Practical Tips for Airplane Travel

Practical Tips for Airplane Travel

We are in the final installment of the Travel Series today. We’ve talked about planningpacking and road trips so far. If you missed one of those posts, click on the links to catch up.


Today, I’m talking all about airplane travel. Being the wife of a pilot, we have extensive airline travel experience. We traveled as a couple, with just me and the kids, as a whole family and solo too. Airplane travel scares some people, but there is nothing to fear. I know those pilots in the cockpit want to get to their destination in one piece just like their passengers. Preparing to travel by plane can be daunting if you don’t know what to expect. Here are some practical tips that are tried and true.



Booking


When you book your flight, it is tempting to seek out the best price possible. I want to save a buck as much as you, but read that fine print. Check to see what is included in your fare. You may save money by not getting a seat assigned ahead of time, but when travelling with a family, this could be stressful and may be worth paying extra to avoid. Budget trips often do not include checked bags in the ticket price. This works if you are just taking a carry on, but can really add up if everyone has luggage to check. 


When it comes to seat assignments, it pays to do a little research. There are some great websites out there like seatguru.com that give details about particular seats on an airplane. You can find out ahead of time if your seat reclines, has extra legroom or power outlets in the row. Sitting in an exit row can also pay off with that extra legroom. You must meet certain requirements of age and be physically capable (no small kiddos allowed). Personally, I like an aisle seat so I can get up and use the restroom whenever I desire. It’s a curse of having a tiny bladder! On the other hand, my hubby prefers a window seat so he can sleep and not be bothered by people (like me) trying to get out of the row. If taking pictures out of the window is important to you, then a window seat is the only way to ensure you have that opportunity. You can’t make the window person open the shade, unless you are married to him! 


Bulkhead seats sometimes can be tempting to book because you don’t have anyone in front of you reclining into your space. There are a couple of things to keep in mind before booking them though. First of all, you cannot keep any luggage at your feet. This means, even a purse needs to be stowed in the overhead bin for takeoff and landing. With no seat in front of you, your tray table is generally hidden in the armrest and fold out to go across your lap. This is not a big deal, but it may restrict your movement when you have a drink sitting on the tray. 



Security


Going through security can put undue stress on people. Here are a few things that you can expect. Of course, things tend to change from time to time, so be sure to check tsa.gov for the most current information. 


When you approach the first TSA agent, you will want to have your boarding pass and ID ready. A mobile boarding pass is fabulous for this, because you just scan it yourself and show your ID. In some locations, there is now an automatic ID scanner that reads the information needed and the computer verifies that you have a boarding pass for today’s travel. It is pretty slick and I hope more locations get those machines. After you pass that point, you can re-stow your ID as you won’t need it again. You will want to put your phone in a pocket of your carry on or purse to go through the scanner. 


When I walk up to the conveyor belt with my luggage, I pull out my quart size liquids bag and my tablet to put separately in a plastic bin for scanning. Right now, all larger portable electronics need to be separated from your bag for scanning. I’m hoping this changes soon, but being aware of this can save you from rummaging through your bag and slowing up the line. I slip off my shoes (wear socks!) and put them in a bin as well as any jacket or sweater I am wearing.  Be sure nothing is in your pockets. Once my things are on their way through the scanner, it’s time to get myself through the screening too. Once invited through, you just follow instructions and it is easy as can be. 


After security is complete and I have all my things back, I move away from the crowd and get “recombobulated”. I put my tablet back in my carry on and I redistribute my liquids to their proper locations in my purse or carry on. It’s a little thing, but it helps me feel more together if I can find my lip gloss where it is usually. 


Some points to consider when you are packing for air travel: 

  • Do think carefully about the liquids you are bringing. You can only take 3 ounce containers through security in your quart size bag. This does not mean that your nearly empty full size toothpaste tube will pass. Often when I travel, I will swap my face cleanser for a solid charcoal bar so I don’t have to find a small enough travel container. **Remember, you get a quart size bag for every traveller. Moms, this means that your kids can have one too and you fill it with whatever products you need. It doesn’t have to be things that only they use. (I have been known to borrow space in my family member’s quart size bags!)

  • Your checked bag needs to be under a certain weight to avoid extra charges. You can certainly pack a heavy bag, if you are willing to pay for it. These regulations are in place so that the people handling your luggage don’t throw out their backs trying to move your bag. Those heavy bags get special tags so they are forewarned about the weight. I use my luggage scale to be sure that I’m not too close to the threshold when I travel. I even pack that scale in my carry on so I can double check on my return trip. 

