My Favorite Travel Tips, Tricks, Advice, Products, and More
Most of the questions I’m asked each week inevitably end up being travel related. I started this travel advice post months ago but I got sidetracked so this felt like a good time to finally post it so you can navigate your summer trips with ease. I also might come back and make updates and additions later as I think of more things.
Where are you going and when?
As you may have read or seen on Instagram, Europe is still having a heyday thanks to the exchange rate and delayed travel from the pandemic. I went to Paris in spring 2022 for a month and luckily planned it before the boom and found a great deal on business airfare. I went for two weeks over Thanksgiving 2022 and the two weeks were more expensive than the month-long trip. That said, I do prefer shoulder season for traveling anywhere. I have no desire to go to Europe in the summer when it’s crowded and hot and there is little to no air conditioning. I try plan my trips around the weather and when I won’t be sweating but thanks to climate change although, that’s no longer as easy to do.
I also try to make sure I’m not booking a trip during a big event in a city, especially if I won’t be attending. You probably don’t want to plan a trip to Miami during Art Basel or to NYC during the US Open or Paris during fashion week if you aren’t attending. It will make book restaurants and finding taxis and Ubers very difficult and expensive. You may be unable to rent a car during big events in certain cities too.
How I book a flight.
Do you use Google to check for flights? If not, you should be.
First, you open an incognito or private internet browser window. Then type in either the cities you want to travel between or the airport code followed by the word flights. Since I know the airport codes, I type in “JFK to CDG flights”. For flights to NYC, you can use NYC to find flights to all the New York airports. I don’t want to fly out of Newark so I just use JFK. You can then plug in your dates and filter for non-stop flights. You can then choose the cheapest fare or an airline you prefer. Don’t worry that this is economy. You can change the class later. Sometimes the option to choose other class can be found at this stage but I think it depends on the airline. Then choose the times of your flights and when it asks you where you want to book the flight under Booking options, it might have two for partner airlines. I have the choice of Air France or Delta. I choose Air France and follow the link to book on their website. Delta knows what they did. Then on the airline website, you have the option to check the prices of the other classes like Premium Economy, Business, and La Premier.
Sometimes, you may have to go back to Google and do this a few times because different flights will have different fares. You may also have to adjust the dates of your trip if they are flexible to find less expensive airfare.
I checked to see if my flights for November 2022 would be cheaper if I booked through Amex travel and they were actually higher than going through Google to the Air France website.
I personally don’t use third party booking sites to book travel because there is often an issue if your flight is cancelled and you need to rebook. I also think it’s better to not book American carriers for International flights.
The EU also has something called EU261 which is an Air Passengers Rights Regulation in the EU establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding, flight cancellations, or long delays of flights.
Where are you going to stay?
I once booked a trip to Charleston with a friend and the flights were really cheap but then I had an issue finding hotel rooms. Turns out there was a big Garden & Gun event going on that weekend. I personally do not book a flight without checking hotels first. You can always hold a flight for 24-48 hours until you check on where to stay.
I usually always book directly with hotels. Again, if there are any issues, it might be harder to rebook or cancel with a third-party site who usually charges you the full amount at booking.
Last summer, I booked a stay during the week at the hotel I usually stay at in the Hamptons. Because their weekend rates are exorbitantly expensive, I took a chance and called the hotel directly to see if they could give me a better rate if I extended my stay through the weekend because I could see they had rooms available. It worked. I also got a less expensive rate at a hotel on Nantucket in 2018 this way but I feel like that was a lucky break. Point being, you’ll never know until you try. I do think calling closer to your stay when you can see they have plenty of empty rooms available is your best bet.
I mentioned on Instagram that many people are using travel agents again. They usually charge either a commission, a flat rate, or an hourly rate, but they might be able to get you better rates, rooms at sold out hotels, and a general better welcome as a special guest.
If you are going to rent an apartment, you should be aware of extra fees for cleaning and security deposit. You should also make sure you are aware of exactly what is included because you could end up spending more than a hotel if you have to bring or buy everything. I just read a post with someone asking where to buy towels in a different city because they weren’t included in their rental.
