Avoiding the Airplane Cold

 

Many travelers would swear that they get sick after every trip or vacation. They wonder if it was the food, the water, the pina coladas — or, like me, the airplane ride. While I don’t think you can count out the pina coladas (or that burrito you bought on the street), it turns out you could be right about airplanes.

woman blowing her nose

Studies vary, but most show that airline carriers are formidable carriers of the common cold. The Wall Street Journal cited a study that found an increased risk of catching the cold by as high as 20 percent, while another study in the Journal of Environmental Health Research found that colds may be more than 100 times more likely to be transmitted on a plane than during normal daily life on the ground.

The publishers of the second study investigate a panoply of possible causes for the increased chances of getting sick after flying, including close quarters, shared air and, as I will explain, the most likely culprit: extremely low cabin humidity.

The Journal of Environmental Health Research study runs through several potential sources of higher transmission, but settles primarily on a single likely cause: extremely low cabin humidity caused by low humidity at high elevations. (A review of the study reveals the conclusion that aircraft that actively recirculated air actually showed slightly lower transmission rates than those that did not.)

Most commercial airlines fly in an elevation range of 30,000 to 35,000 feet, where humidity typically runs at 10 percent or lower. At very low levels of humidity, the “natural defense system” of mucus in our noses and throats dries up and is crippled, creating a much more tolerant environment for germs to infect us.

This protective system, called the mucociliary clearance system, is your first line of defense against harmful germs and bacteria. To wit, if the common cold is pounced on by a sufficiently moist and percolating proboscis and throttled by your throat, you remain uninfected. Shut down those systems, and you’ll be suffering within days.

Best Ways to Prevent Jet Lag

1. Stay hydrated. It turns out that drinking plenty of water will not only counter the overall dehydrating effects of air travel, which can lead to headaches, stomach problems, cramps, fatigue and more, but can actually fortify your preemptive natural immune mechanisms to function considerably better. Of course, this is the case in normal daily life — when exercising, during prolonged sun exposure, etc. However, in an airplane, where your nose and throat are on the front lines of the war with exceedingly dry air, these are the first places to suffer.

Sipping water or some other fluid regularly throughout the flight may be more effective than drinking a lot of water at one time before or during the flight; this will keep your protective system from long dry spells. (And we do mean to single out water here — alcohol and caffeinated drinks such as coffee or sodas can actually dehydrate you.)

Nasal mists have been found to be very effective in keeping this system working in your nose. (We like the ones from Ayr.) Additionally, hot drinks are a good way to keep your protective mucous membranes working — first, to assist in keeping you generally hydrated; second, by triggering the system into gear; and third, by directly providing moisture in the form of steam. Note that this is not a treatment per se. Rather, it just keeps your defenses strong and functioning.

washing hands

2. Keep your hands clean. Your hands are the most consistent point of first contact with cold, flu and other germs on planes and elsewhere. It is a direct line from armrest/ handshake/seatback to fingers to fork to mouth to full-blown fever a few days later. Scientists report that the viruses that cause colds and flu can survive for hours on your skin or on objects such as armrests, TV remote control handsets, tray tables and other similar surfaces. However, the simple act of washing your hands with hot water and soap is a formidable rampart against this transfer of harmful microorganisms.

If possible, wash your hands before any in-flight meals, and after your flight as well.

Of course, airplane cabins are tight places; getting out of your seat to wash up before and after every snack time can be almost impossible, as the flight attendants command the aisles, your seatmates are trying to eat, tray tables are down cabin-wide, and no one involved really wants to have folks getting up and down and roaming around the cabin. (Even on the ground, the water in many locations can carry water-borne bacteria that may not agree with all Western constitutions.) In these cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends alcohol-based products made specifically for washing hands.

9 Products to Help You Stay Healthy While Traveling

3. Don’t forget the dental hygiene. Just as keeping your hands clean can prevent transmission of germs, using a germ-killing mouthwash in-flight may add another layer of protection while simultaneously helping to keep your throat moist. Just make sure your mouthwash bottle is three ounces or smaller to comply with the latest carry-on rules for liquids and gels.

4. Take your vitamins. The rapid response effect of vitamins is unproven, but many travelers swear by them. Charles Westover, a retired VP of fleet management for a major shipping company, starts taking vitamins two days before flying. “I have no idea if it helps at all, but of the hundreds or thousands of flights I have taken, I rarely get colds,” he said. “I just take a standard multivitamin, and it has never let me down.” The NIH concurs, sort of, stating that no conclusive data has shown that large doses of vitamin C will prevent colds, although it may reduce the severity or duration of symptoms.

Travel Hygiene Tips: Staying Fresh on the Road

5. Wear a face mask. The NIH cites airborne germs as one of the top two sources of cold virus infection; some travelers have taken to wearing masks either to prevent infection, or when they themselves are already infected. Personally, I wouldn’t last more than a half-hour or so behind a hot mask, but this may be an effective prevention tactic nonetheless.

7 Tips for Traveling with Back Pain

 

Back pain is one of the most common ailments on the planet, with millions of sufferers in the U.S. alone. Traveling with back pain can make sitting on a long flight or lugging a heavy suitcase feel like torture. But that doesn’t mean your backache should prevent you from seeing the world. The following tips will help you support your spine and reduce your pain when you travel.

man with back pain

Note: These tips are general guidelines only; they do not apply to all back problems and should not take the place of a doctor’s advice. We recommend consulting with a medical professional before deciding to travel, especially if your back pain is severe.

Flying is the most difficult part of a trip for many people traveling with back pain; being shoehorned into a cramped economy-class seat for hours on end can leave your spine feeling like a Slinky. Some travelers prefer to minimize their time in the air by booking nonstop flights whenever possible. (This also helps you reduce the number of times you have to heave your carry-on into an overhead bin.)

Other back pain sufferers find that it’s actually more comfortable to split their trip into multiple shorter legs, broken up by layovers in which they can stretch and stroll around the airport. Which strategy is right for you depends on the total length of the trip and your own body’s limitations.

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Booking a Flight

Unless you sleep well on planes and plan to conk out for the entire flight, you’ll probably want to request an aisle seat on the plane. This will allow you to stand up regularly and move around the cabin without disturbing your seatmates. Sitting too long in the same position can cause stiffness and pain.

You can do some simple stretches in the back of the plane, but be sure not to get in the way of the flight attendants. (Letting them know that you have a back condition might make them a little more accommodating.) If the seatbelt sign is on and you can’t get up, do some stretching in your seat, such as neck rolls or raising your hands as high as you can above your head. For more ideas, see How to Stretch on an Airplane Without Looking Like a Crazy Person.

The same advice goes for long train, bus or car rides: Get out of your seat as often as possible to change positions and walk around. Your spine will thank you.

Every extra item you put into your suitcase is one more thing you’ll have to hoist into the overhead bin or drag from your car to the airport. Make it easier on yourself by packing less (our What Not to Pack can help), and consider checking any bags you can’t easily lift into an overhead bin.

This advice applies after you’ve arrived at your destination too. When you’re out exploring, consider bringing a small backpack that distributes weight evenly rather than a shoulder bag that will burden one side of your body. Tighten the straps so the pack is as close as possible to your back, which will make the bag feel lighter. If you must carry a single-shoulder bag, switch it regularly from one side to the other throughout the day.

