Some jerk once said: It’s more about the journey than the destination. Well, this reckless individual obviously has never had the experience of passing through a modern airport. We used to get stressed and frazzled at the beginning of our journeys, wondering if we’d make our flight, wondering what new rules the TSA had implemented since our last trip, finding parking, and the myriad of other bothersome details that come with beginning and ending a trip. We’ve picked up a few tricks over the years to make the journey as painless as possible and to glide right into the heart of the experience: the destination.
JOIN A TRUSTED TRAVELER PROGRAM.
Christina and I are both enrolled in Global Entry, that allows us to bypass the insane customs line when returning to/passing through the United States, and instead, just swipe our Global Entry card at a kiosk with virtually no line, and get on with our business. It also comes with the added bonus of enrolling you in the TSA PreCheck program, which gets you in the expedited security line at US airports.
The best thing about it? You don’t have to remove your shoes, belt, jacket, or go through the x-ray vision glass tube of shame. There is a $100 USD application fee per person, followed by an interview with a border control agent at a TSA location (we did ours at IAH), and it is good for 5 years. Seriously, this program has helped us avoid a lot of frustration and headaches. Enroll here.
BOOK YOUR FLIGHTS DIRECTLY WITH THE AIRLINE.
I have learned this lesson the hard way. I used to book my flights through travel sites such as Kayak, Expedia, Hipmunk, etc. The first time I had an issue that needed resolved, I called my airline, who then informed me that I needed to contact Expedia. I then contacted Expedia, who told me I needed to take it up with the airline. After bouncing back and forth between companies, being placed on hold for long stretches, I vowed to never again use a travel site to book flights. What I’ll do now is use a variety of sites to find the best price (Skyscanner and Google Flights are my go to’s), then go directly to, say, Air Canada’s website and book it directly with them. That way, there’s no middle man to deal with, and issues are going to be a lot easier to resolve.
USE SEAT GURU.
So you’ve booked your ticket directly with the airline. Now let’s dig a little deeper to help your flight be a little more pleasant. Look up your flight on SeatGuru and avoid the worst seats on the plane. When selecting your seats during the purchasing process, double check them on SeatGuru to make sure they don’t suck. The seats are rated on comfort and are very helpful in guiding you in selecting the best area of the plane to be.
GET A CREDIT CARD FOR YOUR INTERNATIONAL TRAVELS.
Using your every day banking or debit card is going to load you down with international purchasing fees and ATM fees from your bank, and you will also find that your normal bank card with pin code might not even work in many places internationally. Consider getting a card like the Chase Sapphire Plus or Barclay Card to use on your trips. These cards contain a chip which can be used to make purchases all over the world, won’t charge you any fees, and come with many many other perks, like:
- Car Rental Insurance – if you put your rental car on your card, you won’t need to purchase the rental company’s insurance policy. Should anything happen, you’re covered in most instances by your credit card company at no cost. In our recent trip to Austria, a car parked next to us put a nice dent in the side of our rental with their door, and since we booked the rental with our Sapphire card, Chase covered all the expenses.
- Reimbursement for lost luggage – most travel cards will provide you with up to $300 to purchase clothes, supplies and other necessities should your luggage get lost in the shuffle.
- Zero Liability for fraudulent charges – should your card get stolen, you are not held responsible for any charges made on the card not authorized by you.
There are so many more benefits to having a credit card (I use the Chase Sapphire Preferred) – most importantly, the points you earn on purchases which can then go toward future travel. Many of these cards come with great sign on bonuses of 40,000 miles with a minimum spend, which is enough to get you a free round trip domestically, right off the bat. I could go on and on about points, but that’s for another topic all on its own!
USE EBAY TO PURCHASE LOUNGE PASSES.
OK, so you’ve got your Global Entry membership, you’ve picked the perfect seats on the plane, now let’s take even more stress out of your pre-trip. If you don’t already have a membership to a traveler lounge, check out Ebay for cheap lounge passes. We fly out of Houston, which is United’s hub, so rather than pay the exorbitant fees for getting United Club access, I go on Ebay and pay anywhere from $20 – $40 for two one time use club passes. We enjoy the free beer, snacks, and soda, as well as the quiet, more relaxed atmosphere and comfortable seating.
GET A DRIVER (OR USE UBER). Part of the stress of the pre-trip comes from getting to the airport. We frequently stressed about getting to the airport, finding the right parking lot to use, then getting on the shuttle to take us to the airport, only to find that the driver would go up and down the aisles looking for more passengers to pick up before departing the lot for the terminal. In the meantime, my hands are sweating wondering how long the security line is going to be, and ultimately if I’m going to make the flight. This stress was eliminated when we decided to use a driver to take us to the airport. We found someone we trusted, who picks us up at our house, and takes us directly to the departures gate. When you factor in the costs of gas and the cost of long term parking, you’re not going to pay a whole lot more for a driver than you do for parking yourself at the airport. You might also look into newer methods such as UBER for an even cheaper method of getting to the airport. Take the time on the ride to the airport to check your flight status on your phone, and begin to unwind. It’s great to put someone else in charge of getting you to the airport.
Hopefully these simple tips will make your pre-trip a little more relaxing. You’ll be surprised by how less frazzled you are by just following these few simple rules, and allow you to focus more on the most important part of this whole thing – the destination.by