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Tips for Planning an African Safari

An African safari is a true adventure—imagine thousands of zebras migrating across emerald grasslands, flocks of florescent flamingos creating a field of color across a shining lake, and lions feasting on a hard-earned kill.

With 54 different countries more than 11 million square miles between them, Africa is a very large and very diverse place. The types of safaris are endless. And while there’s no right way to go on safari (it all comes down to personal preferences), there is a lot to consider when it comes to picking out your perfect experience. Here’s how to make the right choice.

Many travelers trek to Africa in search of the “Big Five”: buffalo, lions, leopards, elephants, and rhinoceroses. The chance to get close to these animals in their natural habitats is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but your trip to Africa is anything but a trip to the zoo. Safaris can be physically taxing and strenuous, and you may not see all the animals you expected. Since most safari destinations are in developing sub-Saharan nations, travelers must take certain safety and health precautions. If you’re planning a safari (or just dreaming about it), be as prepared as possible. Get some good guidebooks, talk to friends who’ve been to Africa and research, research, research. We’ve outlined some important African safari tips, from choosing a destination to getting vaccinated, to help you start planning a successful adventure.

Types of Safaris

For the most part, safaris are a costly kind of vacation. But as with any other type of travel, you can tailor your safari to suit your personal budget. The length of your safari will affect its cost—although you may want to cut your trip short to save cash, the longer you stay, the less you will probably pay on a per-night basis. If you’re looking for luxury digs (think private butler or plunge pool) on your safari (or even just hot water and a comfy bed), prepare to pay more. Budget-minded adventurers should seek self-drive or overland safaris (see below) as opposed to all-inclusive package tours—but be prepared to camp in tents or navigate a 4×4 through the African bush. If you’re traveling alone, you’ll probably have to pay a single supplement, as most package pricing is based on double occupancy.

Also don’t be afraid to extend your vacation in Africa to include an island vacation in Zanzibar, a chance to see the thundering Victoria Falls, or discover ancient history in Egypt—many tour operators will offer extension programs to their safari offerings.

Luxury Safaris

A luxury safari offered by a well-known tour operator typically costs thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of dollars per person, per week, with all-inclusive prices covering tours, food, drinks, and excursions. Fully catered luxury packages offer travelers the comforts of home in the wilderness. Accommodations range from air-conditioned suites to stylish tents (you’ll feel almost like you’re camping—aside from the hot running water, rich linens, and first-rate service). Ultra-luxurious safari lodges can cost more than $1,000 a night.

Belmond Safaris offers luxury safaris packages in Botswana. Orient-Express offers three safari camps, each with its own distinct character: Khwai River Lodge, Eagle Island Camp, and Savute Elephant Camp.

Book a tour with Abercrombie and Kent if you’re looking for a wider range of destinations, including Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Zambia, South Africa, and more. This company has been operating upscale African safari tours since 1962.

African Travel, Inc. works in 17 destinations in Africa, the majority of which you can find the Big Five, as well as endangered species. For an affordable luxury safari trip, look towards Lion World Travel; at a $5,000 price point, you can enjoy luxurious lodges and incredible wildlife experiences.

Overland or Mobile Safaris

Overland (also known as mobile) safaris are generally the cheapest type of organized tour safari. An overland safari will involve campsite accommodations, and you will most likely travel in a group with other travelers. Overland safaris are usually participatory—you may be expected to pitch in with chores such as cooking meals or setting up camp.

Intrepid Travel sells a number of participatory camping safaris, including the Kenya Wildlife Safari with trips to tiny Tanzanian villages, the Masai Mara National Reserve, Lake Nakuru, and more. Tours range from seven to 27 days and can include game drives in Botswana, sliding down sand dunes in Namibia, a visit to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, among other stops. G Adventures offers similar trips, including coasting along South Africa and trekking Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Acacia Africa is a reputable overland safari provider that offers a variety of affordable packages for different budgets and travel styles.

River Cruise Safaris

A river cruise might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re considering a safari, but spotting wildlife along the river banks is an amazing sight to see. The Chobe and Zambezi Rivers in Southern Africa are teeming with wildlife and are home to the largest elephant population on the continent. There are plenty of companies that sail on these rivers, but CroisiEurope’s African Dream boat and Amawaterway’s Zambezi Queen stand out as two of the most luxurious river cruise options in Southern Africa.

Self-Drive

Are you the adventurous sort? Pick a public game park, rent a car and tour the African bush on your own. Since self-drive safaris are only possible in public parks that usually have paved roads and signs, you need not worry about getting lost in the plains of Africa or becoming food for a hungry lion. For the cheapest possible safari, self-drive is your best bet. You can pay for a la carte for meals, tours, and accommodations, enabling you to opt for the most inexpensive lodging you can find or tour the bush on your own instead of hiring a guide.

One potential drawback of a self-drive safari is that without a knowledgeable local guide, you may miss some wildlife. To remedy this problem, read guidebooks on spotting wildlife in your destination, bring a field guide or stop and ask other travelers where they’ve seen the best game (this is easier to do in the popular public parks).

National Parks vs. Game Reserves

Whether you’re selecting a tour guide or planning the trip yourself, you’ll need to get more specific about the type of environment you want for your safari. You can’t just vaguely drive into the wild, so it’s important to know the difference between a national park and a private game reserve.

A national park is landmass protected by the government and can be quite large, like South Africa’s Kruger National Park (which is the size of Israel and has six different ecosystems). With a place like this, there’s no way you’ll be able to see it all on a short trip, so you’ll have to do your research to make sure you’ll be visiting the regions of the park that you want to see. The benefit of visiting a landmass of this size is the potential to see large herds of animals in their migration, like the Great Wildebeest Migration in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.

On a private game reserve, the fenced-in land is much smaller than the national parks (though it should still be large enough for the animals to happily roam) and the population is mostly controlled by the owners. For example, the Karongwe Reserve offers 21,000 acres of land. Your game drives are included in the price of your lodging, and because the reserve works as one operation, the safari guides communicate with one another about the animals’ whereabouts, ensuring that you’ll see as many animals as possible. Private reserves also do not operate under the same rules as national parks, which means an opportunity to safari in an uncovered vehicle and even stay out past sundown.

Where to Go

Each country in Africa is different. We acknowledge that it is impossible to capture the spirit and culture of an entire country in one paragraph, but below is a brief overview of some popular African safari destinations to get you started. The best and most popular areas in Africa for safaris are East and Southern Africa, which offer vast plains and roaming packs of extraordinary wildlife. We talked to specialists from Lion World Travel, African Travel, Inc., and smarTours for their recommendations and tips.

Kendra Guild, Director of Operations & Product at smarTours breaks down where to go based on what wildlife you want to see: For elephants, head to Chobe National Park in Botswana; for gorillas visit Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda; for lions go to Serengeti in Tanzania; for rhinos go to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi and Kruger National Park in South Africa; and for rare birds, Kruger National Park has the largest and most diverse collection of birds in South Africa.

East Africa

Kenya: Kenya’s most abundant wildlife can be found in the Masai Mara National Reserve (a part of the vast Greater Serengeti), where massive herds of animals make an annual migration across the plains. But beyond Masai Mara and the Serengeti lie plenty of other quality parks with abundances of wildlife, including the soda lakes of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Bogoria, where thousands of colorful flamingos reside. You can also find the “Samburu Special Six” in northern-central Kenya which are Grevy’s zebra, the Somali ostrich, reticulated giraffe, the long-necked gerenuk, Guenther’s dik-dik, and the beisa oryx. Though Kenya is one of the more popular safari destinations, be sure to check State Department advisories before planning a trip to Kenya or any other developing country.

Tanzania: Like Kenya, Tanzania houses part of the Serengeti National Park—the best park in which to see great herds of wildlife in Africa. Other noteworthy sites include Mount Kilimanjaro; marine parks off the coast; and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, site of the Ngorongoro Crater and Oldupai Gorge (also known as the Cradle of Mankind). The Ngorongoro Crater is one of the largest volcanic craters on earth. Over 30,000 animals live in the crater; it has the densest lion population in the world.

Uganda: The most famous safari destinations in Uganda are the country’s many primate reserves. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Ngamba Island offer visitors the unforgettable opportunity to get a close look at gorillas, chimpanzees and other primates in their natural habitats. Travelers can also see crocodiles, hippos and exotic birds, and witness the thundering water of Murchison Falls at Murchison Falls National Park on the Nile River.

Rwanda: Most people safari in Rwanda for the country’s outstanding gorilla trekking as well as for the over 600 bird species. “There’s also the incredible comeback Rwanda has made after the genocide 25 years ago—that in itself, is reason to visit,” says Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel, Inc.

Southern Africa

Botswana: Probably the most expensive destination in Africa due to the government’s push for high-end tourism, Botswana has smaller crowds than most other safari destinations, and is a common locale for luxury packages. See wildlife in game reserves such as Chobe National Park, famous for an abundance of elephants, or Moremi Wildlife Reserve, which offers plenty of the famous “big five.” You can also visit the Okavango Delta in Botswana—look for crocodiles, buffalo, zebras, hippos and many other animals in the delta’s tangled waterways and islands.

Lucille Sive, president of Lion World Travel says her ultimate safari trip would be to Botswana, “it’s a bit rawer than South Africa or Kenya and Tanzania. Special experiences there include gliding along in a mokoro in the Okavango Delta, or hanging out with meerkats at Jack’s Camp, or staying at the ultra-luxurious Xigera Lodge. Probably the ultimate ‘second safari’ trip for anyone who has already been to Africa!”

Namibia: Namibia is under the radar for many safari travelers—expect less upscale game parks—and is dotted with incredible natural wonders from the Fish River Canyon to the Namib Desert. You’ll find more than 100 species of mammals in Etosha National Park, including endangered animals like the black rhinoceros, as well as the largest cheetah population on the continent. Desert elephants and zebra roam the arid landscapes of Skeleton Coast National Park in Nambia—the driest place in Africa.

South Africa: This is a particularly popular destination for safari travelers, so you can expect a well-organized and modern tourist infrastructure—as well as plenty of other travelers in the high season. Sive recommends South Africa as an ideal family destination since the game drives are shorter and there are malaria-free lodges and game parks. The best-known park is Kruger National Park, which is home to an impressive variety of African animals and is situated in the largest conservation area in the world. Go to a private game lodge if you want a less-traveled safari, but prepare to pay—these pricey digs can run well over $500 per night. Other parks outside of Kruger include Sabi Sands Game Reserve, Dinokeng Game Reserve and the Shamwari Private Game Reserve (located in the Eastern Cape).

When to Go

Africa is an immense continent with safari opportunities available across thousands of miles, so the best time to travel to Africa depends on your specific destination. Overall, it’s best (but most expensive) to travel in the dry season, which corresponds with the region’s winter. Since safari destinations are in the Southern Hemisphere, their seasons run opposite of North America. Winter is from June to September, and summer is from December to March. You’ll also want to consider the migration patterns of animals, such as the Great Migration through Tanzania and Kenya. Annual patterns of animal migration often vary, so it’s a good idea to research animal migration predictions for the season during which you plan to travel.

Some insider tips from Sive: “If you love baby animals and don’t mind hot weather—go to Cape Town, South Africa from December to February. But if you don’t mind the rain—go to Kruger National Park to experience its lush, wet season—balmy but perfect conditions for spotting migratory birds and newborn wildlife. Africa’s winter (June through August) brings just the opposite for both places.” And for those looking to go on a safari on a budget, Guild recommends traveling during the shoulder or low season, which for South Africa is in May and October. 

If you’re a bird-lover, it will be best to visit during wet-season (December to March), which is when birds make their nests and are more likely to be seen at home.

But if nothing could make you happier than seeing the adorable babies of the animals you’ve traveled so far to see, it’s best to time your trip accordingly. Most babies are born in November, so peak baby-watching season is December to February.

Also, ask about the “green season” for good value when you’re safari planning. This varies by each reason but “for East Africa, it’s the low season and a great time to avoid the crowds and the value of the dollar is higher so overall you can stay longer,” advises Banda. “Also, not all the animals are migratory so you will see wildlife and spend more time with your guide viewing animals. While there can be rain, it is scattered and that is why you work with a safari outfitter like us to tailor other experiences like high tea or spa treatments.” African Travel, Inc. even waives solo traveler supplements during the low season on certain trips, like this journey to Botswana and Zambia.

Visas and Vaccines

Of course, you’ll need a passport to travel to Africa. But for some other countries, like Kenya or Tanzania, you will need a visa too. Visit the State Department website for more information on visa requirements. Apply for a visa at least two months before your departure date.