Consider exactly how much you need to carry in that daypack. Do you really need a tablet, a phone, a guidebook, two large bottles of water, an umbrella, a fistful of random coins and a stack of tourist brochures from your hotel lobby? Spare your spine by paring down your pack to the bare essentials.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

Many people who suffer from back pain find that how they sleep has a huge impact on how they feel. If you need a firm mattress for support or plenty of pillows so you can put one between your knees, check ahead of time to be sure your hotel can accommodate you. If your back pain makes it difficult to handle your luggage, you’ll also want to make sure the hotel has an elevator and/or bellhops to help. Finally, if your pain is eased by gentle exercise, check to see whether the hotel has a fitness center and pool you can use.

Call or email the hotel with specific questions, and read reviews from previous travelers to get a sense of what to expect.

hotel bellhop with suitcase

Yes, we preached the virtues of packing light above, but one area where you shouldn’t scrimp is anything that helps ameliorate your back pain. Lumbar pillows, seat cushions, heating pads … whatever will help you feel comfortable during your trip is worth packing.

To save space, consider travel-friendly versions of your favorite accessories. For example, Therm-a-Rest offers a self-inflating lumbar pillow that weighs less then half a pound and can be flattened out between uses. (In a pinch, a rolled-up sweatshirt or jacket can also support your neck or lower back.) Massage Track makes a travel-size foam roller that’s just 12 inches long.

Instead of a plug-in heating pad, consider ThermaCare HeatWraps, which provide up to eight hours of heat and can be worn under your clothing. If ice works better for you than heat, bring a zip-top plastic bag that you can fill from your hotel’s ice machine — it’s cheap, and it adds no weight to your bag.

Test out any new products well before your trip. You don’t want to discover on an eight-hour transatlantic flight that your shiny new pillow isn’t comfortable or that you can’t figure out how to inflate it.

Of course, you’ll also want to bring along any medications that help you manage your back pain. Bring a few days’ extra in case of flight delays or other circumstances that could unexpectedly extend your trip.

9 Products to Help You Stay Healthy While Traveling

Some people find that emotional tension makes their back pain worse. Most people’s travel stress starts at the airport, so be sure to arrive well before your first flight and allow plenty of time for any connections so you’re not racing to your gate. (Check out 16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster and 18 Best Airport Hacks for more advice on moving swiftly and confidently through the airport.)

Once in flight, settle in with your favorite tunes or a lighthearted book or movie. Deep breathing, meditation and positive visualization can help you manage both stress and pain.

Finally, don’t overschedule your itinerary. Build in a little wiggle room so that you don’t feel rushed and will have time to rest if your back flares up during your trip.

For more advice, see 9 Ways to Make Travel Less Stressful.

If you’ve got the means — or the miles — consider upgrading your seat on a long flight. Your back will feel much more comfortable in a roomy business-class seat (or even in premium economy) than you will in the back of the plane.

Another treat to consider: a massage. Visiting a local spa on the first day of your trip is a great way to soothe any lingering aches from your flight. If a full spa day is too much to ask, consider a quick, pay-by-the-minute chair massage at the airport between flights.

Tipping Etiquette: A Guide for Travelers

 

A question and answer session with etiquette expert Lizzie Post

Even the most experienced traveler can sometimes be tripped up by tipping etiquette. Sure, you know you’re supposed to tip your tour guide something — but how much? When you’re calculating the tip for your dinner, do you need to include taxes and that pricey bottle of wine? And is it ever acceptable to withhold a tip for poor service?

lizzie post

For help, we turned our tipping questions over to an etiquette expert. Lizzie Post is an author and spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute, an organization that promotes etiquette in the U.S. and around the world. Lizzie, who is the great-great-granddaughter of the famous manners maven, shares secrets for tipping right every time (and reveals why bribing the maitre d’ won’t get you the best seat in the house).

Q: What’s the most common tipping mistake?
A: To not tip. That’s probably the worst tipping mistake. Usually if you know to tip, you’re tipping around 15 – 20 percent so you know you’ve tipped something, and that’s great. But not tipping at all is probably the worst mistake.

Q: If you’re unhappy with the service you’ve received, is it ever okay not to tip, or is there a better way to handle it?
A: No. You should never let your money talk for you. If you get good service, in addition to leaving a good tip, you would want to thank your server, bellboy, etc. When it goes the other way, you still should leave the customary 15 percent. If you had horrendous service and it was the service provider’s fault, some people might go as low as 10 percent. But we suggest that you leave 15 percent and then immediately speak to a manager to express your dissatisfaction. Say that you’re unhappy with how you were treated and that you’re reluctant to return after such an experience. That will speak volumes to a manager.

10 Travel Money Mistakes to Avoid

Q: Whom should we never tip?
A: Never tip your doctor! We tip waiters and waitresses because they don’t make a livable wage. Our tips are helping to subsidize substandard wages. Try to avoid tipping those who aren’t in the service industry — doctors, dentists, therapists. You also don’t tip your dry cleaner. You’ve purchased their service and it’s one that traditionally doesn’t have a tip associated with it.

In a foreign country, different rules often apply. We recommend that you visit country-specific websites to find out what the local customs are.

Editor’s Note: Guidebooks and visitors bureaus are also great sources for country-specific tipping information. See Tips for Tipping Abroad for more advice on how to tip overseas.

Q: Is there such a thing as overtipping? Could you offend someone by doing so?
A: I don’t think anyone would be too offended by overtipping, but they might think you’re a little stupid. (I always wonder if that happens with celebrities — you hear about them leaving an $800 tip on a $2,000 bill. The waitress must be thinking, “Do you know how many hundreds you just dropped?”)

However, the manner in which you give a tip could be insulting. The classic is trying to get the maitre d’ to give you a better table. A lot of people think that by flashing a $10, $20 or $50 bill, they’re going to get that kind of service, but the waitstaff we’ve talked to say they find that insulting; they’re not going to change the way the restaurant is run just because you’re waving a few bills. You don’t want to bribe for good service. You want to tip afterward to reward good service.

Q: When is it okay to tip in anything besides the local currency?
A: If the choice is that or nothing, then leave the foreign currency. But otherwise, try your best to leave a tip in the currency of that country. Run out and grab some change on your lunch break, or visit an ATM. By leaving a tip in a non-local currency, you’re giving your service person work to do, and they’ll likely have to pay a fee to change it into their own currency. So you should only leave a tip in your own currency if you don’t have time to get something else.

tip money cafe

Q: At restaurants, should you base the tip on the total bill (including tax, alcohol, etc.) or just the cost of the meal?
A: You shouldn’t tip on the tax because who wants to tip on what the government gets? But yes, you do tip on the cost of your meal and any alcohol. If I order a bottle of wine from a sommelier, then I would tip him or her directly. But if I order the bottle from my server, that’s the person I tip. And if I have a few cocktails before dinner, I make sure to tip the bartender specifically before I go to my table.

Q: Do different rules apply to tipping at hotels vs. bed and breakfasts? For example, at a small B&B where you’re not sure if there’s a housekeeping staff and you think that the owner may be the person to clean your room, do you still leave a housekeeping tip?
A: If you don’t know, leave a tip on the side of the bed. There very well could be a maid who comes in for a couple of hours a day, an off-site person that does the housekeeping so the owner can handle the bookkeeping or other responsibilities. Even if it is the owner [who does the cleaning], he or she is doing the work — so I don’t think you would be insulting anyone if you did leave a tip.

A Guide to Hotel Tipping

Q: What’s a good rule of thumb for tipping tour guides (and drivers)?
A: On a short bus tour (several hours or less), tip your guide 10 – 20 percent of the cost of the tour. Give it to him or her when you say goodbye. Charter and sightseeing bus drivers are also tipped in certain cases: when drivers double as guides, $1 per person per day. When the driver has been particularly amiable, the person in charge of a private charter sometimes asks each passenger to contribute $1 or more to a tip pool. On a longer tour with no built-in gratuity, each passenger should give $5 – $10 to the guide and another $5 – $10 to the driver.

