- 1 Travel doesn’t have to be terrible.
- 2 Planning
- 3 Immigration and Customs
- 4 Packing
- 5 Airport Hacking
- 5.1 Being prepared for security
- 5.2 US Trusted Traveler Programs
- 5.3 Other countries' traveler programs
- 5.4 Country-specific notes
- 6 Flying
- 7 Tips for specific airports
- 8 Trains
- 9 Hotels
- 10 Money
- 11 Preparing to be less-online than normal
- 12 On Foreign Soil
- 13 Eating
- 14 Staying healthy
- 15 Redux
- 16 More advice
Travel doesn’t have to be terrible.
In fact, there may be no other part of your life where a handful of modest optimizations can make such an enormous difference. How different would travelling become, if:
- You never lost your luggage.
- You could get from the airport entrance to your flight's gate in minutes.
- You had lounge access at the airport, upgraded flights, maybe even nicer rooms in hotels.
- You knew you didn't have to eat junk on the road, but could discover great local restaurants instead.
We have secrets. We have millions of miles travelled between us, and we'd like to show you how it's done.
First, here are the 3 simplest things you can do to make travel a lot better:
- Never, ever check your luggage.
- Check in online as early as possible.
- Pick a Frequent Flyer program
Do these every time, and you’re already in the 80th percentile for travel success. What follows below is travel brilliance.
- Scan a copy of your passport and any other travel documents and put them somewhere web accessible but password protected (like Dropbox or Google Drive). This is helpful for getting replacements, and for getting consular help in the meantime.
- Print a copy of those scans - particularly your passport, covid test and vaccination status - and keep them in your carry-on. Do this regardless of the current policies of the countries you're travelling to or through - if policies change while you're on the road, you might have a problem.
- Let your credit card company know that you travel. Anti-fraud measures might lock your card the first time you use it on foreign soil, but they can flag your account so that doesn’t happen. This is no fun to discover after the fact.
- Different airlines have different size restrictions for carryon luggage; know your limits for the whole trip and stay inside them.
- Wear a mask.
Pick a Frequent Flyer Program
Prices are generally going to be competitive, so figure out your most common trip(s) and figure out which airline/alliance is best for those. Use that group for everything. You can easily sign up for FF programs online, and add it to your travel agency profile (Egencia for Mozilla employees).
Even if you travel rarely, you'll eventually accrue enough mileage for free travel, and having a FF number makes online check-in easier.
If you travel often enough, though, (25k+/year on most airlines) you start earning preferred status. This is the difference between "scum" and "How can I help you?" You have shorter lines for agents, shorter lines for security, you board first. You get access to elite lounges while you wait, and free upgrades to business class to make the trip more pleasant. These are little niceties, but they add up, and make travel much nicer. You can often share status with someone less privileged, which means your spouse likes traveling with you more, too.
Check In Online
Every airline will let you check in online, usually 24 hours before your flight leaves. I know this will feel weird the first time, but it is an absolute necessity. With online check-in and no checked luggage, you can skip all the lines at the airport except security (and possibly customs/immigration).
Checking in early may put you into a lower "group" for boarding (or at least not the suckiest, all-the-overhead-bins-are-full group). Check in as early as possible, even if you don't know how many bags you will check (correct answer: 0). You can always add (and pay for) checked bags when you get to the airport.
The one exception to this guideline is that if you think your flight might be delayed or cancelled due to weather, don't check in online ahead of time. If you have to re-book, and you are already checked-in, the agent will have to "uncheck" you, which may slow down the re-booking process and cause you to miss out on alternate flight options. Keep in mind that weather problems cause ripple effects even in locations where weather is good. For example, your flight out of sunny Phoenix might be cancelled because the aircraft is grounded by a snowstorm in Chicago. (See this Egencia blog post for tips for avoiding weather delays.)
Online check-in also lets you choose your seats, which brings us to...
Choose Your Seats
- Take a window seat for very short flights or very long flights. Window seats have more shoulder room, less hassle from other passengers, and a window. The only downside is bladder management, but on short flights you can stick it out and on long ones you can get up when your fellow passengers do.
- Every plane has some seats that suck. No recline, noisy, cold, lack of floor storage or slightly narrower than most, SeatGuru will tell you what to avoid. It'll also tell you which seats are great (extra legroom, etc) that you should take given half a chance. Usually, exit-row seats have extra legroom (good for tall people), and the last row and the row in front of the exit row do not recline (bad in general). The first row in a section (where you have a bulkhead in front of you instead of another seat) typically does not have under-seat storage, so everything must go in overhead bins, but it typically does have more legroom. (Seatguru will tell you whether or not this is the case on a particular plane.)
- The Middle Seat Gambit - If you’re traveling with someone else, check in online together and look for an empty 3-person row. Take the aisle and window. Middle seats fill up last, there’s a decent chance the seat stays empty. If so, you have a lot more space to dump things during the flight, and more legroom since you can use that space instead of putting things under the seat in front of you.
- If you’re traveling alone, you can still use the middle seat gambit by checking in online and looking at the seat map for someone acting as a de facto accomplice.
- If there is only one (worst possible) seat left when you go to select seats, don't take it. It will be claimed by someone else, and the gate agent will assign you a different seat. A flight that full might mean that someone gets bumped, but lack of a seat assignment doesn't guarantee it will be you.
Flying nonstop to your destination is always easiest, but if that’s not a possibility for whatever reason, here are some other things to keep in mind:
- Major metropolitan centers are often served by multiple airports, and each airline will have a preference. If you can’t get the flight you want with the airline you like, look to see whether you’re just pointing at the wrong airport.
- If you can’t fly nonstop, you probably at least have your choice of connection airports, and the choice matters there. What’s more, a given airline will have certain preferred connection cities, so a couple trips should get you a reasonably complete list. (For example, connecting from Toronto to San Francisco on Star Alliance, it is much preferable to connect in Denver or Vancouver than it is to connect in Chicago O’Hare.) Consider the immigration/customs procedures of the country you're connecting in if it's separate from the origin or destination (e.g., prefer Vancouver over a US airport for connecting between Toronto and Auckland, since the US requires internationally-connecting passengers to go through immigration and customs).