Find a doctor who specializes in travel health care and tell him or her about your African travel plans, or visit a travel clinic. You’ll need to get certain immunizations before heading to Africa. Malaria is common there, but there is no vaccine for the disease. You can protect yourself from malaria by taking an anti-malaria treatment or avoiding mosquitoes; use a mosquito-repellent spray and mosquito nets. You will need a yellow fever vaccination for travel to East and Southern Africa. Other vaccinations you may need include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and typhoid. Visit the Centers for Disease Control’s website for destination-specific health information. Keep in mind that many vaccinations take several weeks to provide full protection, so don’t put off your shots until the last minute.

Staying Safe on Safari

You may imagine that hungry crocodiles or packs of ravenous lions are the biggest dangers of a safari. The truth is that humans rarely get attacked by wild animals (just watch out for baboons if you have open food), but they routinely fall victim to safari scams, dehydration, illness, or crime while traveling to Africa.

Safari Scams

When selecting a package, beware of safari scams. Research your prospective safari package provider; ask them for references and if they belong to professional organizations such as the American Society of Travel Agents or the United States Tour Operator Association. Also, look for user reviews on sites like TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) before you book. And keep in mind that if something sounds too good to be true (like a $50-per-night safari in luxury bungalows), it’s likely a scam. Finally, always be aware of your package provider’s cancellation policy (or lack thereof).

Staying Healthy on Safari

Safaris can be physically strenuous and mentally taxing with early morning wake-ups to see active wildlife and unpredictable weather. Travelers to Africa are at risk for dehydration while on safari; your body may not be accustomed to the hot sun and dry air of the bush and you may not even realize that you’re becoming dehydrated. Drink lots of water, protect yourself from the sun, get the proper vaccines, and wear bug spray. For more on staying fit and healthy on your travels, read our guide to health care abroad.

Sive recommends a rain jacket, a safari hat with neck cover or flaps, and to wear neutral colors, like khaki, brown, or safari green, to blend in with your surroundings.

Politics and Crime

Political unrest is an unfortunate fact of life for many African nations. Crime and violence plague many cities, so be aware of your surroundings when staying in major cities on either end of your safari trip. When traveling to populated areas, familiarize yourself with local customs and take measures to keep your money and valuables safe. And always check State Department advisories before planning a trip to another country. Also, be sure to ask about the company’s emergency assistance program so you’re aware in case of any emergency situations and register with STEP.

Insurance

Since you will be in a remote location and will probably be spending a significant amount of money on a safari, travel insurance is a necessity on an African safari. (Many safari tour operators actually require customers to purchase travel insurance in order to reserve a package.) Be sure to look for emergency medical coverage and financial protection when booking your policy. For more information, read our guide to travel insurance.

What to Pack for a Safari

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Quotes have been edited for clarity. Jamie Ditaranto and Ashley Rossi also contributed to this story.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Outdoors

10 Thrilling National Park Trails

National parks aren’t theme parks. There are no safety belts or security guards, no sanitized lazy rivers or glove-waving costumed creatures. But there is excitement aplenty in our nation’s wild protected parkland. Death-defying clifftop switchbacks, fuming volcanoes, and frothy waterfalls will make the most scream-inducing thrill rides seem like cherry pie. So summon your courage and head to one of these 10 pulse-quickening national park trails, where perilous paths lead to daredevil, once-in-a-lifetime adventures.

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

half dome yosemite hikers with cables.

Half Dome is a curved rock that ascends almost 5,000 feet into the air, tempting fearless hikers to reach its teetering apex. You need a permit to tackle the roughly 16-mile trail, which takes about 10 to 12 hours to complete. At the end of the hike, you’ll hoist yourself up 400 feet of near-vertical rock face using metal cables in lieu of rock-climbing equipment. Once at the top, a sweet scene rewards the courageous: sweeping views of waterfalls and lush Yosemite Valley.

But hikers beware: According to the National Park Service (NPS), “Since 1919, relatively few people have fallen and died on the cables. However, injuries are not uncommon for those acting irresponsibly.”

Nankoweap Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

nankoweap trail grand canyon.

Dizzying heights and scorching temperatures are the primary hazards on the Grand Canyon’s well-trafficked trails. And the Nankoweap Trail, which the NPS classifies as one of the most difficult in the park, is no exception. The views along the way—panoramas of kaleidoscopic canyons—are unparalleled, but so are the dangers.

The Nankoweap Trail has the largest rim-to-river drop in Grand Canyon National Park, more than 5,000 feet above the Colorado River. According to the NPS, it’s the most difficult named trail in the park, and it’s “not recommended for people with a fear of heights.”

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia

blue ridge parkway in fall.

Travelers exploring national parks by car can find just as many thrills as those on foot. Just ask the millions who each year drive the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the most visited locations in the National Park system. This scenic drive through forested mountains in the Appalachian Highlands offers opportunities for bird watching, hiking, leaf peeping in autumn, and other outdoor pursuits with or without a vehicle. But watch out for dangerous spiraling curves if traveling by car or bike. Guard rails provide only limited protection as the road twists and bends around steep mountainside drops.

Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

angels landing hiker zion national park.

Picture yourself on top of a rock with steep drops of more than 1,000 feet to your right and left. The only thing keeping you from tumbling to either side is your tenacious grip on a skinny chain. This description fits Scout Lookout at Angels Landing, a precipitous four-hour hike in Zion National Park. After ascending a series of challenging switchbacks, gutsy hikers scale Scout Lookout, where chains guide them up narrow clifftops to the trail summit. Not sure if you can handle the heights? Take a virtual tour of the trail from the comfort of your couch on the NPS website.

Old Rag Mountain, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

old rag mountain hikers shenandoah national park.

The NPS dubs Shenandoah’s Old Rag Mountain the “most popular and most dangerous hike” in the park. The nine-mile trek, which takes roughly seven or eight hours, involves a good amount of rock scrambling. In other words, trekkers must maneuver through narrow human-sized cracks in a rock face—for a mile and a half. After a lengthy shimmy through granite, hikers then approach the summit of Old Rag, where a 360-degree view of Shenandoah’s 200,000 acres awaits.

Abrams Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

abrams falls great smokey mountains national park.

Unlike many of the trails featured here, Abrams Falls is fine for the acrophobic—but not so much for the aquaphobic. The falls themselves are just 20 feet high, and the five-mile hike there and back is only moderately strenuous. However, the falls’ powerful currents and great volume of fast-moving water are beautiful but deadly. According to the NPS, “Over the years, several people have fallen to their deaths and many others have suffered serious injuries from climbing on rocks near waterfalls or along the riverbanks.” Your best course of defense? Stay far away from the foam and check out this guide to water safety on the NPS website.

Napau Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

hawaii volcanoes national park lava flow.

“Although Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō stopped erupting in 2018, volcanic eruptions are possible at any time. … Earth cracks, thin crusts, and lava tubes are numerous,” says the NPS of the Napau Trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The 14-mile trail is a journey over an otherworldly lava landscape, through rainforests, past steaming vents, and around the rim of a volcanic crater. Some of the park’s perilous features include uneven lava flows and, naturally, unpredictable volcanic activity. Since it passes by Mauna Ulu, an active volcano, the Napau Trail is not always safe for trekking. But local scientists monitor Mauna Ulu for signs of eruption and park officials close the trail whenever conditions are dangerous.

Seven Mile Hole Trail, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

yellowstone grand canyon.

Seven Mile Hole Trail cuts across Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon, winding along the rim and through a pine forest where wild grizzlies roam. Arguably, the most difficult part of the trek is a steep one-and-a-half-mile stretch that drops 1,400 feet. (But the switchbacks aren’t exactly a picnic either.) During your hike, keep an eye out for steam vents and active hot springs. Look but don’t touch: In the past, many visitors have suffered serious burns after getting too close to the park’s piping-hot geothermic features.

Backcountry Trails, Denali National Park, Alaska

denali national park pond and hiker.

One of the most exhilarating ways to experience a national park is to go exploring in the backcountry. Travelers often need a permit to access this more isolated, trailless terrain in national parks. And in vast Denali, which is roughly the size of Massachusetts, the backcountry is about as wild and challenging as it gets. The six-million-acre park has less than 30 miles of marked trails—the rest is unadulterated wilderness.

Here, experienced mountaineers can attempt to reach the top of Denali, also known as Mount McKinley, the tallest peak on the North American continent; hikers can trek to massive glaciers; and paddlers can packraft over rough rapids and placid rivers. With little light pollution in the area, campers spending the night can glimpse a glittery star-speckled sky after the sun goes down.

Upper Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

yosemite falls with rainbow.

The Yosemite Falls Trail has all the hallmarks of a thrilling trail: switchbacks, rushing water, heights. It’s also historical; the trail, established in the late 19th century, is one of the oldest in Yosemite, dating back to the 1870s. The seven-mile path leads trekkers to the top of the iconic Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America. (It takes about a day to complete.) During winter, the hike can become difficult or even impossible due to snow and ice, so it’s best to take on the trail in warmer months. Or you can explore the place from home by watching the Yosemite Falls webcam.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2012. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Oddities Security

Does the Hotel Maid Look Through Your Stuff?


Sometimes people do inappropriate things when no one is looking. Sometimes those people are hotel housekeepers, as was indicated in a hidden-camera video that went viral a few years ago. A clip filmed at a “well-known American hotel brand” revealed a hotel maid messing with a guest’s belongings. The housekeeper picked up the man’s tablet and attempted to use his computer a few times. Nothing was stolen. The video is below.

Although no crime was committed, the idea of a stranger examining one’s personal possessions is unsettling. The video leads me to wonder if my suitcase was ever inspected, my toiletry bag peeked at, or my tablet tampered with. Ideally, no one should rifle through a guest’s belongings. But maybe it happens. And if it does, should we really be worried? Is snooping a legitimate concern for travelers?

I asked Jacob Tomsky, author of Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality, if nosy housekeepers are a thing. Tomsky told me, “Well, in any business it’s possible to unwittingly hire criminal-minded employees. So that can happen anywhere at any job. However, in my 10 years of experience, I’ve found housekeepers to be family-oriented and dedicated to the job. And part of that job is respecting guests’ belongings.”

Even though housekeepers are likely to be alone in a room with your stuff, Tomsky suggested we shouldn’t be so quick to point fingers. He said, “The housekeepers I know are proud to have a decent paying job with health care and wouldn’t risk losing that for petty thievery. Plus they know they are first in line for accusations. That’s why, when things go missing in a hotel, I always look outside of housekeeping. A lot of employees have keys to your room.”

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The blame game is pointless. And there’s nothing you can do to prevent a housekeeper from opening the closet door and snickering at your poor taste in outerwear. But there are proactive steps you can take to protect your privacy and keep your stuff safe. First, operate under the assumption that your hotel room is not as private as you would like it to be. You are not at home. In any hotel, vacation rental, B&B, or what have you, there is always a chance that theft could take place.

According to Tomsky, “I can’t recommend utilizing the in-room safe enough, obviously. If you put in a lock code and forget that code, it’s none other than a manager of security who has the ability to reset the lock. So anything in there is touched by you alone. Use it.”

Tomsky also recommended keeping your belongings well organized during your stay: “Cut down on the clutter. To make a room look clean, housekeepers have to move some items around, especially if your items are splayed out everywhere. And I’d say a great deal of suspected ‘theft’ is actually just loss. You leave important items all over the place and it’s absolutely possible those items will get bunched up with the linens and tossed down the chute into the laundry. I’ve been in the pit, looking for lost items. Only once did I find what we were looking for. Use the safe. And keep it neat.”

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If you really want to calm your paranoid worries, leave the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door for the duration of your stay; this way, your room won’t get cleaned and you can feel confident that no one touched your unmentionables or flipped through your dream journal.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Airport Entertainment Frequent Flyer

10 Free Things You Can Get at Airports


Airports have some pretty amazing amenities like golf courses and full-service spas. But for cash-strapped travelers, some of the very best airport perks are the ones you can get for the price of showing up. The secret to bagging many of these airport freebies is being in the know.

10 Free Things You Can Get at Airports

Here’s a rundown of not-so-obvious airport freebies.

Water Bottle Refill

drinking water bottle airport

[st_content_ad]Ever since I discovered that water fountains are one of the germiest places in airports, I’ve been inclined to avoid them. In the past, the alternative to a water-fountain refill is usually an absurdly expensive bottle of Fiji. But an increasingly large number of airports is now offering hydration stations where you can fill up reusable water bottles via automatic hands-free sensors. San Francisco International, Chicago O’Hare, London Heathrow, and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson are among the many major airports that offer this perk.

