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Monday, January 12, 2015

Top Tips for Big Trips

Words by Jake Redman
Photos courtesy of Margie Strange Photography

Don't make me do it. It's what my wife said to me as we boarded the first of two flights to our once-in-a-lifetime dream honeymoon in beautiful Bali. No, of course she didn't mean that she wanted to skip the actual vacation part, but she had zero intention of enjoying the 15+ hours of flight...and who could blame her? Even if we had booked in first class, that much flying can be exhausting, but in coach, it can be an uncomfortable nightmare.

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Long flights aren't the only struggle that can throw a wrench in your big trip or romantic getaway. Problems with hotel reservations or ending up at a resort that doesn’t have anything around for miles can make for something other than a great story to tell everyone when you get home. Here are a few things you can do to make flying a little less painful and lessen your chance of a hassle when you get there:

Make your own first-class amenity kit.

Let's start with some practical arts and crafts, sort of. Those fancy looking amenity kits that they hand out in business and first class usually come with very handy items to keep you comfortable in flight. If you're in economy, making up your own kit beforehand can be a lifesaver. Pack a small toothbrush, travel size lotion (to keep the recirculated airplane air from drying out your hands), a quality eye mask and earplugs, along with your favorite tiny-sized items into a small bag that you can keep with you at your seat. The best part about making your own is that you choose the items and brands you want.

Use strategy when selecting your seat.

Find the right seats in advance. This is a big deal, particularly in economy as airlines continue to jam more and more seats into the very back of their planes. Use sites like seatguru.com to research ratings of seats aboard different aircraft. Maps will show you which seats to avoid and which are better-than-average. If you're unsure about what type of plane you'll be traveling on, most of these sites let you plug in your flight information and will automatically bring up the appropriate seat-map.

Splurge for extra leg room.

It's not a bad idea to pony up a little extra for a seat with added leg room if it's offered by your airline. Domestic carriers in the U.S. are, increasingly, offering these roomier coach seats near the front of the plane for a charge. The charge is typically based on distance and varies by airline, but anyone who is even just slightly taller-than-average might appreciate the space.

Use your points for an upgrade.

Oh that's right, I have points! If you haven't looked in a while, check to see if you have enough airline miles for a first or business-class upgrade. Many major carriers offer upgrade award redemptions on their flights or on partner airlines. If the thought of trying to figure out how to find available upgrades seems like too much hassle, there are services that can help. For a relatively small fee, the folks at sites like crankyconcierge.com or pointspros.com will help research and book the perfect business or first class seat with that mass of airline miles or credit card points you've been sitting on.

Enough about planes. Let's talk about your hotel or resort and explore a few tips that might bring a little extra joy to your big trip.

Don't worry about leaving toiletries at home. 

I always end up with about four toothbrushes when I get back from a big trip, because the one I bring with me always gets lost for some reason. It's never a guarantee, but most big chain hotels either have toiletry items for sale (or often for free), just for calling down to the front desk to ask. In many cases, they'll even bring it to your room. Toothbrush? Razor? Comb? Just ask!

Let the hotel know it is a honeymoon or anniversary.

Even if you didn't book the honeymoon package at your hotel, call ahead of time and let them know it's a honeymoon or anniversary. Hotel staff and sometimes even call-center operators will make notes on the account for the front desk to see when you arrive. In some cases staff might "surprise" you with an extra like a bottle of Champagne, chocolates or a room upgrade. The trick is not to call and offer this information directly, but as an add-on to a more technical question. For example, “I just wanted to make sure I booked a non-smoking room. It's our anniversary, so I want everything to be just right.” Just try not to oversell it.

Look beyond guidebooks

Don't limit yourself to what guidebooks and travel magazines tell you to do on vacation, ask your friends! Websites like trippy.com and tripbucket.com let you crowd source your upcoming adventure, asking your connected pals who've been to where you're going and know what to do!

Let technology keep your itinerary in order.

While I've got websites that start with "trip" on the mind, I'd be remiss not to mention tripit.com. If you're not already familiar, tripit is the original, all-in-one itinerary keeper. Their magic algorithm takes confirmation emails that you've forwarded to your account and puts them all into a neat little itinerary that can be printed, emailed and pulled up on their app whenever you need it. Having confirmation numbers, flight times and car rental info all in one place can save a ton of stress and keep your big trip from going off the rails.

Start and finish with a comfortable plane ride in the right seat with your favorite comfort items, get extras from free combs to Champagne, and be sure to plan it all out with the right travel apps before you go. Wherever you're off to, and however long it takes to get there, I hope these tips and tools help keep you focused on the grand getaway you've always dreamed of.

About the author: Jake Redman is the founder and host of ModHop. In addition to producing and hosting shows on SiriusXM Radio, he travels, spending his time in airports, lounges, and hotels. He shares his findings on modhop.com to help others determine whether travel upgrades are truly worth the extra cost. Follow Jake Redman on Twitter @ModHop and Facebook.

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