By Lubna Hamdan
From cutting immigration line wait times by 90 percent to never getting travel sick again, these are the travel tips you should not be living without
Forget melatonin or Ambien to beat jet lag, according to Jen Rubio, co-founder of luggage start-up Away, a USB-powered white noise machine from Aurola will drown out a hotel neighbour’s snores through paper-thin walls or add some sound texture to the deafening silence of a country retreat. She discovered it at an Airbnb in Hong Kong and slept so well she bought one the next day.
“It’s become my trigger for sleeping. There’s a Pavlovian quality to it: No matter where in the world I am or what kind of room I’m in, the machine turns on, and my brain instantly relaxes,” she says.
Never thought shopping could save you some cash? Apparently at duty-free, it can, at least according to Rubio. “People think airport shopping is completely accidental, but you can strategize it to save a lot of money. If you’re looking at a pair of Gucci loafers, the difference between buying them in New York and at Gucci at London Heathrow can be $200 to $300. It’s as much as 35 percent off—insane!” She uses the Heathrow personal shopping program which she books ahead of time.
All you have to do is tell them what stores you want to go to and how much time you have. A personal shopper will then meet you after security and take you from terminal to terminal to get what you need. Rubio advises taking a business card from an associate at the high-end boutiques to order the pieces you want ahead of time as they can be transferred to the boutique and placed on hold for you until the next time you fly.
Rubio uses the Flighty app to notify her of any potential flight delays before airlines make any announcements. It’s expensive for an app at $50 per year but she says it is worth the splurge. “If I board a flight, I might get a notification from Flighty it’s going to be 15 minutes delayed—and then five minutes later, the pilot will say the same thing,” she says.
Rubio swears by the three-hour rule, whereby if you’re stuck on the tarmac for three hours, the airline has to go back to the gate and let everyone off, which usually takes 30 to 45 minutes. Her trick is staying three steps ahead of everyone else.
“If you think a flight is going to be cancelled, call the airline and ask them to protect you on a seat on a later flight, too. I’ve done that, where I was basically on both flights until one of them got cancelled.
"Or you can go online while you’re sitting in your seat and book a ticket on the next flight as a backup. If your first flight is cancelled, you can ask for a refund. And if you don’t need the second seat, you can cancel that for free because you booked it within 24 hours,” she says.
Ask for expedited entry programs for countries that you travel to often as they can cut down your time in the immigration line by up to 90 percent, according to Rubio. Hong Kong has a program that allows frequent visitors to sign up to the Frequent Visitor e-Channel and even has automated kiosks for immigration for arrivals and departures. “They approve you for it, you get a sticker in your passport, and you bypass basically all of the manual checkpoints on arrival and departure,” Rubio says.
Business-class flights always give out amenity kits but Rubio recommends packing your own in-flight survival pack with just the right products you need. She packs silicone earplugs from Savears that she discovered when she was sitting next to a sound technician who was wearing the same earplugs on the plane that he used backstage at concerts. She also packs rinse-free hand wash from Byredo instead of Purell hand sanitizer which is less drying, as well as Barbara Sturm antipollution serum which she uses before flights to keep her skin clean and moisturised.
If you struggle with getting visas or have conflicting travel plans, go to the passport office and explain your dilemma to get issued another passport, says travel consultant and Guinness World Record holder for the youngest person to travel to every country, Lexie Alford. That way, you’ll never have to reschedule travel plans.
“Say you’re going to Russia and need to send it to the embassy; that will take six weeks. But perhaps you’re going to Indonesia next week. You just need to show written evidence of your conflicting flights, with your name on the reservation. And remember: You can book refundable tickets as proof of travel, show them at the passport office, and then cancel them later,” she says.
Before traveling to a new country, send an email to your hotel and ask about the average price for a taxi from the airport to the hotel to save hundreds of dollars over the years and avoid being taken advantage of by taxi drivers with inflated prices or fixed meters, Alford says.