You should not tip tour guides at national parks or other government sites.

Q: Should you always tip the driver of the airport car rental shuttle? How much?
A: Yes. Especially if the driver helps me with my bags, I’ll leave a dollar or two (typically a dollar per bag). It’s also nice to tip if the driver has held the shuttle for you. Similar rules apply to drivers of airport parking lot shuttles.

Q: If you give a bellman your bags for storage at the front desk, do you tip when he takes the bags away, when he returns them to you later or both times? And how much?
A: Tip when the bellman brings the bags back — again, because we’re not bribing for service. I’d recommend $1 or $2 per bag.

15 Things Your Hotel Won’t Tell You

Q: If you could only offer one tidbit of tipping advice, what would it be?
A: Remember to tip! Beyond that, my advice would be to keep one- and five-dollar bills on you [or the local equivalent]. Whenever you leave for a trip, go to a bank or convenience store to get change so you always have it on hand.

Check out more travel interviews!

Which Travel Clothes Are Worth the Money?

 

If all you knew about traveling was what you saw on dedicated travel gear sites such as Magellans.com or TravelSmith.com, you might think that you could never take a trip without a wardrobe purpose-built for globetrotting. Think shirts and pants made out of wrinkle-free, waterproof, bug-repellent, UV-protective microfibers, equipped with dozens of hidden thief-proof pockets. But do you really need to buy expensive, specialized travel clothes just to explore the world?

packing a suitcase

For those of you who’d rather wear the clothes you already have instead of blowing half your travel budget on a new wardrobe before every trip, there’s hope. We took a look at some of the most common types of travel clothes to determine whether they’re actually worth the money.

Commonly produced by outdoor outfitters, these pants, shirts, jackets and boots are meant to protect you from damp weather.

Worth It? If you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors in a changeable climate (think kayaking in New Zealand, fishing in Alaska or hiking in the Scottish Highlands), waterproof clothing is worth its weight in gold. We’re not as fond of water-resistant clothes, which don’t stand up to prolonged or heavy downpours.

Buy It: Amazon offers a wide variety of waterproof clothes.

Instead of packing both shorts and long pants, buy convertible pants, and you’ll get both in one garment. (The pant legs zip off to create shorts.) They’re usually lightweight and made of quick-drying material.

Worth It? These pants won’t win you any style points, and you’ll look out of place wearing them on city streets or in quaint European villages. But if you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors, you value practicality over fashion and you have limited space in your suitcase or backpack, they’re worth a buy.

Buy It: Check out Columbia’s convertible pants for men and women.

11 Travel Essentials That Do Double Duty on The Road

Many travelers seek to avoid insect-borne illnesses such as Zika, malaria and dengue not only by packing bug spray but also by purchasing clothes that have been treated with permethrin, an insect repellent designed for fabric, not skin.

Worth It? If you don’t want to shell out money for new clothing, you can pick up a bottle of permethrin and spray your existing wardrobe. While this can save you money in the short term, keep in mind that clothes you’ve treated yourself are typically only protected for about six weeks or six washings, while some factory-treated clothes will keep you bug-free for up to 70 washings. (Read the details from the manufacturer before purchasing.) If you travel regularly to places where insects are a problem, factory-treated clothes are worth the investment.

Buy It: You can buy permethrin spray to treat your own clothes or shop the full line of ExOfficio insect repellent clothing.

These clever garments have tons of pockets where you can stow just about anything — cell phones, passports, wallets, cameras, keys, tablets and more. This can save you valuable space in your carry-on, as well as keep you from having to put valuables in easily accessible places such as a purse or pants pocket.

Worth It? Maybe, if you don’t feel that your usual jacket has enough storage. These garments tend to be pricey, but wearing them regularly at home, not just on the road, can justify the cost. They’re particularly well suited for photographers (who can stow things like extra lenses, memory cards and lens cloths), people who travel with lots of gadgets or women who don’t want to carry a purse.

Buy It: The industry leader for travel vests and jackets is SCOTTeVEST, which offers a range of options for both men and women.

scottevest vest and jacket

When you’re on vacation, who has time to iron? There’s an array of clothing in wrinkle-free (or at least wrinkle-resistant) fabrics that will come out of your suitcase looking as fresh as they did when they went in.

Worth It? Honestly, you probably already own a few wrinkle-resistant clothes — just take a look at your wardrobe and pick out the garments that don’t look like a disaster after they’ve been sitting in a drawer for a few weeks. Rolling clothes or separating them with layers of plastic in your suitcase can help reduce wrinkles too. In a pinch, hang rumpled clothes in your hotel bathroom while you shower (the steam will ease out most creases) or use a wrinkle-releasing spray.

Buy It: Our favorite product for zapping wrinkles is Downy Wrinkle Releaser.

4 Packing Mistakes You’re Probably Making

For travelers hitting the beach, going on safari or otherwise spending a lot of time outdoors, a wide-brimmed hat is vital to protect your face and eyes from the sun.

Worth It? Some travel hats have extra-long back brims and mesh in bizarre places, making them look a little goofy. Just go for a simple option that can be folded or rolled without losing its shape, whether or not it’s marketed as a “travel hat.” We recommend buying one with a chin strap to keep it from blowing off your head.

Buy It: Here’s one unisex, foldable hat from Tuga Sunwear.

These garments aim to thwart casual thieves by offering hidden pockets secured by multiple fastenings (a zipper covered by a button, for instance).

Worth It? A little extra security is never a bad thing, especially if you regularly ride public transportation, walk around busy city streets or visit crowded tourist attractions when you travel. The clothes may be worth the expense if you like them enough to wear them at home too. That said, it’s cheaper to buy a money pouch or belt that you can wear under your clothes to conceal valuables.

Buy It: The leader in pickpocket-proof clothing is Clothing Arts. If you’d prefer a money pouch, consider this one from Lewis N. Clark.

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You might not realize it, but it’s possible to get sunburned even through a T-shirt. That’s why some companies now make special clothing that blocks ultraviolet light from the sun, including shirts, pants, rash guards and swim tights.

Worth It? Most people probably get enough protection from their normal clothing, but fair-skinned travelers spending a lot of time outdoors might find these products useful. If you’ll be snorkeling or swimming for prolonged periods on your trip, even travelers less sensitive to sun might want to pack a rash guard for protection (since sunblock washes off fairly quickly).

Travel Warnings and Advisories

 

These days, you’re probably not planning a trip to Iraq or Afghanistan — the United States and other developed nations are currently advising citizens against all non-essential travel to these countries. But a government travel warning doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad idea to plan a trip to a particular part of the world. In fact, within the past few years the governments of the U.S., Canada and the U.K. have also released advisories about the following countries: Thailand, Mexico, China, India and the United States.

traveler angkor wat

All of these are popular tourist destinations (if not home!). But before you decide to avoid these countries altogether — or to move to Canada — it’s worth taking a closer look at what a government’s travel warnings mean, why they’re released and how to evaluate them.

Governments issue travel advisories to let their citizens know about safety concerns that may affect travel to a particular country or region. In the United States, these warnings are issued by the State Department.

Travel advisories are released for a variety of reasons, including terrorism, natural disasters, political unrest, wars, health emergencies and outbreaks of crime. Travel warnings may also cover areas of the world where a government does not have the ability to respond to the problems of citizens traveling there — for example, if the government doesn’t have an embassy in a particular country, or if the functioning of its embassy is threatened by local violence.

