. I do hope this is helpful if you are planning on taking a trip in the future; please do share if you learn something yourself or have any other tips and tricks about travel!


Dyche Designs said...

Lots of great advice there.

I'm a brit living in the US and had quite the shock when I did a visit home to the UK and found my US Visa card wouldn't work in any of the stores.

You're right that non of the US cards have the chip and pin that's required in the UK so it was a real hassel having to go to the bank and try and get cash out for a three week stay.

Brandi {not your average ordinary} said...

Credit cards don't work there? I seriously had no idea! I'm so glad you wrote this post and only hope that I have the chance to use some of your international travel advice sometime soon.

Belly B said...

Haha thanks for these tips!!! I'm a terrible traveler. Extremely unprepared

<3 Belly B

Silver Strands said...

Lots of great counsel here. Thanks - and I hope you're able to save the good memories, but not be too sad about leaving.

Kirby said...

that is interesting about the credit cards not working. when I was studying in London they worked fine. I don't remember though about when we traveled into Europe. I do remember that we have to tell our banks that we are traveling abroad otherwise after the first time using it they will shut it down.

also, great tips on what to bring on the plane, it's been a while since i've been on a long flight, so it's nice to have a refresher.

xo Kirby


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