After a summer full of cross-country trips, I thought it was a good time to discuss tips and tricks for travel that allows you to accomplish what needs to get done and still have time for fun.
A little planning goes a long way when it comes to travel
I used to have to travel a lot for work, so I had packing, planning, and getting where I needed to go down to a science. Since COVID-19 arrived in 2020, I’d virtually stopped traveling, so I’d forgotten my best travel routines. Then suddenly this summer I found myself taking several trips within just a couple of months–for a reunion, to visit our kids and grandkids who live in other states, and on business. This recent travel has made me reconsider the steps I took in the past.
Gather all the info in one place
We get email confirmations for most things, and electronic boarding passes, etc. Of course we could look at our email inbox to find that information, but to be most efficient, create a single place where all those can be gathered.
I use, and recommend, TripIt Pro. You simply forward your confirmation emails for flights, lodging, rental cars, etc., and it creates a consolidated itinerary that you can review in the app on your phone. TripIt can even be set to find those emails and import them automatically. In addition to storying and sorting all that information, it sends alerts about check-in availability, delays, gate changes, etc.
If you prefer to go analog, you can use a notebook or folder to gather all confirmation info, boarding passes, etc. In fact, even if you rely on digital devices for collecting and consulting your travel information, consider printing copies anyway. Batteries can die; cell signal can dissipate or even disappear, and websites can crash, so having a hard copy of the crucial travel info can be a lifesaver.
If you’re traveling internationally, be sure to research entry requirements for your destination.
Before you make reservations for your travel, think about the best times to fly. By that I mean not only the best times at the airport or train station, but also the traffic en route. For example, we travel from DFW airport, which is on the opposite side of Dallas from where we live. We try hard to schedule flights at times that will let us avoid going through Dallas during the morning or evening rush hour. Aside from that, according to some sources, Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to have the lowest flight prices, so consider flights at the beginning of the week rather than on the weekends.
If you don’t have someone to drop you off and pick you up for air travel, use airport valet parking if it’s available. This avoids the time and aggravation of cruising through the parking garage looking for an open spot and having to travel from the arrival terminal to the departure terminal to get your car when you get home. Airport valets meet you near the terminal entrance at a prearranged time and take your keys, and then you can walk right into the terminal. When you return, they monitor your flight so they know if you’re delayed or the gate changes and meet you at the terminal entrance with your car. I’ve found that valet parking at the airport usually doesn’t cost much more than self-parking, and is worth every penny. The service I use will even wash and vacuum my car while I’m gone if I elect that option, so my car is shiny and clean when I return.
Familiarize yourself with the safety situation of your destination. Some apps and websites provide woman-centric safety ratings for cities and countries.
For American travelers, the U.S. State Department’s travel website publishes travel advisories for all countries, along with other useful information, including how to get a U.S. passport or Visa and numbers to call if you’re in an emergency while traveling. If the State Department officials have identified particular risks for women, the advisories will include that information.
The U.S. State Department’s site also offers a portal for U.S. citizens to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, a free service that allows you to register your trip abroad with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate, so that you’ll receive any safety updates from the Embassy during your trip and let the Embassy and/or your family contact you in the case of an emergency, including natural disasters, civil unrest, or a family emergency.
Check below for links to several articles with information about other apps, sites, and services useful for traveling women.
Inform someone. Always let someone know your itinerary, especially if you’re traveling solo. Check in regularly. Again, if you’re an American traveling abroad, consider enrolling your trip in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
Ensure you have a working mobile connection. If you’re traveling internationally, consider purchasing a local SIM card or at least make sure roaming works at your destination country. It can be a lifeline in emergencies and helpful for navigation.
Convenience and productivity while you travel
If you’re traveling for work or will need to work while traveling, be sure to synchronize your data on your computer, tablet, and/or phone before you leave. Download any documents you’ll need to work or materials you’ll need to reference so you have access to them even while not online. Tools like Google Drive and Dropbox allow you to mark files for offline access.
And make sure you confirm your accommodations, whether hotel, Airbnb, or otherwise, will have good wi-fi and a workspace that’ll suit your needs.
Nomadlist.com describes itself as “a global community of remote workers living and traveling around the world” and offers a directory of destinations that includes information about cost of living, average internet speed, safety, coworking spaces, and locations of free public wifi.