  • Take a picture of your luggage before you check it in at the counter. This can save headaches of trying to remember what it looked like if, heaven forbid, your luggage doesn’t come off the conveyor belt at your final destination. I think I’ll remember what it looked like, but it is so much easier to have a picture to remind me of the details when I am stressed. 

  • Don’t pack a dense carry on. If you are an avid reader, it may be tempting to bring a stack of books on vacation with you, but if they are all in your carry on, it can look like a big dense blob on the security scanner, so they may need to verify that’s what it is by performing a secondary screening on your bag. It’s not a huge deal, but I tend to prefer not lingering at security if I can help it. Of course, if this is the only way to prevent your checked luggage from being overweight, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. 



Wondering what I’ve gotten secondary checks on during my family’s travels?


  • Books, lots of them. (dense blob on the scanner)

  • A string of fairy lights shoved into a Nalgene water bottle to save space. (somehow the wires and battery pack looked suspicious)

  • A stuffed penguin with beads in the belly that you can heat up like a heating pad. (those beads are better suited for checked bags apparently)



Food


Gone are the days when airlines provide free meals unless you pay for First Class seats. So, you need to have a plan for eating. I will pack a few favorite snacks to enjoy during my flight. I like to bring a granola bar, some salty snack and a favorite candy. This will often be all I need to get me to my destination. If you are on a longer flight, you may need to plan for more. Bringing something grab and go from the airport onto the flight could fit the bill for you. Also, consider the onboard offerings of your airline. You’ll want to research these ahead of time so you know what you are getting into. We have really enjoyed some of the snack boxes that are available. There is something fun about opening all the tiny packages and nibbling different flavors on an airplane. It always seemed to help my kids pass the time. We would inevitably swap a few items amongst ourselves for our preferences, but the novelty of it all made it fun.



Entertainment


Most airlines have their own app these days that also includes entertainment options for during your flight. Be sure to download these apps ahead of time, especially on those tablets. Be sure to bring those headphones because the other passengers may not want to listen to the Frozen II soundtrack too. It is also a good idea to download a movie or tv show ahead of time, so if the onboard internet signal goes down, you have a backup. Trust me! 


Travel can be so much fun when you are prepared. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little travel series. 


What tips would you add to my list? 


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Road Trip Sanity Savers

Road Trip Sanity Savers

This week, in my Travel Tips Series, I’m talking all about road trips. My family has done our share of in state travel or to adjacent states. We also did a major move from Washington to Texas by car, of course that was just me and the kids. We picked up some great driving tips along the way.


Catch up on the first article about planning your trip with ease here. Or hop over here to find my packing tips.


Deciding Your Route


One of the first things you will decide is your route to travel. There are some things to consider here. Are you going to plan for the most efficient route or are you looking to enjoy the journey and find scenic spots to stop along the way? Either way, you need to decide so you share the expectations with your travel companions. It won’t work well if you have different expectations. Stopping for scenic roadside attractions can make your travel a lot more enjoyable and memorable for the kids. Of course if your destination is the place you want to prioritize your time, you may want to forgo the scenic stops. 


How long do you plan on driving each day? I discovered that for me, I could go no more than 10 hours of driving solo. If I was sharing the driving, we could do more. After about 10 hours I could tell I was not at my best and needed an overnight stay someplace stat. This factored into our driving plans. I could use that information to plan our route. 


You also want to plan in some breaks in your drive, no matter if you are doing the scenic route, or the get there as fast as we can route. I grew up with a dad who would not stop the car on a 5 hour drive, even when we were begging for a pit stop. This now means that I am hyper aware of places to stop along the way. I may have grown up with a side of the road coffee can, but that’s not how I roll today! I generally look for a reasonable stopping point sometime before lunch, at lunch, and sometime in the afternoon before we reach our overnight spot. Those spots can be a rest stop with restrooms, gas station or fast food restaurant. It could even include one of your scenic stops along the way. It all depends on what you find works for your route. Everyone can enjoy a little stretch of the legs, even if they don’t need to use the facilities. This leads to happiness for the whole car. 


Weather conditions are another consideration in your travels. You may need to factor in extra travel time if the weather forecast is showing storms or icy conditions. Be weather aware and you can save yourself some headaches. Winter weather travel means that you should have alternate routes checked out ahead of time. You may even need to consider being flexible with your travel dates if a storm is predicted. Another factor that is important to note is which direction you are traveling when the sun is low in the sky. This is generally not something you can avoid, but acknowledging that it may increase eye fatigue is something to consider. 



