Catherine McGrew Jaime

Author, Historian, Lifelong Learner, Teacher, World Traveler

Tag: travel tips

Four More Travel Tips

As someone who travels often, I am always on the lookout for travel tips  that will make the travel portion of my life just a little bit easier.  In 2017, with the exception of October, I managed to go out of town at least once every month for the entire year.  (And that exception  was only because I gave up several travel opportunities that month in order to  intentionally spend a month at home.)

I said before I retired that I envisioned retirement to involve LOTS more travel and writing – and so far that’s exactly what “retirement” has been like for me. So it should come as no surprise that 2018 is shaping up to be another year with frequent trips. And since I spend a lot of time traveling, that means I also spend a lot of time preparing for those travels.

In a previous blog post, Tips for Packing Light and Traveling Smart, I shared some of my favorite travel tips (including using packing  cubes, packing light, and choosing a good carry on). Today I would like to share several other tips which you may find useful in your travels.

1. Trip Specific Items

With so much time spent traveling, I own a lot of things specifically for traveling – the packing cubes I mentioned in the last post, the travel  size extension cords, and a variety of European plug adapters, to name just a few. I certainly don’t want to have to go looking for those every time I need to pack. So, most of my travel specific items reside in specific drawers in my dresser. (I started with one drawer and have slowly made it up to  having three of my six dresser drawers now designated to those travel items.) It’s very easy to find those things every time I need them and I make a special point of returning them after every trip.

I need an extension cord so often that one of those actually resides in the case for my CPAP machine – always ready to go, without my even thinking about it. (It resides there permanently along with a travel sleep mask.)

2. Pre-Packing

The second thing that has meant alot in keeping my stress level down with all the packing I do is a systematic amount of pre-packing. I have a conveniently placed horizontal surface in my room that I actually manage to keep fairly cleared off between trips. That surface becomes my collecting place for items that are joining me on my next trip. Depending on the  length of the upcoming trip, at some point anywhere between two days and two weeks in advance (the longer the upcoming trip, the earlier I start), I make sure my horizontal surface is cleared of anything that has found it’s way there “temporarily.” And I start collecting items there that I know I’ll be packing, but don’t need between now and then. Maybe a book I’m taking to read, or my travel hat, or some other particular item.

Well in advance of a trip I try to pack the supplements and prescriptions I’ll be taking along (one of the most critical things to NOT forget on any trip). My first vacation out of the country, about ten years ago, resulted in a $100 mistake when I had to have a family member express mail my forgotten blood pressure medicine to Panama. I can easily replace almost anything else I might forget, but those  items are critical – so the sooner they have been prepacked the better.

I usually find myself doing laundry a few days before a trip and the clean clothes that I’m going to pack from those loads go straight onto my pre-packing surface. The more decisions I can make in advance, the happier I am.

3. Using Packing Lists

Speaking of decisions, I cannot even imagine preparing for my constant trips without my ever present packing lists. I have a generic list that I have been tweaking over the last many years. For most major trips, that generic list gets copied and then modified to fit that particular, upcoming trip. If I’m I’m traveling in January, I seldom need to include any capris. If June or July, I may only need a pair of jeans. For cruises, I generally pack my preferred “dressy skirt and blouse,” and for almost any other trip, it’s just some version of casual.  Because I always prefer to pack light, even the amounts don’t change much – maybe I’m only taking four tops on an upcoming four day trip instead of my usual five – but the basics are fairly standard from trip to trip.

By now I’ve packed and repacked my suitcase often enough that I can do most of it without the list, but I still find it’s a good idea to confirm that I’ve not forgotten something important. (Like the pair of pjs that were among the very last things to be packed on a recent trip to Texas!)

4. Dealing with Last Minute Stuff

In spite of my constant travels and my preference to do things in advance as much as possible, there are always things I have to do at the last minute. Things like packing the CPAP machine, and charging the electronics one last time, generally have to be done the day before or the day of departure. Because of that and my amazing ability to forget more things these days than I remember – I almost always have a list (often connected to an alarm) for the “last minute stuff” I have to pack and to do. As long as I can remember to check the list, things are generally in good shape!

I hope these suggestions are helpful. Feel free to share anything important I’ve left out of this post and the last one with travel tips.

Happy traveling!

Cathy

Update on Global Entry

I love to travel, I really do! And I want to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. But, when I have to fly somewhere, the journey becomes more of an endurance than an enjoyment. I’m not afraid of flying, I just don’t particularly enjoy it. The seats are getting smaller and closer together. And then there’s the “fun” of the airports themselves – with the long walks between terminals (give me Atlanta over Charlotte or Philadelphia any day!) And let’s not forget the ongoing security headaches.

Airport Security

If, like me, you are old enough to remember the ease of pre-9/11 flying, these headaches feel all the more real (and painful!) While we all have some understanding of the importance of the increased airport security, it is easy to long for the “good old days” of flying when all of this didn’t take so long or feel so intrusive.