What do you do after you book your flight and hotel?
The next thing I would do is figure out where you want to eat and what you want to see and do. People had money and points and miles saved up from not traveling for two years during the pandemic and went wild last year. Restaurants were booked months in advance, there were lines outside of stores, museums were crowed and shows were sold out. I would think about the places that you really want to go and book them as early as possible. I personally don’t like being fully scheduled when I go on a trip. Having to be places at certain times all day stresses me out and gives me anxiety. I like to make a general schedule and only book one restaurant per day but I also like to give myself time to get lost and explore. I will occasionally throw the plan completely out the window if I decide I want to do something else. My best advice is to not kill yourself on your trip and make yourself feel like you need a vacation to recover from your vacation.
Since I’m a visual learner, I create a Google Map for each new destination and study them. I also update the maps in between trips every time I come across a place that’s new to me or just opened. I prefer travel guides by neighborhood so I know all the places I want to visit when I’m in a certain area. There is nothing I hate more than backtracking on a trip.
What will you wear?
People ask me all the time, what should I pack for April in Paris or for the fall in NYC. You used to be able to count on the same weather each month of the year but thanks to climate change, you really won’t be able to have a concise idea of what to pack until just before your trip. It ended up being much warmer in Paris when I arrived for my month-long stay in April and May last year and it was a scramble to figure out my outfits with all the warmer clothes I packed based on past trips. My trip in April 2023 was cooler than usual. It was in the 90s in England last summer which is a rarity so you can only do a rough draft of what you will pack until you see the final weather forecast for your destination.
Everyone will tell you to choose a color scheme and stick to it which is also helpful but sometimes you might want to mix things up.
Always pack a sweater. The plane could be cold and I’ve had hotel rooms that were downright arctic. I would also advice packing a pair of sneakers that aren’t too sporty so you can pair them with everything you packed.
How will you prepare and pack for your trip?
I made a packing list template over 20 years ago that still use it to this day. I amend it for each trip and keep them so I can refer back to them when I return to the same place so I can see what I packed last time. One side has all my clothes and accessories and the other side has all my toiletries. They key is to make the list or template and then actually check things off as they go into your suitcase. The times that I haven’t used a packing list were when I forgot something. One person recently posted about how they forgot all their clothes for a trip because they left them hanging in their closet. It’s especially easy to forget things when you are getting up at 4:00am to make an early flight. Make the list and check things off as you pack.
It’s even more important to make a list if you are going on a resort trip in winter which requires things you aren’t currently wearing and even more so for a wedding or special event trip or skiing. In these cases, I highly recommend trying on your outfits to make sure they still fit or if they need alterations or special accessories so you don’t forget a strapless bra, cuff links, goggles, etc.
I also keep a separate set of basic toiletries and other necessities in a toiletry bag in my suitcase at all times so I’m ready to go. It includes a separate toothbrush and toothpaste, a hairbrush, charging cords, and lint roller, among other items. I always keep a ten-foot charging cord in my bag because you never know where an outlet might be located and I like my phone by the bed. This might seem like basic advice but you’d be surprised how many times someone posts on Instagram that they forgot to pack a brush or there is no convenient outlet. If I’ve changed up any of my skincare, I’ll try to find travel sizes or decant them into travel containers.
I am always asked about what luggage I use for travel. It’s Hartmann Tweed and a lightweight hard-sided bag but they no longer make my exact styles. The closest style is from Paravel but many people love Away luggage and I am really loving styles from Bric’s right now. I always advise choosing any color except black so you can find your bag easily on the baggage carousel.
I start making appointments for tailoring as early as possible before a trip so I’m not running around like crazy at the last minute. You may also need to get things drycleaned or shoes resoled. I advise against taking new shoes on any trip with a lot of walking since it’s a recipe for blisters. If you want to take a new pair, you might want to start breaking them in at home first.
I also plan out all my appointments for beauty treatments and hair appointments so I don’t have to worry about not being able to see my usual stylists before a big trip. One thing I especially love when I travel is a lash tint. Parisian women rarely wear makeup so it dyes my lashes black so I don’t have to wear mascara. It’s great for hot weather trips and times when you will be swimming or sweating. I don’t always get a brow tint but it’s also great for the same reasons and will make thin brows look fuller.