A Tour

Tourist takes photo at The HSBC Rain Vortex

Why sit at the gate when you could see something new instead? Several airports offer complimentary tours for travelers passing through. There are free tours of Singapore that operate out of Changi Airport, and travelers stopping in Seoul’s Incheon International Airport can hop aboard one of a variety of tours to temples, markets, or even a cave. Additionally, Turkish Airlines offers free Istanbul tours for flyers stopping in Istanbul Ataturk Airport, but you must be traveling on that airline to be eligible.

A Book

amsterdam schiphol airport library.

You don’t necessarily have to shell out full price at the airport bookstore in order to find something good to read during your layover or on your flight. Several airports have installed libraries where you can borrow a book or drop off one you’ve just finished. Helsinki Airport offers a book swap point in its Kainuu Lounge, while Tallinn Airport has a library that “operates purely on trust,” with passengers expected to return borrowed books on their return flight or “some other time.” Amsterdam Schiphol also has a library, complete with books, iPads, and cozy seating areas.

 

Religious Services

multi-faith prayer room

Whether seeking ceremony or just a quiet space to sit, flyers will find free facilities for doing just that at numerous airports. Various religious and spiritual services, from interfaith chapels at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson to a quiet meditation room at Albuquerque International Sunport, are available in terminals around the world. These services are almost always free, but donations are usually welcome.

A Pet Potty Break

Pet relief area at the Airport of Palma de Mallorca

More and more airports are offering animal-relief facilities for those traveling with four-footed friends; this is often a fenced-in patch of outdoor space reserved especially for pets. Some are nicer than others. At Miami International Airport, look for the handful of dog parks surrounded by white picket fences and featuring both grass and dirt surfaces as well as waste-disposal stations. (Note that you’ll have to go through security after visiting Miami’s outdoor pet-relief areas; indoor restroom spaces are available post-security.) Other airports just have a patch of grass surrounded by chain-link fencing; still, that’s better than nothing. For a more complete list of airport pet-relief areas, see this helpful roundup on Dog Jaunt.

Luggage Tags

Free

Luggage tags might not be the most exciting freebee on this list, but, as many experienced travelers know, they’re available for free at almost all airport ticket counters. And they’re very useful—especially if you’ve forgotten to affix your own luggage tags. You should fill out and attach a bag tag to each checked piece of luggage—and carry-ons, too—so that airline staff can identify your bags in case they get lost. Either you’ll find the free luggage tags sitting on the check-in counter, or you’ll need to ask for them.

A Little Help When You Need It

Free

Disabled travelers will find special assistance at airports around the world. But they’re not the only ones who need a little help sometimes. Many airports have programs that offer assistance to virtually anyone who needs it, such as young travelers, flyers who don’t speak the local language, or even lost or confused passengers—for free. For example, at New York’s JFK and Newark Airports, a nonprofit program called Traveler’s Aid exists to provide support to kids traveling alone, people who have lost their tickets, or those who have gotten separated from travel companions. Similar setups are available at many airports, from Travelers Aid Chicago at O’Hare Airport to Customer Care Counters, which can provide information in up to 170 languages, at Vancouver International Airport.

Fragile Stickers

Free

Safeguard breakables with a free “fragile” sticker affixed to your bag. Some travelers buy these in advance, but they’re offered at most airline check-in counters free of cost. Just ask your airline customer-service agent to slap a few on your suitcases. Although we can’t promise that the baggage handler tossing luggage onto the plane is going to read and also heed that sticker, it’s worth a try.

Wi-Fi

Free

Keep yourself entertained during long layovers without burning through your phone’s, thanks to an increasing number of airports offering free Wi-Fi—including Atlanta, Denver, Toronto Pearson, London Heathrow, Sydney, Charlotte, Boston, Los Angeles, and many more.

Some Exercise

Free

It all started in Northern California. The Yoga Room at San Francisco International Airport was, according to many reports, the world’s first airport yoga room. Since that amenity opened, it’s become much more common to see travelers folding into downward dog or working up a sweat via jogging trails in airports. There are free yoga rooms at the Miami, Dallas/Ft. Worth and Burlington airports. Meanwhile, Baltimore/Washington has a two-kilometer Cardio Trail that flyers can access free of charge.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Sarah Schlichter contributed to this story.

Categories
In-Flight Experience Passenger Rights

OP-ED: It’s My Right to Recline My Seat

In the travel world, few topics incite more contention and indignation than seatback etiquette.

When flying out of Portugal, I reclined my seat and fell asleep. I woke up when the man sitting directly behind me grabbed my arm and shook me, yelling something in Portuguese (of which I know nothing). The flight attendant heard the ruckus and came over. The man was upset because my seat was reclined during mealtime, which he apparently thought was some kind of crime. I, on the other hand, felt that another person putting his hands on me was the more shocking offense.

It’s rude to grab and shake a stranger on a plane, right? Depends whom you ask. Some readers argued that I was the traveler-gone-wild in this scenario. And since I couldn’t hide in the kitchen eating cookies and ignoring my emails forever, I heard them out.

The following is just one of many emails and comments we received on the matter:

“After reading the article … it is my opinion that the most Inconsiderate, selfish, and rude people who travel in economy class/coach class or any other class for that matter are those who recline their seats into the person’s space behind them The first to cry foul are usually the worst offenders. Airline seats should be designed so that they can not be reclined into the passenger space behind them. I have never reclined my seat into another passenger’s space, However, I have let others know when they have done so to me.” —D.C.

There appear to be three schools of thought: recline, don’t recline ever or I will scream at you, and recline within reason. (You can probably guess to which theory the abovementioned emailer subscribes.)

If we’re going to get all egalitarian about personal space on planes, shouldn’t we point the finger at first class? If airlines eliminated premium classes but kept the same number of seats on planes, we would all enjoy a more comfortable flying experience. Yes, the economics behind elite seating get flights off the ground. But we could swap spatial perks for other incentives. Give first-class flyers free massages, an exclusive bathroom, higher-quality cushions, whatever it takes. Just give us coach flyers somewhere to put our legs.

I know. It’s pie in the sky. So here’s a more realistic solution: The airlines should stop seat reclining altogether. Some planes are outfitted with seats that don’t go back, but the industry as a whole does not appear to be going in that direction. So if you really want to beat the system, bring your very own Knee Defender. This product, which sells for $21.95 on Gadget Duck, hooks into your tray table and actually stops the seat in front of you from reclining. It’s gotten the OK from the FAA, according to the product’s website, however, it’s been banned by most airlines. (The Knee Defender’s inventor? A 6′ 3″ guy who travels a lot.) Note that the website selling the Knee Defender lists the product as temporarily out of stock but it’s unclear if the item is still being sold.

Just one caveat: Don’t use the Knee Defender on me. Despite condemnation from, ahem, select members of the travel community, I will continue to make use of those extra inches from reclining my seat. As long as there is a button that takes me from really uncomfortable to just-as-uncomfortable-but-now-I can-pick-my-chin-up-off-my-chest, I will push it. Please direct angry emails to your local state representatives.

Readers, what’s your opinion? Is there a solution to the seatback dilemma? What should the etiquette be for reclining seats? As always, we ask that you keep your comments polite and constructive.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2012. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Packing Security

The 5 Worst Packing Problems and How to Solve Them


When it comes to packing, a small mistake like putting a seemingly innocuous but prohibited item (like a too-large bottle of shampoo) in your carry-on bag can snowball into a messy chain of events. Fortunately, travelers faced with such packing problems have options. Whether you’re dealing with a confiscated item in the security line, a surplus of souvenirs, a nasty spill, or a broken bag, a bit of packing emergency know-how can mean the difference between a disaster and a worry-free getaway. Here are tips on creatively problem-solving some of the most common travel packing problems.

Packing Problem #1: Airport Security Confiscates Your Prized Possession

A TSA agent searches luggage at an airport.

If a security officer finds your five-ounce bottle of designer perfume and removes it from your carry-on bag, is it lost forever? Not necessarily.

I don’t recommend arguing with a TSA officer over something easily replaceable such as a jumbo-size tube of toothpaste, but if they confiscate something that has value to you, politely ask if you can take the item away from the checkpoint. If you’re lucky and the officer says yes, here are your options:

  • If you’re certain you have plenty of time before your flight takes off, you can go back to your airline’s check-in counter and either check your carry-on bag or ask to have the prohibited item placed in your checked luggage. Keep in mind that you will have to wait in line at the check-in counter and at the security checkpoint all over again, so you may need an extra hour or two before your flight is scheduled to depart. There is no guarantee that the airline staff will be able to help you out, so don’t return to the check-in counter unless you have time to spare; otherwise, you may risk missing your flight for nothing.
  • If you haven’t checked a bag and you drove to the airport, take your item to the parking lot and place it in your car. Again, be very aware of how much time you have, especially if you’ve parked in a lot that is a lengthy walk or ride away from the airport. You will have to wait in the security line all over again.
  • Did someone drop you off at the airport? If he or she is a very good friend (or someone who owes you a favor), give that person a call and ask them to turn the car around. Promise to bring your helpful friend a souvenir from your trip.

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Packing Problem #2: Too Many Souvenirs

Woman traveler choose souvenirs in the market at Ubud in Bali, Indonesia

Many travelers forget to save a little extra space in their suitcase for souvenirs. Others only travel with a carry-on, which means that some souvenirs (think liquid toiletries, jams, or spirits) may be prohibited past the airport security checkpoint. With no room in your bag for anything larger than a postcard of Tuscany and only a carry-on in which to cart two weeks’ worth of clothing, how do you squeeze in those bottles of pricey Italian Brunello di Montalcino you picked up while wine tasting in Tuscany?

Many travelers ship souvenirs back home—especially large or fragile things like handmade Moroccan rugs or Waterford crystal. A reputable shop that caters largely to tourists (and sells big and expensive items like furniture) will likely ship your goods back home right from the store. However, without shipping insurance or a tracking number, you have little control over the fate of your purchase.

A second option is to mail the item yourself. I recommend using major international shipping companies like UPS and FedEx as opposed to a local post office because overseas postal services may be unreliable and/or very slow. Be sure to get your shipment insured and write down a tracking number.

Your third, probably cheapest option is to pack a foldable bag that takes up little room in your suitcase. A soft duffel or zippered tote bag will work. If you end up with a mass of bulky souvenirs, you can unfold the extra bag and check it at the airport. Although you may end up paying a checked bag fee for an extra piece of luggage, this might be a more economical way to cart your souvenirs home than paying for international shipping, which is not cheap. Wrap some T-shirts or sweaters around any breakable items.

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Packing Problem #3: You Left (Insert Essential Item) at Home

man sitting on floor at airport with open luggage lost item

As you’re pulling up to the airport, it hits you: You’ve forgotten your cell phone charger, raincoat, guidebook, wallet, or some other item that you need on your trip. Don’t panic. Take a deep breath. Have you forgotten an item of clothing or an electronic device? It’s time to think positive and maybe even treat yourself to something new at an airport shop, or plan ahead to pick up a replacement on your travels. Or make the brave choice and go on without your favorite possession.

I probably don’t need to tell you to turn the car around the second you realize that you don’t have your wallet or passport. But if you’ve arrived at the airport with only a few hours before your flight (not enough time to get home and back), and you’re without proper identification, you have a problem. If you’re traveling domestically, you may still be able to board your flight, though you’ll need to take additional steps to get through security and there’s no guarantee of success. If you’re traveling to any international destination, there is no way you’re getting on a plane without a passport.

But if you do miss your flight, you still have a chance to save your vacation. First, go to your airline’s check-in desk and try to get on the next flight. If you’re already on your way home, pull the car over and call your airline. Airlines’ policies on missed or canceled flights vary, so you may find a sympathetic ear or you may end up paying full price for a new ticket.

[st_related]Flying Without ID? Here’s How It’s Possible[/st_related]

Packing Problem #4: Your Luggage Breaks

Broken traveling luggage at the airport

I’ve never seen a suitcase fail in the middle of the airport, although I’ve often envisioned this scenario after stuffing my rectangular bag so tightly that it ends up in the shape of a ball. With wear, tear, and overpacking, though, broken zippers do happen, and broken suitcase zippers may or may not produce a gaping hole with your underwear hanging out. Are you no longer carrying a suitable suitcase while traveling? Here’s what you do:

Proper preparation is the best way to handle this situation; duct tape should be at the top of your must-pack list. But if you forgot your trusty tape and your bag has a gaping hole, you’re going to need to find some tape, STAT. Whether you’re at the airport or you’ve already arrived at your destination, search for a shop, find help at your airline check-in counter, talk to your hotel concierge, or even ask around to see if any fellow travelers have some duct tape to spare (someone will, trust me).