- If you have to have a connection, you might also have the opportunity to fly to a better airport (e.g., if you have to connect to Washington, DC, you are likely to be able to fly to DCA instead of IAD).
- Take the season and likely weather into account when picking connecting airports; avoid snowy airports in winter, thunderstorm-y airports in summer.
- If you have to layover overnight, prefer airports that have on-site hotels (and for god’s sake prefer Munich over Frankfurt).
- If you’re crossing a border during your flight, it’s often preferable to layover in-country before crossing over. It means your first flight is domestic, so you can arrive later at the airport since there’s no immigration headache there.
- Another reason not to check a bag is that when you have a connection after arriving in some countries (e.g., the USA, but not EU countries), you have to claim your bag, take it through customs (even though they rarely look at it), and then check it again for your connecting flight. More time and hassle.
- Remember to account for boarding time when calculating layovers. If flight A arrives at 12:00 and flight B leaves at 1:00, you do not have an hour, you have about 20 minutes (because you need to get OFF of flight A once it arrives, transit to whichever gate/terminal flight B is in, and then be there for flight B boarding, not flight B departure).
Immigration and Customs
- Make sure you know what the requirements are for crossing all immigration and customs barriers before you do so. If you don't know what those requirements are, embassy or consulate websites are often useful, as are the US government's country specific information (though somewhat tending towards information useful to Americans).
- This includes vaccination status and testing, which varies on a country by country basis and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
- Make sure you have any documentation needed in your carry-on luggage. When entering a country where you're not a citizen or resident, you should carry proof of onward travel, particularly if the reservation on which you're flying doesn't return you to your home country (e.g., because you're traveling on separate reservations).
- If you're transferring in a country (or multi-country immigration zone) that's different from your origin or destination, figure out whether you'll need to deal with immigration there, and if so, what the rules are. This might vary depending on the airport, or in some cases even on which terminal you arrive at and depart from. (In the latter case, airport websites are often helpful.)
- Don't carry any non-commercially-packaged food through customs, not even the apple you got in the airport. Many places have strict agricultural control policies that prohibit doing so; it's not worth the trouble.
- Always carry a pen (blue or black) somewhere in your checked luggage for filling out the immigration and customs forms.
- Have a toiletry bag that you keep stocked, rather than trying to remember to pack toothbrushes &c the day of. It doesn’t cost much to buy the duplicates once, and saves hassle/forgetting.
- Put your favourite head, stomach, and sleep meds in the toiletry bag. You can buy most things on the road, but meds are sometimes an exception.
- Throw a couple of large ziploc bags in there, too. They are immensely useful for storing wet clothing or leaking bottles or, by contrast, for putting things like passports in when you need them to stay dry. They weigh nothing and disappear into a pocket until needed.
- Layers. You can adapt to a wide range of climates, even multi-city travel, by packing layers. Shirt, Sweater, Hoodie, Jacket is plenty warm, packs much more compactly than a parka, and gives you middle ground for an overwarm restaurant or an overcool office.
- While you're packing, make a text list on your phone of everything you pack. Towards the end of your trip (such as waiting for your flight home), put a '+' next to every item you actually used. Next time, don't pack the things you didn't use. Also, if your bag goes missing, you have a list of what was in it.
Don’t Check Luggage
- Repeat after me: Checked luggage is for chumps.
- Again. Checked luggage is for chumps.
- -- George Clooney, Up in the Air
Every time you give your bag to the airlines, you're inviting them to lose it, abuse it, leave it in your departure city, forget about it on the tarmac during a rain delay, etc. North American airlines will allow you one carry on suitcase and one “personal bag” which usually means a purse or laptop. This is easily enough for a week of travel, and can be extended indefinitely with laundry service. Invest in a good carry-on and bring it with you.
Put everything you need during the flight in your laptop bag, in case you have to gate-check your carry-on suitcase (common on short flights with smaller planes).
Choose the Right Luggage
Checked luggage will inevitably be destroyed over time, regardless of quality. If you stick to carry on, though, good luggage will last forever; be willing to pay once for something that gets it right. Your happiness while traveling is worth it.
His bias for non-rolling luggage notwithstanding, this is the single best guide out there for evaluating luggage. The highlights:
- Lighter is better
- Curvy designs rob you of packing volume, prefer right angles
- Chain zippers are stronger than coil zippers (look for YKK as the brand of zipper)
- Pocket design and positioning matters
- So do tie-downs
In truth, the best way to maximize quality while minimizing weight is to let go of the dependence on rolling bags. Soft-sided, non-wheeled bags are exceptionally light and versatile. Tom Bihn and Red Oxx are your best plays. Tom Bihn’s Aeronaut is is a full-sized carry-on that converts to a backpack for long walks across cobblestones/sprints to catch a connection/etc. The Red Oxx Air Boss was designed by the same guy who wrote the luggage-choosing guide above.
If you're not ready to let go of wheeled bags, any manufacturer with a lifetime warranty is probably worth considering. These include:
- Briggs & Riley
- Travelpro ("the best" carry-on according to The Wirecutter)
- Certain models of Eagle Creek (not all models have a lifetime warranty)
Pay attention to the bag’s extensible arm: is it well constructed? What does it do to your interior space? 2 segments of extension or 3? Moving parts make everything more fragile -- if you are choosing moving parts in your luggage, they need to be brilliant.
Buy It There (BIT)
Don’t try to anticipate every contingency and pack for it. You will bog yourself down with unnecessary cruft. Pack for what you know you’ll need, or at most what you reasonably expect to need the majority of the time. You can find contact solution, toothpaste, aspirin, and dental floss at almost any convenience store. For the rest, shove an extra $50 into a pocket somewhere and buy whatever you need there, if it comes up.
(Good news: It comes up less often than you’d think.)
BIT exceptions: There are some things you don't want to source while traveling - if you only use one specific brand of shampoo, conditioner, etc, transfer it to a small, travel-friendly bottle. Depending on where you're traveling BIT can be tough if you don't speak the language and are looking for something very specific (like Cipro in India or a flat iron in China). Goes without saying, but BIT does *not* apply to medications (remember that what requires a prescription varies by country, but you can apply it if you know that something can be bought without a prescription at your destination).