Many governments make a distinction between long- and short-term travel advisories. The U.S. State Department issues travel warnings for ongoing problems such as civil wars and unstable governments, while travel alerts cover temporary issues such as natural disasters or election-related demonstrations.

A travel advisory — no matter how strongly worded — cannot legally stop you from traveling to a particular place. After reading an advisory, it is up to you to decide whether to heed or ignore the advice. While your government will try to help you if you run into trouble abroad, you will always be traveling at your own risk.

Hotel Safety Tips: What You Need to Know

Not all travel warnings are created equal. When deciding how seriously to take a particular travel advisory, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

1. Is the entire country affected? In many cases, violence, unrest or natural disasters are confined to a particular region while the rest of the country is still safe and welcoming to tourists. For example, in recent years the U.K. has cautioned visitors against traveling in Gulf Coast states of the U.S. during hurricane season. And while Mexico’s recent struggles with violence are well publicized, government warnings apply only to select states; many popular tourist destinations such as the Mayan Riviera have remained safe.

While your well-being always comes first, keep in mind that the fallout from an isolated act of violence can affect an entire country’s tourist industry — and have a disproportionate effect on the economy of a developing nation.

2. What’s the danger? For travel advisories dealing with violence or terrorism, pay attention to what kind of attacks are taking place and who the targets are. Assaults that specifically pinpoint foreign tourists should raise a bigger red flag than civil unrest among locals. If violence generally happens away from primary tourist locations, there may be less risk for visitors.

3. How long ago was the warning posted, and when was it last updated? If you’re looking at a warning that’s more than a few months old, it may be worth doing a little research to check the current situation on the ground and see if there’s been any improvement. The websites of international newspapers are often a good source of accurate and up-to-date information. Searching Google News or Twitter can help you find these.

magnifying glass on world map

4. Is the warning corroborated by other governments? To get a fuller story on what’s happening in a particular country, check travel warnings from multiple sources (see our links below). Critics have speculated that some advisories are unduly influenced by politics, so checking a U.S. advisory against a Canadian or an Australian one can give you a fresh perspective — or confirm that a threat is cause for a change in your travel plans.

5. Is there a safety net? Find out whether your home country has an embassy or consulate in the place you want to visit, and make sure it’s fully staffed and functioning. If the worst happens, you don’t want to be stranded in a foreign country without an embassy to help with emergency evacuation or to get you in contact with family and friends at home.

6. Is travel insurance an option? Keep in mind that travel insurance may not cover you in all countries or circumstances. According to TripInsuranceStore.com, most policies do not cover acts of war, riots or civil disorder. Other exclusions apply too, so read your policy carefully before purchasing.

12 Ways to Feel at Home in a Foreign Place

Each year, many tourists choose to visit certain countries despite their government’s warnings. If you decide to do the same, consider taking the following safety precautions.

1. Register yourself. Let your government know when and where you will be traveling so that you can be reached in an emergency. U.S. citizens can register themselves here; Canadians can do so here. Other countries have similar programs.

2. Check in. Leave a copy of your itinerary with family or friends at home so that they know where you’re supposed to be and when. Stay in touch on a regular basis by email, phone or Skype.

3. Keep an eye on the news. It can be tempting to take a complete break from the world when you’re on vacation, but if you’re in a place where conditions are unstable, you’ll want to keep yourself posted on what’s happening by getting online, watching the news in your hotel room or picking up a local newspaper.

4. Be prepared. Have a backup plan in case something goes wrong. Find your home country’s embassy or consulate in the area you’ll be visiting and carry its contact details with you at all times. But be aware of what the embassy — and your home government — can and cannot do. (For example, if you’re injured, the State Department can help get you back to the U.S., but you or your relatives will have to foot the bill.)

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5. Protect yourself. Purchase a travel insurance policy after reading carefully to see what is and isn’t covered. Consider getting a policy with a “cancel for any reason” option so you can back out of your trip without penalty if you feel uneasy. Check out Money Safety Tips for Travelers to help shield yourself against crime. Finally, do your research; read up on the political or cultural situation of the area you’re visiting and know exactly which threats you might face. For more information, see How to Be Safe and Culturally Sensitive When You Travel.

Below are a few governments offering travel advisories in English. (Keep in mind that the State Department does not offer information about U.S. territories such as the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, so you’ll need to turn to foreign governments for any advisories about these destinations.)

United States
Canada
United Kingdom
Australia
New Zealand
Ireland

Top 10 Packing Disaster Stories

 

We asked you, our well-traveled readers, to divulge your worst packing disaster stories. And it turns out most of you have experienced a packing setback or two while traveling the world, from airplanes running over luggage strewn on the tarmac to suitcases filled with invading iguanas.

man with suitcases in trunk of car

While it’s unfortunate that so many of you had problems with lost bags, suspicious TSA agents, forgotten essentials and broken luggage, we thoroughly enjoyed reading about your packing misadventures. So the next time airport security confiscates our bottle of shampoo, we’ll think of your packing disaster stories and acknowledge: It could have been worse.

Check out the 10 most interesting, unusual and/or hilarious packing disaster stories we received.

“I was returning from Sacramento to Las Vegas, my former home town. We had just spent a successful four days duck hunting in the Buttes. I had shot my limit of eight ducks, and my friends decided to share eight of their ducks with me. Unprepared for such a take home, I purchased an insulated backpack at the airport. It nicely held all 16 dead ducks. These were all vacuum-packed and ready for storage. The lady at the counter suggested I check the bag since it was so heavy. Upon arriving in Vegas, I heard an announcement that the plane’s luggage didn’t get loaded and had missed the flight, and that the airline would deliver my luggage within approximately 24 hours. I immediately told the agent what was in my bag, and what a stink it would make in the cargo hold if it wasn’t retrieved instantly. Amazingly, two hours after I left the airport, there was a delivery man at my doorstop with my bag and all 16 ducks. If the airlines ever lose your luggage, tell them you have dead animals in it — and they miraculously find it!” — Yvonne C., Washington

“My husband and I packed for our two-week cruise last year to the western Mediterranean. Was I ever sorry when we were held up by the storm in Philadelphia on the coast. We were blissfully unaware that our suitcases were sitting on the tarmac while we waited out the delay. We arrived and boarded our cruise to unpack our dripping wet clothes! One pair of my shoes had disintegrated in the wetness. Our suitcases stank, and we did our best to hang clothing all over the room, since using dry cleaning onboard means really being ‘taken to the cleaners!’ — $3 per panty! Never again will we travel without making sure our clothing, toiletries, etc. are safely sealed in plastic baggies!” — Linda, Ohio

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

“While packing to return home from Aruba, we found we only had 20 minutes to get ready. There were eight of us trying to get things in order and into suitcases. As a family we made a mad dash to stuff suitcases by turning dresser drawers over and into the suitcases. Yes, we did make it to the airport on time — but returning home and unpacking would be the next endeavor. While unpacking we found baby iguanas that had apparently nested in our drawers. We will make it a point to carefully pack the next time around.” — Rosemarie K., New York

“I work for a company that has an office in Spain. Whenever one of our employees heads over to Spain, we always send him or her with an extra suitcase full of supplies. It’s cheaper to check an extra bag than to mail it. We recently sent a new employee over and with him a suitcase filled with all kinds of things. There were the standard tape measures, safety vests and office supplies, but there were some odd things as well. For instance, a Crock-Pot, an unmarked brown bag of mixed nuts and various packets of Crystal Light drink mix. As his suitcase was being unloaded in Spain, the zipper broke and some of the Crystal Light packets burst, thus spilling out a powder onto the ground. Of course, the airport employees were immediately suspicious, and everything stopped while they got security out to the plane. Our poor employee was fetched from baggage claim and taken into the security office to be questioned. He had a hard time explaining, in limited Spanish, that the Crystal Light was ‘powder you put in your water to make it taste good.’ The concept does sound a little ridiculous if you think about it. Eventually, our supervisor in Spain was called in to clear him of any suspicion, but he did spend several hours in the security rooms of the airport being questioned. What a great way to say, ‘Welcome to the team!'” — Kristi, Michigan

7 Things Not to Do When Packing a Carry-On Bag

“We were traveling to the West Indies to spend a week on a Windjammer. We knew that we would not have a lot of storage for our luggage on the boat so we went to a sporting goods store and bought a small, soft-sided duffel bag. When our plane arrived in the islands I did not see my bag anywhere. Then I saw it … out on the runway. A plane had just run over it. My clothes were everywhere! When I retrieved the bag, I was told that the airline had not caused the damage.