A broken bag is the perfect opportunity to use those arts-and-crafts skills you learned in grade school. Is your zipper tab broken? Hook a paper clip through what’s left of the zipper (ask any store cashier for a paper clip if you don’t have one). If the situation is dire and your bag is non-functional, ask a store employee for some plastic bags in which to pack your things until you can get to a store that sells luggage.

[st_related]How to Choose the Perfect Suitcase[/st_related]

Packing Problem #5: Something Spills All Over Your Stuff

toiletry bag cosmetics in luggage

If you neglect to pack your liquid items in plastic bags, the rough-and-tumble ride from check-in counter to baggage claim may result in punctured plastic containers or broken bottles.

Is your favorite cashmere sweater slathered with costly face cream? Stay calm. Your clothes may or may not be ruined, depending on what has spilled and how long it’s had to set in. Heat sets many types of stains, so don’t dry your damaged clothes with a hair dryer or use hot water on them. If possible, bring your clothes to a professional cleaner. Or, if you’re staying at a hotel that offers laundry service, ask the staff to clean off your clothes. You may have to purchase one or two new items so that you don’t go naked while your clothes are being cleaned (reframe: it’s an excuse to shop).

Travelers who are in developing countries or places where there are no dry cleaners should roll up their sleeves and get to work. If you’ve brought along your favorite travel-size stain remover (which should be a toiletry bag staple, starting now), use it as your first step. Don’t have access to a stain remover product or detergent? First, flush the stain with cold water. Dab, don’t rub, so that the stain doesn’t spread. Dab stains with white vinegar, a great natural stain remover, or use dishwashing soap diluted with water, which effectively removes most stains (ask the hotel kitchen staff if you may borrow some vinegar or dishwashing liquid).

Before you submerge any stained item in a basin of water, press a towel against the stain to make sure that it doesn’t easily come up; if it does, it could color the water and stain more of the fabric. Dry sweaters and delicate pieces by rolling them in clean towels and then hanging them on hangers or the shower curtain bar.

Travelling? Consider some of these carry-on options:

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Airport Fashion & Beauty Security

6 Things Not to Wear in the Airport Security Line

The best way to ease through airport security is to dress for success. Certain garments and accessories could get you flagged for extra screening, slowing down your progression through the airport.

What Not to Wear in the Airport Security Line

Want to roll through the security line like a pro? Avoid wearing the following attire.

Shoes That Are Difficult to Remove

It’s best to wear slip-on shoes in the airport security line. You’ll have to take your shoes off and put them in the screening bin before walking through the metal detector, and flyers fumbling with tangled laces or strappy sandals could hold up the line. Plus, if you’re in a hurry to catch your flight, slip-on shoes will be easy to put back on and thus hasten your transit from the end of security to your gate.

Note that travelers aged 75+ or under 13 may leave their shoes on during screening.

Jewelry or Piercings … or Anything Metal, for That Matter

If you set off the metal detector, you’re in for additional screening—or at least a little extra attention while other travelers stream past you. Everything from metal clothing fasteners and body piercings to keys in your pocket could cause an alarm in the security line.

If you are wearing metal body piercings that cannot be removed, you may request a private screening in lieu of a patdown. (Note: Most wedding rings get through the scanners without setting off alarms.)

Belts

If your pants fall down the moment your belt comes off, don’t wear them to the airport. You can probably imagine why. Flyers must remove belts before walking through metal detectors, so choose a belt-free outfit, or at least be prepared to remove your belt if you want to wear one.

Belts aren’t permitted through airport security because their metal clasps set off the metal detector. However, even if you are wearing a belt without a metal clasp, an agent might request that you remove it anyway. It’s standard procedure.

Coats and Jackets

It’s airport screening 101: Travelers must remove coats and jackets—this includes outerwear like hooded sweatshirts, vests, and such—before going through the metal detector. It’s perfectly fine to sport a jacket in a chilly airport. Just remember to take your outerwear off and put it in a screening bin before proceeding through the checkpoint.

Anything Offensive

Offensive clothing may get you kicked off a plane, but it could also draw extra attention from TSA agents (though it’s more likely that airline staff, rather than an airport security agent, will ban you from flying due to inappropriate or offensive clothing). Stories of flyers prohibited from planes due to poor wardrobe choices abound, and, for most of them, the trouble occurred after they made it through the screening process. Still, agents may pull you aside for additional screening if they perceive a threatening or questionable message on your T-shirt. Bottom line: If you wouldn’t wear it to a family-friendly restaurant or even to church, don’t wear it for air travel.

Loose-Fitting Clothes

Loose clothes aren’t prohibited. But travelers sporting baggy apparel, such as droopy pants, flowy skirts, bulky sweatshirts, or even loose garments worn for religious purposes, may be subject to a pat-down inspection if the agent thinks your clothing might be concealing prohibited items.

Traveling? Consider Some of Our Favorites

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2012. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Fashion & Beauty Health & Wellness Packing

Top 14 Travel Essentials You Can Find at Your Drug Store

High-priced travel specialty shops aren’t always the best places to find must-pack travel products. Drug stores (online and in person) offer a wealth of multi-use items that are affordable, practical and carry-on compliant, from toiletries to tasty snacks. And sites like Amazon and Target carry many of these helpful products as well.

Note: Remedies for common travel ailments are not included in this list, but it’s important that you pack the appropriate medications on your trip. Read more in Medications for Travel.

1. Wrinkle Releaser

Downy Wrinkle Releaser

Let’s face it: An iron and ironing board are not always readily available in our travels, and most of us cannot afford to buy an entire wardrobe of wrinkle-resistant travel clothes from Magellan’s. When packing for a trip, I’ve often sadly left my favorite dresses and tops behind because I deemed them too wrinkly to take abroad. But no more! I’ve discovered Downy Wrinkle Releaser, and I can now pack whatever I want without looking unkempt on vacation. Downy Wrinkle Releaser works by relaxing fabric fibers so that wrinkles can be smoothed out with your hand, and it’s safe on most fabrics. Just spray on your rumpled shirt, tug, smooth and wear. It’s available in a three-ounce bottle, perfect for travel.

2. Trail Mix or Bars

Kashi Cherry Dark Chocolate granola bars

There’s a reason it’s called trail mix, the healthy blend of nuts, seeds and dried fruit provides plenty of energy for hikers and bikers. But it turns out the stuff may be just as suitable for air travelers as for trail trekkers. A few years ago, The New York Times reported that dried cherries, a common ingredient in many trail mixes, may help reduce the effects of jet lag. Cherries contain melatonin, an antioxidant that helps regulate sleep patterns. According to Dr. Russel J. Reiter, a well-known authority on melatonin, eating dried cherries before sleep while traveling can increase the body’s natural melatonin levels and may mitigate the effects of jet lag. Check your local drug store for a trail mix (or even better, a granola bar for easier snacking) that contains dried cherries.

Don’t have a taste for trail mix? Find dried cherries at a health food store, or try Kashi Cherry Dark Chocolate granola bars.

3. Disposable Toothbrush

Disposable Toothbrush

Brush your pearly whites while touring, hiking or flying with no sink needed. Colgate Wisp is a single-use disposable toothbrush with a bristled head that contains a unique “freshening bead.” The brush’s fresh bead does not foam like traditional toothpaste. Instead, it releases a mouth-cleaning liquid that is safe to swallow. The Wisp also has a handy pick at its bottom end for those tricky spaces between your teeth. The brush usually sells in a four-pack and a 16-pack.

Other dental-related products that you can purchase at a drugstore include a breath-freshening mist and a gel teeth-whitening pen.

Join SmarterTravel Editor Ashley Rossi as she takes on the challenge of packing a personal carry-on using only items from the drug storefor under $25! Remember to subscribe to SmarterTravel on YouTube for more expert tips and vacation inspiration.

4. Dry Shampoo

Oscar Blandi's one-ounce travel-size dry shampoo

Dry shampoo has long been a secret of runway stylists, and although it will not clean your hair quite as thoroughly as a regular shampoo, it’s a fabulous way to freshen up your ‘do in places like airplanes and camping tents, where a hot shower is not available.

I like Oscar Blandi’s one-ounce travel-size dry shampoo because of its lemony scent, non-aerosol packaging and convenient size. Spritz your hair with dry shampoo and comb it through to reduce oil, add body and shine, and eliminate dreaded “airplane head.” Dry shampoo is also perfect for busy vacations with itineraries that leave little time for hair washing.

5. Sunscreen Stick

https://amzn.to/314reKY

Coppertone Sport Stick gets my vote for the most packable and portable sunblock protection available on the shelves of your local drug store. The 0.6-ounce sunblock, which resembles a small stick of deodorant, is perfect for carry-on luggage.

Since it’s not a liquid, it doesn’t need to be shoved into your over-stuffed zip-top bag. Plus, when you accidentally leave the cap off you won’t end up with clothes soaked in smelly sunscreen. The product’s non-greasy solid formula provides reliable sun protection without the mess of liquid sunblocks. You can buy it in SPF 55 and it’s particularly good for small spots, such as the face, ears or backs of hands.

6. Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum jelly is the ultimate multi-use beauty product for travelers. It’s a moisturizer, lip balm, make-up remover, first-aid salve and more.

Soak a tissue with petroleum jelly to remove eye make-up (make sure not to get it directly in your eyes), or rub it over blistered feet to soothe. Use a thin layer on wind-burned skin or smooth it on lips to protect them from dry airplane air. Best of all, petroleum jelly is cheap and comes in a carry-on compliant 2.5-ounce size.

7. Disposable Facial Cloths

4-in-1 Daily Facial Cloths

Replace your bottle of face wash with Olay 2-in-1 or 4-in-1 Daily Facial Cloths and you’ll have one less liquid to squeeze into your carry-on zip-top bag. These disposable cleansing cloths have Olay facial soap soaked right into the fibers. Just add water and scrub your face! The cloths come in a wide range of varieties for all skin types: Normal Skin, Sensitive Skin and Combination/Oily Skin.

Olay also offers Wet Cleansing Cloths, which are moist facial cleansing cloths that you can use without any water (perfect for the plane). Save money by cutting the cloths in half with scissors, you’ll get twice as many for the same price, and purchasing the refill pack.

8. Empty Carry-On Travel Bottle Set

Empty Carry-On Travel Bottle Set

Buyer beware: Travel-sized products can sometimes be full-size rip-offs. For example, I found a 1.7-ounce travel-size bottle of Pert Plus 2 in 1 Shampoo Plus Conditioner that cost about 54 percent of the regular 13.5-ounce bottle of Pert Plus 2 in 1 Shampoo Plus Conditioner at the same drug store. So if I were to buy the travel-size bottle, I’d be paying over four times as much for the exact same product.

It’s true, we recommend some travel-size products on this very list. However, these items are in spray containers, which may be hard to transfer into empty bottles. So instead of stocking up on a dozen overpriced travel-size shampoos and soaps, invest in a high-quality travel bottle set and only buy travel-size items that cannot be easily poured into smaller bottles, like sprays and aerosol cans, plus they’re more environmentally friendly than disposing of these containers time and time again. Create your own set of personalized travel products with your favorite shampoos and lotions, label them how you like, and reuse them on multiple trips. This set of silicone bottles gives you a set of four refillable bottles.

9. Compact Curler/Styler

ThermaCELL by Conair Cordless Compact Curler

Bring the ThermaCELL by Conair Cordless Compact Curler on overseas trips and you can leave your flat iron, curling iron, and mess of adapters and converters at home.

The cordless styler is powered by a thermacell energy cell that provides hours of styling time without the need for plugs, which comes in handy when traveling to countries with different electrical sockets. Plus, its medium-size barrel works well for smoothing out coarse hair or giving curly hair defining waves. If you can’t find it at your local drug store, you can purchase it online here. According to the product listing on Amazon, “the TSA and FAA allow one butane cartridge installed in a device in checked or carry-on baggage”.