Corollary: Wash It There
If you’re gone for longer than a carry-on can reasonably contain (which is longer than you think), don’t fail over to multiple suitcases; just get things laundered partway through. Your hotel will offer laundry service, though it will be overpriced. Most of the time you’ll find a wash and fold place within walking distance or a service that does pick up and next day drop off.
Also keep in mind that at most Mozilla or other geek events, you will probably acquire at least one or two t-shirts. You can bring one or two fewer shirts; if this guideline fails, wash one of the ones you brought.
If you bring quick-drying underwear and socks, you can wash them in the sink or bathtub and dry them overnight on the towel rack (except in humid climates). You can skip bringing detergent by using the hotel's shampoo (as long as you don't mind your underwear smelling like "ginger lemongrass" or whatever); shampoo is just mild detergent. Check the plumbing before you fill the sink; some hotels don't install the lever for raising the plug. Before hanging items to dry, roll them in a towel and squeeze out excess moisture.
Counterpoint: The case for checking a suitcase
A few heavy-traveling Mozillians are in the "checked bag" camp. Add your reasons for using this strategy here:
- Problems with checked luggage are actually quite rare.
- You don't have to schlep a roll-aboard through the airport with you, including squeezing it into tiny toilet stalls.
- You can pack a few extra things that help you be more comfortable on an extended trip.
- At least one airline (American) gives early boarding privileges (after Elite and Priority but before Zone 1) to passengers with no overhead baggage.
- You aren't limited to 100ml bottles of liquid/gel/cream, and can bring home properly packed wine, booze, perfume, etc. (Wrap the bottle in at least two plastic bags and nestle it in the groove left by the extending handle, surrounded tightly by clothes.)
- Having airline status often helps your bag appear on the belt faster. Also, if the final segment of your trip is an international arrival in the United States, you're unlikely to have to wait long for your bag, since all baggage goes to the same belt, so it gets there quickly.
- TIP: Get a suitcase with four wheels. Baggage handlers can slide it across the floor of the cargo hold instead of tossing it, subjecting the suitcase and its contents to much less abuse. Anything that protrudes, like carry straps or zipper pulls, can get snagged and chewed up in baggage-handling equipment; go for streamlined.
- TIP: Ask for your checked luggage to be marked "Fragile". It will be loaded on top of other bags, and usually be unloaded first.
- TIP: If you check luggage, don't let your eyes off the bag until there's a tag on it, and if you can, check that the tag is correct (with your name and correct destination airport on it). One of the common reasons for lost/delayed luggage is getting the wrong tag on it right at the check-in desk.
- TIP: Things to make sure are not in your checked bag: everything you need to get through customs and immigration and get to your final destination. Any electronics that might be stolen. Lithium-ion batteries (prohibited).
Some airlines (particularly non-North American or discount airlines) have much lower limits for what you're allowed to carry on, so you'll have to check luggage anyway.
Some airlines (e.g., Air France, KLM) will even want to weigh your carry-on bag (often although not reliably), and want it to be a weight that's lower than what it is with your laptop in it (e.g., 6kg, 8kg). Remember that your laptop often counts as a separate personal item and you can take it out of the bag before weighing.
Packing Techniques and Tools
Your strategy for how to put your stuff in your suitcase is very much a matter of personal preference, along with the type of travel you're doing (destination vs. touring) and the type of clothes you bring. Here are some ideas that may be helpful.
- The bundle method is great for avoiding wrinkles, but it tends to require that you unbundle everything to get out any single thing.
- It's extremely helpful to have some kind of containers to organize your stuff. Purpose-made packing "cubes" are great, but are absurdly expensive. You can get by with zip-top plastic bags if you don't travel often, or while you're waiting to find ready-made cubes on sale.
- If you buy only one packing accessory, consider getting a packing folder, which helps you fold larger items (shirts, pants, skirts) to a uniform footprint, and then encloses them like an envelope.
- Compression bags, which let you squeeze all the air out of your clothes, are good only for clothes that don't easily wrinkle. However, a compression bag can be great as a laundry bag to minimize the volume of dirty clothes on your way home. Either way, have a cloth or plastic bag you can use to keep used laundry separate.
- ABC: Always Be Charging. Wherever you come to rest, be charging. Maybe your flight has power plugs, that's swell, but maybe they stop working, or your seatmate gets to it first, or you need it to charge your phone. If you're at rest for more than 10 minutes, find a plug. If you bring a power strip so others can plug in, too, you can make friends anywhere :-)
- Watch where uniformed crew members go. They know the best eateries in any given airport, and even where to stand on the tram platform in order to get off quickly at the other end.
- The internet knows about delays before your gate agents do. Bookmark flightaware right now, and use it from your phone at the airport to keep tabs. Caveat: Flightaware may show your flight as delayed because the inbound plane you're getting on is delayed; if the airline substitutes another aircraft, your flight could be on time or only a little delayed.
- If you do see signs of a significant delay, particularly at night when it's likely you'll be put off until morning, act swiftly before the lines form. Talk to gate agents about rebooking onto other flights and if the line there is long, be on the phone with your airline as well. First to rebook means first to call hotels and taxis and all the rest. Being last to rebook means sleeping in the airport. If you have elite status, call the customer service number for elite members, not the general customer service number.
- When you get off the plane, the restroom closest to your gate will be crowded with other people from your flight. Keep going to the next one further away.
- No one wants to sleep in an airport, but flight delays or cancellations, or just poor planning, may require it. There is actually a whole website devoted to sleeping in airports.
Being prepared for security
- Veteran move: if you have a digital boarding pass, set a screenshot of that boarding pass as the background of your lock screen, so you can see the QR code without unlocking the phone.
- Bring identification. Here's a list of acceptable IDs in the US. If you forget your ID, all is not lost. It's possible, with some extra hassle, to travel within the US even if you don't have your identification. Here's what the TSA says to do if you don't have ID.
- Have photocopies - paper copies - of your passport and one other piece of ID (and where necessary, vaccination status or test results.)