Snacks


Road trips are so much fun if you put some thought into planning. While we want to take some driving breaks along the way, we don’t necessarily want to spend all of our cash in the roadside convenience stores. One way we avoided that trap was to plan for snacks. I packed a cooler with our favorite travel drinks. This meant water bottles, juice boxes and the like. It was way cheaper to buy them in the grocery store than in singles at a gas station. Plus, we didn’t need to stop for someone to get a drink. I also would pack some dry snacks into pre-portioned bags. If the backseat was calling for food, I could just toss a snack bag back to each person and they were happy. It didn’t end up being a whole meal because they weren’t grabbing into (and consuming) the whole bag. We loved having fresh fruit and veggies ready to go as well. These were great to toss on the top of the cooler (think apples and bananas). Now, I would also pack some special treats in the way of candy that we didn’t normally purchase, but would be special for our trip. This was a fun way to add some mystery to the trip. What? Mom is giving us candy? Wahoo!!



Kid Entertainment


When my kiddos were really little, we didn’t have those smartphones and tablets. We did utilize portable dvd players back in the day. That is probably a silly recommendation now, but I mention it because that was our reality. I would queue up a favorite video before we left and they would watch it whenever they wanted in the back seat. Now, you can just hand them a phone or tablet and they are probably better at finding entertainment than I am. 


If you don’t want them on electronics the whole time, there are other fun things you can do. We loved doing travel bingo. You can find free printables on Pinterest pretty easily, or make your own. We loved trying to find travel signs or cows or railroad crossings. Another fun one was an alphabet game. We would look for a sign or object that started with the letter a, like an airplane. Then the next thing needed to start with b and so on. If you really want to tax your brainpower, you can play the “I’m going on a road trip and I’m going to pack…” game. This one is also alphabetical, but each new person has to recap what the other people said. So much fun!


I liked to pack some super-secret slow release bags of fun for my kids. It was slow-release because I would only give them one bag every few hours to keep things fresh. In the bags, I would put small trinkets, toys, coloring books, etc. that I had been collecting leading up to the trip. I never let the kids see what I had collected so they would find a small surprise every so often on the trip. Keeping things fresh kept my kids happy. Something new to play with took care of lots of boredom. 


I loved to give my older kids roles on longer drives. I would let one be a navigator. This meant that I usually would give them a printed map of our route for them to highlight after any stops we made to show our progress. They could remind me of the next town we would pass through. There were lots of great educational opportunities in that job. They can also monitor your gps navigation, but I love an old school map that they can write on. 


Another job I would give is the job of journaling. I would have that child record in a spiral notebook what we saw along the way, where we stopped, what we each ate, etc. They could include pictures they drew of the landscape, or whatever struck them as interesting. We could keep it going during our trip and it even worked as a school assignment many times. It was always fun to look back on those trip journals. 



Lodging


If your road trip requires an overnight stay along the way, you will need to think about where to stay. If you have friends or family living along your route, that is fabulous. We generally did not, so we had to plan for a hotel/motel. Some things to consider for us, were hotel reward points. If you are a member of any of those programs, you will want to check out the locations along your route to plan accordingly. 


We always prioritized a hotel with a pool on our long distance drives. My favorite part of the overnight was letting the kids get their wiggles out with a good swim. This helped them sleep better in the hotel bed and that translates into a happier mama and kids the next day. 



We loved the flexibility that a road trip gave our family. We were not stuck with an airline schedule. We enjoyed having our own car to drive at our destination and it generally saved us money. 


Talk to me....Where does your family plan to go on your next road trip? 


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Packing Made Simple

Packing Made Simple

This week, in my Travel Tips Series, I’m talking all about packing for your trip. I used to stress over packing until I started using my packing smarter strategy. Most of these tips are specific to airline travel, but easily adapted for any kind of travel you choose.


Did you miss the first article in the Travel Tips Series about planning your next trip with ease? You can find it over here.


What kind of bag will you use?


First, you need to decide whether you are checking a bag or using only a carry-on. Some people swear by carry-on only travel. If you are one of those, I take my hat off to you! I am rarely able to fit what I need in just a carry-on, so I usually have at least a small checked bag. There are 2 reasons for this. First, I like to be able to travel with some liquids that do not fit in my quart size bag. Second, I don’t want to lug all my things through the airport. If you are going on a shorter trip, or you are less high maintenance, you may be able to do just a carry on and avoid those baggage fees altogether.