10. Duct Tape

Duct Tape

Many avid travelers know the secrets of duct tape … it’s the closest possible thing to a packable travel cure-all. The countless uses for duct tape include repairing broken luggage, identifying luggage (wrap your bag with colored duct tape for easy spotting in baggage claim), temporarily bandaging wounds, covering blisters on feet, and taping passport and/or money under the hotel bed for security.

11. Witch Hazel

Thayers Trial Size Witch Hazel f

Witch hazel is a leaf and bark extract that’s been used for decades to help cleanse, tone, moisturize, and balance the pH level of the skin. Undistilled witch hazel is also known to provide antioxidant and antibacterial benefits, so you can use it as an antiseptic as well.

Pack Thayers Trial Size Witch Hazel for your next trip and you’ll be surprised by all of its uses.

12. Face Masks

Face Masks

If you have a long flight on the horizon, grab a few single-use sheet masks to pamper yourself. And if you’re too embarrassed to use one on the plane, they’re great to use in your hotel room to help alleviate jet lag and restore your skin.

13. Oil-Absorbing Sheets

Oil-Absorbing Sheets

If you have unbalanced or oily skin, oil-absorbing sheets are convenient and travel-friendly solutions that you can pick up at your local drugstore. These dispensable sheets will reduce shine and help balance out your skin.

14. Shower Vapor Tabs

Shower Vapor Tabs

To stay on top of your health while traveling, bring along a pack of shower vapor tablets. These non-medicated tablets react with the water in your shower to release a calming lavender essence. They don’t take up too much space and help you relax before bed, add comfort, and keep you healthy while on the road.

Traveling? Consider Bringing These:

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Booking Strategy Health & Wellness

How to Make Sure Your Hotel Room Is Clean

Your hotel room is your home away from home, with a few exceptions: the hundreds or even thousands of strangers from every corner of the world who have slept there. And the hotel staff may not have the same standards of cleanliness that you do at home. It’s nice to have someone fold up your towels and make your bed while you’re out exploring the world, but in terms of sanitization, a neatly made bed does not equal a clean hotel room.

Studies have shown that germs frequently lurk on places like light switches, television remotes, and telephone keypads, even in hotel rooms that otherwise appear clean—disturbing evidence of what might be waiting when you wheel your suitcase into a suite. Are you prepared for a dirty bedspread, a scummy toilet, or even a bedbug infestation? It’s highly unlikely that a slightly soiled bathroom floor will put your life in danger, yet an unclean hotel room could affect your health; the most common afflictions are colds or stomach viruses.

Try the following steps to achieving a clean hotel room for more sound sleep on your next stay.

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How Do I Make Sure My Hotel Room Is Clean?

Housekeeper Cleaning Carpet With Vacuum Cleaner In Hotel Room

Put your black light away. We’ve all seen footage of people scanning dark rooms with the revealing black light; stains and smears, invisible in the daylight, pop up in the most unexpected and shocking places (not the pillowcase—anything but the pillowcase). But traveling with this device, which is great for dramatic effect on television, is far from necessary. Here are a few other, less obsessive things you can do to rest assured you have a clean hotel room.

Read the Reviews: There are no international standards for hotel cleanliness. Price, location, or a brand name will not guarantee completely sanitary digs. So until some international “clean commission” starts sending out fastidious officials to size up squalid toilets in hotels around the world, your best bet is to find out what your fellow travelers are saying. Most travel and hotel review sites have cleanliness as a category for evaluation. The largest hotel-review site is TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) with user ratings of thousands of hotels, restaurants, and businesses around the world; you can also find hotel reviews on major booking engines such as Booking.com, Hotels.com, and Expedia.

Wash Your Hands: In the interest of not sounding like your mother, I would like to preface this by saying that it doesn’t bother me if you chew with your mouth open or your shirt’s not tucked in. Hand washing, on the other hand, is near and dear to my heart. Frequent hand washing has been proven to reduce the transfer of colds and viruses, and will prevent bacteria getting from whatever it is you’re touching (why is this remote control sticky?) to your mouth, eyes, or nose. So even if your hotel room is poorly sanitized, some good ol’ hand washing will keep the icky germs at bay.

Ditch the Bedspread: You’ve probably heard this one before: Most hotels do not wash heavy bedspreads after each unique guest. The frequency of laundering varies from hotel to hotel, so if the idea of an anonymous stranger cuddling up with the blanket that now lies across your queen bed creeps you out, call your hotel and ask how often the staff washes the bedspreads. Or bring your own travel-friendly blanket and remove the hotel’s altogether.

Carry Wipes: Yes, you’re paying (and tipping, hopefully) so that housekeeping will keep your room in order. And I must admit, I’ve never once sprayed, dusted, or polished anything in a hotel room, so I can’t blame you if you choose to leave your toilet brush at home. But if you’re feeling a little icky in your dumpy budget hotel room or you just want to be extra cautious, simply hitting frequently touched surfaces with some antibacterial wipes could make your life a whole lot cleaner. Key places to spray for germs include the phone, door knobs, toilet handle, ice bucket, remote control, and bathroom faucet handles. Another option is to wave a UV wand over places prone to germs.

Avoid the Glassware: There’s no guarantee that your room glasses and mugs aren’t simply rinsed off under the tap by the cleaning staff, or even wiped down with the same sponge that’s used to clean other parts of the bathroom. The quick way to deal with this is to run your cup under hot water for a minute or two before using it; this will kill most bacteria. Or you can pack a travel mug from home.

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Could My Hotel Room Have Bedbugs?

hotel bed

There’s been a recent resurgence of these blood-sucking pests, which were nearly eradicated in North America decades ago. Reports of bedbugs in hotels across the States have been rising, probably in part as a result of the comings and goings of world travelers—bedbugs are found around the world and can easily hitch a ride across the ocean in a neatly packed suitcase. Not even luxury hotels are immune.

A family member of mine who manages a brand-name upscale hotel in New York City acknowledged that his hotel occasionally has bouts of bedbugs. He explained that they usually come over in the baggage of international travelers. It’s nearly impossible to check all rooms for the pests after every guest, and, unfortunately, every once in a while a guest will wake up with unsettling red welts. The hotel staff refunds the guest’s money, offers a room change, and fumigates the infestation, but there is not much they can do in terms of prevention. Bedbugs are a nuisance, but they’re not dangerous—their bites do not transmit disease as do the bites of ticks and fleas.

Bedbugs are tiny, but they can be seen with the naked eye and resemble small, reddish-brown ticks or cockroaches. These minuscule menaces feed at night, and their victims will develop itchy red bumps within about 24 hours of a bite. Bedbug bites are similar to mosquito bites, so before you throw a fit at your hotel’s front desk when a red bump appears on your arm, give the hotel the benefit of the doubt and check your room for other signs of bedbugs—especially if you are traveling in a place that has lots of mosquitoes.

To find evidence of bedbugs, look first under the mattress. Do you see reddish-brown spots (the dried excrement of the insects) on the underside of the mattress or on any other part of the bed? It’s hard to spot the actual bugs—these guys are sneaky and their flat bodies allow them to hide in the smallest mattress crevices during the day—but it is possible to see some bugs, especially if there’s a major infestation. You can also check between couch cushions or between the carpet and the wall.

[st_related]How to Find Bedbugs[/st_related]

If you discover the above signs of bedbug life, call the front desk immediately and do not put your suitcase, your coat, or any of your belongings on the bed or near the site of the infestation. In most cases, the hotel staff will already be aware of the situation and will move you to another room. If you have an inauspicious encounter with a stubborn front desk person, request to speak to a manager or even the hotel owner if necessary.

While there are no international standards for hotel cleanliness, under no circumstances should a traveler be expected to pay for a bug-infested room. If the hotel staff refuses a room change or a refund and you are 100 percent certain that your room is infested, find alternative lodging and write a review on your favorite hotel review site. Do your fellow travelers a favor and let them know that their money is better spent somewhere else.

Fortunately, getting stuck with a bedbug-infested hotel room and a surly hotel staff to boot is unlikely. Yes, bedbug cases are on the rise all over the world, but the majority of hotel rooms are free from these irksome insects. Avoiding bedbugs, the most democratic of all pests, is a crapshoot. Because bedbugs don’t feed on filth, a hotel’s cleanliness does not make a difference to a family of hitchhiking bedbugs arriving in the bag of a European tourist. Your best bet is to check your bed for bedbug signs (before you sleep in it or put your luggage nearby), keep your suitcase in a trash bag during your stay, and vacuum your suitcase when you get home.

For more information, see Bedbugs: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Too Disgusted to Ask.

How to Make Your Own Hand Sanitizer

Whip up a batch of homemade hand sanitizer with household items already in your medicine cabinet. Want more expert tips and vacation inspiration? Subscribe to SmarterTravel on YouTube!

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Security

Keep Your Home Safe on Vacation: 10 Essential Tips


Murphy’s Law for travelers: If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong while you’re on vacation—which is arguably the worst time a household calamity can strike. Coming home from your honeymoon, African safari or Mediterranean cruise can be gloomy. But returning from a memorable journey and learning something has gone seriously wrong at home can be downright devastating.

How to Keep Your Home Safe While Away

To make matters worse, a house or apartment left empty while its owners are traveling is a tempting target for criminals. We don’t want to scare you—or leave you fearing for your treasured belongings while basking on a Caribbean beach. But it’s imperative that every traveler take certain key steps to keep his or her home safe and sound while seeing the world. Basic preventative measures (which take only minutes to complete) can work wonders to help you keep your home safe from power surges, broken pipes, home invasions, and more while you’re away.

Ask a Friend to Help

A simple, albeit crucial, way to gain peace of mind while traveling is to ask a friend or neighbor to keep an eye on your house while you’re away. First, bribe your friend with some freshly baked cookies or cupcakes. Next, ask him or her to drive by your home once every day or so and check on the place. Give this person a key so that he or she can bring your mail in, feed your cat, water your plants, rake your leaves, etc. If you don’t have a garage, you may also want to give this person a key to your car—you never know when your vehicle may need to be moved. He or she should also have your contact information and a copy of your itinerary in case of emergencies.

Do you have more than one person visiting your house while you’re away? If so, tell them about each other! If the neighbor you asked to keep an eye on your abode calls the police on your elderly cat sitter, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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Don’t Tip Off Criminals on the Web

In a world where it seems everyone is blabbing about their business on social media, it’s important to stop and think: Who exactly is reading this stuff? The anonymity of the internet can encourage us to share personal information without fully realizing that there may be hundreds of complete strangers receiving our daily musings. Would you announce to a crowd that you will be leaving your house unattended for two weeks this month? If not, then you should think twice about posting your detailed vacation plans on social media—especially if that information is visible to internet users other than your friends and family (and it probably is). And take heart: You can always post your vacation pics after you return.

Be careful what you say on your voice mail too. Callers don’t need to know that you’re not home—they just need to know that you can’t come to the phone right now.

Do Tip Off the Police

Consider notifying the police if you’re going on vacation. No need to let the cops know about a weekend getaway, but do call them if you’re leaving town for longer than a week or two. It’s possible the police may go out of their way to drive by your house while on patrol, especially if you live in a small town. If you have a security alarm, leave a house key and the code with someone you trust, and provide the police and alarm company with their name and phone number. You may also want to contact your local neighborhood watch program if there’s one in your area.

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Curtains Closed—or Open?

Before you leave for vacation, you may decide to close your curtains to prevent people from peering inside your home to see whether you’re there. However, closed curtains also stop those who aim to help—the police, your neighbors or friends—from seeing inside your house. So what’s your best bet? Leave your curtains exactly as you usually keep them when you’re home, since noticeable changes could hint that you’re not around anymore—especially if your curtains are uncharacteristically left closed for two weeks. Move expensive items, like jewelry or computers, out of plain sight if they’re visible from the window. Store small valuables and important documents in a home safe.

[st_related]7 Ways to Keep Your Stuff Safe When You Fly[/st_related]

The Lights Are on But No One’s Home

Don’t leave your lights on at home throughout your entire vacation in an effort to make it look like someone is in the house. Your electric bill will end up more costly than your mortgage, and house lights blazing throughout the night might look a bit suspicious.

Instead, purchase a light switch timer that can turn your lights on and off automatically according to a programmed schedule. Criminals keeping an eye on your house will notice lights flipping on and off, and will probably assume someone is doing the flipping. Amazon offers a number of such products, including this one from Honeywell and this one from Enerlites.

