I love traveling. I love seeing new cultures and places. I don’t, however, enjoy the amount of wasted time spent trying to get to/from all these wonderful places. I’m always amazed at how much time can be spent on the logistics of the trip taking away from the enjoyment (and time) actually involved in exploring these new places. Alas, help is here. I’ve found a few worthy tips to help save time and improve your sanity while traveling:
So, your bags are packed, you’ve arrived at the airport excited about your next destination only to find a massive line at airport security. You have time to make the gate but suddenly it’s getting tight and the stress begins. Airports are now offering all sorts of different ways to simplify the security process and I’ve found one solution that’s absolutely worth the time and money. It’s called Global Entry. The cool thing about Global Entry is this allows you to bypass some of the long international customs lines when returning to the States (especially from Canada and Mexico). And, on top of all this, it includes TSA Pre-check (a must have for almost all domestic airports in the US). TSA Pre-check not only commonly has a shorter line but it also allows you to skip removing your shoes and laptop making the security line go faster. Without a doubt I’ve made a couple of flights I wouldn’t have otherwise caught due to this and I’ve enjoyed a beverage at the gate (getting there early) rather than stressing with the standard airport security line. Global Entry costs $100 but is valid for 5 years (and includes TSA Pre-check which costs $85 anyway) so you’re essentially getting two valuable services for the price of one (for $20/year which is worth it if you make one trip a year).
I consider myself a pretty frugal traveler always trying to get the experience at the lowest possible cost. Over time I’ve quickly realized this isn’t always ideal for the best travel experience. When I get back from my trip I’ll look back and regret not buying that unique item that wasn’t really that expensive from a street vendor and would be a great keepsake and I look back at some of the stress and discomfort I encountered. One option to reduce this is to pay a little bit more and enjoy some of the perks airlines often offer. One perk I’ve found invaluable is paying for a slight upgrade to the seat I’ve purchased. After I buy that deep discounted seat for a steal, why not spend a little more getting a seat with more legroom (even in Economy or Economy plus) to enjoy the trip to/from my destination? Airlines often offer upgrades when checking in or at the boarding gate that can allow you to get on-board early with your carry-on bag, use their airport lounge for a long layover and have a seat that provides more legroom or comfort. These are often well worth the additional expense. If you’re traveling, you want to enjoy the experience, right?
Skip the checked bags
If you’ve ever traveled to Europe you’ll quickly realize the generous luggage limits of the airlines in the States don’t apply – at all – to European airlines. Europeans travel lighter, gas costs more and airlines are very strict with your bags. Combine the additional expense (to check a bag) and the time (waiting for it to be delivered at baggage claim) combined with the additional weight to lug around on your trip and you will quickly realize the benefits of packing light in a carry-on (even if it means you may wear the same outfit twice, or, aghast! 4 times). So, you couldn’t pack your large bottle of shampoo or moisturizer. Every country I’ve ever visited has a ton of stores that sell something similar and allow you to skip the trouble of checking a bag. Just grab some necessities at your destination and enjoy the additional time you have skipping the wait (and weight) of your checked bag.
Duty free isn’t free
You’ve landed in London and have a few hours layover at the airport and can’t miss the duty free stores lit up everywhere. This can be a little bit of a misnomer. Duty free means you don’t pay the duty/tax (of that country) when purchasing a product. What it doesn’t mean is the product actually costs less in the country you’re headed to. They can mark-up the price of the product and it will cost less than on the street when duty is applied but that doesn’t mean it’s a great deal. A quick example, I was looking at a bottle of Jack Daniels at London Heathrow at Duty Free and it cost about $30 for the bottle (which is cheaper than on the streets of London) but when I land Stateside, I can get that same bottle at a liquor store (with duty applied) for about $20. Why drag that bottle back and pay $10 more on top? Be sure to do your research before you realize that steal of a deal wasn’t actually a deal at all.
Avoid currency exchange places – use your ATM card instead
Before you head off to that foreign land there’s always a tendency to want to make sure you have the right currency before you go. Try to hold off getting this currency until you get there! And don’t use a currency exchange at the airport. Find a local bank ATM in the country you’re visiting and use your ATM card (not your credit card cash advance where you start paying interest immediately) to pull out cash. You’ll save on the conversion fees and the conversion rate.
Skip the foreign transaction fees
I’ve just landed back home and going to enjoy all the things I bought along the way. I open up my credit card statement and see all of these additional charges for EVERY transaction. What? These are foreign transaction fees that are applied every time I’ve used my credit card (to handle the transaction and the currency conversion). These add up (often 1-3% of every purchase) and can be charged by the issuing bank AND the payment network. There are a multitude of credit cards that offer no foreign transaction fees. Be sure to get one. You’ll thank your wallet later.