- Avoid getting into a screening line behind people who look like they don't travel often (families with kids, retirement-age folks, large groups).
- Wear slip-on shoes and socks. Do not go barefoot in airports (And, for the love of God, Do Not Sit Or Lie Down On The Floors. Airport floors are disgusting, you have no idea.)
- Consider not wearing a belt, or wear one with no metal, so you don't have to take it off.
- Avoid clothes with extra pockets, like cargo pants. They can be flagged by the body scanner, and cause you to get a pat-down. Same for "travel" clothes with hidden pockets; these can be handy while touring, but not while flying. Even a hoodie can win you a pat-down for the hood and kangaroo pocket.
- On the other hand, a jacket with lots of pockets is like an extra carry-on; you have to remove it for security anyway, and you can keep your in-flight necessities (gadgets, etc.) close to hand during your flight.
- Know the drill with liquids, gels, and creams: containers at most 100ml/3oz, in a clear zip-top bag, 1 liter/1 quart size. Have this in an external pocket of your carry-on, ready to pull out and put in a bin. (If you travel often, you might want to get a sturdier bag than the grocery store kind. It must still be clear and zip-top.)
- Don't pack little bottles of booze. Yes, it's under the limit, yes you're technically allowed to carry it through security. Don't.
- Avoid large metal jewelry.
- Take everything, but especially metal (keys, coins, etc.), out of your pockets.
- Leave your pocket knives and multitools at home.
- If you're wearing an activity monitor, such as a FitBit, take it off for screening.
- You should hang onto your ID and boarding pass as you go through the line, but you can't carry them through screening; put them in your bin.
- Put the bin with your shoes, jacket, and liquids onto the conveyor belt first. You can be getting dressed while the rest of your stuff comes through.
- Take your laptop out of your bag and put it in a separate bin. You can usually leave it in a sleeve, as long as there's nothing else in the sleeve.
- Consider getting a checkpoint-friendly laptop bag, with a laptop-only section that folds out without taking out the computer. The less you handle your laptop, the less likely you are to drop it. (US TSA allows you leave the computer in this type of bag; other countries often do not.)
- Don't start going through the screening machine or metal detectors before you can see your stuff moving down the conveyor belt.
US Trusted Traveler Programs
If you frequently cross US borders, you can save time and hassle in the long run by enrolling in one of the programs that provide expedited entry for pre-approved travelers. Enrolling involves an application fee and form, and an in-person interview at an entry point, so there is a start-up cost in time and money. Which program you should enroll in depends on the type of crossing you do most; you can enroll in more than one.
- When entering the US, if you're not in a "trusted traveler" program, try to get into the immigration queue that is next to the Global Entry lane. If no one is in the Global Entry lane, the officer there will often take people from the nearby queue, making it move faster. Do likewise for NEXUS when entering Canada.
- Wear Firefox gear when going through immigration, anywhere. It creates goodwill and starts pleasant conversations.
Automated Passport Control
Automated Passport Control kiosks are available to citizens of the US, Canada, and Visa Waiver Program countries, for entry into the US, in an expanding number of North American cities. Unlike Global Entry or Nexus, these kiosks require no pre-registration. You swipe your passport, let the kiosk take a photo, answer some questions, and then get a receipt that you show to a Customs and Border Patrol officer. The kiosk replaces filling out a customs card by hand.
See the Automated Passport Control webpage for a list of cities with APC kiosks.
Global Entry provides expedited screening for entry into the US at certain airports. Once in the program, you can go to an automated kiosk instead of an immigration agent (skipping the enormous lines that result from multiple international flights arriving at about the same time), and you can answer the customs questions at the kiosk instead of filling out a paper form. Unless there is an issue with your kiosk interaction (such as it couldn't read your fingerprints), you don't need to talk to a CBP agent. Global Entry is open to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents of the U.S., Dutch citizens, South Korean citizens and Mexican nationals.
NEXUS provides expedited screening for crossing the US-Canada border in both directions. It can be used at land and sea entry points as well as at airports. You can use the NEXUS-only lanes at land crossings only if every person in the vehicle (including children) has a NEXUS card. Using NEXUS at an airport requires scanning your irises. If you wear contact lenses, you must remove them for the initial iris scan that is taken after your enrollment interview.
Other US programs
- FLUX expedites passage between the US and the Netherlands, and is open to US and Dutch citizens.
- Global Entry members can receive expedited entry into New Zealand.
- SENTRI provides expedited entry into the US from Mexico at specific land crossings.
- Smart Entry Service provides expedited entry into the Republic of Korea. It is open to US and Korean citizens.
- SmartGate provides streamlined entry into Australia for US Global Entry members. Visa requirements still apply.
- TSA PreCheck enables US Global Entry and Canadian NEXUS members to use designated TSA airport screening lanes, without removing liquids, laptops, shoes, jackets, or belts. You must provide your membership number when booking flights with participating airlines. TSA is expanding the PreCheck program to include more people, including US military members and those invited by their airline's frequent flyer program. You must still apply, pay a fee, and go through an interview. See the TSA PreCheck website for details.
Other countries' traveler programs
- The UK's Registered Traveller service enables certain citizens of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the USA to get faster entry to the UK, without filling out a landing card.
Note: Much of the per-country information is pre-covid, and needs to be verified or updated.
- visitors who do not need a visa, are entering Canada by air, and are not US citizens or Canadian citizens or Canadian permanent residents, must apply online for an eTA.
Schengen Area (Europe)
- The Schengen Area is an immigration-barrier-free zone covering most of the European Union and some additional non-EU countries, but not the UK or Ireland.
- If you need a visa to visit the Schengen Area, it is easier to get such a visa if your point of arrival in the Schengen Area is the same country as your destination. (For example, if you're traveling to Spain, it is easier to arrive in Madrid after connecting in the UK or US than connecting via Amsterdam, since in the latter case getting the visa requires dealing with both the Spanish and Dutch authorities.)
- If your nationality requires a visa to visit the Schengen Area and your trip does not terminate in Schengen, avoid making more than one connection in Schengen; in such a case you must get a Schengen visa, even though that's not your destination. Schengen immigration authorities look at your next point of travel (not your final one) to decide whether you need a visa; if it is Schengen, they will ask for one.
