Travelin’ for the Holidays

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Posted 02 Nov 2007 in Soulville

Tis the season of traveling for much of the country, students and non-students alike. No matter what your method of travel (car, train, bus, plane, etc), there are many things that can make the trip better, especially if you have layovers. Shall we set out on our adventure?

Plan the Trip

Before you can start your trip, you will have to have planned a trip (or be like me and end up where ever strikes you). If you’re driving there is an awesome site called Trippish that lets you plot directions for your trip AND find side stops, get the weather for every leg, etc. It’s pretty cool. If you don’t want all the extras, I like using Google or Expedia for driving directions. Mapquest used to be in this list but it will have you running into construction and brick walls – no lie. Make sure you print out your directions and side directions for side trips and you might even want to check out cool books like this one that give you everything off of every stop on the interstate. No longer will you drive 80 more miles to make a stop when you needed to go to the potty or wanted some more Mountain Dew AMP.

If you are flying, sites like Expedia, Cheap Tickets, Orbitz, etc all let you search multiple companies to get the best flight that matches your wishes. I almost always book using Expedia. If I don’t, I must promote the YTB Travel Network – Alpha Phi Omega Travel Site; my fraternity gets a cut from everything booked using the site and as a non-profit service fraternity that goes a long way! However you choose to book, make sure you pick the right dates and times – don’t be afraid to fly early or late because they are generally the best costs. Also make sure you get there way early – holiday times even at airports that are normally ghost towns (for example, the Pittsburgh International Airport) mean extremely long waits at ticket counters if you have to check baggage (which I recommend against if possible to speed up your time at airports) or through security.

I’m not a big fan of Greyhound, but they do go everywhere and they usually are pretty cheap. I did a pretty long trip on Amtrak this past summer and I was pretty happy with my adventures. I would recommend if you’re on Amtrak to get a sleeper car if you are on long distances, it makes it more comfortable. For either, if you are a student, I recommend getting a Student Advantage card. The card helps with a ton of different discounts in so many places from sporting good stores to travel to clothing and bedding and books, but the discounts you can get to use Amtrak or Greyhound can save you quite a few bucks.

Make sure to plan your trip far enough in advance as possible to get the best prices possible. The closer in you try, the more expensive it will be.

So now we have a travel plan – what are we taking with us?

The luggage you take on any trip depends on the method of travel and what you need to take. In a car, you can carry what you want however you want. When using mass transport, it’s a little different. You should only pack what you personally can carry. Do not rely on having a porter or a cart to carry your items. It’s holiday time. You also do not want to be the target of a thief – if you have a ton of items, you will be less likely to be able to notice if someone picked your pockets etc and can’t chase someone if they grab a bag and run. What you have to carry is inevitably going to be carried, but think about shipping things like gifts so you’re not carrying them with you. If you are going to a state that sees snow, do not carry a swimsuit. If you are going to a state that sees warmth, do not take a parka.

Think about investing in a multi-day internal frame backpack like those that expedition hikers or climbers use. They usually have many pockets and can carry a TON of stuff but are easy to carry and generally can be carry on bags so you not only don’t have to check luggage but also have everything with you all the time. Even if it isn’t an expedition pack, always use a backpack type bag that can carry the important items and whatever your entertainment options are. Sites like ebags have tons of options to pick from at really good prices. If you are carrying a laptop, consider not carrying a bag that is obviously a laptop bag (read: if it is marked targus, dell, etc people know). Yes you have to pull out your laptop for security if flying (nobody else asks). But after that and just sitting around, no one knows unless you pull it out. Also, if you use something like a sleeve, you can use a bigger bag that can carry things besides just computer or work related items. There are backpacks made to carry laptops that aren’t obvious laptop bags. I think I’m actually going to purchase a new bag to test (though I love my Jansport Odyssey and my booq sleeve). Pockets are very important for carry ons and for your clothing when you travel for easy accessibility. If you’re thinking of somewhere to stash your tickets and baggage checks, you’ve seen the nerdy things people put around their necks. It might be nerdy but they have pockets and are hard to lose when traveling. If not that, keep your tickets on your person (in pockets) as well as wallets.

