Wise words from a well-traveled teddy bear

All packed and ready to go ...
Jillian Wertheim/Senior Staff
All packed and ready to go ...
If my childhood teddy bear, Garry, owned a passport, it would boast stamps from five continents and over a dozen countries. It would also verify that his name is indeed spelled with two R’s, as I quite enjoyed double consonants in my youth and decided to include that particular quirk when naming my favorite bear. But I seem to have wandered away from the point. Garry has accompanied me just about everywhere — from visits home in Southern California to cross-country red eyes and adventures abroad. He’s 20 years old, and still isn’t embarrassed by traveling with me. And with all that globe trotting under his belt, Garry is something of an expert when it comes to getting himself from A to B (or C, D or E, as the case may be). As such, I’ve compiled some of the wisdom that Garry has collected over the years, in the hopes that it might come in handy while you prepare for your own adventure.

Pick your dates wisely:

Holidays. They are the best of times and the worst of times, especially when it comes to traveling. The days prior to and immediately following major holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.) tend to transform airports into a special kind of hell. Impossible lines at security, over-booked flights and babies galore all combine in the worst way. Also, if you’re trying to use frequent flier miles, these are typically the first days to be blacked out — read the fine print. Sometimes, though, flying on the actual day of the holiday can be the best kept secret. New Year’s Eve (truly, a much more significant day than the first of the year), Garry and I flew from LAX to Zurich on an overnight flight that had an empty seat in almost every three or four rows, meaning quite a few lucky ducks had extra space to stretch their legs in — pretty nice when you’re in a flying sardine tin for 11 hours. Turns out, not a whole lot of people wanted to miss out on raging with their friends, making our flight reasonably priced and open to frequent flier miles. Just to top things off, in light of the holiday, even us plebeians sitting in coach were offered complimentary champagne to help ring in the new year. All in all, not a bad way to usher in 2012.

Organize your carry-on bag:

Don’t just throw everything into that medium-sized duffel, willy-nilly, and hope that you’ll be able to easily locate your reading book, sweater and headphones once you’re on board. Looking for travelers with laps full of unpacked, yet unneeded items is a sure-fired way to spot the n00bs. Seasoned pros know that keeping all the things that aren’t needed until you’re settled at your destination (but still should be packed in carry-ons) at the bottom of the bag is the way to go. Similarly, place any item that you’ll likely want to grab when you’re mid-flight toward the top.
Don’t go rummaging around in your bag, asking the person seated next to you to kindly hold on to your heirloom jewelry and various medications while you take a full 10 minutes fishing “The Da Vinci Code” out of your carry-on. Do pwn all the n00bs.

Know what time it will be at your destination … and plan accordingly:

There’s nothing worse than spending half of your time in some exciting new place exhausted from jetlag and sleeping through the better part of your visit. Before you fly, figure out what the local time will be once you arrive. If you land in the morning, avoid the temptation of non-stop in-flight movies and get some sleep on the plane, so that you’re at least moderately well rested when you get to your destination. Landing in the late afternoon/evening? Stay awake. Bring a book for the flight, bump some tunes on your iPod and maybe even indulge in a coffee earlier in the day (particularly true if you’re taking a red eye to a place that still has a few hours of daylight left after you land). By the time you reach your hostel/hotel, you should be plenty tired, and so long as you go to bed at a normal hour, you should wake up rested and will be partially acclimated to local time.

Bring extra socks:

Packing light is important — a tried and true travel tip says to lay out all of the clothes you’re planning to take, then pack half of them. One item that you really shouldn’t skimp on, though, is socks. Shirts and pants can be worn time and time again before needing to be washed. Socks, not so much. To avoid offending the locals with stinky toes, throw a few extra pairs into your suitcase — they take up minimal space and can make a world of difference. (The same goes for underwear.)

Exchange some money before you go:

Sure, you can hunt down a currency exchange office in the airport while you’re lugging around heavy suitcases, or, you can be the savvy traveler and have cash on hand when you land. A few weeks before you leave for your trip, order a couple hundred dollars’ worth of whatever currency you’ll be needing through any major bank (low denominations like the foreign equivalents of $5, $10, and $20 bills are preferable to higher ones). The money can be mailed right to your house, making things easy as pie. Stash it in your wallet and bust that cash out to pay for a taxi/train/bus from the airport and other essentials for your first few days.

Keep in mind that foreign ATMs often charge hefty fees on American cards — sometimes you’ll even be charged twice (once for converting currency and another for simply making a transaction) — and credit cards are treated similarly. Cash is your best bet anywhere you go, and by arriving with some in hand, you’ll guarantee yourself a smoother transition to whatever adventure awaits you. Of course, there’s more to it than these five tips might suggest, but half the fun of traveling is figuring things out as you go. Safe travels, and don’t forget those extra socks!