Holiday Travel 2021

Holiday Travel 2021

Travel is back!

We were some of the odd people who traveled last Thanksgiving…during the pandemic. I just couldn’t take staying home anymore. Call me reckless, but when we got home, we didn’t have the virus…all my teenage daughter’s friends did, because they had gathered with local people. Travel was pretty easy back then, because the airports simply were not crowded. Same in February, when we flew to New Orleans over Presidents’ Day weekend, and we were still unvaccinated. Again, the airports weren’t crowded, and we got lucky and avoided the virus. When Spring Break rolled around in March, I was half-vaccinated, but I was determined to try to enjoy a vacation with our daughter and some of her friends in Miami. Success…we came home illness-free.

Soon after that, the whole family got vaccinated, and we moved around all summer. Sure, we were careful to wash our hands and wear masks indoors, but we lived life again. And it seems lots of other folks are doing the same.

We just returned from a Thanksgiving trip to California, and the airports were packed again. We flew out of Charlotte the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and the Charlotte airport was wall-to-wall people. Same thing when we flew back…wall-to-wall people in the Los Angeles airport. But most people were wearing their masks correctly in the airport and on the flights. I had some concerns before we traveled, because of recent airline issues. I was afraid our return flights would be canceled, so I purchased some one way refundable tickets on another airline for the return, just in case, before I realized I could stay an extra few days and enjoy more vacation for the amount of money I was spending on those tickets!

We ended up having no issues during our travels. But I planned things carefully. To avoid issues, here are some tips for Holiday Travel 2022:

  • Book Early. This advice goes for airline tickets, hotels, and even rental cars. As availability decreases in each of these areas, prices increase. You can thank supply and demand for that. So book early. I just realized today that I had not booked a rental car for our Christmas trip, and when I looked, I knew I had made a big mistake. I will likely use Uber while we are there, because I refuse to pay ridiculous prices for a rental car. If you are going to need a rental car and haven’t booked it, book it now.
  • Try to travel on off-peak days. Everything I have read says the peak days around Christmas for air travel are December 22 and December 28 this year, but I’m guessing the 26th is going to be a busy day for those who have to get back to work on Monday. Try not to book your flights for those dates. I’m guessing December 24th will be a little crazy too, since Christmas is on a Saturday this year. My family will be traveling on Christmas Eve, so if you see us in the airport, we can commiserate.
  • Arrive at the airport early. You have likely heard it for years when you were traveling during the holidays: arrive early. Well, this year, you absolutely need to arrive early. There could be personnel shortages at the airport, causing a backlog in so many different areas of the airport. While the usual recommendation is to arrive two hours before your domestic flight, I recommend arriving three hours before, especially if you’re flying out of a busy airport. Obviously, if you’re flying out of somewhere like Pensacola, Florida, you don’t need as much time, but I flew out of Birmingham recently, and even with my TSA PreCheck clearance, I was in line for a while at security…longer than I’ve ever waited in Charlotte. I know, some will call arriving that early excessive, but what is it going to hurt for you to get there and relax for a little while before your flight boards? I can’t relax till I’m through security, but once I’ve cleared TSA, I feel so much better. A long security line gives me anxiety, if I’m pushed for time. Save yourself some anxiety…arrive early.
  • Do not check bags. I say this with a little hesitation. When I say “do not check bags,” I mean pack in appropriately-sized carry-on bags. Do not carry on the kitchen sink. My daughter and I each had a carry-on bag and a backpack for our recent trip to LA. We didn’t want to risk losing our luggage, and we didn’t want to have to wait in baggage claim forever when we got there. In the past, we have waited a long time for luggage in LA and Charlotte, so we avoid it now. Again, with personnel shortages, wait times could be longer. But whatever you do, please stick to the appropriate size limits and number of bags…that means one carry-on bag and one person item. Check airline websites for size restrictions. Obviously, if you are traveling with gifts for friends and family, you will likely need to check bags, unless you consider shipping everything (keep reading).
  • Pack medications and necessities in a carry-on. If you do opt to check luggage, make sure you have all your medications and any necessities in a carry-on bag. It’s always a good idea to have a change of clothes and a toothbrush/hairbrush in your carry-on, as well. Things happen. Connecting flights cancel, and bags are not accessible. Bags get delayed or lost. Trust me on this.
  • Consider shipping luggage and gifts ahead. To cut down on the amount of “stuff” you carry with you, ship any gifts, and possibly your luggage, ahead of time. That way, if you want you can wrap them ahead of time too. Otherwise, wrapped gifts will need to go in checked bags, and if TSA decides to open them, they can. You can ship via UPS, the United States Postal Service, or FedEx, or you can use a luggage shipping service like ShipGo. See their website here.
  • Get TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. If you’re traveling domestically, make an appointment now to get TSA PreCheck. It will save you lots of time and stress at the airport. You don’t have to take off shoes (unless your shoes cause cause the metal detector to “beep”). You don’t have to go through the body scanner. The lines are shorter. And if you’re traveling internationally, Global Entry can save lots of time on re-entry to the US. To make an appointment for TSA PreCheck, click here. In most cases, you’ll have your Known Traveler Number within two weeks after your appointment. For international travelers, Global Entry appointments can be made here.
  • Download MyTSA App. On the MyTSA app, you can store favorite airports and see up-to-the-minute wait times at various checkpoints at different airports. The app also includes a list of things you can bring onboard aircraft in checked bags and carry-on bags. There are also ways to request passenger support for travelers with disabilities and/or medical conditions. The app is a great place to get lots of information.
  • Carry snacks. December is prime time for weather issues. Be prepared. Always have some snacks (including some with protein) to keep you going when airports are full of people and it’s difficult to get food. You don’t want to get hangry.
  • Traveling by car? If you’re traveling by car, check your tires and oil before you leave. And if you’re traveling in cold climates, have a couple of blankets in the car, just in case. I used to think my daddy was crazy when he made me keep blankets in the trunk of my car, but I have friends who have had to sleep in their cars when they got caught in ice storms and/or snow storms. One was even caught in torrential rains/floods and had to sleep in her car. Having some bottled water and a few snacks on hand would be a good idea too. You might think it can’t happen where you are, but a few years ago, my daughter and I made it back to Charlotte from Birmingham, Alabama, just ahead of an ice storm. And be patient. The roads are going to be crowded. Have some backup routes in mind too. One year, when I was coming back from Atlanta, I realized it was going to take twice as long as it should if I stayed on the interstate, so I opted to take some “back roads.” It was quite an adventure, but I got home more quickly…and on less crowded roads. I wasn’t jockeying for position the whole time.