Global Entry and TSA PreCheck

Since I was renewing my passport last January, I decided it was a good time to apply for one of the programs designed to reduce some of the hassles of flying.  Since I generally fly overseas at least once a year, it wasn’t difficult to spend an extra $15 for the more encompassing Global Entry than the solely domestic TSA PreCheck ($100 for 5 years versus $85).

In a previous post, Tips for Packing Light and Traveling Smart, I spoke a little about my decision and the process of applying for Global Entry. At that point I had obtained my “Known Traveler Number” but I had only had a chance to use the TSA PreCheck portion of it.

But now that I’ve made my first overseas trip since getting Global Entry, I just have to share! I had been under the impression that having Global Entry would save me some time reentering the country when I flew. Oh my, it was better than I had expected.

First Experience with Global Entry

Four of us from our group were traveling back to the states together through Philadelphia – two of us had Global Entry and two did not, so we split up to go through the various security portions. The two without Global Entry got in the back of a very long line and the other two of us walked up to the section with several kiosks and very few people. Within minutes we had processed through those and were on our way to the Baggage Claim section to await our luggage. More than twenty minutes passed before the other two caught up with us there.  I was already happy with my decision to spend the time and money on Global Entry, and we weren’t even done yet.

Full Disclosure: Most of the time we saved going through the kiosks instead of the longer line was then spent waiting for the bags we had chosen to check. Had we just had carry-ons that would have been a true time savings. But the real gain for me was the ability to sit and wait on the bags, rather than standing in the crowded lines – a painful experience for me with my injured knee.

With luggage in hand we headed to the next lines, again splitting between those with and those without the special privileges. The lines there were closer in length, so we probably only saved 5 minutes or so going through the passport check portion.

From there we had to return our luggage to American Airlines for our next flight, and our special status didn’t save us anything – though again, by then the lines were moving quickly, and none of us waited long to get through that portion.

TSA Pre-Check Perks

But then it was time to pass back through security – this time the lines split being TSA PreCheck and non-PreCheck. Two of us were off to the PreCheck line. At first glance the PreCheck line actually seemed longer than the other one, but when we turned the corner we discovered that the non-PreCheck line was significantly longer. This time we probably saved an additional five – ten minutes, possibly more.

To say nothing of feeling like I’m being treated like a real human being when I go through the PreCheck line – the shoes and the sweater stay on, and the CPAP machine and liquids stay in their bags.  Small, but important improvements to my security line experiences! (And since Europeans don’t make anyone take their shoes off going through security – I actually traveled both directions on this trip without that hassle – what can I say, sometimes it’s the little things in life!)

All told I probably saved a half hour or more on my first international trip with the Global Entry perks. And while that may not be a huge time savings for some people, the fact that I was traveling with an injured knee made me appreciate every minute I wasn’t standing in a line.

Luggage

One last comment on this recent trip. Of the six of us in our group, five had been on numerous cruises, and one was a first timer. Amongst us we had five carry-on size suitcases and one much larger suitcase (want to guess which member of the group that belonged to?). As we dragged our luggage through Venetian streets and across canals, both before and after the cruise, and on and off buses and water buses, we were glad that no one had brought two suitcases, and that our bags were generally small.

Carry-On versus Checked

I had planned to bring my bag to Europe as a carry-on, and then check it on the way home. That is my preferred method for international travels – since it ensures my luggage joins me on my trip, but makes things a little easier on the way home. I don’t buy alot of souvenirs (see examples from two of the cities I visited) but I buy enough that it’s nice to be able to expand the bag a bit to accommodate them. On this last trip, American Airlines had other ideas – instead of gate checking my bag on my second small plane of the day, they insisted on checking my luggage all the way to my final destination – convenient – until my bag didn’t show up with everyone else’s in Venice. (It finally did arrive, but not until all the others had long been there, and my stress had risen more than it should have.)

What do you like most and least about flying?

Happy traveling!

Cathy

Tips for Packing Light and Traveling Smart

Travel Fun

There are plenty of blogs out there already offering travel tips (I know, I’ve read many of them), so I hesitated to add another one to the collection.  But since each travel blogger offers hints from their own experiences and perspectives, it occurs to me that I might have a few tips to offer as well.

As my last couple of blog posts mentioned (Travel, Travel and More Travel on here and “Traveling along the Lewis & Clark Trail” on my other website), I am a big fan of traveling. It’s been something I’ve been doing for pretty much my entire life.

Dan, Sonia, and I on our horse and carriage ride across Florence, Italy.

Okay, so we don’t get to travel THIS way very often.

I have ridden as a passenger (my favorite), I have driven (I can manage that too – as my 4200 miles in February and March of this year can attest), I have flown (something I endure for the sake of who or what I am flying to), I’ve occasionally traveled by train (I would be happy to do more of that), and I have traveled by boat (mostly on cruise ships – by far my favorite way to travel!).

I’ve traveled alone, I’ve traveled with one or more friends, and I’ve traveled the most with family. I actually enjoy any or all of those options. Here I will share my tips based on my experiences on those various types of travels. Maybe one or more of them will be helpful to you.