Especially if you’re working while traveling, a VPN (virtual private network) is essential to ensure a secure connection and defend private or confidential information from prying eyes. Check below for links to some recent articles that review and recommend VPNs for secure online connections.
Prepare your house for your absence
Arrange for house- or pet-sitter or other care for house and pets. During our many recent trips, my mom was kind enough to keep our Yorkie, and my sister and brother-in-law came to the house every couple of days to bring in mail and check on things–in exchange for use of the pool during the extended heat wave
Before you leave, close curtains/blinds, turn up AC or down heat, make sure all water spigots are turned off, etc. Unplug electronics. Of course, make sure doors are locked. If you’re going to be gone for an extended period, set a couple of lamps on timers.
If you travel frequently for work (or for pleasure), think ahead to make sure you take what you need (and not what you don’t).
Create a packing checklist so you never forget essentials–maybe separate checklists for business travel and leisure travel.
Stock a couple of go-bags that are always ready (and remember to restock them as soon as you get back)
- One for travel-sized toiletries, hairbrush/comb, nail clippers and emery boards, cotton balls and swabs,
- I also keep an electronics go-bag with duplicates of all the items I need for devices I travel with, like laptops, tablets, cell phones, e-readers, etc.: cords and chargers; travel-sized extension cord (because most hotels don’t have sufficient, conveniently-located outlets–Amazon carries a ton of them); adapters. I bought an extra charger for my laptop so I don’t have to take my office one–I just keep the extra in my go-bag, so all I have to do is unplug my laptop and stick it in the bag.
I put my main electronics go-bag into my roll-aboard that goes up into the overhead bin, but keep a charger for my phone and/or tablet in my under-seat bag so it’s handy for use during the flight. As crowded as most flights are these days, the overhead bins are packed so tightly that getting your carry-on down during the flight really isn’t an option.
As far as how to pack for air travel in particular, there are 2 lines of thought:
- Check your bag so you don’t have to carry anything on or
- Take only a carry-on so you don’t have to wait for checked bags when you arrive (or risk them getting lost or mishandled). (I fall into this category and almost never check bags when I fly.)
Remember TSA limitations – liquids; sharp objects like knives, scissors, etc.; flammable items; firearms.
If you don’t want to check bags (or want to keep your load light), plan versatile mix-and-match clothing that will work for outfits for which you can wear the same shoes (shoes are heavy).
Wear your bulkiest shoes for the flight (but make them slip-ons if you’re not TSA precheck), and if you’re traveling during cold weather, wear your coat–it can double as a pillow during the flight.
One article on Entrepreneur.com offers good advice: “First, lay out all possible clothing options. Then, pare down the packing list to necessities to avoid having to check luggage and potentially incur extra costs. Next, roll clothing to make more room and use packing cubes to optimize space. It’s also smart to invest in a travel steamer, especially for delicate fabrics. Additionally, choose a laptop bag or tote which can be used to store electronics, as well as a small toiletry kit to free up room in the suitcase as well.”
Carry essential medications in your personal item that gets stowed under your seat so it’s always within sight and reach. For longer trips, consider having a note from your doctor for any prescription meds.
If traveling via car or RV, include a basic first-aid kit.
Put together a small comfort kit (for air, train, and car travel) – lip balm, hand lotion, sleep mask, pain reliever, compact slippers, sweater or pashmina or scarf; a bottle of water (which you’ll need to buy after security for air travel); protein bar or trail mix.
Generally while traveling –
- Stay healthy. Opt for healthy meals and avoid excessive junk food or alcohol. Utilize hotel gyms or just go for a walk, or do simple exercises in your room. Get enough rest.
- Try to stick to a routine–while including time for fun and serendipity. Even if you’ve changed time zones, try to include some of your usual morning and/or evening routines to help keep you feeling a sense of balance.
At the airport
- If you fly more than once a year, sign up for TSA PreCheck – don’t have to take off shoes, take out liquids or electronics; usually shorter lines and quicker getting through.
If you’re not enrolled in the TSA PreCheck program, be prepared to get through the security line quickly –
- Wear slip-on shoes.
- Don’t wear big jewelry or watches that might trigger the scanner.