Happy Holidays and Happy Trails!

Holding Out for Puerto Rico

Holding out for Puerto Rico.

My 2020 vacations, so far, are a bust. I haven’t left the city of Charlotte since January…well, except for a brief drive into South Carolina just to see what an open economy looked like earlier this month. Just like most of the people in the United States, I’ve been stuck at home since March. I was supposed to go on a spring break trip with my daughter and some friends, but we cancelled two days before our departure date, because of the coronavirus. It was the right thing to do, but dang! I miss going places! I miss travel!

Different people have different things they miss about “normal life.” What do you miss? I know lots of people, including me, miss sports! The world just isn’t the same without live sports! Sometimes I get my sports fix by watching an old game or turning on an ESPN 30 for 30, but it’s just not the same. I know lots of people miss their coworkers. My daughter misses her school. Yes, she misses her school. There was a time, when she was in 8th grade, that she thought she wanted to change schools. She has gone to the same school since transitional kindergarten, and I get it…she thought she wanted to change. I think 8th grade is a time when kids want more independence and control. I took her to visit a couple of schools, and I let her make the decision. Sometimes kids need a change, and sometimes they just think they do. She decided to stay where she was, and earlier this school year, she told me she knew she made the right decision. She said, “I go to the perfect school for me.” It was like music to my ears! I think she just needed to know she had some control of her own destiny. In just two short years, she will be a proud graduate of her school, but right now, she misses her school…and her friends there…and her sports there…the staff there…her coaches…and yes, her teachers too.

I miss all that, but I really miss vacations. Our first couple of trips for summer have cancelled, simply because they were in coronavirus hotspots. I don’t know if I’ll even get on a plane this summer, and that’s heartbreaking, but yes, I know it’s a first world problem. I know. I am thankful my family is healthy. I am thankful we live in a place that we have been able to go outdoors during all this. But it’s OK if I miss vacations. We all have things we love that we are missing, and I’m missing vacations…new experiences…new people…even familiar experiences and people.