“Meanwhile, my undies, etc. were falling out all over the place, and there were tire tracks on the bag. I proceeded to seal up the bag with duct tape.” — Dianne S., Florida

“I have no personal recollection of this story, but my mother tells it so it must be true. When I was about 3 years old, my aunt and uncle invited me to travel with them by train from our home in Chicago to visit my grandparents in Lincoln, Illinois. I ran to my bedroom, threw a pair of panties in a paper bag and returned to announce, ‘I’m ready to go!’ I remember this every time I’m packing for a three-day trip and can’t decide if I need that fourth (or fifth) pair of shoes.” — Joan, Illinois

cat in suitcase

“While I was preparing for a two-night stay with friends who live about a four-hour drive away, without my knowledge my 3-month-old kitten, Kasi, had crawled into my overnight sack and made herself at home. When I got to my destination and opened the sack, Kasi jumped out, scared me half to death and irritated my friends (who were not animal lovers). Needless to say, most of my first day there was spent in the laundry room, and I had to cut my trip short and return home on the second day.” — Norma W., North Carolina

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“While at the airport checking in for a flight to Rome, we learned that my suitcase exceeded the airline weight limit, which annoyed my dear husband immensely. In his anger, he tried to ‘lighten the load,’ so to speak, and thereby I watched in horror as he randomly threw my underwear all over the floor of the terminal.” — Joan O., Florida

“After bumping our suitcases up a very narrow staircase, my two sisters and I finally reached our room, which had a balcony overlooking Lake Maggiore. Crowding onto it to admire the views, we stepped back into the room and heard a persistent buzzing sound. After searching everywhere for the origin, we decided it must be in the pipes or something, so I went downstairs to get the manager and demand another room. Puzzled, the manager came back with me and she too searched for the source — then she walked toward my suitcase and said the noise was coming from there. Opening the suitcase, I found my battery-operated toothbrush. The bumping on the stairs had somehow knocked it on! Three very embarrassed ladies apologized profusely to the unsmiling manager, and just managed to keep it together until she’d left the room before collapsing on the beds in fits of giggles. For the rest of our trip around Italy I kept the battery and toothbrush separate!” — Wendy S.

The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing

“Years ago, I took a trip to New Orleans and packed my airline ticket in a secret compartment in my carry-on luggage (after checking into the hotel). A week later, I was packing for my return trip home and realized I couldn’t find the return airline ticket. I surmised the maid must have taken it and summoned the hotel security staff. A report was filled out, and upon getting to the airport, I filled out a lost/stolen airline ticket report, paid the fee and flew home. Many years later, I was packing for another trip and stumbled across the secret compartment. You can guess what was in it — that old airline ticket!” — Greg T., New Jersey

Airline Perks Worth Paying For

 

Once upon a time, the guy who booked his plane ticket early was the lucky chap who laid claim to the window seat in the exit row. But today, first-come, first-served plane seats have gone the way of stewardesses, cabin smoking sections and paper tickets. In the past few years, we’ve rolled our eyes as airline after airline rolled out “perks” like priority boarding and preferred economy seating, taking away any chance that a fortuitous flier could achieve the best possible economy experience at no cost.

man checking in at airport

Alas, these programs are here to stay. So instead of scoffing at the idea that fliers have to pay for something that was once complimentary, let’s move on, accept the status quo and find out how we can use it to our advantage.

Are priority boarding and preferred seating programs really worth our cash? George Hobica, founder and president of Airfarewatchdog.com, thinks so. Says Hobica, “With so many fliers carrying bags onboard now, you really have to fight for overhead bin space. And these perks are especially great for families. If you want to keep the family sitting together, and you don’t want the kids sitting between two strangers, you can purchase the seats you want with some preferred seating programs.” (Note: A 2016 bill passed by the U.S. Congress could eventually require that families be seated together at no extra cost.)

Airline early boarding and premium seating programs vary widely, with some offering more value than others. Below, we dissect a handful of programs from the major U.S. airlines to help you decipher which ones are best for you.

American’s Main Cabin Extra offers additional legroom (up to six inches) and Group 1 boarding, starting at $20 per segment. You can purchase Main Cabin Extra when you book or buy it as an upgrade before your flight. Main Cabin Extra is complimentary for most elite fliers and for those who book a full-fare coach ticket.

You can also purchase a Preferred seat when you book, which includes standard legroom and a “favorable” location on the plane (i.e., seats near the front of the cabin). On the flight we tested, from Denver to Philadelphia, Main Cabin Extra cost $64 while Preferred seats were going for $29 – $35.

The Verdict: If legroom and early boarding are essential for you, Main Cabin Extra is the best choice; Preferred costs less, but without any additional legroom or priority boarding, moving up a few rows on the plane might not be worth the cost (especially if the “premium” seats available are middle seats, as many of them are).

How to Get the Best Airplane Seat

Delta Comfort+ includes three inches of extra legroom on domestic flights (or four inches on international flights), dedicated overhead bin space and priority boarding. There are also little perks such as amenity kits (on transcontinental flights) and special snacks. The price varies by route; on our test flight (Denver to Philadelphia), the upgrade cost $59.38 each way. Alternatively, on some flights you can purchase Preferred Seats in the main cabin, which will get you an aisle or window seat near the front of the plane.

You can also purchase priority boarding (which cost $15 on our test flight).

The Verdict: If all you care about is being seated near the front of the plane, buying a Preferred Seat will save you money over upgrading to Delta Comfort+ — but it doesn’t include all the other extras such as priority boarding and guaranteed bin space. Keep in mind that some of these premium seats are middle seats; you might prefer a free aisle or window seat closer to the back of the plane over a roomier middle seat near the front.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

JetBlue offers Even More Space, which grants fliers access to roomier seats (up to 38 inches of legroom) on the plane in addition to early boarding and access to overhead bins. Costs vary by flight. When we checked prices on a domestic flight between New York and Portland, Oregon, the price ranged from $30 to $90 per leg of the flight.

Even More Space sometimes includes JetBlue’s Even More Speed program, also known as early boarding, which is only available in select U.S. cities. (Even More Speed can also be purchased by itself.)

