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packing, Planning, Posted by Amy
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5 Ways to Travel More Efficiently

After oversleeping, handling a small crisis, and making sure my house was in pristine condition for weekend renters, I had exactly 1 hour and 30 minutes to pack and make it to the airport in time for my flight this evening. I was so busy all day I didn’t even have time to brush my teeth.

This was a stressful situation, but because I’ve optimized every part of packing and getting to the airport, I actually made the flight with about 15 minutes to spare before the boarding door closed. WHEW!!

This is more or less how things went down. My flight departed at 8:01pm:

  • 6:30 Oh shit, I was supposed to leave by now and I haven’t started packing yet. This could be bad. Have existential crisis.
  • 6:31 Pack
  • 6:45 Finish last-minute house cleaning items
  • 6:50 Drive to the airport. Speed.
  • 7:15 Arrive at parking garage.
  • 7:20 Enter airport.
  • 7:24 Security. Pre-check line.
  • 7:28 Run to the air train, barely make it before the doors close.
  • 7:33 Arrive at gate, walk past all the people in line waiting and board immediately.
  • 7:35 In seat on plane. Breathe. Remember I still haven’t brushed my teeth today and feel disgusting.

Check out some of these numbers:

  • Packing for a week-long trip in 15 minutes
  • Entered the parking garage and was in the airport 5 minutes later
  • 4 minutes to go through security
  • 0 minutes waiting to board the plane
  • 0 minutes checking a bag

This is not an anomaly. I have made an effort in all of these areas to reduce the time spent and make my life easier. I don’t like to feel that travel is a hassle and I don’t like to feel stressed out about everything. I imagine myself like a gazelle moving calmly through the airport, gracefully breezing through the whole process. Which is admittedly silly. But true.

Here’s a breakdown of ways to travel more efficiently.

1. Streamline your Packing

There are a couple of good ways to be an efficient packer. This is what I do, as an example. It might not work for you, but figure out what does work for you.

Keep a travel set of all your toiletries

Duplicating all of your toiletries takes a little bit of time and planning, but it’s well worth the effort when you can just grab and go rather than starting from scratch.

My toiletries are broken down into 3 bags (Baggallini Large Trio Bags). When packing, I pull these three bags out of the closet, check to see if anything of the small containers of shampoo/conditioner/soap/hair stuff/q-tips/etc need a refill, and then toss them in my suitcase.

If I’m running low on anything that gets used up, I order replacements on Amazon during the trip so they are delivered right as I’m getting home.

And what about a 1-quart clear bag for toiletries? It may still be an official policy but it’s not something that’s been enforced for years. If you go through the Pre-check security line, you don’t have to take out any liquids. If you go through regular security, you do sometimes have to take out liquids, and I just put my Baggallini bags into the tubs. Have you noticed that airports don’t stock plastic baggies near the security line anymore? There’s a reason for that.

(For the record, a TSA agent at LAX was the one who told me they don’t do the plastic baggie thing anymore.)

Just in case it ever becomes an issue, it’s a good idea to makes sure in advance that your liquids COULD fit into a 1-qt bag. I do sometimes run into this issue on the return leg of an international flight (I’m looking at you FRANCE) and have to re-pack into the plastic bag. But, it’s not that big of a deal if you know it will fit.

Use a System for Clothes

Some people roll, some people fold. Whatever you do, create a process around it so that you can repeat the same steps without a lot of mental energy.

Organized packing

I use packing cubes for a few reasons.

  • The cubes make it easy to arrange everything in my suitcase, so I don’t waste time trying to figure it out
  • The cubes guide my packing because I know what goes into each one. This way I don’t stress about forgetting some item of clothing.
  • It makes packing more fun. I don’t know why, it just does. Try it.

These cubes are also super useful when you arrive at your destination, because they function like drawers and help keep everything organized. Before I used them the area around my suitcase looked like a clothes volcano erupted.

eBags Packing Cubes - 3pc Set - Eggplant

If you are interested in the same cubes I have, they are the
eBags Packing Cubes 3pc Set
and they work really well in my Briggs & Riley 22-Inch rollaboard (which I also love).

Shoes bag

I keep an old Toms’s shoes bag in my suitcase, and this reminds me to pack any shoes I need for the trip. This time I just packed some tennis shoes for the gym and wore my work shoes on the plane.

Stay Packed

Instead of unpacking and re-packing my backpack for trips, I just keep everything I need for both work and travel in my backpack. I don’t have to worry about anything because I know that I have earplugs, headphones, ibuprofen, sunglasses, books (on an iPad), a charger, etc already in my bag, ready to go.