Stop Your Mail

Either place a “stop” order on mail and newspapers (we also recommend this in our Ultimate Checklist for Traveling Abroad), or arrange to have a friend or neighbor pick up your mail while you’re away. Otherwise, a week’s worth of papers piled on your front step could signal to criminals that this particular homeowner is out of town. It’s easy to put your mail on hold at USPS.com. If you’re not going to be away for more than a night or two, but you’re concerned about the security of your mail, consider upgrading to a locking security mailbox.

[st_related]Your 11 Most Frequently Asked Travel Questions—Answered[/st_related]

Put That in Your Pipe

If you live in a cold region of the world and your pipes are in danger of freezing during winter, you have another compelling reason to leave a house key with a friend while you’re traveling. Ask your friend to stop by and check your faucets. If he or she turns on a faucet and only a few drops of water come out, your pipes may be frozen.

Take other precautions like making sure your pipes are properly insulated and keeping your heat on while you’re away—a smart thermostat can help efficiently maintain a minimum temperature in your home without overspending. Show your key-bearing companion the location of the water main shut-off in case a pipe breaks.

Pull the Plug

Unplug your television, computer, toaster oven, and other appliances to protect them from power surges. This will help you save power as well; many appliances draw energy even when they’re turned off.

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Remove Your Spare Key

That plastic rock isn’t fooling anyone. If a criminal figures out you’re away on vacation, it’s likely that he or she will check your porch for a spare key. So reach under the mat, into the mailbox, above the door frame, or into the flower pot and remove your spare key before you leave on your vacation. If you must leave a spare key outside your house, put it in a well-hidden secure portable lock box.

Use a Monitoring Doorbell System

A video doorbell system like the Ring Doorbell allows you to see, hear, and speak to visitors from anywhere in the world via your smart phone. As soon as motion is detected at your door, an alert notification is sent to your phone ensuring constant surveillance wherever your device is installed.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Packing

16 Packing Hacks That Will Change How You Travel


When we invited you, our readers, to reveal your best packing tips, we were flooded with umpteen ingenious hacks for packing well. Here are 16 of our favorite pieces of reader-submitted packing advice.

Bring a Backpack

“Backpack suitcase is where it’s at for traveling light! If you like to streamline and skip the baggage claim like me, it is a great way to go. Much lighter and easier to manage. I can even hang it on a bathroom stall hook while I go and not have to worry about it being stolen!” —Janet

[st_related]The 8 Best Rolling Backpacks for Savvy Travelers[/st_related]

Make Your Own Packing Cubes

“Use 2.5-gallon resealable bags for packing. Use one bag for same-type clothes or for each day’s outfit. Before completely sealing, sit on bag to release all excess air; it’s a fraction of the expense of ‘official’ packing bags.” —Christina

Back Up Your Prescriptions

“When traveling outside of the country, keep an essential set of all prescription drugs in a second purse or carry-on in case one is lost or misplaced.” —Donnalyn

[st_related]Traveling with Medications: What You Need to Know[/st_related]

Leverage Your Partner’s Bag

“Add an outfit of your own to your travel partner’s bag in the event your luggage is lost or delayed.” —Kimberly

Pack a Smart Snack

“Always keep some sort of lightweight, dry foodstuff in your bag. Instant oatmeal can come to one’s rescue in a hotel room with the addition of hot water from the coffee maker. Nuts and dried fruits are handy too.” —Ella

[st_related]10 Tasty Snacks You Can Bring on the Plane[/st_related]

Plan Ahead

“I start assembling ‘potential’ clothes/shoes/accessories about three weeks before a trip. Put them in a spare-room closet or section of a portion of your closet. When it comes time to do the final pack, you already have everything in one place. You can then pick what you want to take easily.” —Mary

Make Your Own Padded Hanger

“This is actually an UNpacking tip. If you have something like a blouse or sweater that is delicate fabric but needs to be hung, take a hand towel, fold it in thirds lengthwise, and then drape it back to front over a hanger (like a shawl). Presto! Instant padded hanger.” —Margo

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Simplify the Kids’ Clothes

“Put children’s daily outfits together and pack each in a Ziploc bag so all they have to do is grab a bagged outfit each day to get ready.” —Liz

Pack Door Decor

“When I go on a cruise, where all the rooms in the hallways look exactly alike, I attach a bow or balloon to my room door to find it easily. I just look right and left when I exit the lobby and see the colorful decoration down the hallway.” —Patricia

[st_related]The Ultimate Cruise Packing List: What to Pack for a Cruise[/st_related]

Bring Bling

“Bring one small piece of inexpensive jewelry or a scarf to dress up a travel outfit for a nice dinner instead of bringing an extra outfit you may only wear for a few hours.” —Jaeann

Remember to Pack Earth-Friendly Bags

“Be sure to pack a cloth bag for any kind of shopping in Hawaii; plastic bags are banned.” —Paula

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Pack a Poncho

“Rain ponchos solve the umbrella problem. They keep me drier than umbrellas. I buy them at the dollar store. Two in a pack! Weighs nothing and takes no room. It dries in the hotel room, but doesn’t fold up well after opened, so I leave it behind when packing to go home. The quality is disposable quality, anyway. I love them for travel.” —Lorraine

Plan (and Photograph) Your Outfits

“I take pictures with my cell phone of the clothes combinations before I leave on a trip.” —Sulma

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Pack Twice

“First pack everything you think you can’t live without, then remove 50–75 percent of everything you thought you couldn’t live without (with the possible exception of underwear).” —Rhonda

Use a Glasses Case for Jewelry

“Use an eyeglass hard case to pack jewelry. Cases are small and easy to pack and do a good job of protecting jewelry. It’s also easy to find the jewelry you’re looking for.” —Betty

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Simplify Your Toiletries

“When my husband and I travel we like to go from region to region. So we stay at multiple hotels for one trip. To save packing and unpacking time and room, I bring a flat plastic folded bag (mine came with my luggage) that has multiple compartments and hangs up. I pack it with ‘samples’ of toiletries, makeup, I even ask my stylist for sample-size shampoo, hairspray, conditioner. Then when we arrive I simply hang it in the bathroom. Voila. When we depart I simple fold it right back into my suitcase.” —Susan

Traveling? Consider Bringing These:

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Booking Strategy Budget Travel

The Best and Worst Days to Fly


Airfares jolt up and down like a plane caught in turbulence. The airlines use computer systems to set ticket prices based on a complicated mix of factors, including competition, demand, the state of the economy, seasonality, taxes, the number of views on a YouTube cat video—you name it. That’s why it’s nearly impossible to predict exactly where ticket prices will fall on any given day of the year, and which will be the cheapest or best days to fly.

Thanks to a handful of websites that compile data based on everything from direct bookings to historical studies of published fares, it’s possible to analyze fare models and get at least a rough idea of the most expensive and cheapest days to fly during the year. Use this information to figure out when a potential flight will cost you top dollar—and when you can fly for a song.

The Worst Days to Fly

Thanks to high demand and correspondingly high fares, the following times of year are usually the most expensive days to fly.

Christmas and New Year’s

The Christmas and New Year’s holiday travel window is more or less a 17-day period that overlaps the two holidays by about five or six days, according to statistics gathered from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Peak days always depend on when the weekends fall in relation to the holidays, since lots of people want to travel over convenient long weekends.

Note that it’s not unusual to see flights departing on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and sometimes the days immediately following or preceding the holidays that are cheaper than departures a few days out, depending on how they fall during the week. If you’re booking a holiday trip, use your booking engine’s flexible dates option to see which days will save you the most money.

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Spring Break

Spring break peak travel dates vary by destination but generally extend from late February through the beginning of April. Most colleges and universities have spring break in March or even late February; meanwhile, families with school-age children vacation around Easter, which is usually in late March or April. Watch out for higher fares to beach and family destinations like Florida and the Caribbean during this time. (See Top 25 Ways to Save on a Caribbean Vacation for more help.)

If you’re visiting a destination that attracts the college set, such as Cancun or Punta Cana, but you’re looking to avoid wet T-shirt contests and noisy parties, here’s a tip. Take a look at this list from STA Travel, which outlines the spring break dates for American colleges and universities each year. Avoid planning your beach vacation around those dates.

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Summer

Summer is high season for numerous destinations, and fares are accordingly driven higher by demand. The crest of summer travel is from Memorial Day to Labor Day, during which fares to most U.S., Canadian, and European destinations are at their peak. Three-day weekends around summer holidays like Memorial Day or the Fourth of July are particularly expensive times to fly.

If you can put off your trip until mid-September or go in May instead of June, you’ll likely pay less than you would over the summer (not only for airfares but also for hotels once you arrive).

There are some exceptions to this rule. Summer is low season for U.S. mountain towns, the Caribbean, parts of Mexico, Costa Rica, and many places in the Southern Hemisphere like Australia and New Zealand.

[st_related]12 Simple Tricks for Saving on Summer Airfare[/st_related]

Thanksgiving

Peak Thanksgiving travel dates are predictable year after year, as the holiday always falls on the fourth Thursday of November. The period from Wednesday through Sunday around Thanksgiving wins the award for Busiest Travel Time of the Year.

So when’s the best time to depart for the big family feast? The busiest and most expensive days are the Wednesday before and the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Flying on Thanksgiving Day itself typically offers the cheapest possible fares; the day after is often a pretty good deal as well. As with Christmas and New Year’s, you’ll save by zigging when others zag; while everyone else plans to be back at work the Monday after Thanksgiving, you could save by extending your long weekend and flying home that day instead of Sunday.

The Best (and Cheapest) Days to Fly

So what is the cheapest day to fly? Read on to find out when travel demand tends to be lowest.

Winter/Low Season

Speaking of seasonality, here’s a hard, fast, and simple rule: The cheapest days to fly are low-season, non-holiday travel dates; this will vary based on your destination, largely because of weather. Because summer is the popular tourist season for an abundance of vacation spots, winter is a great time to seek out rock-bottom airfares. Look for amazingly cheap tickets to places that draw big crowds in summer, like Europe, Canada, and most U.S. destinations (except ski towns, Florida, and Hawaii). Excluding spring break and Thanksgiving, spring and autumn are also excellent occasions to find affordable shoulder-season fares to these destinations.

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Tuesdays and Wednesdays

Unless you are the amazing Zoltar, it’s impossible to predict what the single cheapest day to fly will be. Even if you could gauge data from previous years to determine which day offered the lowest prices for your particular route, there’s no telling if the same pattern would happen the following year.

Travel experts generally agree on the cheapest travel days of the week. Fare tracker site Airfarewatchdog, SmarterTravel’s sister site, notes that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the two best days of the week to fly if you want to save some coin.

Thursdays and Saturdays

The next cheapest days of the week to fly are Thursday and Saturday. Saturday might sound like a popular—hence expensive—day to fly. But in truth, most travelers prefer to come back from vacation on Sunday to maximize their time away. The most popular days for business travelers, meanwhile, are Monday and Friday.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Ultimately, your best day to fly all depends on your route and your airline. I see plenty of airfare sales that restrict discounted dates to Tuesdays and Wednesdays only or Mondays through Thursdays. I’ve also seen international fare sales that tack on weekend surcharges and require a Saturday night stay. Airline, seasonality, current demand, and a barrage of other factors can completely overthrow the Tuesday/Wednesday rule of thumb … which brings me to my next point.

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How to Do Your Own Flight Research

There’s that old saying about teaching a man to fish. I can give you scores of statistics, but you’re still going to want to know how to find the least expensive flights that work with your particular travel itinerary. Below are some useful resources to get you started.

SmarterTravel Tips and Advice for Finding Flights

To learn the basics, start with 10 Tips for Finding Cheap Airfare, which offers 10 tricks for grabbing the cheapest possible tickets available. It’s a must-read for flyers. Other useful stories include 7 Mistakes to Avoid When Booking a Flight and Want the Lowest Fare? Here’s When to Book. SmarterTravel has also put together a list of The 10 Best Flight Search Sites for Booking Cheap Airfare.

Airfarewatchdog for Fare Alerts

I love Airfarewatchdog because it does the work for you. Sign up for free fare alerts from your local gateway, and the site will send you email notifications when fares for your itinerary drop.

Predictive Services to Determine When to Book

When you search flights on Kayak.com, the site typically offers a prediction for whether you should buy or wait, along with a chart of recent fare trends for that itinerary. The site uses data to predict whether the fare is likely to rise or fall in the next seven days.

The Hopper app (iOS | Android) offers a similar predictive service, telling you to buy or wait once you enter your itinerary. It will alert you when the price drops and its prediction changes from “wait” to “buy.”

