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:
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.