The Verdict: Sure, these seats are slightly roomier, and the bonus priority boarding is nice if it’s included. But middle seats in the front of the plane are up for grabs at that extra price, and personally, I wouldn’t pay $90 more to sit in a middle seat unless it was wedged between two adorable kittens. Since these extra seats are charged on a per-leg basis, they can get quite expensive. The cost for Even More Space seats on all legs of my New York to Portland itinerary, which included a stop in Long Beach, was a whopping $240 total; this might be worth it for tall travelers who desperately need the extra seat pitch, but not so much for 5’1″ yours truly.

southwest plane

Southwest doesn’t have assigned seating, but the airline divides passengers into A, B and C sections based on how early each passenger checks in within 24 hours of departure. The sooner you check in within that 24-hour window, the more likely it is you’ll gain a coveted spot on the A team, which boards after elite fliers and passengers with special needs. Pay $15 each way for EarlyBird Check-In, and you’ll be checked in automatically and receive a boarding assignment 36 hours before your departure.

The Verdict: Because of Southwest’s every-man-for-himself approach to airline seating, the $15 EarlyBird Check-In option is worth it if you’re determined to snag a seat in the front in order to make a tight connection. Frequent flier John Deiner is a fan of the program: “I’ve been flying Southwest for years, and the one thing I hate about it is that you have to check in exactly 24 hours in advance or lose your shot at being among the first to board. I tried out the EarlyBird program on a recent trip to Vegas and loved it — I got on early, got my seat of choice in the emergency row, had copious amounts of overhead storage to choose from and didn’t have to worry about checking in at a certain time.”

9 Ways to Make the Most of Your Layover

As the king of extra fees and add-ons (there’s even a fee for carry-on bags that don’t fit under the seat in front of you), Spirit charges you for any seat request. That means that if you want to be sure you sit next to your spouse or child — even in a lousy coach seat in the back — it’ll cost you $1 to $50. (The airline will assign you a seat at random for free.) For Big Front Seats, which have extra legroom and no middle seat between them, you’ll pay $12 to $199 in advance or $25 to $75 for onboard upgrades.

If you want to speed through the airport and onto the plane, you’ll pay up to $15 for Shortcut Security and $5.99 each way for Shortcut Boarding (also known as Zone 2 priority boarding).

The Verdict: Most of us want some control over where we sit, so it’s worth paying for a seat assignment of some sort — and if you’re paying anyway, why not grab an extra-large seat?

Economy Plus seats offer a few inches of extra legroom near the front of the plane; they are complimentary for some elite fliers and can be purchased by anyone else on a one-time basis or as a yearly subscription. In our tests, prices for one-time Economy Plus upgrades ranged from $99 to $129 on a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago, $29 – $34 on a flight from Chicago to Atlanta and $169 – $193 on a flight between Los Angeles and London.

United also offers Premier Access, which starts at $15 per segment and includes priority boarding, expedited security lanes and dedicated check-in lines. You can purchase this when you book or any time before your flight, including check-in.

During booking, you can purchase an Essentials Offer (which includes Economy Plus seating and an extra checked bag) or an Enhanced Offer (Economy Plus seating, extra award miles, Premier Access, an extra checked bag and United Club access when available). On our test flight between Los Angeles and London, we found that it was cheaper to choose one of these bundles than to select Economy Plus seats individually.

The Verdict: These upgrades can get expensive, as they’re priced per segment; if you’re interested in Economy Plus on most or all of your individual flight segments, it’s probably worth purchasing one of the bundled offers at check-out. Get the Enhanced Offer if you want priority boarding as well.

Airport Security Q&A

 

If you haven’t flown in a while, you may not be up on the latest airport security changes from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Most travelers are aware that the TSA has instituted strict regulations about the amount of toothpaste, bottled water, and other liquid and gel items that travelers are permitted to bring in carry-on luggage. But what exactly are the rules? Just how much of your must-have favorite shampoo can you bring? And are the rules different if you’re flying overseas?

We’ve gathered answers to these and other common airport security questions to help you figure out your packing strategy under the TSA’s carry-on rules. With air traffic soaring, it’s more important than ever to follow the guidelines — that way you won’t be the fool holding up your entire security line.

airport security checkpoint

A. Yes. The liquid/gel restrictions only apply to carry-on baggage.

A. Yes, but only in limited amounts. Liquids and gels must be in individual containers of 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less and placed inside one clear, quart-size, plastic, zip-top bag. The TSA emphasizes that containers should fit comfortably into your bag, and that only one bag is permitted per passenger. If you need to bring more than 3.4 ounces of any liquid or gel substance, it should go into your checked luggage or be shipped ahead.

A. These substances are exempt from the rules above. As long as you declare them at the security checkpoint, you may carry more than 3.4 ounces, and they do not need to be placed in a plastic bag. The TSA recommends but does not require that prescription medications be in their original labeled containers to expedite the screening process. The TSA also makes exceptions for other medical necessities such as insulin, eye drops or syringes. Just make sure to present these items to the security officer when you reach the checkpoint. (You may even want to consider printing out the TSA’s medical notification cards.)

A. Yes.

A. While keeping medications and vitamins in their original labeled containers may expedite the screening process, it’s fine to transfer them into more convenient smaller containers such as daily pill minders.

A. Makeup is subject to the same liquid and gel rules as all other substances — so if you’re bringing liquid mascara, lip gels (such as Blistex) or other liquid- or gel-like items, they will need to be placed in your quart-size plastic bag in 3.4-ounce or smaller containers. Lipstick, powders, solid lip balms (such as ChapStick) and other solid beauty products are not subject to the rules, and may be carried in your hand luggage without restriction.

5 Things You Shouldn’t Wear on a Plane

A. Even though a TSA representative once told us to “try not to over-think” the guidelines, that can be tricky when it comes to food items. Does a cheesecake count as a gel or a solid? What about pecan pie? And can you bring your holiday leftovers like turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes?

A TSA rep told us that turkey and stuffing should be solid enough to pass muster, but mashed potatoes are a bit too gel-like. As for baked goods, the latest word from the TSA is that travelers can take pies, cakes and other bakery products through security — but be prepared for additional screening.

You may bring solid snack foods such as pretzels, potato chips or carrot sticks for the plane, but you might want to hold the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Single-serving packages of condiments are permitted as long as they fit within your single zip-top bag, so you can add mustard to your ham sandwich after you get through security. All food must be securely wrapped or in a spill-proof container.

pretzels

Gel packs to refrigerate food are permitted for medication, but otherwise must be completely solid when you go through the checkpoint. If your freezer pack is partially defrosted and there’s any water in your container, the TSA will confiscate the item.

Our advice? If you have any doubts about a particular food, either check it or leave it at home. After all, you can always buy food or drinks after you pass through the security checkpoint if you need some munchies for the plane.

A. Yes.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

A. Yes. Children 12 and under do not need to remove shoes, light jackets or headwear before going through the checkpoint. If the metal detector or full body scanner finds anomalies, the screener may choose to let the child go through again and/or swab the child’s hands for explosives in lieu of a pat-down.

A. Yes. Seniors 75 and older can leave on their light jackets and shoes during screening (although you may have to remove them if the screener finds any anomalies).

A. Loose lithium batteries are not permitted in checked bags. If your batteries are installed in a device (such as a camera), you may pack the device in either a checked bag or a carry-on, but loose lithium batteries may only be transported in your carry-on luggage. Certain quantity limits apply to both loose and installed batteries; for more information, see the Department of Transportation’s website.

A. Common lighters without fuel are permitted in carry-on or checked baggage, while torch lighters (which are typically used to light pipes and cigars) are prohibited in either type of baggage. E-cigarettes are only permitted in carry-on luggage, not in your checked bag.

A. Tweezers are permitted, as are disposable razors and their cartridges. Straight razors are only permitted in checked baggage. Scissors are permitted as long as the blades do not exceed four inches.

A. Yes. However, circular thread cutters, scissors longer than four inches and other needlepoint tools with blades must be packed in checked luggage.