Do you know when your passport expires?
You should double check the expiration date of your passport and it’s best to renew it at least six months before it expires. “To enter France, your full-validity passport must be valid for at least three months beyond your planned date of departure from the Schengen area.” Some other countries require at least six months left on your passport.
Keep in mind that passports for children under age 16 are only valid for 5 years.
According to the US Dept of State, routine passport renewals are taking 8-11 weeks and expedited are taking 5-7 weeks. You can only be expedited at an agency if you “have international travel within 14 calendar days”.
Your passport will have to be out if you need to apply for a visa for a trip so keep that in mind because you may not be able to travel until it’s back. If you travel a lot for work to countries that require visas or don’t like it if you’ve been to certain other countries, you can apply for a second passport so you can travel while the other is out for a visa.
You should also make copies of your passport and other important documents and email them to yourself and a trusted friend or family member in case you lose them.
If you are traveling to a country where the possibility that something might happen is a factor, you can sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program which is a free service to allow US citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. It allows you to receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans. It also enables the US Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency and will aid family and friends to get in touch with you in an emergency.
Plan out which credit cards to take and how you will pay for things.
Amex is not accepted everywhere in other countries so make sure you have at least one other card with you while out shopping. I also take USD with me when I travel in case of emergency. I will also sometimes take Amex and MC out with me and leave my debit card back at the hotel so in case something happens, I’ll still have one card. I also think it’s good to clean out your wallet before you travel. You don’t need to take your CVS card and other specific cards with you if you are going to a place without them.
If a store or card reader in another country gives you the option to pay in USD or Euros, always pay in Euros. They will charge you a fee and higher conversion rate if you choose USD.
I have more advice on shopping and VAT refunds in my Paris Guide.
Do you need extra medication or shots for your trip?
If you plan to be gone for an extended period, you may need to talk to your doctor about getting extra medication or if you will be able to get your prescription filled in another country. If you are going to certain areas of the world, you may need to plan for certain required or suggested vaccinations. You can check the CDC website for detailed advice.
Have you alerted everyone that you will be away?
Many credit cards no longer have foreign transaction fees or require you to call them but you will probably have to call your bank and set up a travel alert. AT&T automatically knows when I’ve left the country and has $10 a day international coverage but your provider may need you to call them and set up a plan.
If you live in a house or don’t have a doorman, you can set up vacation alerts for USPS, UPS, and FedEx. They will hold your mail and packages while you are away and deliver them on the return date you choose. Some only allow you to set a vacation hold for a few weeks so you may have to make alternate arrangements or have someone check your mailbox if you plan to be away for an extended period. You can also set up a PO Box. If you have a newspaper delivery, you will want to pause it while away since piled up papers can alert thieves that you are out of town.
You should share your itinerary with someone and check in with them regularly if you are traveling alone.
What goes in your personal item, your carry-on suitcase, and your checked luggage?
There is nothing I find more insufferable than the people who brag incessantly about traveling with only a carry on. You do you. I personally want to have clothing options and room to pack all the stuff I’m going to buy at the flea market and other stores. But you can’t roll up the check in desk five minutes before the cut off and expect your checked bag to make the flight. You can have to get there early and be as nice as possible to the check in agents.
I pack coats, clothing, less expensive shoes, and toiletries in my checked bag.
In my carry on, I pack pajamas or nightgown, an extra change of undergarments, and one outfit, my makeup, and anything expensive like handbags and designer shoes. Again, you might think it goes without saying that shouldn’t pack anything valuable like designer bags or expensive camera equipment in your checked bags but you’d be surprised how many times someone does this and has something stolen.
My personal item is usually a tote bag. A lot of people travel with the large Goyard GM tote bag since it’s so lightweight but I love a big Rue de Verneuil tote. You should pack your wallet, passport, jewelry, medications, antibacterial wipes, and anything else you want for the flight in this bag. I always pack some snacks and buy a bottle of water at the airport just in case of a delay. I just read a post from someone who said their flight ran out of water. If I don’t drink it on the plane, it’s always nice to have for the ride to the hotel or home.
