I love reading different kind of "lifehacks" and productivity tips, and as I was actually looking for some travelling tips myself, I thought I have a few to share myself. I am not what you would call a frequent flyer, I do not have any airlines' cards (though I think I should get one from Cathay Pacific), but I have been living half-a-world away from my home country for last 8 years, and traveled between Asia and Europe at least once a year.
It might not be very frequent, but it sure has been intense. To get from Taiwan to Poland, I need to transfer twice (or if you're rich, you can just do it once), so the trip usually takes around 24 hours altogether. I buy my tickets based on price, and I fly Economy, but I do have my personal "black list" (at the end of this post) of airlines I do not use, even if they are cheaper. Finally, my tips might not be "the best", but maybe you'll find them useful. Here it goes:
- Ordering tickets: I first search on-line on at least 3-5 platforms, though usually skyscanner.com seems to have best offers, and then I go to a local travel agent and only suggest to check the flights I found myself, and see if they can find something better with their own internal system. Sometimes agents have really great deals, and since my flight is more complicated (remember the 2 transfers?), I feel better if I can buy through them.
- Booking management:
- I always check if I can reserve my seat early through the on-line booking management system. Sometimes I can, sometimes it's only possible 24hrs before the flight (still can get you better seat than if you check-in on the airport), sometimes it's not possible at all. At least I try. Now, choosing the seat! I don't know about safety, but as for convenience, I choose aisle seat for the long flights (quick bathroom access without need of waking up your neighbors, plus extra leg space), and windows seats for short flights (like HK to Taipei). Emergency row is good, because it gives you more leg space, even though you'll have to listen to 5 minutes lecture about what to do in case of emergency. The most front row also tends to have more space, but I don' t like it due to inconvenient TV screen location (it's take out of your armlet).
- Another thing I always do with my booking, is setting all meals to vegetarian. I eat meat normally, but I found that my stomach feels better ("lighter") when I skip the inflight "chicken". Plus, specially ordered meals are always served first :-).
- Packing: I love making lists, and I start composing the gift list at least 2 months early, so that I won't forget about anyone, have all gifts on time, and I know how much space they will take in my suitcase. Then around 2 weeks before the flight I am compiling the luggage packing lists, both carry-on and main suitcase. I travel with plastic suitcase, to keep all the gifts safe, but actually plastic cases tend to be heavy and the small plastic elements break easily while handling by airport staff (clasps, wheels, etc.). The carry-on of my choice is a backpack, because outside of airports it's hard to roll two suitcases, and also because I often carry extra laptop bag, already hanging on my side. Furthermore, I have tiny travel bag that is ALWAYS on me. It can be worn over shoulder or on the waist, and usually I choose the first one while in the airport, and the second while on board. This is where I have my passport, my ear plugs, tissues, lip balm, cash, and medicine. While packing, weight is often an issue. Most airlines accept only 20 kg main luggage (in practice up to 23 KG will usually be fine *wink wink*), and 10 kg carry-on. From my experience, carry-on is almost never weighted, so if I have no other choice, I put some of heavier stuff in it. I also choose to wear the heaviest shoes, since I will take them off once in the airplane (and wear socks instead). If you can pick airlines with 30 kg limit, then go for it. My plastic suitcase, full of gifts and clothes usually weights 26 kg :-|
- What I take with me in my carry-on: other than passport an some cash in USD (I have no credit card), I always have a copy of my travel plan (all transfers info, all flight times and numbers, etc.), small bag with cosmetics plus extra ziploc bag in case the airport will require it to be in transparent bag (otherwise my bag is not transparent but let's me organize everything nicely, which is not possible with a ziploc bag). Wet and dry tissues are a must. I also have lip balm because it's dry up there in the air. I also have fully charged Kindle with me, so I can read while waiting on my transfers (usually can't focus to read in the plane), and my own headphones (sometimes they match the plane's inlets, sometimes they don't). I also have small towel (microfiber?) that is really small when folded and dries fast. Another thing, is paper nail file as the metal type is not acceptable, and will be taken from you on the first security check. For some magical reason I always happen to nick at least one nail while travelling, so it is a must have for me. I also make sure to have socks, light scarf and jacket with me, as it gets very cold on the long flights, and the airlines blanket is not enough, even in summer.
- Cosmetics - most airports will approve cosmetics as long as their each container is not bigger than 100 ml, and in total of 1000 ml. I don't usually buy special travel kits, but rather choose cosmetics that are originally small (most face creams will not be bigger than 100 ml). I take: face cream, face wash, tiny tooth paste (I used to have sample sized ones from my dentist), tooth brush, eye cream, stick deodorant. Otherwise I have my make-up kit: mascara, eye shadow, concealer, powder, but I will only apply them just before landing in the final destination, because 24 hour make up is a no-no, and I don't really want to add on the make-up removing kit to the pack. Oh, and let's not forget a small comb not to look like a lunatic after landing. My cosmetic bag will also hold small pharmacy: headache pills, something for stomach problems, and possibly allergy pills.