Packing Helpers


I use a combination of packing helpers in my luggage to maximize my space and organize all of my things. I love to use packing cubes to contain my clothes into categories. They are awesome when I get to my destination, because I can just flip the top open and place right into a dresser or onto a shelf for easy access. I also love my shirt folder. It allows me to fold my shirts all the same size, as if I was one of the pros at the Gap. Once stacked, the velcro flaps compress the shirts and easily fits in a neat little package. 


Reducing Liquids


When I travel, I am always trying to think of ways to reduce how many liquids I take. Liquids are heavy and their quantities are limited in carry-on bags. For this reason, travel size toiletries are very useful. If your favorite brand doesn’t have a reasonable travel size alternative, you can get a silicone container to hold what you need for the trip. 


Personally, I am an essential oil loving mama and I travel with a diffuser. This means that I take my oils with me. I like to pre mix my blends for the diffuser into just a bottle or two so I am not needing to take it all. I am also a big fan of nasal sniffers when traveling. The best part is that they are not a liquid, so they serve the purpose, without adding to your liquid allowance.


Capsule Wardrobe


When I travel, I like to use a capsule wardrobe of sorts. I have some go-to travel outfits that I love for their comfort, ease of packing and washability. I love to have some mix and match pieces that coordinate together. This way, I don’t have to have 5 separate outfits. I can change out the top and create a new look, or swap the pants for a skirt. You get the idea. As much as I love shoes, I try to coordinate my wardrobe so that I can use the same shoes for most things. Now, you may need a dressy pair of shoes and a casual one, but you don’t want to be packing bulky shoes in your suitcase. You will run out of space and your weight allowance in no time! 


Kids Clothes


One of my favorite ways to pack clothes for my kids came on a trip to Disneyland when they were young. I packed a complete outfit in a gallon size ziplock bag. This meant the shirt, shorts, socks, underwear and accessories all in one bag. For each day of the trip, I would have a bag for each child. This meant that when we were in the hotel, they could just grab one bag and it was a mom approved outfit without any debate needed. I knew that they would be photo ready on any given day. This was a major plus for me! I also packed a bag for each child of “extras.” That included extra socks, underwear and bottoms. I figured if we needed an extra shirt, we surely would be buying one as a souvenir, so that wasn’t something I planned on packing. My kids loved being able to have a choice each day for what they would wear and I loved that I had already pre-approved their outfits. 


Plan for Souvenirs


When traveling, we always end up with souvenirs that we need to pack to take home. As hard as it is, I try to leave room in the suitcase for those items. This may mean that I don’t pack as many t-shirts because I plan to buy one or two on the trip that I can actually wear while on vacation. Another strategy is to pack some consumables that will reserve space for anything you may acquire on the trip. If we are staying in a hotel, I like to pack some snacks that I know my kids love for the trip. We consume these on the trip and then I can use that space for our purchases on the way home. 


Helpful Extras


I always travel with an empty spray bottle. I fill this spray bottle with water. It is great to release wrinkles for my clothes that got creases from the suitcase. I also use it for a quick refresh on a hot day. Wake up with crazy bed hair? A little spritz of water may be just the fix you need. 


I own an inexpensive luggage scale. It is a little handheld device that has a hook for the handle of my suitcase. When I lift my suitcase with the scale, I can get a quick idea of the actual weight of my bag. Now, these scales are not guaranteed as accurate, but they do give you a ballpark idea. Your airline will be the final judge. I know that I would much rather shuffle around my heavy items in the privacy of my own room than at the airline check in counter. If going overweight is unavoidable, I have already prepared myself for that before they tell me that I have to pay extra. 



I hope you found these tips helpful for your next trip. What packing tip would you add to my list?



Interested in some ideas about those nasal sniffers I was talking about earlier? I have information about that, and much much more, over on my free community page all about moms navigating wellness. Check it out here


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How to Plan Your Next Trip With Ease

How to Plan Your Next Trip With Ease

This is the first of a 4 part series of travel tips. Being a family on the go, travelling to see family and going on destination vacations, we have developed some tips and tricks along the way. Today, I’m talking all about the planning aspect of travel. In future articles, I will tackle packing, road trips and airline travel.


Even if you are not travelling right now, I think there is no better time than the present to plan your next trip. Planning takes many forms and covers many aspects of your trip. Trip planning can make your vacation a lot less stressful because you already thought through some of the things that tend to trip people up. 