- Make sure to declare any shoes in your checked luggage. The authorities just want to look at them and maybe clean the dirt off for you, but they'll be upset if you don't declare them.
- Don't even think about bringing fresh fruit into New Zealand or you will get an instant fine.
- Visitors who can can enter without a visa must apply online for an ETA.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Air in an airplane at altitude is incredibly dry and dries you out. Drink water whenever you can. Bring an empty water bottle (even better: collapsible) and fill it from a water fountain inside security. (Some airports, like SFO, have water bottle filling spots that make this a little easier.) Don't drink the water that comes out of the water tanks onboard an airplane, including coffee and tea; you don't want to know how disgusting those tanks are. If you get water in the beverage service, ask for fizzy water (club soda) to ensure it came out of a bottle or can. If you need to brush your teeth in-flight, use water from your water bottle, not the tap in the toilet.
- Request an alternate meal (kosher, indian, vegan, whatever) - they tend to be tastier, and often come first. (However, the downside to the meal coming first is that the tray is going to be in your way substantially longer.)
- If you're in an aisle seat, you’ll find that the aisle-side armrest won’t lift. This is annoying, because it is much easier to deplane with that thing out of the way. Reach back to where the armrest joins the back of the chair -- there may be a release latch or button. (This works on some Boeing 777s; most smaller craft do not have this feature. See this article for a photo.)
- Always wear shoes before going to the airplane lavatories; never go barefoot or wearing socks only.
- Wear a mask, n95 or better.
Enjoying music or movies during travel is much better with headphones designed for travel use. You need to consider three types:
- active noise-cancelling headphones
- those without noise-cancellation
- in-ear monitors.
Generally speaking, on airplanes, active noise-cancellation will be better on the plane but worse when you're not on the plane (in the hotel room, for instance.) A quality headphone without noise cancellation will almost always sound better when not on an airplane. In-ear monitors allow for excellent sound quality and also allow one to rest your head on a pillow without the headphone pushing against one's ear, but some are uncomfortable with putting anything in one's ear. In-ear monitors are also much more compact. For those who want the sound quality of in-ear monitors and the compactness, but find that fit is a problem, consider Comply foam tip replacements which can be selected to fit your ear size.
- For active noise cancellation headphones, the Bose Quiet Comfort 15 is the most popular model sold and for good reason. However if you want the headphone to be good when the noise-cancellation is turned off, you may want to consider the Psb m4u 2, which is more expensive but also more versatile.
- For headphones without active noise cancellation, consider rugged models that have reputations burnished by decades of use by audio professionals such as the Sennheiser HD-25 1-ii. Another popular option is the V-Moda M-80 which has similar sound quality, has a good reputation for build quality, and also comes with a nice travel case.
- For in ear monitors, there are too many to list but one line that is very popular is the Shure SE series which have models from $99 on up. These are very rugged models which allow for replaceable cables, replaceable tips and have very good sound quality.
Make friends with TSA and your flight crew
Airplanes are a sea of grumpy, tired, unhappy people. A little friendliness goes a long way -- especially if you're regularly flying the same route with the same flight crew.
The following tips are about showing consideration to your fellow passengers, who unfortunately may not even notice it. But violating these norms is likely to cause annoyance. You don't want to be "that guy", do you?
- The person in the middle seats gets to use both armrests. The people in the window and aisle seats get a little extra space, so yielding one armrest each is the least they can do. In any case, try to keep your elbows in your own space.
- Consider the person behind you before reclining your seat into their space, especially if they are trying to eat or use a laptop. Avoid reclining abruptly (though it's not always possible to control this). Raise your seat back during meals.
- If you need to leave your seat during the flight, try to avoid hoisting yourself up by yanking on the seat in front of you. This may be difficult to avoid if the seat is reclined (see above).
- If you have an individual touchscreen in the seat back in front of you, jabbing it forcefully doesn't make the touchscreen work any better. If it's really not responding to touch input, try controlling it from the armrest controls.
- The Independent Traveler: The etiquette of seat backs and elbow room
Tips for specific airports
As a general rule of thumb, in any airport, the terminal or concourse that serves international flights has nicer shops and restaurants than the areas for domestic flights. So, if you're traveling domestically, have time to kill, and can get into the international terminal without going through passport control, you might want to go hang out there.
- in the international section (only?), there are nice quiet places to sit on the upper level outside the lounges (even if you don't have lounge access)
- if you want to take the train to/from the airport, hoard coins (€4 to Amsterdam-Centraal, less to Amsterdam-Lelylaan or Amsterdam Zuid), since the ticket machines don't take bills or American credit cards. (The city trams/buses in Amsterdam do take bills, but this is a national train.)
- note that the entirety of the outside-Schengen-immigration part of the airport does security at the gate, per flight
AUS Austin, Texas
The food available in the airport is actually pretty good, since most of the food concessions offer menus from local restaurants. Get to the airport early enough to have a last plate of barbecue or breakfast tacos.
Another reason to get to the airport early is the "Knot Anymore" chair massages available near gates 13 and 7. Austin is awash in good massage therapists, so the ones working in the airport are far better than most airport massage services.
CDG Paris / Charles de Gaulle
- CDG airport has multiple airport hotels on premises (on the around-the-airport CDGVal shuttle train); typically at least one of the fancy ones has good prices because it isn't hosting a conference that week, but there's also an Ibis.
- CDG airport has four disconnected parts:
- Terminal 1 (the cylinder with pods) (United is here)
- Terminal 3 (the discount airlines)
- Terminal 2A-2B-2C-2D-2E-2F (the bulk of the airport) (Air France is here)
- note that there are two satellite piers attached by train (outside immigration but not inside security) attached to Terminal 2E (the attached part of terminal 2E is called K, the satellites are called L and M)
- Terminal 2G
- there's a train (CDGVal) connecting Terminal 1, Terminal 3 / Roissypole (where most but not all of the hotels are), and Terminal 2 (the station is between 2C/2D/2E/2F)
- high speed trains stop only at the terminal 2 station (between 2C/2D/2E/2F)
- RER trains (Paris's suburban rail network) stop at Terminal 2 (same station, again) and at "Terminal 1" (which is actually the Terminal 3 / Roissypole station for CDGVal)
- Terminal 2G is reachable only by shuttle (I think, never done it)
- If you want to take the RER to/from the airport, hoard coins in advance to pay the €9.50, since foreign cards don't work, and the machines don't take bills.
