My favorite part about my job at the Leadership Institute is traveling the country and working with young people who want to improve their communities. Growing up, my family frequently traveled by car, but jumping on a plane to your next destination is a very different experience. The first few times can be scary and overwhelming.
I reached out to a few of my coworkers who travel and delved into my own experience to share with you four tips to plan a successful trip.
1. Understand Your Flight and Travel Details
One lesson I always share with my students is that prior planning prevents poor performance. This alliteration is true for the classroom, on the campaign trail, and when you’re traveling. Before you head to the airport, you should have your trip’s logistics planned out.
Get to the airport on time. The rule of thumb says to arrive at the airport two hours before your flight takes off. Most people do not realize they have to wait in multiple lines before they fly. Unless you’re pre-enrolled in various programs, you’ll have to wait in line to check your bags, to get to TSA, and then go through TSA.
Plan by your flight boarding time, not takeoff. The time on your ticket is the time your flight leaves. Your flight probably boards 30-45 minutes prior. That means you must be at your gate and ready to go when your flight is boarding. Do not be the person who misses their flight because they thought they had an extra 20 minutes to kill at the airport Applebee’s.
Set up your airline app. I do my best to always fly with American Airlines (more about that later). The American Airlines app is incredibly helpful. The app has a copy of my tickets, tells me when it’s time to check-in, tells me where I can pick up my checked bags, and much more.
Have your hotel information handy. I always put my hotel information (address, phone number) in my phone’s calendar. Having the hotel address handy will prevent you from having to dig through emails. There is also a small chance a bag gets delayed, and your airline will ask for your hotel’s address to deliver your bag when it arrives. I also share the information with family in case someone has to get a hold of me.
Figure out how you are getting to your hotel. I Uber multiple times a week for work. I love it. If you plan on using Uber, you should set up the app ahead of time. Uber’s availability varies by city and the time of day. Your hotel may have a free shuttle that will pick you up.
2. Pack Smart (and light)
Make a list- check it twice. Packing for a weekend trip is an art and a science. Yes, you want clothes for every occasion, but traveling with extra bags is a pain, more expensive, and exhausting. I make a list of things I should pack (X number of undershirts, my apple watch charger, etc.). I have found it helpful to go through my schedule and make sure I have the right clothes for each part of the day. After I have a list that’s way too long, I figure out what I can remove. I used to bring two suits for a two-day conference. I now bring one suit and two very different dress shirts, ties.
Bring a steamer. Nine times out of 9 ½, a $25 steamer will perform better than a hotel iron. Honestly, sometimes a hotel iron does more harm than good. If you forget your steamer, you can hang your clothes in the bathroom while you shower.
3. Pick an Airline (and do your best to stick with it)
Like many companies, airlines reward loyal customers. Airline loyalty programs usually include free miles, upgrades, free checked bags, and more. If you plan to travel more than ten times a year, it could be worth it to book with one airline and start earning perks.
Usually, the best airline for you is a combination of personal preference and which companies fly to your local airport. I picked American Airlines because they can get me to most cities around the United States and have a quick, direct flight to my home airport in Maine.
4. Stay Calm
There’s a chance something could go wrong. You could miss a connecting flight (always get a direct flight if possible), a storm could cancel your flight, etc. Remember, these things happen.
The best thing to do is stay calm and work directly with your airline to solve the problem.
If you have to reschedule a flight for any reason, remember your airline will have multiple ways you can contact them. If I’m at the airport waiting in a long line to speak to an agent, I’ll also call the national customer service number, and direct message the company on Twitter.
Doing this has allowed me to get the last seat on the next flight home when the people in line ahead of me are bumped to a much later flight.
Bonus: One of my coworkers, Stephen Rowe, always watches YouTube videos about cities he and I are heading to before traveling. Because of this, Stephen is the go-to guy. He knows where to get pizza in Chicago and the best ribs in Memphis. Take a trick out of his book, and you’ll not only enjoy your destinations more, your travel companions will too.