10 Do's and Don't That Will Change The Way You Travel

Because there's a strong correlation between consumers who enjoy wine/spirits and those who love travel, this piece will be relevant to many. After decades of travel both with and without a child in tow, the benefits of these tools have helped smooth some of the wrinkles out of travel, particularly international. Your mileage may vary, and each of these is its own stand-alone hack of sorts, so use whatever might work for you. 

Sheraton Malpensa

#1 DO: Dayuse 
Though booking of flights and accommodations come first in the chronology of travel planning, this site deserves top billing. Dayuse, which allows deeply discounted daytime booking of hotel rooms the world over, has improved quality of life on the road more than any other tool. It's a Swiss Army Knife of sorts. These examples illustrate how Dayuse can be leveraged for huge effect:
  • When traveling internationally, it's usually the final leg that really tests our mettle. Last year after a redeye into Milan, we cleared immigration/customs and walked right into the lobby of the Sheraton Malpensa, which is connected to the airport. Shortly thereafter, we entered our clean, quiet, room, showered off our flights, and climbed into our beds. After a few hours of sleep and a fresh change of clothes, we were in far better shape to face the day. Rather than merely enduring that last leg, we enjoyed it. Besides, had we pushed through right oof the plane, our accommodations wouldn't have been ready anyway. Cost: $75
  • Dayuse is also great for long layovers, and when compared to the cost of an airline club or the discomfort of spending hours in a terminal, is a bargain. Our return home from the West Coast earlier this year found us with 8 hours to kill in San Francisco during one of their atmospheric river events. We dropped the rental car, checked our bags, hopped on the AirTram to a spanky new hotel. Once settled, we got a workout in at the gym, napped, and ordered fantastic Lebanese delivery before a shower and a leisurely ride to our gate at flight time. 
  • Finally, sometimes itineraries make for really long days. Last summer we made a day trip to NYC, flying out before 7:00AM and returning on a 9:30PM flight, so we knew we would be pooped midway through. In between breakfast on the Brooklyn Heights promenade and a family reunion on Long Island, we checked into a great little hotel in downtown Brooklyn for a nap, shower, change of clothes, and some vegging in front of the TV in the cool air conditioning. Even just a couple of hours of refuge and recharging made an enormous difference in everything else we did that day. Cost: $89

#2 DO: Airfare Searches with ITA
Anyone still using Expedia, (gasp) Orbitz, or some other aggregator to book travel is in the dark ages and just asking for trouble. Using third party sites may offer search conveniences, but the second any trouble arises (which happens with increasing frequency these days,) the added layer between traveler and carrier throws sand into the gears of problem solving. While there are other benefits to booking directly with airlines, this alone is reason enough.

Though Google has promised to deprecate (shut down) the original interface for ITA Matrix, as of this writing, it's still live at https://oldmatrix.itasoftware.com/. This incredibly powerful software is what sits behind many of airlines' own websites. Not sure why they'd want to kill it, because it remains far and away the most flexible search engine for flights. No, you can't book on it, but it will give you pricing and availability across wide date ranges and multiple destinations. For example, let's say you want to go from the New York metro area to northern Italy sometime this summer. You can do a single search for flights departing from LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark going into Rome, Milan, Verona, or Venice for a 7-10 night stay anytime between June 16 and July 15. Think of how many possibilities that would include. Better still, it allows you to refine within ranges for price, duration, stops, and more. Once you've determined the best flight, you can book directly with the airline.

Throw Pillow: Small Effort, Big Difference

#3 DON'T: First Class
Particularly when flying eastwards on overnight flights, splurging on first class is tempting, but Rick Steves made a terrific point on this once: think of how many special meals, tours, or other experiences you can buy with the difference in price. He's right. A quick comparison of flights to Rome over a month of itineraries shows a $3,000-$5,000 difference between coach and business - per seat! For our small family of three, it could be a $10,000 upcharge. That delta could buy massive hotel upgrades, once-in-a-lifetime experiences (I've always wanted to justify a Ferrari as a rental,) and some unforgettable memories. 

But anyone who has suffered a sleepless overnight flight with a bad back and/or next to a crying baby might believe the thousands of dollars in price difference is worth it. I thought it would be, and sprang for it - twice. The first time my pod area was so soiled upon boarding, the seat had to be removed by maintenance personnel. Clearly not having learned my lesson, the onboard staff on my second first class journey were belligerent to the point of comedy. Neither experience suggested the premium was anywhere close to justified. So, unless someone else is paying for it, this is a no-brainer to skip.