Enjoying Global Entry and TSA PreCheck

When I got to the security area, I happily made my way to the somewhat shorter line for TSA PreCheck. This was my second flight since receiving my “Known Traveler” number the previous month. At $100 for 5 years, my Global Entry application is one of the best travel purchases I’ve made in a long time! It guarantees me TSA Pre on all my domestic flights for the next five years, and should make coming back into the country from my international flights easier. (I won’t get to test that portion until June.) But I do have to say getting to leave my shoes on, not having to take any liquids out, and not having my CPAP machine taken apart (all of which happened when I flew in January without TSA Pre), is amazing! I had experienced the TSA Pre options a few times when traveling with my husband, but to now have it guaranteed makes me very, very happy!

A church bell tower in Italy.

From my first trip to Italy. I hope to make good use of my Global Entry on more international trips.

From what I’ve heard, getting just the TSA PreCheck is less complicated. (My sister was able to do it while stuck in the Charlotte airport on one of her trips, and I’ve seen walk-in offices in several other airports I’ve traveled through.) Whereas the on-line application for Global Entry probably took an hour, then I waited several weeks to hear back from them about setting up my interview. Which is where the fun really began – trying to find an appointment time in a place I could easily get to – even though I live in Northern Alabama, I ended up with an appointment the following month in Houston, Texas. Fortunately I was traveling to Austin and could work in an appointment on my way home from there. Otherwise, I might have been looking at months before I could get an appointment for my 5-minute interview.

The Usefulness of Packing Cubes

My recent trip to Denver was for ten days and I easily packed in my small carry-on suitcase. Since my goal is to always fit in a carry-on, regardless of the length of the trip, that wasn’t particularly unexpected. The real surprise was coming home – my sister had given me a pair of jeans, five tops, and two pairs of shoes – all of which I managed to add to my carry-on along with everything I had brought! That was a real feeling of success. The three packing cubes I had originally packed in were much fuller, of course, but I managed to squeeze it all in.

My 3 Youngest World Travelers

My 3 Youngest World Travelers

Packing cubes have become a big part of my packing/traveling strategy. One of my sons and his wife introduced us to them almost seven years ago – and we have become quite fans, with eBags being our favorite brand. Most carry-on suitcases can easily hold a set of the packing cubes – a large, a medium, and a small cube, though I had actually used one large and two medium cubes on this last trip.

Packing Light

Beautiful sunset

Even on our 15 day cruise (where I saw this beautiful sunset) I only took my carry-on.

At this point I had planned to talk about the importance of choosing the right carry-ons, but I’m still in the process of making the decision on my next carry-on purchase, so that portion of the post will have to wait a week or two.

One of the reasons my carry-on is so important to me is that I take it with me everywhere! It doesn’t matter if I’m traveling for an extended weekend or a two-week vacation, I pack in a carry-on. In fact, I no longer own a large suitcase (the last one I owned went home with one of my children when they were moving several years ago – and I haven’t missed it since).

I read on at least one other blog the idea of never packing more than a week’s worth of clothes, regardless of how long the trip is.  That pretty much works for me – in fact I’ve been known to pack less than a week’s worth of clothes. No matter where I’ve traveled, I’ve had the ability to wash clothes – often in a bathroom sink or occasionally in a laundromat. (On our 15-day cruise I even sent laundry out to be washed a couple of times – it still cost me less than checking a bag one direction would have cost me.)

My Top Travel Tips

  1. If you want to make traveling easier, and not spend a ton of money, my first suggestion is to buy some packing cubes. There are lots of sizes, colors, and brands to choose from. If you haven’t tried them yet, I can just about guarantee that they will make your packing easier. They make it easier to be organized, and to fit more in.  And if your suitcase gets searched going through security, you will be very thankful! I was going through security last summer with a friend who hadn’t flown in awhile. Her bag got pulled because she had forgotten about the “three-ounce” limit for liquids. While the TSA agent pawed through the suitcase looking for the contraband shampoo, I cringed watching her clothes going everywhere. I hope before she flies again, she adds packing cubes to her packing list!
  2. If you’re planning to do much flying, seriously consider signing up for the “TSA Pre” program or the Global Entry.  There’s only a $15 difference between the two ($85 versus $100, each for 5 years). Traveling is much simpler with either of these!
  3. Invest in a good carry-on if you don’t have one. My youngest traveled to school in Boston last fall in a vehicle. She was effectively moving there, so she only took a large suitcase. But this spring she will be traveling home for a wedding. It was cheaper for us to buy her a cheap carry-on for the trip than to pay for her to check the large bag both ways. (Of course, since she should be traveling more in the future, it was also worth getting her a not-so-cheap one.) And again, more on that investment in a future post.
  4. And, last but not least, pack light! On dozens of trips across the country and across the world I have never regretted bringing too little – though I have regretted bring too much on a couple of occasions! I have seldom forgotten something that I either couldn’t live without, or could purchase somewhere away from home.

Happy traveling!

Cathy