Saturday, April 10, 2010

International Travel Tips Inspired by Clooney

It's funny - every time I go through airport security now, I think of Ryan Bingham in Up in the Air, especially since I can identify with many of his practices, be it how he packed his bags or how he accumulates miles. But there were a few other things that that weren't covered, presumably since the story was based on domestic flights. I thus put together a quick list of some of the other things that I tend to do when I'm on the road, which of course tends to be internationally-focused instead:
(1) Choose your luggage based upon the destination. Wheeled bags are great when going somewhere with lots of pavement, but they can be annoying when walking down an old cobblestone street in Europe or to a remote and rugged beach in Southeast Asia. That's when bags with convertible backpack straps are handy - all while keeping two hands free in the process.
(2) Showers are the key to long haul flights. Getting rid of all of that airplane aroma during a layover (or before getting on a long haul, especially if one has been in a long day of meetings beforehand) is theraputic beyond words. Narita, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, Munich, and even Auckland airports have great Star Alliance lounges for this. The US can be a bit of a pain if I'm not connecting to a domestic flight, but SFO at least has a third-party shower facility in the departure hall that one can pay for, even if it is a bit grimey.
(3) Rather than reading the newspaper or in-flight magazine when waiting for other passengers to board, I always take advantage of the permitted cellular connection before the door closes to clear emails, read online news, or maybe even do a quick IMDb check on whether or not a particular movie on that flight is worth my time later. Filling in immigration and customs forms can be done during takeoff and landing when electronics can't be used.
(4) Get in the immigration line that is closest to the locals. The latter will usually clear faster than the foreigners, and the officers will usually then route some of the foreigners over to the local lines after that.
(5) If you're unsure of how vehicular traffic treats pedestrians in a country, just cross the street by being hot on the footsteps of a local. One could do the same in terms of finding food: just look for locals rather than tourists. A lack of English comprehension at a restaurant is a good thing.
(6) Always unfold your shirts right when you get into your hotel room and hang them in the shower to let the steam loosen them up a bit. This one isn't anything too revealing for many travelers, but I find that it's particularly important when traveling internationally, as far fewer hotels outside of the US keep ironing boards in the room.
(7) Get Nokia Maps, or at least some other form of handheld navigation that doesn't make you look like tourist toting a bunch of guidebooks. This also comes in handy in a taxi in case the driver doesn't know where to go, or simply just to make sure that he's not taking you on a long route in order to increase his fare.
(8) When traveling to the US, always have a stash of one dollar bills tucked away, as they come in handy when you need to tip housekeeping, the bellman, concierge, etc. A few non-penny coins are also helpful if you're renting a car, since the last thing you want to do when you get to a parking meter is to have to find someplace to break a $20 bill.
(9) Conversely, look for places to dump coins at the departing airport on the return leg. I don't mind saving excess foreign currency for the next run back to that country, as long as they are lightweight notes. Coins, on the other hand, are annoying given their weight and lack of value. So I'll usually find a store at the airport to buy some local treats with my loose change. Donation boxes are of course fine too, although they can be harder to find. Kudos to Lufthansa for their in-flight collection program.
(10) And finally, attain elite status at all costs. This is the primary reason why I'm such a mileage whore in the first place - it's not for free flights, but rather for lounge access (see #2 above) and upgrades, as well as of course the ability to leverage priority check-in, boarding, and even call center lines. And in the event that I really need to check a bag, then it's helpful to have your bag unloaded onto the carousel first.


JHKim said...

Great tips! #4 in particular will def. come in handy for me since I hate waiting in line, haha.

bma said...

Oh - there is a huge one that I forgot to put in: don't bother buying guidebooks. Just get them from the public library instead. True, they are usually a bit old and beat up, but it's not like I'll really need to read them again after I'm back.