“If you get to the hotel and the meter is unbelievably high, refuse to pay for it. Go inside the hotel and ask for help. And if that doesn’t work, tell them to call the police. If you say that, the driver will give up. I’ve done that in Angola a few times, and in Samoa. And I just did that in Guinea-Bissau,” she says.
Alford only travels with a carry-on but her luggage is always overweight because she travels with her laptop, camera and drone. Because some airlines are strict and check both your carry-on and hang bag, she recommends packing an extra cheap duffle bag to put things in just in case. She carries a collapsible, lightweight duffle bag from Baggallini for worst-case scenarios, but recommends being very discreet when walking up to the counter to avoid them checking your luggage.
Skyscanner is the best for last-minute bookings, according to Alford, as it’s the most reliable and shows different options based on the fastest and cheapest routes.
“You can select how many stops you want to make, and it’s so user-friendly that even someone who’s never looked at it before would be able to navigate the site,” she says. It also has alternative greener choices where it states which flights emit 32 percent less CO₂ for those who want to be environmentally conscious when they travel.
Alford collects a piece of currency from every country she visits to avoid overspending on heavy souvenirs. “We all end up with small denominations of bills and now have this huge wall, an entire wall, filled up with currency from each country. The Hong Kong dollar has really interesting colours, and the Costa Rican currency has the most beautiful depictions of local wildlife,” she says.
Alison Mosshart, lead singer of The Kills rock band and member of the Jack White-led supergroup the Dead Weather, collects drawings from street artists who draw your portraits. “I love doing that. The first time I did it, I was somewhere on a bridge in Europe. I sat down and was actually nervous. I thought, ‘I hope this guy is speedy, I don’t know if I can sit still this long.’ After I got it, though, I was addicted to the idea, because it was so ugly. I mean, they’re so bizarre,” she says.
Mosshart swears by the Green Vibrance supplement which she takes to remain healthy while travelling. “Food situations can be difficult when you’re on the road and on planes, or trying to get dinner in towns where everything closes before you get off stage. It’s easy to go days without a decent healthy meal. If I have a packet of this a day, I’ll get more bang for my buck, vitamin- and mineral-wise … a fighting chance of not becoming gray and malnourished,” she says.
Mosshart recommends pairing it with the Berocca orange, fizzy vitamin C Frisbee to avoid ever getting travel-sick. “I lived in London for a long time, and I started seeing a [doctor] and, he was, like, “You know what, Alison? You really should drink this every day.” I was 25, and he said if I did that I’d never get sick. That was an overstatement, but [15 years later] I rarely, rarely, rarely get sick,” she says.
Forget phone photos. Mosshart says photos from a point-and-shoot film camera feel more special and everyone should use them. “I love coming back from tour or a trip and sending my film off to get developed—this is a setup for joy. Life moves so fast, and you don’t really get to reflect on anything. It becomes a huge, messy blur, and you need some kind of photographic evidence of things because otherwise, no one will believe you. When I get them back in the mail, it’s a complete surprise, and so is every picture: I did that? I saw him? Her? Really? Looks like I had fun! There will be a time when I have four, maybe six, rolls of film to develop,” she says.
One of Mosshart’s favourite things to do when going on a solo trip is driving. “I’d drive to Louisiana, or Texas, or I’d drive to Detroit. Just in some direction from Nashville in my car. It’s not really about where I’m going or what I’m going to do when I get there. I just love being on the highway. I’ve done all of them over and over and over. But I love 40 West. It’s the big line that cuts through the whole country, from east to west. It’s pretty phenomenal. There’s nobody but you and truckers,” she says.
Mosshart never travels light, but her rule is not to pack more than she can lift. “My suitcase is comprised of art supplies, microphones, outfits for stage, and then outfits for normal life. And then gym clothes, because in every single town, I try to find a Pilates studio. I literally will pack all my cigarettes and my coffee, just in case I need it. I don’t really want to go buy some toothpaste at the corner; I want mine. I don't really want to go buy someone else's face stuff; I want mine,” she says.