Sure, we are going to the beach a couple of times, and we will have lots of fun, but I will miss the bigger trips.

I have a vacation planned for the middle of July with a friend from college and our teenage daughters. We planned a trip to Puerto Rico months ago. My friend’s daughter just graduated from high school…she’s one of the the high school grads of 2020 who didn’t get to have a real graduation ceremony…or a prom…or lots of other special memories. When we planned the trip, coronavirus was barely on our minds, and while we haven’t worried about our trip, because it’s entirely out of our control, we are constantly saying to each other, “I hope we can go.”

My daughter and I went to Puerto Rico in 2017 with some friends from Ohio, and we loved it. As it turned out, Hurricane Maria hit the island a couple of weeks after we left. We know it’s not the same, but we want to go, because we know the people are wonderful. We know it’s a beautiful island with lots of friendly people, history, and great food. Honestly, I remember telling my friend, “I’d come back just for the food!” No joke…the food is the best! And the people! Without making this piece sound like an advertisement for Puerto Rico tourism, I can honestly say it is one of my favorite places ever. It’s easy to get to, and there are no long lines for customs and immigration, because it’s a US territory! The historical sites on the island are incredibly well-preserved. The beaches are beautiful. There’s a big city and a beautiful rainforest! The bioluminescent bays are natural wonders. And did I mention the people and the food?!?! I have met lovely people there, and they love their island; they want other people to love it too! To learn more about Puerto Rico, click here.

And now, we have plans to go back. We might not get to go to some of the destinations we wanted to visit this summer, but we’re holding out for Puerto Rico. Plus, their economy was ravaged by the hurricane in 2017…now this pandemic. Let’s support our friends in Puerto Rico!

Fingers crossed.

 

I Lied.

I lied.

I said we wouldn’t cancel our spring break trip to Miami, but I canceled today.

We ended up canceling, even though I really didn’t want to. I’m stubborn. I hate to give in. I didn’t want the stupid coronavirus to beat us. I wanted to win this battle and enjoy a week in the sun. It simply wasn’t meant to be.

I was still planning to go. In fact, I finally canceled this afternoon. I hated to do it, but some of the people we were traveling with were coming from Ohio, which has been hit hard, and some of the kids were getting anxious. Ugh. I was actually in a store buying a few things for the trip when my daughter texted me that she was a little scared to go.

When I first got her text, I responded, “Let me think.” And then, I remembered something that happened 17 years ago. In 2003, I was pregnant. I’ve always loved to travel, and pregnancy didn’t slow me down. So in the summer of 2003, I met a friend in Florida for a weekend of fun. We had a great time, and I boarded the plane for my flight home. Everything was normal till just after takeoff, we took a bird in the right engine of the plane. I was a flight attendant for a little while after college, so as soon as it happened, I knew what was going on. I also noticed we stopped climbing. I turned to the lady sitting next to me and said, “We just took a bird in the right engine. This could be interesting.” Sometimes, taking a bird in the engine isn’t a big deal, and sometimes it is. Since I could hear that one engine was still operational, I wasn’t too concerned, but since we had stopped climbing, I was a little concerned. Finally, the captain came on and said we were going to land at a nearby airport, so I knew everything was OK, but the incident did make me think. No, it didn’t make me afraid to fly, but at the time, I thought, “Wow, if we had taken birds in both engines, my baby might have died before she was born…for a stupid vacation.”

And today, when that same baby…now 16 years old…expressed a little fear about traveling during this stupid coronavirus outbreak, I thought about that trip, and I knew what I needed to do.  I knew I needed to cancel. It’s just not worth the risk of coronavirus. We can go to Miami later.

Now we’re home in Charlotte for spring break, and while I’m not thrilled about it, I intend to make the most of the situation. I’ve decided we will contribute to our local economy and encourage others to do the same…in a safe manner. Here are some ways I plan to do that:

  • Visit local restaurants at off hours, when they’re less crowded OR order takeout from local restaurants. Tip generously.
  • Shop local. Visit local stores and shop! You can avoid crowds and still shop. Since we’re not going shopping in Miami, we will shop here.
  • Post on Facebook about places we visit and encourage others to do the same.
  • Enjoy a little staycation at a local hotel.
  • Go on a little road trip to a place where I know there is little light pollution; it’s the perfect place to sit outside and stargaze at night. Plus, there aren’t other people there…no coronavirus.
  • Buy gift cards. I can’t go to Miami right now, but I know that when I do, I will dine at certain restaurants. I can purchase gift cards online for my future travel. We have several vacations planned for later this year, and it just makes sense to purchase gift cards from restaurants and stores now that I can use later!