- The RoissyBus is only €10.50 and runs nonstop between CDG and the Paris Opera, only a few blocks from the Mozilla Paris office. Look for signs for "RoissyBus" or "Paris by bus" within each terminal to find the bus stop.
JFK New York
- The wifi password of the British Airways' lounge is "London" (according to Reddit). You can usually get in range of the wifi hotspot without going inside the lounge.
LHR London Heathrow
- Terminal 5 (international)
- If you need to take the train to concourse B or C, go to the far end of the platform. You'll bypass the crowds at the near end, and be closest to the escalators when you exit.
- If you need to backtrack from concourses B or C to concourse A, don't take the train; you'll be routed through security again. There's a pedestrian tunnel that parallels the train, and comes out next to elevators that let out inside security in concourse A. The tunnel doors are marked "Emergency Exit", but do not have alarms, and in fact open automatically, to accommodate mobility-assistance carts. Stay to the left (remember: you're in England) to keep from being run over by them.
- If you're going to the Mozilla London office, London#From_Heathrow_by_traincheck the directions and don't bother with Heathrow Express.
NCE Nice, France
- if you have a really early flight, there are multiple decent airport hotels nearby. But do not, under any circumstances, stay at the Etap.
- if you want to avoid a really early flight, consider as an alternative doing an overnight layover at CDG, which has multiple airport hotels walking distance from Terminal 1 (but poorly signed). Make sure your layover is long enough, though.
- if you're traveling to west of the airport (e.g., towards W3C's European offices near Antibes) and want to take public transit, it's possible to walk to the Nice - St. Augustin train station (not the main Nice - Ville train station) in about 15-20 minutes, but there's basically no signage. But definitely look at the train schedules before trying this. Buses from the bus station (gare routière) at the airport may be better.
- there's a free shuttle between Terminals 1 and 2. Don't try walking between terminals.
- There are bus stations at both terminals, but some bus routes stop at both terminal and some stop only at Terminal 1. You need to buy a ticket at the station before boarding.
- the airport does not have water fountains behind security. But restaurants will probably be willing to fill up a water bottle for you, especially if you've bought something there.
- If you can do so just as easily, fly to Haneda Airport (HND) instead, which is closer to the city.
- Don't even think of taking a taxi. It will take hours, and cost multiple hundreds of US dollars.
- Two companies (JR and Keisei) run trains to Tokyo, and both have express and local services at different prices. Choices depend on where in Tokyo you're going. Google Maps might be helpful, or just figure it out when you get there.
- Consider taking a Limousine Bus to somewhere close to your destination, and take a taxi from there.
ORD Chicago O'Hare
- In Terminal 3, at the beginning of concourse G, there is a "Chicago Urban Garden" on the second floor, with aeroponic herbs and vegetables. This is a nice quiet place to wait if you don't have access to an airline lounge.
SFO San Francisco
- if you're through security and looking for food, realize that some pairs of terminals are connected behind security. In particular, there are four separated behind-security zones at SFO right now: International-G/Terminal3-F/Terminal3-E, Terminal2-D/Terminal1-C, Terminal1-B, and International-A. In particular, if you're in C, you can probably find better food and better places to sit in D, and at some hours there's not much open in G, but you can head over to F.
- The recently renovated terminal areas are the International Terminal (2000), Terminal 2 (gates D) (2011), and Terminal 3 gates E only (2014)
- If you're taking BART to the airport, you can take the airtrain or walk to get around the airport from the airport BART station. You should definitely walk to International (G or A, which share a large central checkin hall but have separate gate areas), maybe walk to Terminal 3 (at least if you're ready to go straight to the security line), and you can walk to the other terminal if you like.
SJC San Jose CA
TPE Taipei Taoyuan
- if you're coming from within Asia to Taipei, fly to Songshan Airport (TSA) instead
- if you have Star Alliance gold, there are multiple EVA lounges to choose from. The main one, with all the good food, is on the same side of the open (to the floor below) space as the tropical bar one, with entrance across the hallway from it (not across the open space)
- As airports go this one is a pretty beautiful. If you're departing to the US from Vancouver note that you will go through US customs and immigration at YVR, so arrive 2 hours before your scheduled departure time.
- for booking long-distance trains within Europe, https://www.trainline.eu/ is often better than the national train company sites, because they tend to be clearer about both giving you the better options for ticket retrieval and explaining those options to you
- Ask for upgrades. I know, this sounds trite, but it works. If you don’t know how that works, just remember, when checking in, to ask “Is there a better room available?” If they say yes, you’re set. If they say no, that’s fine. If they say “yes, for a price” then you can consider that price and make the call. We’ve gotten $2000/night rooms on a $180/night booking just by asking. This tends to work well when the hotel has a lot of open inventory (particularly effective in LAS, less effective near Moscone during a conference).
- When checking in, adjust your interactions with the clerk based on whether they smile when you approach. Chit-chat with a smiling clerk, but not with an unsmiling clerk. The latter is just as much a form of establishing rapport as chit-chat, because you're not wasting the time of a transaction-oriented person. And establishing rapport can make the marginal difference in whether they decide to give you an upgrade.
- Expensive hotels tend to have sensors in the minibars, but most of the rest still just have housekeeping track what’s missing each visit and bill you. If you do get the munchies, just head out to a convenience store the next day before housekeeping and buy matching replacements at the saner price.
- You can avoid the minibar entirely by grabbing a granola bar or two from a Mozilla kitchen before departing. They are bound to be healthier than anything you find in the minibar late night.
- Every hotel has a bucket of standard toiletry items (toothbrush, razor, &c). You should have a toiletry bag stocked and ready to go (see above) but if you find yourself missing something, just call the front desk.
- Likewise, every hotel has a bucket of left-behind chargers/power cables.