- Sleeping Kit - I have trouble sleeping on the planes, buses, trains, and such, which is quite a torture when you travel for 20+ hours. That is why the plane HAS TO have personal entertainment system (your personal TV screen with on demand movies, music, etc.), without that it's really hard to sit 12 hours and look into the back of the front seat. Yes, I have my Kindle, but usually I get small headaches in the plane and I can't really read. However, over the years I have become better in helping my body to at least nap for a few hours, and so my sleeping kit consists of: travel pillow (you have to find the kind that you like, though even with it my neck hurts afterwards), ear plugs (they help for the constant plane murmur, neighbors' snoring, and ear pressure block), eye cover, and mentioned scarf + socks + jackets + blanket (or best two if the flight attendant agrees to give me one more) set to keep warm. Oh, and very important - travel medicine, which generally will make you feel sleepy.
- On the airports: I usually try to eat something while I can, because honestly, the plane food is not enough (quantity-wise), and I end up quite hungry. I get to the airport usually around 3 hours early, so that I can check-in smoothly and then find a restaurant to eat. I do enjoy window shopping, or sometimes I shop for last-minute souvenirs in Taipei airport, the prices are quite alright there. Then I wait, yes, because 3 hours is plenty of time, but I want to have a buffer in case something goes wrong.
- On my long flight: That is the one that takes 8-13 hours. At the beginning I'm usually still quite fresh and energetic, so I enjoy going through the duty-free catalog, then I watch some "light" movie (usually the meal is served as I begin). When I start to feel tired, I take my travel medicine, put on my sleeping gear and usually am successful in getting a nap. I will wake up early though, when it's dark, and flight attendants are nowhere to be seen. I'll call them or go find them, and ask for hot tea, maybe a snack. After that it's back to the entertainment system, trying to find even "lighter" movies or TV series, waiting for the breakfast. Breakfast is good news, because it usually means you're getting close to your destination. That's how the flight time flies ;-)
- Clothing: Generally, I believe in the onion layers rule. In summer that would be leggings and comfy stretchy dress, plus usually the heaviest shoes on my luggage (so they don't add to the weight of main luggage, and I change them to socks once in the plane anyway). I want to be comfortable, but don't look too weird. I've once seen a documentary, in which airlines employees were giving tips, and they said that if you dress smart you have bigger chance of being promoted to First or Business Class. They said, airlines like to give the feeling that they fly rich and fancy people, so they want these classes to be full, and will for free upgrade people who look rich and fancy. Well, so far never happened to me :-|
I think that's all. At least for now. I have mentioned the black list of airlines that I have in my mind, so below I write shortly about my airline choices, but I can only talk about European/Asian companies.
- As my personal rule I don't fly with: Russian airlines (heard LOTS of stories about bad food, lost baggage, and did you know that even in 2000s there was a woman leaving in Moscow's airport, just like the guy in the Terminal movie?) and Chinese Airlines (Mainland Chinese, I have no problem with Taiwanese EVA or China Airlines, other than the second one surely has a confusing name). I've never flown with any of these, but the stories of my friends and experience of both Russian and Chinese customer service in general keeps me away. Long flights are exhausting, and I'd rather spend some more money that suffer for 24 hours.
- Special "You Suck" award though goes to KLM, which I did used once. Flight from Taipei to Amsterdam, with extra sub-landing in Bangkok. Oh my, where to start my rant. Firstly, I got really bad seat (next to the toilet… smelly and noisy place), AC was leaking on passengers during take offs and landings (made me a little nervous), flight attendants didn't speak Chinese, even though this route obviously had a lot of Taiwanese tourists going to Thailand, and I had to help translate "chicken or noodles" to a very rude flight attendant who was rising her voice at older Taiwanese man who did not understand English. Later, at night, I failed to call any of the flight attendant ladies (I badly needed something to drink), as they were busy chatting together. Yet, the worst offence was the lack of personal entertainment system (that was in 2009)! There was only one TV hanged in my part of the plane, and it didn't even show any movies at night. That night I swore to never ever again fly with KLM. Now you know.
- Singapore Airlines - my very first time coming to Asia, and I was lucky enough to go with them. Famous for their great service, and it was really good. Had great deal on a stopover 1-day trip in Singapore too. But pricey.
- Cathay Pacific - I often fly with them, at least on the first flight from Taiwan to Hong Kong. So far very reliable, nice service and food quality. Once my personal TV screen was broken on a 9 hours flight, and I've got apology and a 50 USD coupon to spend in their duty-free, which kept me a happy customer.
- British Airways - so far the best European lines I've used. Very nice service, actually maybe better than in Singapore Airlines (though SA's uniforms are just beautiful). Surprisingly good food (enjoyed my blueberry English muffin breakfast).
- Eva Airlines - I went to Japan with them, and everything was up to standards, plus on the way back we've got the Hello Kitty plane, which was great! Even food was shaped as Hello Kitty :-)
Oh, random reminder - make sure to turn off alarm clock alerts on your phone! I've almost had a heart attack when while somewhere above Himalayas my phone started ringing. It was obviously powered off, but apparently it will turn itself on for the alarm clock (plus due to the time difference, the morning alarm clock was middle of the night on the plane). Luckily no one awake was around to hear it, even though it happened twice (first time I hit snooze apparently, in the end I had to turn the phone on and switch off the alarm, then power it off again). Luckily, it didn't cause a plane crash either. But you can imagine how it startled me.
I will be flying back to Europe for vacations soon, so do you have any other tips? I'm going to take Qatar Airlines this time, any reviews (so far I've read only positive comments about them).