Smart Traveler’s Checklist: A Practical Guide to Avoid Disaster

Sometimes the airline loses your valuables, sometimes you’re the one doing the losing.

This simple yet practical guide to avoiding disaster isn’t a cure-all, but it can help. I call it the seven-item travel checklist.

It can help make travel smoother. It might even save you some money.

1. Always Use a Carry-On

On most airlines, a carry-on will save you about $50 per round-trip on a domestic flight, but that’s not the point. What matters is carry-ons don’t get lost. You won’t have to waste time and energy trying to retrieve them, and you won’t have to worry about what you’ll do for clean underwear the next day or where to find more allergy medications. Just be sure your carry-on bag meets the airline’s size requirements so it won’t be taken from you at the gate (but even if it is, at least you know it’ll get loaded onto your plane and it’ll be there when you arrive).

2. Keep Receipts

This is important for any type of problem with baggage or a flight because airlines insist on heavy documentation in complaint reports. Boarding passes, bag tags, itineraries, anything like that, stick it all into a pocket of your bag; you can toss it once you’re home (with luck, you’ll never need this stuff). Tip: Even if you’re used to putting boarding passes and other documents on your phone, get a paper copy, too; sometimes no matter how careful you are, something you meant to save gets deleted.

3. Plan ahead for security

You know the TSA doesn’t allow liquids in containers larger than 3.4 ounces so you won’t be bringing a bottle of water through the checkpoint but did you know these things are banned as well?

– Expensive bottles of wine or liqueur (unless it’s in the tiny airline-size containers)
– Jars of peanut butter, jams and jellies, salsas or cranberry relish
– Perfume, tanning lotion, sunscreen (unless in a 3.4 ounce container)

Say you had a hostess gift in your carry-on and maybe you paid a lot of money for that big vial of Chanel No. 5 or smallish bottle of Grand Marnier; sure would be a shame to watch it get tossed away in the trash.

4. Keep a list of must-haves and check it frequently

This may seem juvenile, but we all forget things, and I learned about having such a list from the wife of a fellow who was always forgetting something. Whether you’re leaving home or hotel, or packing up for another city or a flight, always check your must-have list, which consists of items that must be on your person at all times. Here’s mine:

– Phone
– Wallet
– Keys
– Sunglasses/Eye glasses

Make this list a mantra; say the four words (or however many you have) out loud, then pat your pockets and know you’re good to go. If traveling internationally, add passport to the list.

5. Check your room carefully before you leave

A couple I know was traveling from city to city; at one point the man took off his wedding ring while showering and you guessed it, he didn’t notice it was gone until they were a hundred miles away. They called the hotel and were told the room was cleaned but no ring was turned in. Don’t let this happen to you! Once you’re packed, take a moment to survey every space you’ve used and that includes showers and tubs (and pick up the bedspread for a quick peek, too).

6. Leave room for itinerary options

Never plan a day so full of tours and excursions that you can’t slow down and simply enjoy a view, follow an intriguing path or wander into a cozy pub or shop. I’m all for visiting iconic attractions but you’ll never see everything and it’s just as fun (and often more relaxing) to see a city from the locals’ point of view by exploring their favorites hangouts. Free up some time each day for off-the-cuff exploring. You know what I mean; when in Holland, stop and smell the tulips.

7. Food and drink choices

Pack snacks. If you’re in a hotel, chances are you’ll get a free breakfast (and you’ll surely get one if staying with relatives); save the money you’d spend on a big lunch but keep hunger pangs at bay with a bag of nuts or energy bars. Or stop at a local market to create a simple but quick picnic banquet; better than fast food and faster than a sit-down restaurant.

As far as drinks go, don’t overindulge on the plane. New statistics from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) show unruly passenger incidents are rising and in nearly a quarter of these, alcohol (or drugs) was a factor. These aren’t ha-ha funny incidents, either; more than 10 percent involved “physical aggression towards passengers or crew or damage to the aircraft.” Most of us don’t need to be told not to get blotto on planes but it’s worth remembering because many flyers who do drink too much get kicked off their flights and that’s no way to start a vacation.

Rick Seaney is the CEO of FareCompare, a website that curates the best deals on flights from around the world. Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.

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