My personal packing strategy for 1 to 2-week trips is all about routine, eliminating mental effort, and minimizing opportunities for error. It’s like six sigma for packing!

2. Optimize Parking or Getting to the Airport

There are 3 things you can do here:

  • Take a cab or an Uber so that you get dropped off at the front door. (Try Uber for Free)
  • Get a ride, for the same reason as above
  • Park in the absolute closest place you can to the airport entrance. First, figure out what that place is.

When I moved to Michigan and started traveling for work, I drove to the airport and parked in one of the outer lots where the snow was 1 foot deep. Three trips and a couple of airport maps later, I found the perfect parking spot and decided $20/day was worth the convenience.

For any fellow DTW travelers reading the blog, I’m going to share this secret: In the McNamera terminal garage, right in the middle of the 4th level, is an escalator that takes you right up and into the little-used “secret” security checkpoint. It’s not on the main check-in level so almost no-one uses it and there’s rarely a line.

Park in the middle of the 4th floor of the garage at DTW's McNamera terminal and you have smooth sailing all the way to the gate.

3. Optimize Security with TSA Pre-Check

TSA Pre-check is a program that allows people to go through an expedited security screening with the following awesome things:

If you have pre-check, it will be printed on your boarding pass, whether it's electronic or paper.
  • You don’t take anything out of your bags
  • you don’t remove shoes, belts, or jackets
  • you only go through a metal detector and not the naked body scanner
  • a very short line (usually)
  • If you’re lucky, the line is all travel pros and it moves really fast

There are a few ways to get TSA pre-check:

  • Join a frequent flier program. People who are in frequent flier programs randomly get pre-check on a per-flight basis.
  • Get lucky. Occasionally airports will let anyone go through the Pre-check line. I have read though that they are going to stop doing this.
  • Apply for Pre-check. This costs $85 and lasts for 5 years. You are guaranteed to get pre-check if you do this.
  • Apply for Global Entry. Global Entry costs $100 and allows you to go through through expedited customs lines on the way back from International trips AND you get Pre-check. BAMN.

Both Pre-check and Global Entry require you to interview and get fingerprinted at the airport.

I personally have Global Entry, so I speed through customs for international trips and I speed through security in US airports. This was absolutely worth the $100 and having to take an extra trip to the airport for the interview.

Disclaimer: Not ALL airports have Pre-check, but most of them do at this point.

4. Get Elite Status

Elite status perks vary by airline, but are generally the following:

  • complimentary upgrades to first class when space is available
  • free premium economy seats on domestic and international flights
  • free checked bags
  • priority boarding
  • extra frequent flier miles (which you can use for free flights!)
  • better customer service

I used to laugh at the little carpet Delta puts out for the Sky Priority boarding line. I made fun of the people who were so spoiled they needed a little carpet to walk on before boarding the plane.

There's no waiting in the Priority Line.

Well, now I’m one of those people, and I know that the carpet is really there to identify the priority line. The real value is not the carpet, it’s that you don’t have to wait in the other line.

When I got to the gate today there was a huge line to board. The Sky Priority line was empty, and I walked right up to the front. The gate agent stopped the person in the regular line so I could board immediately.

This is possible because I choose to fly only one airline where I have a frequent flier account. It takes only 25,000 miles to reach the first level of Elite status, which is just slightly more miles than a round-trip flight to Bangkok from Michigan.

A lot of people probably fly this much but don’t realize they could be getting elite status perks if they stuck with 1 airline. For years I flew this many miles, but spread my flights around to whichever airline was cheapest or most convenient. Thankfully one day my friend Lynne mentioned that she got upgraded to first class on a Delta flight when we were meeting up in Miami. I’m all like “what? how?!?!” That’s when I learned about elite status and started kicking myself (figuratively) for flying all those different airlines.

5. Join a Rental Car Program

Most of the major rental car companies have a FREE program that requires nothing at all to join except filling out a web form. Doing this comes with some major perks:

Skip the line and go straight to your car. My car stall has my name on it when I arrive.
  • You don’t have to wait in line at the rental car counter
  • Your pre-reserved car is ready and waiting for you when you arrive
  • You don’t have to interact with any people except at the garage exit where they check your drivers license

Rental car lines can be very long and unpleasant, so if you do have to rent a car, make sure you check whether or not they have a free membership program that lets you skip the line.

Here are a few off the top of my head: Alamo InsidersHerts Gold Plus RewardsNational Emerald ClubAvis Preferred

Travel often feels like a hassle, but it can be much more pleasant if you have some strong routines and think of your own time as precious and valuable.

**Update**: I did eventually brush my teeth at my hotel. Just so you know.

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