For overnight flights, I always pack an eye mask, ear plugs, saline spray for a dry nose, and medications I might need to help me sleep and that I take in the morning when I wake up on the flight. I pack all my plane essentials in a separate pouch so I can just pull it out of my bag and have it all handy.
I used to be the only person on the flight with a pen to fill out the immigration and custom forms but most are done electronically now. I think some smaller countries still might have paper forms so it’s always good to pack a pen just in case.
If you are a parent traveling with children, you should have a clean set of clothes for each child and yourself in case one or more of them get sick while traveling. I also suggest large zip lock bags so you can store the soiled clothes. This seems like basic advice too but I saw a lot of people posting that they didn’t have clothes for their kids who threw up on the plane when they went back to traveling. I’d even do this for a day car trip.
If I’m taking a longer trip, and especially one where I’m staying in an apartment, I will pack a pair of scissors. If you plan to buy a lot at the flea market and want to mail things back yourself, I would also pack some bubble wrap and packing tape so you don’t have to try to find it in a foreign country.
I also make sure that everything I pack is ironed or pressed. It’s much easier to touch things up when you get to your hotel than try to properly iron something on the road. If it’s an important trip, I will fold them with white tissue paper inside. Don’t use colored tissue paper. I once read about someone who used pink tissue paper and their suitcase got wet and the dye ran on their clothes. Drycleaner bags are the best way to pack special items you really don’t want to get wrinkled. Sometimes, wrinkles will fall out when you hang up for clothes but every hotel has irons and ironing boards available. I personally don’t think it’s worth taking up suitcase space by packing a travel steamer.
Packing cubes don’t work in my carry-on bag but they are very helpful when I pack my big suitcase for longer trips to Europe. I try to keep like things together because that works best for me but you could also use them to pack complete outfits together. They also make unpacking at the hotel very easy too.
One of the most asked questions recently on Instagram was what toiletry bag I use for travel. I was lucky enough to receive a Chanel toiletry bag on a Chanel Beauté press trip years ago but I love this one that can be monogramed.
I always keep bright orange business cards in all my bags and suitcases in case my luggage tag gets ripped off. Some people keep a copy of their flight itinerary in their bag for this same reason. You should always use a luggage tag that covers your name and address. You don’t want someone unscrupulous to see your contact info and tell someone you are traveling so they can rob your house while you’re not home. It might also be helpful to use a label maker to put your name and phone number on the back of your laptop. Many are left behind when going through security. I also keep one of my business cards in my passport cover.
A friend came home from a late flight and even though her taxi driver asked her many times if she was sure she had everything, she left a black bag with her laptop and important things like jewelry in the back of the cab. This is why you should also take a receipt even if you pay by credit card and think you don’t need the receipt for your taxes. She was lucky that a cyber security expert and his son found her bag and there was something inside to identify her. Again, when you are tired and jetlagged, you are liable to make mistakes and not be on top of things.
I bought Apple AirTags last year and then completely forgot to use them for my fall/winter 2022 trip to Paris. A few of my friends said they helped them get their bags back after last summer’s travel meltdown because they could see exactly where they were located. Delta has a section on their app that lets you track your bags but in case that barcode tag gets ripped off, the Apple AirTags might be a good back up. It’s a good idea to take photos of your checked luggage so you can send it to the airline so it can be identified easier if it’s misplaced.
If you plan to do a lot of shopping on your trip, you could travel with an empty suitcase that nests inside of a larger one so you have an empty suitcase for the return trip. I usually end up buying another suitcase when I’m in Paris and after I get home, I clean out my closet and fill it with donations I take to Housing Works. I take a matching orange leather luggage tag with me so I can add it to the new bag. Duffle bags that pack flat from Longchamp work well for bringing back treasures from shorter trips but I buy too much now so this no longer works for me.
