Sweet D’s Travel Tips

In 2017 I flew over 100,000 miles and took about 30 air/land trips total. That doesn’t even count my weekend trips to see my mom in San Diego, or that I live in a fabulous vacation destination. In 2019 I’m three quarters of the way to my million miler status with American Airlines. I’m going for the George Clooney “Up in the Air” kind of status.

I’m going to keep this updated with all of my general tips that I come up with along the way.  It’s a lot of information. I’ll try to highlight key words so you can skim to parts that you might be curious about.

  • When I’m originally planning where I want to go on a trip, I hop on Pinterest and type in the country and/or city. Then you get a plethora of travel blog posts all in one spot and lots of really pretty pictures. Whatever really speaks to you, try to figure out how to get there. I have two travel boards – Places I’ve been, and Places I want to go.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Don’t rely on the beverages that they’re going to pass out on the plane. Flying is going to give you cotton mouth. Make sure you get on the plane with a full bottle of water. Of course it’s best to minimize your single use plastics – I always bring my hydraflask. If I forget it, I reuse the same plastic bottle as many times as I can.
  • Don’t be an asshole. I’m a huge animal person and love my furry friends. I love interacting with animals. I do a lot of research before my trips if it’s OK to interact with animals. NEVER GO ANYWHERE WITH CAPTIVE WHALES OR DOLPHINS IN TANKS. Don’t ever ride an elephant, even if it’s at a “sanctuary.” (Google “elephant phajaan”) If you have questions, ask me in the comments, and I’ll help you. Remember that there’s a lot of money to be made at animals expenses. The corporations behind the cruelty often want you to believe they’re doing conservation or that the animals are treated well, when they are not.
  • This sounds sketchy, but it has worked amazingly for me in the past, and will definitely work better for women than men. Get on Tinder as soon as you get to your current destination. This way you can talk to locals that aren’t in the travel industry and selling you on something they’ll get a kickback from, and truly find out where the locals are going. I found out about the most amazing street party in Sevilla that we wouldn’t have known about otherwise. Put up some travel pictures, and feel free to use my line: “Visiting from Southern California, where’s the best place to get a local beer around here?” This doesn’t have to be about hooking up or even meeting in real life – if you don’t post bathing suit pictures are are up-front about what you’re looking for, you’re less likely to get the weirdos. But be prepared for them anyway. Be very careful about meeting up with strangers. This is advice I don’t follow myself anymore since I’m not single. But if you have the kind of relationship where you can do this openly with your partner’s knowlege, go for it!
  • Speaking of advice for ladies: Get eyelash extensions! Your photos will look better without spending a lot of time getting ready. I always go to Blink Studio in Manhattan Beach before all of my trips.
  • Everyone says it for a reason: you should totally get TSA Precheck and Global Entry – do what you can to minimize your wait time at airports. There are a bunch of credit cards out there that will cover the cost of this for you. I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve. I’d say the line for this is if you travel internationally once or more a year it is a must do.
  • Phones: As recently as 2015, unless you had T-Mobile, it was super expensive and difficult to use your phone on foreign networks. I would keep my phone on airplane mode the whole time and jump from hotel to hotel and cafe to cafe and use the Wifi. But since then, Sprint has upped their game and it’s been affordable for me to use my phone and data abroad. Check with your network and let them know where you’re going and check your coverage and rates. But still try to keep unplugged as often as possible! I don’t get a SIM card because I want to keep my phone number so people back at home can still get in touch.
  • Money : Gone are the days of using Traveler’s Checks. You should also never use a foreign exchange booth at the airport (Worst rate/fees!). If you can avoid going to your bank in advance to exchange, don’t feel like you need to. Find out what the big bank is in the country you’re going to, and see if you can find that ATM at the airport. Withdrawing from ATMs is going to give you the best exchange rate. Make sure you’re using a credit card with no foreign transaction fee. I always prefer to use credit cards so I can track what I spent, and so I can get points and miles. Some countries definitely favor using cash to the American credit mentality.
    • When you pay for something with credit, some places will ask you if you want to pay in dollars or the local currency. ALWAYS choose the local currency. There is a fee to convert to dollars.
  • Budgeting: For a rule of thumb for what I can expect to pay a day for food and incidentals, I look at what the US Government Per Diem rate is. Then I add in the cost of attractions I have planned and a bit for local beers or a specialty drink.
