Friday, March 6, 2015

Some thoughts on travel

I have been lucky enough to have traveled a lot, lucky because I enjoy it and because much of my travel, at least within the US, was for work, so cost me nothing. My international travel is entirely personal, costs quite a lot but is so worth it.

For at least 15 years after moving the the US from Ireland, I returned to visit at least twice year, at first visiting both Ireland and France in the same trip, then alternating. My sons lived in Ireland and my daughter lived in France. In the last few years my visits have reduced to just once a year, partly due to the cost, but also because I can't stand another winter visit to Europe. I have become too spoiled by the constantly heated homes in the US, in Europe the cost of home heating is so high that no matter what form of heating you have, it is only run for short periods of time, such as early morning and late evening. If you live like that all the time, you do grow used to it. I am no longer used to it.

When I was traveling for work, naturally I had to use the cheapest, or the company recommended carriers. As a result I have had the misfortune to have experienced just about every US domestic carrier. I have spent long hours hanging around airports, and occasionally unexpected overnights due to missed connections and canceled flights. When I have a choice, I fly Delta. I chose Delta originally because they fly directly into Dublin from Atlanta, and flying from Austin to Atlanta is an easy trip, and if you have to spend any time waiting in an airport, Atlanta is a good place to do it. I continued to fly Delta because I started to amass a considerable amount of frequent flier miles, but also because I have had a better experience with them than with any other carrier, and taking in to account the fact that I have flow way more times, and way more miles with Delta, that is a fairly good recommendation.

I used to have a yearly membership to the Delta Sky Club - as much as I was traveling, it was worth it. But now that my travel is reduced, I will just buy a day pass if I am going to have a long lay over, that is if it is 3 hours or more, which it frequently is with International Travel. The comfort and facilities in the Sky Club make it well worth the cost.

I stress - not just about travel, I stress about everything. However, with travel it is very easy to find things to stress about, missed flights, lost luggage, luggage overweight - the list goes on, things I do to reduce the stress of travel:
  • I always book flights with lengthy lay over times, I prefer to hang around the Sky Club than make a mad dash for a tight connection, or worse, risk missing a connection altogether.
  • Pack all my liquids in my check in bags - no plastic bags to worry about at security
  • If I am traveling with carry on only, I do so without liquids - I have actually been known to mail the minimum makeup needs to my daughter, ahead of my travel, so that all I need is there when I arrive. Every woman has bottles, tubes or jars of makeup with just a little in the end, these are what I send ahead and leave behind. My granddaughter has great fun with them after I am gone.
  • I carefully weight my packed check in to ensure it is not over weight, just a couple of extra pounds can cost $100. If I have to check more than the allowed weight, two smaller bags, each within the allowed weight, is cheaper than one large, overweight bag.
  • I take a photo of my packed bags - I know, this sounds really OCD but if you have ever lost your luggage and, after an 8 hour flight and 1 hour search for bags in a very large baggage claim area, then had to describe in detail the lost bags - you would also start doing this.
  • I always bring my Kindle, with an extended battery pack, loaded with a number of books and a couple of movies and my favorite music.
  • My carry on consists of a backpack which contains my laptop, kindle and one change of clothes - in the event my check in luggage does go astray, or I get stranded overnight, at least I do have one change of clothes and generally lost luggage is rounded up within 24 hours
  • I also purchase comfort seating, early boarding reduces stress for no apparent reason because I do know the flight will not go without me so long as I have checked in and I am at the gate on time, and I do know I have a seat and will get on eventually, but comfort seating is also .. comfortable, not that I really need the extra space, but early boarding and early deplaning is definitely less stressful
  • And finally, I have my Global Entry TSA Pre Clearance (see below).
  • When ever possible, my European port of departure when returning to the US is Dublin, Ireland. There you clear both US Customs and US Immigration before boarding your flight. So arrival in the US is as easy as domestic travel within the US. This is particularly useful when making a connection once you land - tired, jet lagged and disorientated, just get off that plane and head for your connection.

I have to say, I have no issues with TSA, if they are doing their job right, they are keeping me safe, who can argue with that? But Global Entry Pre Clearance is a real luxury.

This allows me to by pass most of the queues at security and I don't have to remove my shoes nor unpack my laptop.

Anyone else got any good tips?

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