I am often asked about packing hair dryers, curling irons, and flat irons while traveling abroad. I never pack a hair dryer because of the voltage issues. I have heard not to even try to pack a Dyson blow dryer for a trip to a foreign country even with a converter because it won’t work and you can damage your expensive dryer. My flat iron works fine with just an adaptor plug but you might want to use a converter or buy a special curling or flat iron with dual voltage. I also advise not plugging the hair dryer and iron into the same outlet because I blew up not one, but two hair dryers, this way at the Peninsula Hotel in Paris. Now I plug my straightening iron into an outlet in a different room. If your hotel has a hair dryer attached to the wall, they will usually also have regular hair dryers available upon request.
Do you have Clear, TSA Pre-check, and Global Entry?
I signed up for Clear on a whim on a trip to Art Basel in 2018 and it was the best thing I ever did. It only took a few minutes too. It uses your bio-metrics to check you in and then whisks you to the front of the security line. Not every airport has a Clear line but they are always adding more. Some event venues use it for security and check in as well. You can get a discounted yearly rate for having a Delta SkyMiles account and/or with your Amex card. My Clear account expired while I was in Paris last December but it didn’t automatically renew because my credit card on file had expired. I couldn’t renew on my own after because it wasn’t recognizing my Delta SkyMiles account discount. I emailed Clear and they rectified the issue without any fuss. They even gave me an extra month on my account. I can’t say enough good things about Clear.
They don’t have Clear at the JFK airport terminal when I fly to Paris but they did have it when I flew Virgin/Delta to London recently. I’ve never gone through security so fast before.
According to the Clear website, “TSA PreCheck is a U.S. government program that identifies travelers deemed low-risk through a security threat assessment performed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Once approved to participate in the program, it allows travelers to pass through an expedited security screening at U.S. airports nationwide with no need to remove shoes, laptops, 3-1-1 liquids, belts or light jackets. This allows travelers to enjoy a more convenient and efficient experience at airport security. Many of our members find that these two services complement each other — providing the quickest, surest route through the airport.” I think it’s definitely best to have both in case an airport doesn’t have Clear and the membership last five years for TSA PreCheck.
“Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States.” I usually fly into JFK when I return from trips abroad and I’ve been amazed at how quickly Global Entry gets me through CBP. You don’t even have to answer questions anymore. You just scan your fingers and take a photo on the machine. I didn’t even get a printout receipt the last trip. You still have to show your passport to the agent and he might ask you some questions but it’s very easy breezy.
When you sign up for Global Entry the first time, you also get an option to add on TSA PreCheck which I did not know the first time so keep that in mind. Global Entry changed their website and didn’t send me any alert that it was expiring in 2021. My membership expired so I had to go through the whole application and interview process again. Keep aware of your expiration date so you don’t have this happen to you.
How Do You Combat Jet Lag?
The easiest way to get over jet lag is to get as much fresh air and sunshine as possible after you arrive to help reset your circadian rhythm. I never take a nap and just power through the day. I try to stay up until at least 10pm. If you go to bed too early, you will end up waking up at 3am. If I need a little extra help sleeping, I will take a Donormyl which is a French over the counter sleeping pill. Usually, even half of a pill will help me go to sleep and stay sleep the first night in a new time zone. I also pack a white noise machine which helps block out any noise and creates a relaxing atmosphere in my hotel room. An eye mask is helpful when trying to sleep in countries where the sun doesn’t go down in the summer or if your hotel or rental apartment doesn’t have shades. You should also try to drink as much water as possible. I feel like none of us hydrate enough while traveling. Going West is much harder than going East so you just have to know that you’re going to be out of sorts for a few days until you get acclimated.
I can never sleep on planes so for overnight flights, I try to take one of the last flights out so I am utterly exhausted by the time we take off and I will be grateful to finally close by eyes. Depending on the length of the flight, I will take a melatonin and maybe half a Donormyl. I change my watch to the time of the place to which I am flying so I start thinking in that timezone. I don’t eat the dinner offered and will go right to sleep after take off. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a few hours sleep and will always get up for the breakfast service so I can feel awake by the time we land.