- Set your climate controls when you first get into the room. Forgetting until you come back after dinner ready for sleep and finding the room is hot and stale is no fun.
- Some hotels won’t let the climate controls work unless your room keycard is stuck into a switch by the door. This isn’t a magstripe reader, it’s just a physical switch - use a business card or a folded up piece of paper (or your library card) and have your room the way you want it.
- If the drapes that don't quite meet, and therefore let in unwanted sunlight or street light, use one or two big binder clips to keep the drapes closed.
- You can usually get a later check-out time just by asking. This doesn't work indefinitely, but they can't clean every room at once, so asking for 1pm instead of 11am just means they move your room to the bottom of the list for cleaning that day.
- Repack for departure before you go to sleep, except for the clothes and toiletries you'll need in the morning. That way, if you oversleep for whatever reason, you can throw on your clothes, grab those last items, and go without wasting any more time.
- To avoid leaving things behind:
- Bring your original packing checklist, and use it to repack.
- Pull all the linens off the bed and throw all used towels into the shower, so you're sure nothing's hidden, and check every wall socket for chargers.
- If you unpack into drawers, check every drawer before you leave.
Pick a hotel, get into the frequent guest program
Same deal as airlines. At the least, it eventually adds up to free stays, but getting to status means room upgrades, easier check-in, more flexibility on check-in/check-out times, and extra points for each stay. Some hotel loyalty points can also be transferred to airline loyalty programs.
It can be harder to consistently stay with the same hotel group than to consistently fly the same airline (they're sold out or not convenient, the conference hotel is elsewhere, etc.). However, it's good to join the loyalty program for any hotel you stay at, before you make your reservation. You may get a better rate or a better room. Hotel staff seem to give an extra measure of courtesy and consideration when you're in the loyalty program. (When booking by phone, I've had a "sold out" group rate suddenly become available when I gave my membership number.) If you haven't joined by the time you check in, ask the clerk to sign you up; they'll get credit for signing you up, and will be even more inclined to treat you nicely.
Linked below are the programs associated with the hotels that are typically used for visiting Mozilla in Mountain View.
|Holiday Inn Express||Priority Club|
|Avante/Wild Palms||Joy of Life Club||(Does not give points for stays that are paid through corporate billing.)|
Choose Your Room
It's a good practice to indicate that you have any preference on your room at all. Put this into your loyalty program profile and your travel agency profile (Egencia, for Mozilla employees), so it's transmitted with your reservation. If you have no preference, they will put you in the room for people who do not indicate a preference. You know, the one in the basement. With the leaky faucet and carpet from 1973.
If you have a choice between one or two beds, choose two, even though you'll only use one for sleeping. The other one makes a great surface for spreading out your stuff. Often, hotel beds are on casters, so you can shove the extra bed against the wall, to prevent stuff falling between the bed and the wall.
Generally, you'll do well to ask for a high floor and a room away from the elevator. Many hotels do renovations by floor starting from the top and working their way down. So high floors have a better chance of being recently renovated. They are also further away from street noise or the bar in the atrium. A room away from the elevator means less foot traffic and not waking up at 5am to repeated "ding!" of the elevator door opening. For motels, you want upstairs (less foot traffic) and outside (away from the courtyard with the pool).
If the room is awful, don't be afraid to walk back downstairs and see if they have anything a bit more updated. If the whole hotel is awful, check your luggage at the desk and walk in a square block radius around the hotel to see if there's something less frightening.
Never pick a hotel based on a picture of the lobby. Lobbies are always the first thing to get renovated.
Tipping Hotel Staff
If you believe in tipping (which varies across cultures):
- If you take a hotel shuttle from the airport, be sure to tip the shuttle driver. Don't just hand it to them and walk away; look them in the eye and express genuine appreciation for their service while you give them the tip. This is your first contact with the hotel staff, and if you make a good impression, word will spread to the other staff, and you'll get great service throughout your stay. This driver may also be the person who gets you to your outbound flight, through heavy traffic, just in the nick of time.
- Similarly, leave a tip for housekeeping after the first night. This paves the way for good service when you make special requests, such as extra towels or toiletries, or to come back later because you're still in the room. Leave the money on top of a note that says at least "Thanks!" so the housekeeper knows it's for them.
- Exchange: Do not change money at the airport. The rates are higher there than anywhere else. If you have a local bureau de change, use that, or order currency online for pickup at the airport. If you can find a company that does that (Travelex in the UK, at least) the rates will be much better than those posted on the wall that they charge you when you are a captive customer. The best rates are likely to be had by using an ATM.
- Debit: Using an ATM card can be an easy and inexpensive way to secure some local currency. Make sure your card will work abroad before you travel. Common ATM networks that are broadly available include Pulse and Plus. Consider getting a debit card with no foreign transaction fees (Charles Schwab offers one).
- Stay organized: It's helpful to keep your currency separate from your home currency, particularly if you're going to cycle through multiple currencies during your trip (usd > euro > pounds). Don't underestimate the power of a ziploc baggie if you're American and unaccustomed to coinage-heavy currencies.
The US has historically had a different system (magnetic strips) for credit card security from the rest of the world (which uses the chip-and-pin system). This can cause headaches for both Americans traveling abroad, and others traveling to the US, as the systems are incompatible. Most US stores now support chip-and-signature cards, but you might run into smaller ones that don't have chip-reading equipment (e.g., a food truck using Square).
- A very few US banks offer true chip-and-pin cards, including Citibank and Andrews Federal Credit Union. The latter also has no annual fee and no international transaction fees. See this extensive but not exhaustive list of US-based chip-and-pin cards.
- You can get a pre-paid, reloadable chip-and-pin card called "Cash Passport" from Travelex. You can buy it and reload it online or at Travelex locations in the US. You can load it in multiple currencies: GBP, EUR, CAD, AUD and JPY. The security seems a bit crappy (you can't change the PIN, and their only security question is mother's maiden name), but since it's pre-paid, you can limit your financial exposure, and reload online as needed.
Another issue for travelers is transaction fees when making purchases in currencies other than your home currency; these can range from 1% up to as much as 7%. US-based credit cards that don't charge international transaction fees include CapitalOne and Andrews FCU.
