This post is sponsored by National Car Rental.
I’ve had some, erm, interesting travels of late. For one, TSA closed up shop in Albany and went home early—a full two hours before my flight—leaving me unable to make it to my gate, let alone fly out that night (nightmare). Then, there was the time last week that SVV forgot his ID and they let him fly anyway with an extra pat-down and the presentation of his dive card (news to me).
All that to say, flying has gotten increasingly more convoluted in the past few years.
Still, I try to make my own flying experiences as positive as possible, and I’ve pieced together some of my own tips—many of them learned the hard way—to help make your summer travel go a bit more swimmingly.
Get TSA Pre-Check. I would say to splurge for Global Entry since the $100 fee includes Pre-Check, but I just signed up myself and the next interview time slot for Nashville is in February. Yikes! Not ideal for those traveling soon. The good news is that Pre-Check ($85) is a much speedier process, and you can often book your quick five-minute interview just days in advance. So if you aren’t already a card-carrying member of the Pre-Check squad, I’d suggest you go ahead and fill out an application to avoid long airport delays—especially in the wake of TSA budget cuts, rendering lines even longer than usual—and potentially missing your flight. Just remember to register your name exactly how you register it for flights (i.e. if you fly as John A. Smith, fill out your Pre-Check application exactly like that, middle initial included—or risk it not working, which has happened to me on multiple occasions).
Be mindful of your carry-on options. You know I’m a carry-on-only traveler, particularly after the turmoil of DeltaGate 2014. And while I’ve used the same soft-sided Samsonite for years, I change around my personal item as frequently as SVV changes socks. This year, however, I think I’ve found my forever bag: the Lo & Sons’ OMG, which not only fits my laptop and Kindle, but also my DSLR, various lenses, GoPro kit, batteries and charging devices. Not to mention, it’s super cute to boot!
Along those lines, don’t be the jerk who doesn’t know the TSA rules. I get it, the rules do seem to be ever-changing, but some have remained the same for years. Unless you have Pre-Check, you aren’t going to be able to pass seamlessly through security wearing a belt, shoes, hat, jacket or with anything in your pockets—from a phone to a hunting knife. So do your line-mates a favor and remove them all before you get to the front of the line. Ditto to prepping all your liquids to abide by the golden 3-1-1 rule (that’s three ounces or less for those of you who haven’t flown in the past decade) and having them all contained in one quart-sized Ziploc bag.
Take the TSA road—or, um, line—less traveled. Especially in Nashville, when one TSA line is long, the other usually is not (pro tip: it’s the Southwest side). But you’d be surprised at how many fliers become sheep, following the crowds and not even bothering to check the length of the other line.
Keep scans of your IDs in the cloud. I have a copy of my driver’s license, passport and other valuables scanned in my Dropbox should my wallet get stolen—or I forget my ID at home (*cough, cough, SVV, cough, cough*).
Pack an empty water bottle. I received a Swell bottle from my cousin for Christmas, and now rather than throwing away my plastic temporary bottle and getting a new one on the other side of the security line, I take the empty Swell with me in my carry-on on all trips, then fill it up on the other side of security. It saves me from having to spend money on water AND it’s good for the environment. Everybody wins! Plus, who doesn’t inevitably get parched up in the sky long before (or after) the service cart rolls through the cabin?
Create an emergency kit. You never know when you’re going to be rerouted, canceled or even stuck at the airport overnight with all restaurants and shops closed until the morning. I always keep a pouch of vitals readily at my disposal, which includes Advil, Excedrin Migraine, Zyrtec, Imodium, Band-Aids, Tums, Chap Stick, antiseptic wipes, tweezers, nail clippers and healthy, non-perishable items like KIND bars.
Weigh your Wi-Fi options. There have been far too many trips lately where I’ve had no Wi-Fi access—and these weren’t even in far-flung destinations. While on assignment for five days in Asheville, I barely got a connection anywhere. On multiple visits to Florida, our hotel Wi-Fi went in and out, usually when I needed it most. While I was in Montana, much of Glacier Park didn’t have a signal (understandably so). And while, sure, it’s great to log off every once in a while, being a freelance journalist, there’s no time you can be truly disconnected—or you risk losing out on assignments (in other words, a paycheck). When we went to Europe two years ago, we rented a TEP Wireless device, and man oh man, we had service everywhere that land was in sight!
Be speedy with your rental car choices. I wasted an hour at the Las Vegas car rental terminal last month waiting in line for a car I’d already booked and, as a result, missed the first activity on a client trip. Next time, I’ll know better. For example, I could have gone through National Car Rental’s Emerald Club and bypassed the counter entirely. The Emerald Aisle option allows you to choose your own midsize vehicle—the keys are already waiting for you in the car—and drive away as soon as you’re ready. As a Type A traveler who hates to waste time, this option of choice, speed and flexibility could not be more appealing.