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A. The European Union (E.U.) as well as other countries such as Australia, Japan, Singapore, Iceland and Norway have adopted similar security restrictions to those in the U.S. You are permitted 100-milliliter containers of liquid and gel substances, packed within a clear, resealable, one-liter plastic bag.

If you’re not sure which airport security rules will apply in the country you’re visiting, we recommend contacting your airline or the local tourist board for advice.

european union eu flag

A. Duty-free liquids, such as perfume or alcohol, are permitted in excess of 3.4 ounces as long as they were purchased at a duty-free shop and placed in special tamper-evident bags. Liquids not in these bags must be stowed in your checked suitcase if you have more than 3.4 ounces.

7 Things Not to Do When Packing a Carry-On

A. Passengers may bring up to 5.5 pounds of dry ice in either their carry-on or checked bag as long as it’s stored in a package that allows the venting of carbon dioxide gas. Airline approval is required. That said, a DOT spokesperson suggests that travelers avoid packing dry ice in carry-on luggage, as individual TSA agents unfamiliar with the regulations may confiscate the substance.

A. Although there have been horror stories about the TSA’s treatment of fliers with disabilities and medical conditions, most security officers are discreet and professional. As soon as you approach the TSA agent, you should disclose your medical issue so that he or she can determine the best way to screen you and any equipment you may be carrying. The TSA does not require travelers to carry a doctor’s note describing their condition, but having this written description may help expedite the screening process. Again, consider carrying the TSA’s medication notification cards.

A. We recommend arriving at the airport two hours before a domestic flight, especially if you’re traveling during the summer, the holidays or another particularly busy time of year. If you’re flying internationally, you should allow yourself even more time.

A. You will have to put your shoes, clear plastic bag of liquids, jacket, jewelry, cell phone, keys and metal items into a bin for screening before you step through the metal detector or the full body scanning machine. (If you opt out of the full body scan, you will face an “enhanced” pat-down, which is performed by a security officer of your gender and covers all areas of the body, including the groin, buttocks and breasts.) You might also need to remove your belt. Laptops and video cameras must be removed from their cases and screened individually. Smaller electronics such as iPads or e-readers do not need to be removed from your bag for separate screening.

laptop computer carry-on airport woman

Save time by putting metal items into your carry-on before you get to the checkpoint, taking your electronic items out of their cases and wearing easily removable footwear.

10 Things Not to Do at Airport Security

A. According to a TSA representative, you may request to be rescanned before submitting to a pat-down, but it’s up to the individual TSA officer to decide whether to grant that request, based on whether the situation meets security protocols.

A. Do not pack wrapped gifts in either your carry-on or checked baggage, as the TSA may unwrap them for inspection. Your best bet is to wrap your gifts once you arrive at your destination, or ship them ahead of time.

A Laptops, video cameras, iPods, hand-held video game consoles, e-readers and most other standard electronic devices are permitted in both checked and carry-on luggage. As noted above, you should be prepared to remove laptops or video cameras from their cases at the security checkpoint. Because electronic items tend to be frequent targets for security screening, you might want to pack these near the top of your bag so that inspectors don’t need to unpack your whole suitcase to get to them.

A. Yes, but you’ll need to use a TSA-approved lock so that screeners can open it if your bag is selected for inspection. TSA screeners will simply cut off non-approved locks if they need to get into your bag.

A. Check TSA.gov for packing tips, a searchable list of permitted and prohibited items, and information for travelers with special needs.

Don’t see your question? Send it to us!

Packing Tips from Our Readers

 

Are you the type of traveler who can’t leave home with fewer than four suitcases? Or the type who crams clothes willy-nilly into each bag and then doesn’t understand why every shirt comes out riddled with wrinkles?

suitcase pack packing travel vacation

Whatever your packing problems, our readers can help. IndependentTraveler.com members have responded to our packing tips with their own travel-tested suggestions for saving space, reducing wrinkles and lightening your load.

“I ask my older relatives to save for me the plastic bottles where their prescription pills come. These usually have childproof caps which means that you can put liquids in them and they won’t spill. So I use them for all liquids I need to pack. The small ones are good for one-time use of shampoo, cough medicine, liquid laundry soap, etc. The medium and larger sizes I use for longer trips, because I can put enough liquid in them to last for a few uses. When they empty, I just throw them away. And when I return home my relatives have a few more bottles waiting.” — Conchy

“After having checked luggage go missing on a trip, my partner and I always mix items in the bags. Day and evening wear, underclothes and footwear for each of us in both bags, that way we each have something to wear until the lost luggage turns up!” — Vee

“My best packing tip is to tuck your packing list into your carry-on when you are done packing. If your suitcase gets lost, you have a list of everything that was in it. On a more positive note, I also carry a photo of our suitcases. That is invaluable when trying to answer the question, ‘And what do your suitcases look like?'” — BonnieC

“I always pack two different pairs of comfortable walking shoes, because no matter how comfortable the shoes are, after a full day of walking, your feet will hurt somewhere. By alternating the shoes, you nver get to the point where your feet are hurting so much you can’t enjoy the trip.” — chrisnjeanne

What Not to Pack

“I went to Japan last year, and took one of the extra huge zip-top bags with me and used it as a washing machine! I was able to get a LOT of clothes into it at once. I just put in the clothes, poured in the soap, filled it with water and then agitated it around in the tub until the clothes were all clean. It made the washing and rinsing a breeze, and my clothes got much cleaner than if I was just washing in the sink.” — USRoadTripper

“I have two absolute favorite jewelry tips. For necklaces and bracelets, INDEX CARDS! Tape the end to an index card and wrap it around the card, then secure with a hair tie. For earrings, safety pins, bobby pins and other random items, wash out an Altoids tin. They are metal, snap securely shut and pack just about anywhere in a suitcase. (Also worth doing: Make a sewing kit and pack it in an Altoids tin.) — gotsparkly

“Being ‘of a certain age,’ I take quite a few daily medications. Rather than take bulky hard plastic containers, I pack all my pills in miniature zip-lock bags (available at craft stores). I label these with permanent marker and put them all in a sandwich bag. They take up no room at all!” — hari

Medications for Travel

“I always bring a sheet of bubble wrap — small bubbles — for any breakable items I might buy along the way. I am sure it’s saved more than one treasure I have gotten home safely and it takes up no space at all.” –sunnyflies

“With the airlines weighing bags to increase their fees, you can put many heavy items in your pockets. You could even sew extra large pockets inside of your jacket to carry more onto the plane and transfer them back into your carry-on later.” — hbuhr

“Preparing for a three-week cruise, I decided to go to the back of my closet and pull out the clothes that I would not necessarily have chosen as ‘the pick of the day.’ They were all right, but not my favorites. I chose either to donate to charity along the way or to chuck the items. WAHOO! Loads and loads of weight reduction, not to speak of extra space for shopping and/or souvenirs.” — Joko

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

“I buy two-gallon zip-lock bags to use when packing. I pick out a complete outfit (shirt, pants or skirt, underwear and socks to match — all wrinkle-free materials) and pack them in the large bag, removing as much air as possible. This prevents having to rummage through the clothes to find coordinating items and messing up the suitcase. I make sure that I have one bag per day or event, then just pull out a bag and get ready!” — Debbi G.