Yes, this stupid coronavirus is changing the way we do things right now, but we can’t let it get us down! I’m putting on my happy face and doing everything I can to make the most of a bad situation.

Coronavirus be damned!

We Save $$$ Traveling with Friends

We save money traveling with friends…and make some great memories at the same time!

I’m always thinking about the next vacation. My husband just rolls his eyes every time I say, “You know where I want to go next?” He rolls his eyes because he does not have wanderlust, and I do. He loves being home, and he loves visiting the beach where he grew up. That’s fine, but I like to go to different places. That doesn’t mean I don’t repeat places, but the places I like are different than what he likes. No, it’s not a problem, because he doesn’t care when I vacation without him, and I don’t mind when he vacations without me. We’re married, but that doesn’t mean we have to be together 24/7.

My daughter and I travel with friends quite often, and we love it for so many reasons!

Our 16-yr-old daughter is an only child, and I have a cousin and several friends who also have “only children,” so it’s fun to travel with them. I get to catch up with my friends or my cousin, and my daughter has fun with their daughters.

Aside from the fun factor, it saves money for all of us, and we get to do more! How does it save money? Well, we always travel with friends we love…people we enjoy sharing space with. For example, this summer, we are going to a Caribbean destination with a friend from Alabama and her daughter. When we both had daughters, we joked that they would have to be best friends whether they wanted to or not…and fortunately, they love each other! As for the money savings, we share a hotel room or suite. Because we are sharing, we are splitting the cost, making it much more affordable for both of us. It doesn’t save us anything on airfare, but we manage to save a lot anyway.

In fact, this summer, we will do trips with three different friends and a cousin, and it’s all possible, because we aren’t spending a fortune on the rooms/suites, even though we will have beautiful, top-of-the-line accommodations! But we don’t just save on the room. We also save on rental cars, taxi rides, Uber rides, and gas costs. Seriously, it all adds up, and at the end of a five day trip, we are usually amazed at how much we saved by sharing the costs with friends.

Another way to save on travel? Consult a travel agent. I used to work at a travel agency, so I know they often are aware of specials the general public might not know about. Planning a trip to the Caribbean? Let an agent help you. Planning a cruise? Let an agent help you find the perfect one!

Maybe you want to book your own hotel reservation? One quick thing about hotels: when you are making a reservation, always check the special offers. Sometimes, they offer a fifth night free. Sometimes, they offer suites at a discount, but if you don’t check into it, you might be paying the same thing for a room that you could be paying for a much larger space. And always…always…always…continue to check the rates even after you book your reservation. Last year, after I booked our hotel for spring break, I kept checking, and the rates kept going down. I ended up with a rate that was $500 less (total) than the original rate I booked.

Other good ways to save when traveling? Some credit cards offer extra points for dollars spent while traveling, and you can get cash back. I have a credit card that gives me cash back for every dollar we spend, and we get a greater percentage if we apply it to travel. In fact, we try to pay for everything we can on that credit card, and the savings add up fast! I pay for two vacations a year with the points from that card! And don’t forget your frequent flyer miles and hotel rewards programs. If you haven’t signed up for the rewards programs of hotels where you stay, you are just throwing money away. Registration is always free for the programs, and you get points that can add up to free hotel rooms. Seriously, last year, we had 12 free nights in hotels. That’s real money.

And anyone can check out The Points Guy’s website here. The website has a plethora of information about travel savings, but one of the first points he makes is one of the points I’ve already made: get a credit card that will maximize your cash back or points for travel. He says, “By using your debit card [instead of a credit card with rewards], you are spending money and getting nothing in return.”

Travel doesn’t have to cost you a fortune, and it’s a lot more fun when you make memories with people you love! So if you want a surefire way to save on travel, grab a friend and split some costs! That’s my favorite way to save on vacation costs!