What to Wear on Your Flight

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Booking Strategy

Planning a Trip to Europe: Your 10-Step Guide

Before you can experience authentic Spanish tapas, piazzas in Rome, or rooftop terraces in Prague, an important to-do list stands between you and your European vacation. The logistics involved in planning a trip to Europe may seem tedious or overwhelming, but the more prepared you are, the greater your chances of a successful trip that lives up to your expectations. That’s why it’s important to do a bang-up job creating an itinerary, arranging transportation, and tackling the brass tacks before you’re off to the Continent.

The following guide explains how to plan a trip to Europe in 10 simple steps—so you can spend less time worrying about your travel arrangements and more time staring at pictures of castles and men in kilts.

1. Get your documents in order.

If you don’t have a passport, it will take at least four to six weeks from the time of application for you to receive one. Expedited services—either through the State Department or an expeditor such as Travel Visa Pro—can trim the process down to a week or so, but it will cost you an additional fee, so it’s best to take care of this well before your trip.

Already have a passport? Check its expiration date. The last thing you need is to find out your passport has expired while you’re in line at airport check-in. Keep in mind that some countries require your passport to be valid for six months beyond your trip dates.

All car rental companies require drivers to have valid licenses in their home country, so you’ll also want to check the expiration date of your license. Some car rental companies also require an international driving permit for European rentals in addition to a valid driver’s license. For U.S. citizens, these can be obtained through the American Auto Association (AAA); in Canada, try the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA).

U.S. travelers to Russia or Turkey must have valid visas in addition to passports; obtaining one is a complicated process that can take weeks even after you have been approved—so start early.

For more information:

2. Establish a budget.

When planning a trip to Europe, establish a budget as early as possible—even before you know your destination, travel dates, or itinerary. Some destinations are generally cheaper than others, but there are ways to save everywhere: travel in the off-season, pick budget accommodations, plan a shorter trip. For example, London is an expensive city, but many travel providers and airlines offer affordable vacation packages to the city, and it’s not hard to find cheap air deals to London, especially during the winter.

Set your budget early on, and you’ll avoid any disappointment that could come from forging a fabulous itinerary, like two weeks in Switzerland during summer, and then discovering you can’t afford it. Travel budget apps such as TrabeePocket (iOS | Android) can help you keep track of your expenses once you start making bookings.

For more information:

3. Pick a destination.

Now that you know how much you can spend, where do you want to go? If you’re like many travelers and you have a humongous list of places in Europe you want to visit, this could be tricky.

One strategy is to pick a particular site that’s on your must-see travel list, and plan your vacation around that. Last year I planned a trip to Ireland centered on an excursion to remote Skellig Michael Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site I’d dreamed of visiting. The excursion turned into an unforgettable two-week Emerald Isle road trip.

Another option is to pick someplace timely. Visit countries’ tourism websites and search for seasonal events like festivals or local holidays (which you may want to either avoid or join, depending on how you feel about crowds). Don’t forget to check the weather before you decide on your destination.

For more information:

4. Create a rough itinerary.

So you want to go to France, eh? Don’t go ahead and buy a roundtrip flight to Paris and a hotel room—at least, not yet. You’ll want to sketch out a day-by-day itinerary of your perfect trip to France before you book a thing. Research sites and cities you really want to explore, and then figure out which ones you have the time and budget to get to.

Check out alternative ways to travel in Europe. If you want to see multiple countries or cities but are on a tight budget, you may want to consider a cruise (exchange rates are naught for U.S. citizens onboard American ships). If you’d rather not do the work of creating your own itinerary, continue booking a group tour with a company such as Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, Trafalgar, or Rick Steves’ Europe.

For more information:

5. Book your airfare.

Because airfare will probably be the most expensive part of your trip, you’ll want to book it before anything else (car rental, hotel, etc.). This will allow you to be more flexible with your dates, which is a great way to save money on your flight. You can often spend less by flying on international discount airlines like Aer Lingus or Norwegian. Check multiple booking sites, including meta-search sites such as Skyscanner and traditional booking sites such as Expedia, to make sure you’re seeing a wide range of options. You can also set up fare alerts using Airfarewatchdog, SmarterTravel’s sister site, so you’ll be notified when the price of your flight drops.

Consider spicing up your trip with a layover in a different country. Icelandair has a long-running program that allows passengers flying elsewhere in Europe to take a free stopover in Reykjavik for up to seven nights.

For more information:

6. Book your accommodations.

It’s time to go back to that rough itinerary you jotted down and fill in some places to sleep. As is the case with pretty much everything you book for your trip, the earlier you make arrangements, the better—especially during summer high season.

Sure, you can just book a room at the local Hilton and be done with it. But do a bit of research and you could discover some funky lodging that’s almost as exciting as the attractions you plan to visit. Keep your eyes open for historic castles, tiny bed and breakfasts, houseboats, eco-friendly hotels, or organic farms. Budget travelers take note: Vacation rentals, homestays, farm stays, and house-swapping are accommodation options that can be shockingly affordable … or even free.

As with airfare, you should shop around on multiple hotel sites to make sure you’re getting the best deal, and read reviews from past guests to see what the experience is like. TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company), Booking.com, and Hotels.com are a few good places to start.

For more information:

7. Consider travel insurance.

There are several kinds of travel insurance: trip cancellation insurance, flight cancellation insurance, medical insurance, etc. The best time to buy insurance is right after you put down the major deposits on your trip, whether that entails airfare, a package, or prepaid hotels. Once you know how much money you’ve paid upfront, you can ensure your trip if you so choose. Many airlines and travel providers sell insurance that you can purchase along with your flight or tour package. Always, always read the fine print in your policy and compare it with other travel insurance policies before you make a purchase.

Check your medical insurance coverage to see if you’re covered overseas. If not, you may want to purchase supplemental medical insurance to cover situations like the cost of transportation back home for emergency care.

Reputable travel insurance companies to consider include Allianz Travel and Seven Corners.

For more information:

8. Book local transportation and day tours.

When in Rome, ride the Metropolitana. Find out how the locals get around the destination to which you’re traveling and act accordingly. You won’t need a car rental in places like bike-friendly Amsterdam or London with its convenient underground Tube, unless you plan to go outside the city.

A car rental is your best bet if you’re traveling to locales that can’t be easily reached by rail or plane (such as the Irish countryside). Be mentally prepared to drive in a foreign country, which can be a frightening experience when faced with incomprehensible traffic signs, narrow streets, or sheep roadblocks.

To get from city to city or country to country, examine your rail options in comparison to routes and prices offered by European discount airlines like easyJet or Ryanair. Travelers embarking on extensive travel within Europe may save money by purchasing a rail pass from Rail Europe that permits unlimited train travel within a specified region.

Check out our sister site, Viator, to book day tours, especially if you want to take advantage of skip-the-line options.

For more information:

9. Tackle last-minute logistics.

A few weeks before your departure date is the right time to start taking care of a number of key logistics: money, phone, house-sitter, pet-sitter.

Call your credit card companies to let them know you’ll be traveling abroad. While you’re at it, find out if you’re going to be charged a fee for using your card overseas. Research the locations of ATMs in your destination, especially if you’ll be relying on cash.

Does your cell phone plan allow you to make calls overseas, and if so, how much will it cost you? Many cell phone companies offer temporary international plans that you can purchase for the month you’re traveling. You might also want to consider a mobile hotspot device to keep you connected.

For more information:

10. Pack.

Packing for Europe requires both different items and a different mindset in comparison to some other types of trips. After all, there’s no arguing that Parisians are more stylish than your typical North American tourist. Most of central and western Europe have milder climates throughout the year, but that doesn’t mean you won’t encounter rain or a heatwave. You should pack clothing that’s easy to layer, and always include a packable raincoat or travel umbrella in your suitcase when traveling to Europe. Think about how you’ll be carrying your money—pickpocketing schemes are more common abroad, so it’s important to carry your money and personal belongings securely. When researching your European destination of choice, consider the overall climate and time of year you’ll be traveling. Then, about a week before your trip check out the forecast, mobilize a packing list, and ensure your suitcase is in working condition and meets your airline’s size restrictions.

Pro packing tip: If you’re tight on packing space, invest in a packing cube set. They do wonders, especially if you’re stopping in multiple destinations as they make repacking a breeze.

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Europe Outfit Inspiration

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What other tips would you add to this Europe trip planner? Post them in the comments below.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Packing

How to Choose the Perfect Suitcase

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You’re standing in the airport terminal, watching a line of luggage move toward you on the conveyor belt. You eye each bag carefully, searching for your own and dreading two distinct and disappointing outcomes: Your bag could either appear dented and mauled with your underwear hanging out of a gaping tear, or, like a blind date gone horribly wrong, it could simply fail to show.

Choosing the right luggage can help prevent these minor tragedies, in addition to other inconveniences like pesky baggage fees for an oversized piece or the embarrassment of trying to squeeze your massive nylon duffel into the overhead compartment as impatient passengers struggle to get by. Pick the right hand luggage and experience the freedom of traveling with only a carry-on—you won’t have to worry about lost luggage or extra fees if you can pack what you need in a good-sized carry-on. If you do check a bag, you’ll feel confident that it will remain intact if you select a sturdy, reliable brand. Here’s how to choose luggage that’s right for you.

Q. What are the most common types of luggage?

A. Travel luggage comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, from backpacks to rolling suitcases. Below are three of the most common types of suitcases.

Rolling Suitcases

Traditional luggage, which has wheels for easy transport, comes in two models: hardside and softside. Hardside bags are molded from difficult-to-pronounce materials like polypropylene and polycarbonate. Soft bags can be made out of fabrics such as microfiber, leather, nylon, PVC, or polyester. Some soft bags are expandable and can accommodate up to 25 percent more if you need the space. (For more information on the difference between hard and soft luggage, see below.)

Backpacks

Backpacks come in a variety of sizes, both with and without frames. They are a good option for anyone planning to camp, hike, or do other outdoor activities. Some backpacks include wheels, while others do not. Even large luggage pieces can become backpacks when they have padded back straps. These bags can be great—but make sure to tape down any wayward straps if you check your backpack to keep them from getting entangled in the baggage carousel.

Duffel Bags

Duffel bags are no longer just a sack to cart your sweats to and from the gym. Many modern duffels have accessories like wheels and a retractable handle; these bags are often sold as “travel duffels.” While a traditional small or medium duffel bag will fit nicely in the overhead compartment, it may strain your arm or shoulder if you have to carry it for long distances. For extensive travel, always go for a piece that has wheels or back straps.

Q. Hard vs. soft luggage: Which should I choose?

A. Many travelers have a strong preference when it comes to hardside vs. softside luggage, but either one can work well depending on your personal travel and packing style. Below are some of the pros and cons of each type.

Softside Luggage

If you want flexibility, softside luggage is the way to go. Soft bags are more common than hard-shell luggage, especially for carry-on luggage, and are easier to squeeze into tight overhead compartments. These bags may also absorb shock better than their molded counterparts.

These bags are lightweight—generally lighter than hardside bags—which makes them easier to sling into overhead bins and the like. Be discriminating about fabrics, though. Look for a bag made from ballistic nylon (or another durable nylon), which provides the best protection against wear and tear. And make sure the fabric is waterproof and stain-proof.

Soft bags are available in a wide variety of models; for example, you can purchase a carry-on with a zippered backpack attachment, or a duffel that can be either strapped to your back or wheeled through the airport.

If you like having exterior pockets to store items such as a book or your clear plastic bag of liquids and gels, you’re much more likely to find them on a softside bag. Soft suitcases also tend to have a single large interior compartment, with the front of the bag acting as a sort of “lid,” while most hardside suitcases are designed in a clamshell style, with two equal halves that fold together.

Hardside Luggage

It seems like hard-shell suitcases are being upgraded and improved upon almost daily. Companies are now using ultra-lightweight materials, such as polycarbonate and special plastics, to make hardside bags that are featherweight but also extremely durable and strong.

Hardside suitcases tend to protect fragile items better than soft bags, which makes them increasingly popular for bags large enough to check. But because they’re stiff, they might not be able to squeeze into that last bit of space in the overhead bin—and when packing, you might not be able to cram in that one last outfit.

Hardside bags are easier to clean than soft suitcases, though they are also prone to scuffs. Travelers who like to stay organized may prefer the aforementioned clamshell packing design, which forces you to divide your items into two compartments.

Q. Two wheels or four?

A. There are a few things to factor in before making a choice—and note that the quality of the bag can make a difference: Some four-wheeled spinners roll like a dream while others feel difficult to control, and the same goes for two-wheeled bags.

