Flight cancellations, lost luggage and stranded travelers have dampened the joy of travel these past few months. It seems unfair that now that the world has re-opened, it’s harder than ever to navigate. Everyone wants out at the same time and the resources to accommodate us are stretched too thin. If staycations or avoiding summer travel are not an option, here are five tips to keep you as sane as possible this summer:
- Pack a Carry-On Bag. Travel experts advise traveling with carry-on luggage whenever possible, but smaller bags may not be practical for longer trips. Videos of thousands of stranded suitcases abandoned in recesses of airports such as Heathrow, have convinced me that a small carry-on with some clothing and essentials is a must. While I usually prefer to check a suitcase and only carry a light tote with a few items for the flight, there is nothing “normal” about traveling this summer. The thought of running through an airport towards my connecting flight with bulky carry-on is unnerving, but so is arriving at my destination without clean underwear. So now I board with three extra outfits, some cosmetic essentials, and all my medications to mitigate the stress of potentially losing my luggage.
- Research Airline and Airport Guidelines for Carry-on Items. My daughter recently boarded a flight in Pittsburgh with carry-on luggage that contained liquids under the 3.4-ounce limit, packed in the required one-quart Ziplock bag. She zipped through security with no issues and was grateful to the polite and professional TSA agents. Upon arrival in London, she was required to re-enter the security line for her connecting flight. The security agent at Heathrow was rude, aggressive, and downright irrational: After rummaging through my daughter’s duffel while yelling at her, she ceremoniously discarded her travel-compliant Ziplock and told her to just re-purchase the items at the airside pharmacy. What? Needless to say, everyone near the front of the line stared in horror while suffering an unwanted lesson in form over substance. Sometimes research can’t fix stupid, but it’s still worth a shot.
- Ensure Plenty of Time Between Flights. Knowing the layout of your connecting airport is crucial. Although chaos can and likely will ensue, be prepared by mapping out your arrival terminal and the one to which you must connect. Sometimes it’s just a walk through thick and irritated crowds, but other times it’s a shuttle ride. (Personally, I despise the shuttle, but it’s really not that bad.) Similarly, if you’re counting on accessing a lounge, ensure it’s in the terminal from which you plan to depart or leave extra time to travel between lounge and terminal. Speaking of lounges, research your airline, flight class, and credit card as you may have access to a lounge, which can temporarily restore your sanity. Some lounges allow fee access, which can be worthwhile for long layovers and typically includes the cost of food and beverages. Some lounges require reservations due to the onslaught of travelers.
- Take Precautions Against Losing Your Luggage. Some airlines provide a tagging mechanism through their app, which allows passengers to track their luggage. Many airlines do not offer this option, so passengers must either gamble with their belongings or, choose another option. Air tags are small GPS-type chips that go into your suitcase and synch with your phone. Just as you can find your friends you can now find your luggage. (There is no guarantee of cooperation by luggage handlers at the airport, but the hope is you’ll at least know where your stuff is.) Some travel agents recommend inserting a typed sheet of paper at the very top of the suitcase, on the inside, showing your name, cell phone number, and email address. You may want to include the address of your final destination. While this is the same information that typically appears on your luggage tag, some travelers feel uncomfortable with this option. Considering the horror stories of lost and damaged luggage, it’s foreseeable that the handle containing your address tag breaks or that the tag separates from your suitcase. Because I’m a belt-and-suspenders type of person, I use a leather tag on a metal toggle on each handle (yes, sometimes that’s two handles and tags per suitcase), an electronic air tag device, and a typed sheet inserted into my bag. Overkill? Perhaps, but why not?
- Pack Your Patience. This is perhaps the most important piece of advice. Pack not only your patience but also your sense of humor. After two-and-a-half years of Covid restrictions we are all making up for lost time, vacations, and life experiences. Travel these days comes not only at a financial premium but also with a potentially stressful emotional toll. I say this as the least patient person I know: Try to focus on your destination, don’t sweat the small stuff, and be prepared to be extremely flexible.
While typing this article, I was notified that my train from London to Brussels was canceled due to a strike on the exact day I was scheduled to depart. Of all days! There are no other trains and the Belgium portion of my trip is now a distant memory. This will require some quick planning, flexibility, and creativity. Will my itinerary be perfect? No. Will it matter in the end? Probably not. I am trying to stay grateful that I can travel, even if this new chaotic norm is my constant companion.