Friday, July 31, 2009

Travel Tips Part 1: Carry-on Bags

As the wife of a world-traveller, I travel quite a bit. I love seeing new places but holiday and summer travel are certainly some of the busiest and therefore some of the most frustrating times to jet set. After my latest trip this past month to Europe for two weeks I broke some of my own 'travelling rules' and watched them backfire on me. Here are some things that you will want to know before travelling this summer:


1. WHEELS ARE BEST-When purchasing a new carry-on bag or selecting one to pack, be sure to use one with wheels and a handle that extends. This will save your back and shoulders immensely. You can use it to roll around the airport and even down the aisle of the plane until you find your seat. This type also has plenty of room and is a standard size, unlike a duffel bag so there won't be any question as to whether it is suitable for the overhead compartment.

2. FILL IT- These days when it comes to regular luggage, most airlines are ready and willing to gauge you for excess baggage weight as well as extra bags, especially if you are carrying more than one check-in bag. Save yourself the grief by packing as much as you can into your carry-on. This will save you from opening up your luggage and shuffling pieces from one bag to the other at the ticket counter (where they weigh your bags). This may also save you from requiring a second piece of check-in luggage which can cost you more money. Generally the limits are 50lbs per suitcase and one standard size carry-on bag that can range 25-40lbs as well as another personal item such as a purse, umbrella, video camera or a laptop bag. Be sure you check with the airline on dimensions of baggage and weight before flying. Many charge around $25 per for more than 1 check in bag.

Other great things to pack are an ipod, a book or magazine, a neck pillow for long flights and ALL of your valuables like a camera, jewellery, money, a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer or hand wipes and a hair brush or comb. If you carry any supplements or prescription medication, you'll definitely want to pack that as well. You want to make sure there is no potential for theft or loss of any kind. See "Just in Case" below for more tips on what to bring.

3. SMALL LIQUIDS ONLY-There was a time after 9/11 where we were instructed NOT to bring liquids of any kind into a carry-on bag. This resulted in many perfume bottles, makeup, deodorants, water bottles being confiscated. How frustrating and expensive! Today similar rules are in effect, however you are allowed 3oz size bottles. In most airports you're good as long as you can fit all of those into a quart size ziploc bag, which is almost always required at security scans. Double check that any larger liquids or gels are stored in your main luggage. Beware-things can leak and shuffle in transit so do store them in a twist top travel bottle vs. a flip top which almost always leak during the flight. Also be sure to put these items in a a large ziploc freezer bag and then place inside another grocery bag for extra protection against your clothing.

**I used a flip-top shampoo bottle during my last trip (as I ran out of the twist on type at the last minute) only to find out upon arriving that it had leaked inside my suitcase and coated some shoes and other items with soap. Luckily I had some wipes and kleenex on hand to help clean it up at the airport and I aired out the bag in the hotel as well as washed all the toiletries that had become soapy and gooey. Not a fun way to begin any trip, I assure you!

4. JUST IN CASE-We all want to believe that our luggage will make it to its intended destination, but the reality is that it sometimes does not. I've heard many horror stories of those ready to board a week-long cruise with *gasp* NO LUGGAGE! Even if it is delayed by a day or so while you're travelling, that is still a really big inconvenience usually involving you washing your underwear and hitting a store for a toothbrush and paste or worse-having to buy all new toiletries, clothing, shoes and more. No fun!

I would strongly recommend packing two days worth of clothes in your carry-on bag. Try to pack in such a way that the shoes you wear on the day of your flight will also work with the next two outfits, eliminating the need for extra shoes. Try to make everything lightweight so it all fits and be sure to roll clothes tightly vs. folding which created more room and less wrinkles. Summer is the easiest time to pack a carry-on bag but perhaps for winter you can pack one pair of pants but two different tops. It's also a good idea to pack a long sleeved top (preferably zippered or botton-down) for the plane ride as it often gets cool and it's good for layering when needed.

This is where carrying small travel size toiletries comes in handy. Never be without a bottle of face wash, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, flushable wipes and some face moisturizer. You can bring some makeup too. If you get delayed and are stuck in the airport you won't be able to shower but at least you can freshen up. If you are forced into a hotel they'll always have the soap, shampoo and conditioner but it never leaves your hair feeling the same as your own, so be sure to pack some of your own. Just pack as if you really will be without your luggage for a couple days and you'll be ready for anything!

**I'm generally pretty good about packing 'just in case' but on my flight home from Rome I was dead tired and pressed for time to pack that particular morning. I was so concerned with my liquids and making sure hubby had enough room in his bags (he packs more than I do) that I totally forgot to pack some clothing. Well, wouldn't you know it-the airline messed our flight up and we had to stay in London for an evening and full day as well as another 6 hours overnight in a NY airport. Needless to say I was washing undies in the hotel sink, pressing my clothes in the morning and I had to buy a new deodorant (mine was a liquid and was an ounce too large for carry on). I will NEVER break this rule again! The airport did give us the option to pick up our bags if we wanted but I was too exhausted to lug my 2 heavy bags, carry-on bag and purse. We were not allowed to simply open our bags and take a few things or just take one bag. Thankfully the bags were at least available to us!

5. TAG IT- Although you'll likely have your carry-on bag with you at all times, it is a good idea to put a name tag on it. Since most bags look alike and are generally black in color it could easily be picked up by another traveller. Just this past month I was picking up some goodies at Starbucks and sat next to a woman on a bench while I waited for my hubby to pay for his food at another shop. It was early and I was tired-I reached down and rolled away with my bag when a lady said "Miss. You have my bag!" thankfully I was only about 10ft away. She laughed about how her clothes wouldn't fit me anyway since she'd gained 20lbs. For the first time I was able to see how this could easily happen to someone else too. I always have pretty monogrammed tags on my regular luggage and now I'll be adding one to my carry-on bag too.

**If I could add one final tip it would be on buying a new carry-on bag. In these economic times it's wonderful to get a great deal so I highly recommend shopping in discount stores such as Target, Ross, TJ Maxx, Walmart and the like. They are far less than luggage stores and if you don't travel frequently, the quality of these bags will be fine for what you need. As with items such as mattresses, try to avoid the urge to pick up a carry-on bag or luggage for free or minimal cost from craigslist or a yard sale. While it may be in good condition, you never know what has been inside, spilled in or on it and what it has come in contact with.

Happy and Safe Travels!
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