Two-Wheeled Luggage

Two-wheeled luggage, also known as rollaboard luggage, rolls forward and backward on wheels that are recessed into the case; this saves a bit of packing space and also protects the wheels from damage.

The design of two-wheelers generally means they are easier to maneuver on uneven surfaces. The main drawback of this style of bag is that you must drag it behind you. This pulling motion can cause strain to wrists and shoulders. Anyone prone to pain in these areas should go with a four-wheeled spinner instead.

Spinner Suitcases

Four-wheeled bags, or spinners, have wheels that rotate 360 degrees, which means you can turn the bag in any direction. This provides improved mobility and gives you options: You can roll the bag next to you, push it, or pull it. But those protruding wheels take up space in the overhead bin and are more likely to snap off or suffer damage; it’s wise to check the warranty before purchasing this type of bag.

In addition, if you’re considering a carry-on, make sure the dimensions listed are wheel-inclusive. Airlines will include the wheels when they measure your carry-on, so you should, too.

Q. What size luggage do I need?

A. As a general rule, go for a carry-on no larger than 22 x 14 x 9 inches and a checked bag no larger than 62 inches (length plus width plus height), which are the standard for most major airlines in the U.S. Note that many bags marketed as “carry-ons” are a little larger than the above measurements, especially once you count the wheels—which could lead to unpleasant surprises at the airport if you’re forced to gate-check.

Although you may want to bring as large a bag as you can on the plane, remember that if you can’t lift your carry-on bag above your head, you will not be able to place it in the overhead bin.

Check the websites of the airlines you fly most frequently for information on what size bags you can check or bring onboard, and keep in mind that many airlines have different size requirements for international vs. domestic flights. If your new suitcase pushes the limits of the airline’s size restrictions, you’re going to have to deal with the consequences (read: fees). What you want in a suitcase is best summed up by the Goldilocks principle: a bag that is not too big, not too small, but just right (for you).

When flying on a smaller airline in a foreign country, acceptable baggage weight and size requirements can be a crapshoot. You don’t want to discover that you have to leave behind one of your bags or pay extra fees when you attempt to board a 20-seat plane for a domestic flight in Costa Rica. Check baggage requirements for each flight on your itinerary.

In addition to airline requirements, think about your own requirements: your lifestyle, health, and particular needs. Do you have a bad back? You’ll want to look for an ultralight suitcase, such as Samsonite’s Lite-Box 20″ Spinner, which weighs less than five pounds.

Q. What’s the best place to buy luggage?

A. You can buy just about anything at Amazon.com, and luggage is no exception, with suitcases available from reputable brands such as Delsey, Eagle Creek, and Travelpro. You’ll also want to check out luggage retailer eBags.com, which carries a full line of luggage, garment bags, briefcases, duffel bags, carry-ons, and more.

You might also want to buy directly from the manufacturer; popular luggage brands to consider include Away, Briggs & Riley, Samsonite, and Tumi.

It’s sometimes better to shop in a real store instead of online, as that will allow you to test the bag before purchasing. Pretty much any department store or big-box store (like Target or Kohl’s) will have a selection of luggage, though quality can vary widely.

Thoroughly read the warranty policy before purchasing a bag. Ideally, you want to buy from a company that provides lifetime warranties on its luggage. Companies with some of the most comprehensive warranties out there include Victorinox, Briggs & Riley, and Eagle Creek. See this list of luggage brands with great return policies and warranties.

Before you decide to keep a new bag, test, test, test. Walk around for a bit and see if the handle is long enough for you, if you like the feel of the fabric, if the back straps are comfortable, and if the suitcase feels sturdy and durable. If you shop for a bag online, order it at least a month before your trip so you can send it back if it doesn’t feel right for you.

Q. How much should I pay for a suitcase?

A. Consider investing a little more to get the most out of your suitcase, especially if you travel frequently. The cost of replacing a cheap bag every couple of years will add up eventually, so spend a little more up front to get a suitcase that will be with you for the long haul.

Whether you opt for a hardside suitcase or a soft one, be discerning about materials and construction. Think of your suitcase as your forever friend. You want this relationship to last a lifetime, right?

That said, designer luggage is a more a fashion symbol than a travel tool and is not the choice of most experienced travelers. A $1,000 piece of luggage isn’t likely to be that much more useful than a good-quality $200 or $300 bag.

Q. What’s the best color for luggage?

A. Luggage is available in just about every conceivable color and pattern, from metallic solids to leopard prints. Classic black generally shows the least amount of wear and tear, but it’s also the most common luggage color—as evidenced by the never-ending sea of black bags shuffling by on the luggage carousel after just about every flight. Choosing a brighter color for your checked bag will make it much easier to spot.

If you do opt for black, tie some colored ribbon or a scarf to the handle or strap on a bright luggage belt.

Q. Which extra features should I consider?

A. Compare different luggage interiors and exteriors to see what suits your style. Lots of compartments and pockets are great for the super-organized packer, and features like a plastic waterproof pouch can hold wet swimsuits or leaky shampoo bottles. Think about where and how you travel and what you tend to pack when considering these suitcase features.

Handles

Look for a sturdy handle that feels comfortable and is ergonomically designed. A handle system that is built into the inside of the bag is best because the handle is protected from damage. Test out the handle: Extend it to its full length, make sure it locks (and stays locked), and take the bag for a spin. If the suitcase is jabbing you in the backs of the legs, that means the handle isn’t long enough for your height.

Bags with a detachable piggyback clip, a looped clip on the top of the bag near the handle, allow you to clip a second bag onto a larger one. When you pick up your checked bag, clip on your carry-on or personal item, and presto—you have a free hand.

Zippers

The bigger and sturdier the zipper, the longer it will last and the better it will stand up to the abuses of travel. Go for metal over plastic, and look for self-repairing zippers—so called because in the event of a snag in the zipper’s teeth, pulling the zipper back down and over the snag fixes the problem and reseals the teeth.

TSA-Approved Locks

If you want extra security, choose a bag that includes a TSA-approved lock. While you can also purchase a lock separately, many travelers find it more convenient if the lock is built into the suitcase.

Pockets and Organizational Systems

When it comes to pockets, softside bags generally win. (The construction of hardside suitcases doesn’t allow for many extra pockets and outer compartments.) If you love organization—a place for everything and everything in its place—there are lots of bags on the market for you. One great example is GeniusPack’s innovative Supercharged carry-on, which features everything from a hidden laundry bag to “genius pack” compartments for every imaginable clothing category.

USB Charging Ports

Many newer carry-on models include built-in USB charging ports so you can power up your phone on the go.

Consider This Outfit Next Time You Fly

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

Traveling? Get a Carry-On That Does More

Three words: lightweight, durable, and multi-functional. The Carry-On from Away makes traveling that much easier, especially with its removable, TSA-approved battery for your electronics.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Julianne Lowell, Margaret Leahy, and Sarah Schlichter contributed to this story.

Categories
Fashion & Beauty In-Flight Experience

6 Things Not to Wear on a Plane


The rules of in-flight fashion are different from those on the ground. When you’re sitting for hours in a metal tube flying 35,000 feet in the air, comfort trumps style. Wear an outfit that keeps you cozy and relaxed, and you’ll likely appear more chic than the traveler tottering down the aisle in four-inch stilettos or sweating in too-tight synthetic fabrics. That’s why it’s crucial to know what to wear on a plane—and, more importantly, what not to wear on a plane.

Just ask Lady Gaga. In 2010, the pop star donned Alexander McQueen “armadillo shoes” and a wild outfit of black and yellow tape on a transatlantic flight. During the voyage, Gaga began to experience symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, a life-threatening condition commonly caused by a combo of in-flight risk factors like low cabin pressure, dehydration, immobility, and cramped seats. When Gaga complained that her legs were swelling up during the flight, the cabin crew convinced her to change into something a little more comfortable—and a little less likely to incite an artery blockage.

Just as Gaga and other demigods of impractical couture should keep their costumes off the tarmac, those of us who fall into the jeans-and-sneakers category of fashion ought also to think carefully about what we wear on a plane.

Don’t: Tight or complicated clothing. Do: Simple garments made of natural, breathable fabrics.

Tight clothes can restrict blood flow in the already-confining space of an airplane seat, not to mention put you at risk for DVT. Ditch the skinny jeans, or anything tight enough to leave marks on your skin, and don loose-fitting natural fiber garments (clothes made from cotton or linen are a great choice).

Shun any fabrics that lack breathability, such as nylon or leatherette. Add your rubber raincoat or waterproof jacket to this list as well. (Note, however, that some high-quality waterproof jackets, like outerwear made from Gore-Tex, are quite breathable. It all depends on what it’s made of.) Less breathable fabrics hold sweat on the skin when it’s hot as well as prevent air circulation. A foolproof way to find breathable clothes for the plane: Stick with moisture-wicking activewear (I recommend prAna) or clothes sold from travel-specific suppliers like Patagonia.

Aircraft lavatories are tiny contrivances, about the size of a small closet or a very large Manhattan apartment, so you’ll want to wear something that isn’t too tricky to maneuver. Avoid bodysuits or complicated wrap shirts or dresses, as well as long pants or skirts that may graze the unsanitary (and often disturbingly wet) lavatory floor.

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Don’t: High heels. Do: Comfortable shoes.

Heels are restrictive, and they’ve been said to cause a long list of maladies, from chronic foot pain to hammer toe. Plus, unless you’re one of Charlie’s Angels, they don’t exactly facilitate a clean exit in case of emergency. And those boots with all the straps and chains sure are cute, but they’re the nightmare of every in-a-rush business traveler who must stand behind you as you undo myriad fastening mechanisms at airport security.

A good pair of comfortable shoes will make it easier for you to hoof it around the airport and sprint to the gate if you need to make a connection. Also consider slip-on shoes, which are wonderful for easing your way through security.

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Don’t: Perfume or cologne. Do: Freshly washed clothes.

You’ve been in Europe for two weeks, you’ve only packed so much, and by your date of departure you’ve run out of clean pants and shirts. It may be tempting to throw on something that more or less passes the sniff test and head off to the airport. But remember: Odors are intensified on a plane, where passengers are cramped in close quarters and stale air is recycled throughout the cabin. Plan ahead, and make a point to reserve a clean outfit for the plane ride home.

Strong-smelling perfumes, colognes, body sprays, and so on shouldn’t be worn in flight. Some passengers may not enjoy the scent of your CK One; others might suffer allergic reactions to synthetic fragrances. If you really must smell of the finest department-store brands upon arrival in your destination, pack a sample size and apply it once you land.

Don’t: Contact lenses. Do: Glasses.

Airplane cabins are notoriously arid, to the point where the lack of humidity can dry out your skin, your nasal passages, and even your eyes. Contacts can become uncomfortable to wear in this type of environment, so consider bringing a pair of glasses to use during the flight instead.

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Don’t: Offensive clothing. Do: Anything you would wear to dinner with the in-laws.

Planes are pretty informal places; people wear T-shirts, baseball hats, and even slippers, and no one bats an eye. But it is possible to take it a little too far. Carriers typically leave it up to flight attendants to judge whether a passenger’s garb is inappropriate for wear in the air. So how do you know if your outfit is appropriate?

If you can’t wear it to church or dinner with your mother-in-law, you probably shouldn’t wear it on a flight. And whether or not you agree with what certain airlines deem “inappropriate,” you’ll want to avoid wearing potentially offensive clothing to minimize a disruptive travel experience. Passengers have been removed from planes for wearing everything from short skirts to baggy pants to T-shirts splashed with expletives or offensive (well, depending on whom you ask) political messages.

It also helps to know that your passenger status may make a difference in what you’re allowed to wear. For example, paying passengers are allowed to wear leggings on United flights, while those traveling on employee “buddy” passes are not.

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Don’t: Warm-weather clothing. Do: Layers, layers, layers.

Flyers must brave a multitude of temperature changes throughout their journeys. There’s the sweat-inducing jog through the sunny airport terminal, the warm 20 minutes while the plane sits on the tarmac pre-takeoff, and that in-flight arctic chill (against which hard-won, paper-thin airline blankets do nothing).

Layers are a traveler’s best weapon against such varying conditions. Furthermore, the more apparel you tie around your waist or throw over your shoulders, the fewer clothing items you need to ball up and stuff into your suitcase. Getting warm? Remove a few layers, bundle them, and then use them as a pillow.

What to Wear on a Plane

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Margaret Leahy contributed to this story.