  • For US flights – federal law prohibits the consumption of alcohol that passengers bring on board. Here’s an article from The Points Guy. Don’t drink coffee or tea on a flight. The flight attendants never drink it – they allegedly don’t clean the reservoirs and it’s gross. However, my former roommate worked for Norwegian and says that’s not true.
  • I love lounges. I always feel extra having my own posh space to hang out. The best ways to get into them are: 1) Buy a day pass, which I don’t recommend unless you can expense it because it’s not a good value. 2) Have elite airline status – but that may only work on international or certain transcon flights with your alliance or 3) Have a credit card that will get you a “free” entrance. I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve that gets me access to Priority Pass lounges, and many airline branded cards offer the same deal for their lounges as well. Free is in air quotes because those cards have an annual fee associated with it. Do the math for how much you’ll use the lounge, what it’s worth per entrance for you/guests, and how much it costs.
  • After a certain age, you should stop flying red eyes.
  • Specific brand advice:
    • Never fly Vueling. I would rather have Tijuana food poisoning.
    • I like British Air, but I always try to avoid flying them – they have huge tarriffs, you’ll save money elsewhere.
    • I think Southwest is a great airline that has great customer service. But I don’t want to earn a bunch of Southwest points because they don’t have any alliances and very few international trips. I want to burn my earned miles on my vacations.
    • I am required by my job to use Avis as a rental car. They have never been anything above average/mediocre. They usually mess some little detail up with each trip of mine, and in some cases they’re really actively trying to scam tourists. (Don’t use their toll transponder ever). I would avoid, but I don’t have a better recommendation. They do the absolute minimum possible, and I don’t think they deserve anyone’s business.
  • Unless you’re a super backpacker and don’t care when you get places: always get your airplane seat assignment in advance, even if you have to pay for it. Otherwise you will be the first to get bumped off an oversold flight.
  • Be careful about what wifi network you join. I avoid airport networks. I never use any of my finance apps when I’m travelling on a foreign network. I turn off cellular data for all of them before I take off. I’m unsold on VPN apps because a lot of them are by Chinese developers and I don’t know if there are back doors. Turn off your Bluetooth.
  • Hotels:
    • For safety: always put the do not disturb sign up and use the security bolt when you’re in your room. It’s never happened to me, but I’ve heard multiple stories of people having strangers walk into their room (or them walking into a stranger’s room) due to a mix-up at the front desk when they double assign a hotel room.
    • I would Airbnb/VRBO/etc more if I didn’t travel for work so much. You can get cheaper stays with Airbnb, especially if you’re travelling as a group, than you would at a big chain hotel. But as of now, you’re not earning any loyalty points to use on free vacations later. My Marriott stays are essentially me investing money in a future free vacation account. Plus, you know you’re going to get a more consistent product with a big chain than you would with some stranger’s home. The bad stories with Airbnb aren’t enough to scare me off from staying with them, but they’re so independent that you don’t know what you’re getting.
    • You get bonus hotel points when you check in to a new hotel. If you don’t mind packing and moving, you’ll earn enough for a free night with a hotel chain if you bounce around. However, Marriott does give you the fifth night free, so do the math, and it depends on if you’re paying for the trip or if you’re expensing it.
    • Always tip the maid – I leave $2US per day.
  • Apps!
    • With two dozen trips a year, I need to keep all of my itinerary information organized in one place – I like the TripIt App. I didn’t upgrade, I don’t think it’s necessary.
    • When you’re in another country, it’s usually the economical idea to limit the amount of data you’re using on another network. It saves you money, and it’s safer to protect your identity. When you’re driving, I hope you’re in some remote, off-grid places with bad service too. I recommend Navmii for driving so much! I used it in Ireland, Scotland, and Germany! Downloading Google Maps offline is also easy and popular.
    • One of my biggest secrets is Rome2Rio – I hop around to a lot of different cities on my trip. “Well, I’m in Amsterdam, might as well do a day trip to Antwerp!” This lets you know all the different ways to get between two locations – air, road, bus, train, even boat! The page is so well set up you can compare how long it takes you to get between the places and the cost. Sometimes it’s worth it to spend more money to save time.
    • Taxis are probably going to rip you off. Especially in Prague. Use a rideshare app like Uber or Lyft. Never expect to take a taxi from the airport in Phuket, you should arrange your transportation in advance.

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