Coming back from Europe, I will inevitably need a nap in the afternoon for a few days until my body gets back on track. Again, more water, sunlight, and exercise will assist you reset your Circadian Rhythm. Waking up at 5:00am after a trip does have it’s advantages since it’s a nice quiet time to work before people bother you so there is a silver lining.
No bare feet anywhere ever. No one wants to see your piggies, or worse, smell them. Pack socks for the plane or train and wear them. And put shoes on when you go to use the restroom.
Do not take calls on speaker phone or Face Time friends and family in public. I’m shocked every time I travel at the amount of people who do this in the airport lounges and other public places. Headphones should always be worn because no one wants to hear your conversation. This also applies to children watching videos on iPads and especially those playing video games.
Flight attendants and other service workers are not your servants. Be polite and courteous. Say please and thank you. Take your headphones off when they approach your seat and give them your full attention. Drink and meal service will run faster and easier for everyone if you are attentive and respectful.
Helpful Hotel Hints
The front desk person should never say your hotel room number out loud. This is so other guests and sketchy people hanging out in the lobby won’t know in which room you are staying. This is especially important if you are traveling alone. And even more so if you are a woman traveling alone.
If you have a very early arrival time, you may want to book the room for the day before so you can check in immediately upon arrival. Some European hotels will let you check in early as a courtesy but not all.
Bring a lock for your carry-on suitcase or checked bag and lock up valuables in your room while you are out. I’ve heard stories about the hotel safe not being fully safe.
Things are less likely to get lost or stolen if you keep your room clean and tidy. Items left on the bed may get gathered up with the sheets when they change out the linens. Keep an eye out for children’s beloved stuffed animals. You definitely don’t want them to go missing and end up at the industrial laundry service.
If you are staying in one hotel for the duration of your trip, it’s best to fully unpack after arrival. Then after you wear each outfit, neatly fold it and put it in your suitcase so you are already packed to leave. There is nothing more stressful than trying to pack everything from a long trip the night before check-out.
I usually have a lot of luggage on my trips to Europe when I’m staying for weeks at a time. I tip my taxi drivers from the airport 20 Euros or 20 Pounds because of my bags and the same to the porters who help me to my room. I also leave 10 Euros or 10 Pounds per day for the housekeeping staff. I always leave it at the end of my trip for the supervisor to distribute since I don’t know who cleaned my room. If they clean during the day and also do a lot during turn down service, or if you are very messy, you will want to leave more.
This means getting local currency when you arrive so you are prepared. I was leaving a hotel a few years ago and a man asked the doorman if he had change for $100 for a trip. I think there were multiple family members with him and a lot of bags. He should have been prepared with smaller bills or just given him the $100 since it was also the holidays. I go to the bank in NYC to get money and small bills so I’m prepared when I travel domestically but you can also ask the front desk for change too.
I always joke that I like to make it rain when I travel. If you can afford to travel, you can afford to share the wealth.
Respect local culture and customs.
I think the most important travel advice I can give is to respect local culture and customs. Read up on the place you are to visit and educate yourself on what is appropriate and what is considered rude. This is especially important for countries where you should dress conservatively and cover up instead of letting it all hang out. In many Asian countries, you will be required to remove your shoes so be prepared with clean feet and socks.
I think it’s important to be respectful and nonjudgmental too. People who live in other places in the world will often do many things differently and that’s the whole point of traveling. Just because they don’t do things the way you do doesn’t make them wrong.
Be polite to locals and engage with them when your language skills allow. I love to ask my taxi and Uber drivers questions to gauge what’s going on in the city and/or country. I was in Paris last year during the Presidential elections and had very interesting conversations about how the French felt about each candidate. Lately, I love discussing the non-stop construction in Paris in preparation of the Olympics and love to hear what they really feel about how it’s disturbing traffic and inhibiting their jobs.
Be curious and try not to just go to all the big tourist sites so you can cross them off your list. Visit smaller museums and lesser-known spots and you will almost always have fewer crowds for a nicer experience.
I look at travel to other countries like I am being invited into someone else’s home and I will be as respectful and well behaved as possible. Needless to say, this means not carving your name into national monuments and historic sights and taking your trash with you.
All travel photos were taken by me except for the one from The High Note.