If you have to carry a bag to check, pick something durable. In case you’ve not watched the guys load luggage onto planes, they throw it. So whatever is in your bag gets thrown. I like LL Bean‘s luggage options, but ebags has many different types of luggage there. Pick something that carries the amount you need. Yes it costs to buy good luggage and multiple bags may not always get used, but the option to use a larger bag when you need it and a smaller bag when you need it is better than always having nothing but a large bag. I like gym duffels for smaller bags, but I also have a rolling carry on when I’m doing a quick trip. I have a HUGE rolling duffle that I use for longer trips and have used when moving from one location to another for my “need it now” clothing and such while waiting on items to be shipped. And though that $50 set you see at Walmart is a great price, the chances of it lasting you a few years is doubtful, especially if you travel a lot. Luggage is definitely a big investment.

You might be surprised that so many people’s luggage looks alike. Keep this in mind when buying and buy something in a color that you like but is rarely seen (not necessarily day-glo but if that’s what you want…) or get tags that are clearly yours. Need to be able to identify your luggage and RUN.


Traveling needs entertainment. Music is my norm, but some people like watching movies or doing work, etc. So what to carry? If you like movies a small portable DVD player is a must (or a video iPod), with extra batteries and travel cord. If you like doing work on the road, get a good laptop or a portable lapdesk if you’re writing things out by hand. Bring extra batteries for the laptop. If you want music, pick an MP3 cd player or a digital music player (like an iPod or flash MP3 player). Make sure you have a USB charger but also a wall charger. Normally you can easily find a plug at the airport, but at holiday time they are usually prime space. So get there early (and bring a portable surge protector) or invest in extra batteries and charge them up before you head out. Amtrak trains have electrical plugs in various places on board so find out where they are when you get on and get to them when you can to refresh the power supply. And if you have a layover or really long trip, charge when you can. I ran out an entire battery on a brand new iPod and was lucky I could charge on my laptop or I would have been another 6 hours without a distraction. See, I failed to find a plug during my layover and almost paid the price. If you are driving, get a car charger for whatever device you have. If you have a stereo that reads MP3 cds or dvds, make a few and make them in shuffled playlists to keep your emotions high while you drive. My sister and I did a really long road trip and didn’t do this and were about to choke every radio DJ in several states because they all played the same song that we both hated a million times. If we had internet access, online radio would have been great! If we could have found a walmart halfway into the drive, we would have (to give you perspective we drove over 24 hours straight). If you’re traveling with kids, don’t just rely on digital stuff for them. Get the car games or look some up on the net if you don’t remember any from when you were a kid such as trying to spot license plates from all 50 states or the “I Spy” boards that had traffic signs or truck signs. Make them interact. If you’re driving, try books on tape too as they keep everyone involved.

Speaking of non-electronics, grab some books or magazines or puzzle books to carry along. Not all same subject (mix it up) but make sure to grab enough that will keep you occupied the entire trip should it be the only thing you have to do (and plan on it being the only thing you have to do). Maybe average 1 book for every 4-5 hours of your trip, or 3-5 magazines for the same time period. If you’re doing puzzles, just get a couple huge ones and you’ll be set. Remember pencils or pens for your puzzle and a book light for books, magazines or your puzzles. The overhead light on most mass transit is dim and will hurt your eyes and in a car it keeps you from distracting the driver. Remember batteries for the book light.

Things To Remember

Painkillers (headaches)
Batteries (AA, AAA and backups for specific electronics)
Hand Sanitizer (pleeeeeease use this)
Drinks (or cash for drink machines)
Food (you can carry food onto buses and trains and I highly recommend it as opposed to paying an arm and leg on board or at the stations)
Writing utensils
Travel chargers (forgot this any cell phone users??)
Comfy travel shoes (my feet swell when I travel; if yours do too then make sure you wear shoes that are comfy or at least carry them where you can access them when you need them)
Medicines (carry these on board with you)
A light jacket, sweater or sweatshirt (the temps can vary throughout your trip, always plan on being cold and hot)

I really hope this helps all you getting ready to travel. I know I’ve got a little bit of shopping to do to get ready for “the season” myself! I’ll be back next week with something else for ya!

HarriMac enjoys a well lived life with a large serving of soul. Her special feature, Welcome to Soulville, appears every Thursday. Subscribe to the Welcome to Soulville feed to get new installments in your feed reader.

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