- Have your quart-sized clear bag of liquids in your tote bag or computer bag, right on top. Aafter you get through security you can re-adjust and put them in your roll-aboard.
- If I have to go through the regular security line, I take off my shoes, watch, etc., while still in the line and tuck them into the top of my bag where my quart baggie goes. Then once I’m through security I can step aside to take them out and put the liquids baggie back in.
When it comes time to board, show courtesy to the other travelers by getting out of the aisle when you get to your seat to allow others to pass by while you get yourself situated.
On the plane
For a long flight prioritize comfort in what you wear; if you need to go straight to a meeting or event from the airport, you can change into your dressier clothes at the airport or even on the plane an hour before landing;
I dress in layers and always carry a sweater or shawl that I can cover myself with since most flights are cold!
Whether I want to read, listen to podcasts or audiobooks, watch an inflight movie, or nap, I wear noise-canceling headphones on flights to minimize the exhausting effects of plane noise.
For a nighttime or overnight flight wear a sleep mask and noise-cancelling headphones — listen to a sleep meditation or nighttime noise app.
If you need to work on the flight, such as responding to emails, etc., often a tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard cover will be easier to work with than a full-sized laptop.
In a car
I wear comfortable clothes, including layers and shoes I can slip off.
When I drove from Texas to Florida (and back) by myself for a writing retreat, I made sure I had downloaded current episodes of my favorite podcasts, along with a couple of audiobooks, so I had something interesting to listen to during the long driving hours.
When you plan your route, make note of any long stretches of road where there might not be fuel or food stops, and plan your fuel-ups accordingly. Earlier this summer Mike and I were driving around western Washington state, where we both grew up, and enjoying the beautiful scenery in remote areas, and too late realized how low we were on fuel. It was nerve-wracking driving through the countryside with little to no cell service trying to find a small town with a gas station, knowing we wouldn’t be able to call for help from AAA! (Fortunately, we found a gas station just in time!)
If you’re traveling through remote areas or internationally, have a paper map with you in case a lack of cell service renders your GPS useless.
Years ago when I drove cross-country with two small children I planned activity kits–coloring books, crayons, picture books, etc.–in a small box for each that I could dole out periodically, along with simple snacks and plenty of water.
Keep personal safety in mind when you travel!
- Choose reputable accommodations. Read reviews from other female travelers. Some places offer women-only floors.
- Stay alert. Be mindful of your surroundings, especially when traveling at night. Trust your intuition.
- Consider carrying personal safety devices, such as an emergency whistle and pepper spray, for an added sense of security.
- Travel during daylight hours if you can, especially if you’re using public transportation. Pay attention to where you are.
- When using transport services like Uber or Lyft, share your route with someone or use the live location feature in the app to share with someone you trust. Especially when I’m Ubering at night, I always share that live location with Mike.
The key to stress-free, productive travel is preparation and awareness. Being informed, alert, and proactive can make your travel experience both safe and enriching. Preparing ahead of time can make all the difference, whether you’re traveling for work or fun or a combination of the two.
What do you think?
Resources and Links
- What Can I Bring? All | Transportation Security Administration
- 6 Ways Working Women Can Make the Most of Business Travel | Entrepreneur
- 9 Tips for Working While Traveling and Staying Productive
- Nomad List – Best Places to Live for Digital Nomads
- 8 Safety Tips for Solo Female Travel – NerdWallet
- 6 Ways to Stay Productive on a Business Trip | The Muse
- Safety Apps and Websites for Women Traveling Solo | Frommer’s
- U.S. State Department Travel Site
- Homepage | Smartraveller (Australia)
- Travel advice and advisories – Travel.gc.ca
- Foreign travel advice – GOV.UK
- 15 Best Women Safety Apps To Make You Feel Safer in 2023
- 5 Best Safety Apps for Women | Free to use apps & some tips
- The 20 Safest Countries for Women to Travel Alone in 2023
- Best VPN Services Of 2023 – Forbes Advisor
- Best VPNs for the USA – October 2023 – Cybernews.com
- The Ultimate Guide To Stress-Free Travel: 20 Tips on How To Avoid Travel Anxiety – She Goes The Distance
- Five Strategies for Stress-Free Travel – The New York Times
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Royse City, Texas