“I like to pack a foldable suitcase inside my regular suitcase. My husband and I can’t stand having our dirty clothes mixed in with our clean clothes. The second suitcase works great; we just dump our dirty clothes into the second bag and don’t have to worry about odor or remembering which layer is the dirty layer. It also gives you more room for souvenirs.” — traveljunkie6987

“My tried and true trick for keeping special fabrics and/or items of clothing wrinkle-free is to use the plastic from your dry cleaning (save those plastic wraps). Lay it out flat on the bed, place your item of clothing on top of the plastic (use two pieces if you must, but the longer pieces of dry cleaning plastic, like the kind for coats and dresses, always work) and begin to carefully fold your clothing so that each fold is wrapped, i.e. every bend has a piece of plastic in it. Once done, carefully place the clothes in the part of your suitcase that has those ‘X’ straps on one side — OR, if you don’t have that, put the wrapped pieces on the bottom of your suitcase. THIS WORKS!” — Host Bonjour

“I make sure all my tops go with all my bottoms, so I can mix and match them. I also avoid prints and try to stick with solid colors … if I want to add some color, I add a scarf or some inexpensive local jewelry. I also try to bring lightweight layers, so I can add or subtract them depending on the weather.” — gypsychick

“I use mesh packing cubes and packing envelopes (folders)! I try to take mostly travel knits, which are rolled up and secured in the mesh packing cube(s). Any item that could wrinkle (hubby’s shirts and trousers) is folded and packed in a packing envelope. I love this system because everything (underwear and socks included) is either in a cube or envelope, so there are no loose things in the luggage. We usually just leave the cube items in our bags when we arrive at our destination — they’re already organized and easy to find. We’ve never had wrinkle problems since using the envelopes.” — desdemona01

4 Packing Mistakes You’re Probably Making

“I always work out how many days it takes to go through my favorite shampoo, conditioner and deodorant and then take half-filled bottles because I know that I will run out on the last day of my trip. I can always use the hotel-provided ones for one or two days if required.” –pookyandjo

toiletry bag toothbrush bathroom travel

“Have a ‘travel’ bag filled with duplicate lotions, shampoo/conditioner, slippers, etc. put away for trips. I keep mine in a small shopping bag so when my next trip comes up, all I have to do is reach in, pack what I need (seasonal items like suntan lotion don’t always go) and I’m ready! When you return from each trip, refill or purchase what has been used. It saves so much time.” — Sallie J.

“I always pack my carry-on as if it’s the only bag I’m taking. I know all my essentials are there, including a change of clothes. Then I pack my checked bag. It’s a bonus when it arrives with me.”
— Wendy

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“For an extended trip (more than a week), try packing a week before. Then mentally walk through how you will wear each change of clothing and other accessories you think you’ll use. That way, you can reduce the amount of clothing packed and be able to make a list of all those last-minute items you need to buy — batteries, electrical converter, rain poncho, toiletries, etc.” — Jonathan B.

“Create a master packing list that includes everything you might need for any trip, and then highlight the items you will need for a particular trip. My list has been invaluable and helps me to remember things that don’t readily come to mind.” — Tim H.

“Instead of packing toner or astringent for the face, I put cotton balls in a heavy zip-lock bag and pour toner or astringent on it — one ball or two per day. That is one less plastic bottle to pack. Same format for moisturizing lotion: Buy a cheaper quality lotion just for the trip. Put it in a heavy-duty zip-lock bag and use it from this bag morning or night while on the trip — one less container.” — Carolyn S.

What’s your top packing tip? Share it in the comments below.

Around-the-World Tickets and Fares

 

Around-the-world travel isn’t just for the young or the independently wealthy. Students, retirees and even working folks with a few weeks of vacation time can take advantage of the convenient pricing and flexibility of around-the-world tickets. You can travel around the world for nearly any length of time, from a few days to a few years. Your trip can involve a couple of brief stops or dozens of stopovers and side trips.

travel backpack beach

And it needn’t cost as much as you might think. Economy-class fares for the most basic around-the-world tickets start at less than $2,000.

An around-the-world ticket is a special fare (or a series of point-to-point tickets) that allows you to fly to multiple cities and continents. These tickets are sold through airline alliances and agencies that specialize in around-the-world travel, and they can help you save money and organize your itinerary. Read on for a run-down on where to buy around-the-world tickets, how they work and what they cost.

Consider an around-the-world ticket if you’re traveling to multiple continents within the same trip. (If you’re focusing on a single continent, an air pass may be a better bet.) Plot out your preferred countries or cities, along with a rough idea of how long you’d like to spend in each place, and then turn to one of the providers listed below for help in planning your itinerary.

Note that it is possible to craft your own around-the-world ticket of sorts simply by pricing out each leg of your trip individually. We recommend doing a quick price check using a site like Kayak.com or Momondo.com, and then comparing the fares you see against the offerings from the providers below.

There are two main types of around-the-world ticket providers: airlines and specialist agencies.

Airlines: The three global airline alliances allow you to link together the routes of any member airlines to create one continuous global trip. Each alliance offers at least one around-the-world ticket option.

Fares are calculated based on the total mileage of your trip or the number of continents you visit. You are permitted anywhere from 3 to 15 stopovers in a period of 10 days to a year. These tickets may not be your most flexible option, as some require you to reserve all legs of your trip in advance. There may be restrictions on which direction you can travel (some around-the-world fares require that you travel only in a single direction, either east to west or vice versa), or how many miles you can fly.

One advantage of booking your around-the-world ticket through an airline alliance is that you’ll be eligible to earn frequent flier miles toward the airline loyalty program of your choice.

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Information about around-the-world tickets on each alliance can be found at the following links:

Oneworld
SkyTeam
Star Alliance

Specialist Agencies: Many of these agencies are consolidators who can piece together point-to-point one-way tickets that undercut the lowest economy fares from the airline alliances. Be sure to ask whether your ticket will be eligible for frequent flier miles, as this may vary from one agency to the next.

man with backpack at airport gate

You will find that around-the-world fares through these agencies begin at about $1,300, which is a very basic New York – London – Hong Kong – New York ticket. Rather than selling you a single around-the-world ticket, the agency will ask you where you want to stop, then issue you a series of point-to-point tickets. If you live near a small airport, you’ll likely need to transfer through larger gateways before embarking on the international portion of your trip.

Here are several agencies that specialize in around-the-world tickets:

AirTreks
Indie
STA Travel
TicketsRoundtheWorld.com

Editor’s Note: While we have had great experiences with some of the companies listed above, this is a cutthroat business with very small margins. Please take the same precautions you would in buying a ticket from an around-the-world specialist as you would from a consolidator, such as charging your tickets on a credit card and confirming all reservations/seat assignments with the airlines directly.

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Flexibility: This may be the single most important factor in the success of your trip. Want the option to stick around New Zealand for an extra two weeks, or to fly to Bangkok instead of Beijing? Be sure to read the terms and conditions carefully before you book your around-the-world ticket. Ask which reservations need to be confirmed ahead of time, how easily you can alter your original dates or itinerary, and which change fees or fare increases may apply. Keep in mind that flexibility may often come with higher fares, so you’ll need to weigh your budget against your travel plans.

Class: For many travelers, flying first or business class is well out of their price range — but if you’ve got a little cushion in your travel budget, consider whether it’s worth spending the extra money to buy an around-the-world ticket in business class. Flying long distances and living on the road for an extended period of time can be hard on your body, and you may be surprised at how much you appreciate that relaxing flight in a spacious airline seat when you’ve been on the go for four months straight.

Alternatives: If money is a concern, keep in mind that using your around-the-world ticket may not always be the most economical option for getting from Point A to Point B. For shorter segments of your trip, check the local train or bus services as well as any discount airlines that operate in the region. They may take a little more planning and coordination, but these alternatives could save you some cash.