More and more US retailers have card readers that accept chip-based cards, so the situation is improving for visitors to the US. However, they probably don't understand the PIN system, so you will still need to sign (either on the reader, or on paper).
Preparing to be less-online than normal
If your cellphone plan doesn't have reasonable data roaming, or if you might be in areas with poor cell coverage, you should be prepared to survive without your usual data connection. This might include things like:
- downloading offline maps in advance. (maps.me for Android and iOS lets you download offline OpenStreetMap maps by country or part-of-country.)
- knowing where you're going to need to be (hotels, meeting locations) before you leave
On Foreign Soil
- Data/Voice rates
- You can use Skype to call US 1-800 numbers toll free from anywhere in the world.
- Before you leave your home country, add $20-40 of SkypeOut credits to your account. While Skype to Skype calls are free, SkypeOut credits will let you call any number internationally for about $.02 per minute.
- International text messages are typically NOT covered under your mobile plan. For US cell plans, it's usually about $.50 per SMS. If you have a good international rate, think long and hard about when you use SMS and why. A conversation about when you landed and where to meet and what time to get there on SMS may be more than a 2 minute call that covers the same details.
- 5 secrets to avoiding hefty international data roaming fees
- Finding wifi
- In airports, airlines' priority lounges often have no wifi password, and you can access their hotspots from outside the lounge. (See note above for JFK airport.)
- Starbucks, McDonalds, and Burger King are sadly ubiquitous, and often have free wifi.
- You can sometimes find the password for a business's wifi in the comments for that business on FourSquare.
- Language barriers
- Grab some business cards or stationery with your hotel's address on them before you head out. You can hand one to a cabbie whose language you do not speak, to get yourself back to home base.
Still to write/update:
- Language barriers
- Add Line2 details...
Coping with jet lag
- Do not go to sleep. Do not nap. Stay up as long as you possibly can. Eat meals at local times and get into bed when it's dark outside. It will hurt on day one but by day three, you'll be glad you did.
- If you absolutely must sleep, do a 20 minute powernap and then get up, walk around, and do not fall back to sleep. (Powernapping pro tip: take a "coffee nap": quickly drink a cup of coffee, and then take a nap; the coffee will wake you up in a short while, and you'll be more alert than with a nap or a coffee alone.)
- In a pinch, Benedryl (dipenhydramine) can help you reset your internal clock and it's substantially gentler on your system than the prescription sleep aids. (It's also good for nausea if you get motion sickness, and of course, allergic reactions.)
- If you find yourself awake when you should be sleeping (by local time), avoid bright screens (computers, phones, e-readers), because they activate wakefulness in your brain. Try reading a paper book or magazine (radical, I know). If you must use a screen, set it to white text on a black background, to reduce the overall brightness; or get an app (such as f.lux for Mac/iOS or Twilight for Android) that reduces the amount of blue light emitted by your device at night.
- If possible, follow the Anti-Jet Lag Diet; this is easier to do at home than while traveling, but IME even an approximation helps.
- As an abbreviated version: eat as little as possible on your day of travel, avoiding caffeine and alcohol; eat a high-protein breakfast at breakfast time in your new time zone.
- Bring protein bars with you to ensure that you can get protein at the right time.
Eat like a local.
Never ask the front desk at your hotel for a dinner recommendation. If possible, ask anyone else to weigh in. The bellhop, your taxi driver, the barista at Starbucks, Yelp, Chowhound, etc. The best recommendations come from people who are actually living and working in the area. (TripAdvisor tells you what people who don't live there think.) The concierge at the hotel will always orient toward broad, tourist-pacifying tastes. The food will be edible, but forgettable. They'll never tell you about the super tasty hole-in-the-wall joint three blocks away.
- Wear a mask, N95 or better, as close to all the time as you can manage.
- Wash hands frequently!
- Carry and use hand-sanitizer wipes. (A bottle of hand-sanitizer gel takes up valuable room in your liquids bag.) Sanitize your hands in-flight before you eat or drink, and after washing your hands in the lavatory (on-board water, again). Also use them to wipe off tray tables, seatbelt buckles, and air vents, where germs lurk on airplanes.
- Set the fan above your seat on the plane to low or medium, and position it to blow into your lap, just in front of your face. This will help knock airborne pathogens out of the air, so you'll be less likely to breathe them in. ((NPR) Pathogens on a plane: how to stay healthy in flight)
- Keep your exercise routine as much as possible. Exercise burns calories, relieves stress, and helps reset your body clock, if you're in a different time zone.
- Pick a hotel that has a fitness center. If you must use a hotel that doesn't have one (or you need specific equipment, like a stationary bike) call and ask; they may have an arrangement with a nearby gym.
- If you're out of luck on the fitness center, bring an exercise DVD, and/or small lightweight equipment like a jump rope or tension bands. Or do a body-weight-only exercise routine.
- Bring quick-drying workout clothes. Rinse them in the shower, and dry them over the shower rod, so they're ready for tomorrow.
- Bring athletic shoes that double as casual street shoes, so you don't need to take up luggage space with extra shoes.
- See the Quartz Complete guide to staying in shape on the road.
Most people travel infrequently, and aren’t very skilled at it...
- and there are a lot of people, so despite the infrequency of their travel, the Don’t Know path is very crowded
- Businesses on the Don’t Know path have no loyalty to you (since infrequent travellers have no meaningful loyalty to them) so their main goal is to extract money from you immediately, even at the cost of the relationship
- People on the Don’t Know path have to deal with the same Don’t Know problems every single day, which is exhausting and saps their empathy
BUT - If you know what you’re doing...
- You can shortcut around the Don’t Know path everywhere. Airports, Hotels, Restaurants
- The businesses you deal with will view you as a regular, and want to keep you happy
- The people you deal with will view you as a breath of fresh air, and feel understood, and be grateful and human in the ways that travel never is for others.
- How I save money when traveling for work by Christian Heilmann
These podcasts have some excellent advice on business travel:
- Airline Travel Basics, part 1
- Airline Travel Basics, part 2
- Business Travel Packing
- Travel - Airline Seats
The what and how of packing only a carry-on: Onebag.com