Monday, May 13, 2013

Travel Tips Guest Post from Charissa

Today my friend Charissa from Mudpie Magnolia has written a guest post with some great travel tips just in time for summer! 

Charissa and I met eight years ago when we were both working for Reformed University Fellowship just out of college. We became good friends very quickly, and although we have never lived in the same city, we still stay in touch.

Charissa now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband Robert and their dog Rufus. 

I hope you find her tips as helpful as I have! 

I travelled a LOT over the past three years. Most of my travel was work-related, and for a while, it seemed I was in a hotel bed more than my own.

My first trips in this stretch were a little stressful. I’m a planner, and there’s any number of things that can go not-as-planned on a trip. Once I learned some key things, I felt almost as comfortable in a TSA line as lounging in my hammock. (Okay, not exactly...but  I made some definite improvements).

Here’s a list of things I found helpful while traveling...and hopefully you will too, whether it’s a family trip or girls’ weekend.

 1.  Sign up for loyalty programs
It can feel a little overwhelming to try to pick a hotel or a flight out of the millions of possibilities. I found that narrowing down my favorite brands made those choices much easier. Almost every loyalty program for airlines, hotels, or rental cars is free, so you have nothing to lose...and upgrades to gain. I decided that I would focus on two hotel groups: Kimpton and Starwood, two airlines: Southwest and Delta, and two car services: Hertz and Alamo.

Thanks to simply creating an account, I’ve gotten car upgrades, room upgrades, and way more free drink coupons than I can use on flights.

2.  Let your phone know your itinerary
I do have preferred airlines (Southwest & Delta). I use the apps that they provide. Most every airline has an app that, at the very least, will let you view your itineraries. It only takes a few minutes to download the app and enter your account information for your preferred airline.
The advantage is that these apps will give almost-immediate updates for gate changes or delays, as well as showing your boarding pass. Most of them let you check your loyalty rewards as well so you can think “I will be earning 2 million points for this mess” while you’re spending the night in LaGuardia airport because Delta made a big mistake...not that I speak from personal experience or anything.

3.  Compartments
I keep all my stuff in little modules so that it’s easy to switch them in between suitcases or bags. I have all my tech equipment in one bag, my toiletries in a clear zippered plastic bag from the Container Store (ideal for when you take a carry-on and the TSA smells your lotions), and a small “quick needs” that holds some medicine, lotion, a Tide stick and mints. Whenever I switch between backpacks, purses, or suitcases, I can just grab these modules instead of trying to re-find and then re-pack each item.

4.  Pack snacks
I’m always a happier camper when I’ve got a little something to snack on and drink on the plane/car/train (especially if it’s a long haul). Since I usually travel by plane, I’ll grab a few healthy snacks (and some chocolate) and some coconut water once I pass through security. My new favorites are the Go Picnic meals ( which you can buy before you get to the airport or sometimes once you’re there if you fly out of a bigger airport. I love them because they’re shelf-stable, cheaper than buying food on a plane, and they cater to dietary needs like gluten-free, vegetarian and kosher.

 5.  App it up!
My favorite (free) apps for travel (besides the ones for the airlines and hotels) are:

Hotel Tonight: Does just what it sounds like...helps you find a last minute hotel at steep discounts.
TripIt: Combine all your travel plans into one platform. I keep track of my cars, hotels, and flights simply by forwarding your email confirmations to TripIt.
GateGuru: Tells you where shops and food are located in your airport of choice. This has been a lifesaver in helping me to find snacks on long layovers.
Embark: If you’re in a large city with public transit, Embark is my favorite way to master the transit system with minimal worried. I use it in New York and my current home, San Francisco.
Kindle: Reading material! I use an iPad with the Kindle app, and will download either the Kindle free features (sometimes they’re truly awful), pick a book I’ve been wanting to read, or e-borrow something from my library.
Zinio: I subscribe to magazines through this app (Yay, Texas Monthly!) Between Kindle and Zinio, I’m not carrying a bunch of extra weight in reading material.

6.  Enjoy.
The best thing I’ve learned is that I’ll eventually get where I need to go. Being friendly to the travel industry always makes them more understanding and more willing to help you if something doesn’t go as planned.
Travel is as fun as you make it. Say hello to your seatmate, try taking the train, keep a journal...and enjoy your trip!

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