#4 DO: Throw Pillow
Airplane seats are famously uncomfortable, which is why I travel with a throw pillow in my carry-on. It's nothing fancy, so if I lose it or it gets trashed, no big deal. Whether under your tush, behind your lower back, or between your head and the window, having a pillow on hand can smooth out the indignities of those torture devices airlines call seats. It can also make the difference between getting some sleep or not.

#5 DON'T: Airline Clubs
Once upon a time, these clubs were oases of calm for elite travelers. They offered an escape from the chaos of concourses while waiting for connections. Today, they are largely an extension of airports' Walmart vibe. After arriving way too early for a flight at Denver's airport this winter, I attempted to use a couple of day passes that came with my airline Visa. The club closest to my gate had a sign outside saying that the club was only open to annual pass holders, and no one with a day pass would be admitted. The second club further down the terminal was an unkept makeshift shanty of a place with folding tables and chairs, and packed with angry-looking travelers. Promises of reinvesting in clubs are coming from carriers, but only time will tell. In the meantime, if you need refuge during a layover, either find a quiet restaurant or refer to the Dayuse advice above. Hard pass on this.
Can't Do This In A Rental Car

#6 DO: AirBnB
Unless your trip is short and/or being paid for by someone else, hotels are now the option of last resort for us when traveling as a family. Provided you filter your searches accordingly, AirBnB's provide conveniences and comforts you just don't get unless you're in the presidential suite at a hotel; laundry (which lets you pack lighter,) a kitchen (making for less expensive/higher quality meals, coffee, snacks, etc.) and quiet spaces where you can take some time for yourself when the togetherness of your trip creeps up on you. AirBnB also provides important buffers and assurances between guests and property owner/managers, should anything go wrong. VRBO, on the other hand, has been slow and inconsistent on the implementation of these safeguards. This nearly resulted in my wiring over $3,000 to a con artist in Poland after a Florentine property owner's VRBO account got hacked. Anymore, AirBnB is the way to go. Unless...

#7 MAYBE: Bypass AirBnB
The lodging platform has been around so long now that many properties have amassed huge numbers of reviews. These provide valuable intel on everything from the safety of the neighborhood to the comfort of the beds, and are a major factor in deciding where to stay. However, fees are not insignificant. A recent booking added more than 15% in service fees in addition to a $250 cleaning fee. Turns out that many professionally-managed properties are not just listed on AirBnB and other clearinghouses, but can be booked directly through the owner/property manager. I would only consider this if the property/manager has many five star reviews, but this can (sometimes) result in saving hundreds of dollars in fees.

#8 DO: Public Transport
We Americans love our cars so much, we can't imagine vacationing without one. But if you're in Europe, do as the Romans do, and take public transport. Most urban centers penalize the use of private vehicles by way of limited traffic zones, extortionist parking fees, theft, and other inconveniences. And that doesn't take into account the toll driving in a foreign country takes on your (and your companions') well-being. Why go through all that when you can be whisked from one city center to another on a smooth, punctual train or bus while enjoying the vistas?

#9 DON'T: Overcommit
There's a lot riding on vacations, both in terms of financial outlay and time away from responsibilities, so it's natural to want to extract as much as possible from the investment. That ambition, however, can lead to a vacation you need to recover from. One of the most frequent posts on travel forums is people looking for input on their overcrowded itineraries, and the most common advice is to drop half of the destinations and spend more time in each place. Whatever itinerary your optimization impulse is steering you towards, scale it back - first in terms of how many different places you'll sleep. Next, try  this mantra on for size: collect as many options as possible with as few obligations as possible. 

#10 DON'T: Take A Bump
If you travel with any frequency, you've heard - and maybe even been offered - airlines offering  compensation in exchange for passengers taking a later flight. Except in very rare situations, this is rarely worth it. Two summers ago, our gate agent began offering $250 airline vouchers to the first 14 customers willing to get rebooked on a connection through Detroit the following morning. When the offer later reached $1,500 in Visa gift cards per passenger (there were 3 of us,) I thought we had our next European vacation paid for. Never again. 

After spending the night at a sketchy hotel in an iffy corner of Queens, NY, a crew delay caused us to miss our connection, and we ended up driving home from Detroit, missing work and school. Still, we thought, we've got $4,500 in play money to help smooth out the inconvenience. Even that turned into a fiasco, as the cards turned out to be more difficult to use than should be legal. For some very interesting fact about how oversales bumping compensation is regulated, check out this Department of Transportation page.