Someone once said that the number of countries you’ve visited should be more or less the same as your age. I know this is not grounded on science, but I kind of like the year-to-region ratio and that changing perceptions (by experiencing the unfamiliar) should be inevitable—just like getting older.
My nations tally at 38, and this has yet to catch up with my birthdays. It’s young in terms of country coverage—there are 196 (if you include Taiwan), after all—but old and wise enough to know that the score is nothing without the narratives. So here’s a brief compendium of travel facts, hacks, mischiefs, and morals I’ve learned along the way. It wouldn’t hurt to take some unconventional wisdom along with you, because wouldn’t it be a triumph to encounter a travel enigma and yet know exactly what you need to do?
1. Premium seats without additional cost do exist.
Flying makes me anxious and it also makes me particular about details, especially where I sit (it always has to be on the window side). The “select seat” option when booking online is a reassuring controlled variable and was where I accidentally found this hidden perk: In one of our flights from Dubai to Copenhagen on an Emirates Airbus A380, the seating showed the regular seat plan as well as an upper deck option. The A380 is the world’s largest passenger plane with economy seating that’s already roomier than usual. The upper deck, though, is more spacious with a reduced seat count of a 2-4-2 configuration (the main deck is 3-4-2), giving the benefit of a bigger area. My window seat also came with a side storage compartment. Here’s another upper-deck bonus: larger washrooms.
2. Airport luggage scales can sometimes be wrong.
Overweight—one of the most dreaded words you can hear in a check-in counter, and one that brings about frantic feelings of panic, luggage strewn on floors and regurgitating wardrobes. To avoid this, I’ve taken to weighing my kilos before leaving for the airport using a handheld scale. This practice really proved its worth in a trip to Europe. One of our bags registered at 35 kilos on the counter scale when we were certain it was only 21 (the correct allowance). We reweighed it using my scale, showed the clerk, and asked him to redo it. When the scale was reset, the bag really did register at only 21 kilos. Imagine the 14-kilo difference that we would have paid for if we didn’t know any better.
3. You might not be able to check-in in your hotel.
We made the mistake of assuming that all accommodations in booking.com are all hotels that automatically come with regular hotel service. Turns out that among the five stars and chains are also B&Bs, or bed and breakfasts, with reception cutoffs. Unfortunately, we mistook “b&b” as part of the accommodation’s name and we didn’t read the facilities information before our arrival, so we didn’t know that check-in was only from 1 to 7 p.m. We arrived at midnight in the empty lobby of a quiet building, with no one to check us in. We resorted to disturbing the manager in the dead of night, but he was gracious enough to meet us in our apartment and register us even if it was already 1 a.m.!
4. Bottom-side-up is the best technique for packing a hat, among other luggage solutions.
Set down your boaters and panamas with the brim up like a soup bowl. The circular space in the center is best for rounded-up belts because they just naturally follow the circumference. The outside space surrounding the hat should be cushioned with soft garments to keep the hat in place. Leave the brim unhampered on top of everything. Also, I swear by the rolling technique to bundle in a working closet that can create 25 complete looks, maximum—30 if needed, for a month-long holiday. For colder climates, I only bring one heavy jacket that I hand-carry to free up luggage space. In the event of an OOTD, I do a quick shrug-off, shrug-on: Take off coat, run to pose, freeze for two seconds and run back to snuggle in.
5. Cut the queue time at international check-in lines by 80 percent (sometimes 90).
The secret: online check-in. You can check-in online from 24 hours to one hour prior to your flight’s departure, although it varies from airline to airline. Some are already open from 48 hours to 90 minutes before takeoff. I’ve skipped lines eightrows deep and was first to be served because passengers who’ve checked in online have a separate counter for luggage drop-off.
6. Outsmart incremental increases when buying tickets online.
I’ve purchased enough tickets on airline websites to know that the system somehow tracks and senses if you’re interested in a flight by the frequency you check the routes, time, or destination. Flight websites assume that since you’re actively looking, you’re willing to pay, so they’ll hike up the prices. Execute a cool man-versus-machine maneuver by clearing your browser history, cache and cookies, so the site reverts to its original calculation.
7. Good Airbnbs are similarly priced, if not even more so, than design hotels.
You’re either the establishment girl (me, surprisingly) or the anti-establishment person (I thought that would be me, but, it turns out to be my husband). Architectural design, beds turned down, and breakfast spreads are things I appreciate when we’re far away. The husband, on the other hand, likes to live like a local in places with character through Airbnb. It’s always a tug-of-war when we’re booking accommodations. I compromise when the interiors and location can’t be beat; he compromises for good design. In the end, though, it’s best to always compare and check. You’d be surprised that that seemingly really good deal compared to a local hotel might not be ideal, after all.
8. Airport lockers can keep the extra weight when you need to fly within Europe.
This is always the dilemma when flying to several countries in one European trip: how to lug everything when airlines’ baggage allowances differ. For example, international luggage allowance in Emirates can be up to two bags that are 23 kilos each. but for other intraEuropean airlines, the allotment can be as small as 20 kilos only per passenger. You can only wear so many layers before pushing your clothes’ elasticity to the limit. Before you succumb to a matryoshka-doll situation, know that most international airports have for-rent lockers for this exact predicament. Stow the excess kilos and just settle the amount when you return.
*This article originally appeared in Preview Magazine's August 2017 issue.