Airline Tickets


One of the bigger expenses of a trip is often your airline tickets. You want to get the best option for your family. When I am shopping for a flight, I often start with a website like Kayak.com or Expedia.com that compares flights across airlines to show me where I can find the best deal. A website like Priceline.com can also reveal fantastic deals, but you don’t know all the specifics ahead of time. If you are a fan of more information, this may be a trickier proposition, but it may pay off in discounts. After I have compared deals, I like to see what I can find on the individual airline websites. I’ll go into this more on my article about airline travel in a few weeks, but baggage fees is a biggie to watch out for. 


Lodging


Where will you be staying? If you are staying with family, what will that look like? Are you on a couch, spare bed or air mattress. If the answer is the floor, you may want to consider having Amazon send an air mattress ahead of your visit. You can thank me later!


Maybe you are looking at hotels. I love to search for my hotels on Hotels.com to find good deals. I always check reviews (with a grain of salt) and look on satellite map views so I know what I am gearing up for. I also like to go directly to the hotel’s website and poke around a bit. I am a big fan of the more information the better. If something is going to be less than perfect, I’d rather have that information ahead of time to frame my reactions when I arrive. Sometimes I have been pleasantly surprised. 


If you have sticker shock from looking at your hotel stay, you may consider renting a home in the area instead. This can be done through sites like VRBO or Air BNB. One of the benefits of a rental home is that you get the run of the place while you are there. You are not trying to fit your family of 5 into one room in a hotel (if they even allow that). Your children can actually sleep behind a closed door and you don’t have to tiptoe around in the dark with the volume on the TV down low. Another benefit of a rental house is that you have a kitchen. You can cook meals with the included utensils and pans. It is so convenient for longer stays. Now, if you prefer daily housekeeping visits, a restaurant on site, or airport shuttle services, a hotel may be a better fit, but you may want to at least consider the possibility.


Rental Cars


When we travel, we usually will rent a car when we get there so we can tool around at our own pace. Our family of four usually gets a full size car. We could do a compact, but the luggage compartments are not that roomy. That can mean that the back seat passengers are hugging a suitcase or two on the way to your lodging. If you are using car seats, that will really eat into your available space. I recommend at least going with full size when booking. 


When booking your rental car, pay attention to where the pickup location is for that company. I have found that many airports have rental cars on site for pickup. You head to the counter near baggage claim and generally walk across to the parking garage where they have the cars. There are some value rental car companies that will send a shuttle to get you and take you off site for their rental counter and vehicles. This will take longer than a company on airport property, so you have to weigh the discount against your convenience. In some airports, all rental car companies are off site in a common rental car facility. In this case, you have no choice but to take a shuttle to get your car. I only mention this tip because we have been burned before as we were unaware. 


Dining


One of my favorite parts of planning travel is digging into what restaurants we may visit. I love to scour over reviews and pictures on sites like Yelp.com or TripAdvisor.com and see what we may eat on our trip. We can usually browse the menus at restaurants to start making a plan of attack when we get there. 


If you are in a rental home, you will likely want to locate the nearest grocery stores so you can stock your kitchen with your vacation favorites. I know we allow different treats on vacation than we would ever have at home. This was always the time when the kids could get the individual boxes of cereal in flavors I never would stock in our home pantry. Vacation calories don’t count, right?


Itineraries


At this point you have lots of information. Now you need to decide what type of trip this will be for you. Will you plan out every day of your trip with activities or will you play it by ear. Maybe you are somewhere in the middle and have some high points that you don’t want to miss out on, but the rest you will fill in as you go. For me, I like a good plan, but not too structured. Things always go differently in reality than I plan, so I avoid disappointment by not trying to pack too many things in which get cancelled. I prefer to make a list of must-do items. I ask my family what their top things are that they want to do on the vacation so we make sure to make everyone happy at some point on the trip. It is unrealistic to think that the whole family will be happy all the time. If your kids know that this is something that is important to someone, they will be more likely to go along without too much of a fight. 


At some destinations, a tour company may be the best route for you to see the area. They do this for a living and have it down to a science. You will want to do your research into the company to see their reviews. Even when you are using a tour company, I encourage you to schedule some unscheduled time. I know that sounds funny, but you will likely want some down time to go at your own pace. 



Are you ready to get travelling? Tell me in the comments where you will go on your next trip. Are there any planning tips you would add to my list?


Join my community of moms trying to make the best life for their families right here.


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