Since many members of the TPG staff are often on the move, we’ve each developed our own way of preparing for an easier travel day. Every step of the travel journey, from packing to negotiating airports, has become second nature. And in this guide, four TPG staffers will weigh in on their favorite travel tips.
You’ll see some tips that you’re probably familiar with, like having Priority Pass lounge access, but we’ll also be covering some lesser-known suggestions like the right time to withdraw cash from an ATM with no fees.
So without further ado, let’s dive in.
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Ryan Smith, credit cards writer
Many people will tell you to mentally dress yourself while packing to not forget anything. Shoes, socks, pants … so the story goes.
I use the same concept when packing my carry-on bag. I visualize the trip and think about what I’ll need and in what order I’ll use it. The first items I put into my backpack are those I won’t need anytime soon. The last items — those I can reach easiest — are the items I’ll need to use between home and my final destination.
This includes my headphones, phone charger and wallet, for example. You’ll need to access your ID or passport at the security checkpoint, so packing these items first (buried deep inside your backpack) doesn’t make sense. It will slow you down at security, slow you down when trying to buy the overpriced airport coffee and frustrate you when you’re digging in your carry-on bag for those elusive headphones during your flight.
Think about which items you won’t need during your travel day and put those in your carry-on bag first. The last items you pack will be the easiest to access. These should be items you’ll need along the way: ID, wallet, medications, phone charger, etc.
Katie Genter, senior points and miles reporter
Many of my day-of-travel habits are the same regardless of my trip. For example, I always set an alarm on both my Fitbit and phone if I need to be up at a particular time. I pack as much as I can the night before, leaving just the items I’ll need to use in the morning to pack on my travel day.
If I’m flying, on my way to the airport I check out what airport lounges might be available at my origin and connection points. And if I’m driving, I look at my route and consider where I might want to stop for meals and breaks before hitting the road.
Once at the airport, I check for priority lanes that I might be able to use for check-in, security and — if traveling internationally — immigration. Sometimes my status, fare type or even credit card can unlock shorter lines. Then I head to the lounge or find a seating area in the terminal to get some work and last-minute tasks done.
For example, if I’m traveling internationally, I check whether my Airalo Discover Global eSIM covers my destination before boarding my flight. If so, I check the Airalo app for the covered network name and screenshot the settings I’ll need once I arrive at my destination. If not, I consider whether buying a different eSIM makes sense for my trip.
If I have a long time in the lounge or airport terminal at my origin or connecting point, I’ll set an alarm on my Fitbit for about 15 minutes before the scheduled boarding time. At this point, I can get to a stopping point in my work, grab a final snack and check whether my flight is still on time.
Once I’m at my destination, I’ll visit an ATM if I need cash (especially if I’m in a country that uses a currency I don’t already have). Luckily, my Charles Schwab debit card reimburses fees at ATMs worldwide, so I don’t have to worry about the high fees airport ATMs often charge. If I’m traveling internationally, I may also price out local SIM cards at the airport and buy one if the price is right.
Once at my accommodation, I unpack and then take a walk around the property and — unless it’s late, unsafe or extremely hot out — the neighborhood. Especially for longer stays, getting accustomed to your lodging and neighborhood on your first day can make the rest of your stay smoother.
Emily Thompson, credit cards writer
I usually leave pretty early in the morning on my travel days, so most of my prep is done the night before.
Before I go to bed, I double-check my packing list and circle anything that I need to take care of in the morning. I check to make sure I have the right credit cards in my wallet and enough snacks to get me through the day if I have unexpected delays. Finally, I lay out my ID and program my coffee maker for a few minutes before I’ll need to leave the next morning.
When I wake up on departure day, I check to see if my flight is on time. Then, I double-check my bag for the essentials: ID, headphones, book, water bottle and laptop. I pour my coffee into a disposable cup to drink in the car on the way to the airport, so I have my caffeine fix even if the airport coffee shops aren’t open yet or have long lines. And trust me, I don’t want to have to order coffee on the plane.
Once I get to the airport and through security, I make sure to fill up my water bottle and usually buy an extra one. I never skip travel day hydration!
Kyle Olsen, points and miles reporter
I generally plan my flights in the afternoon to maximize my day in my origin — whether working or on vacation.
When possible, I take public transportation to get to the airport, so I’ll check Google Maps and Citymapper to explore my options. Alternatively, I’ll call a Lyft to take me to the airport, which earns 2 Delta SkyMiles per dollar on airport rides and 10 Chase Ultimate Rewards per dollar when I pay with my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card.
I’ll do everything in my power to avoid checking my luggage. If you check luggage and your flight is delayed or canceled, there’s no guarantee that your bag will get on your next flight. And don’t think that you’re out of the danger zone by gate-checking your bag — I once had to wait for several days for a gate-checked bag after the plane developed a maintenance problem and all passengers had to deplane and get rebooked.
Anyway, thanks to my Premier 1K status with United, I have a complimentary Clear membership. Combined with TSA PreCheck, I’m generally through security in less than five minutes.
Years ago, credit card lounge access could be relied upon, but with full American Express Centurion Lounges and underwhelming United Clubs, I’ve started looking to lesser-known ways to “kill” time in airports. With Star Alliance Gold status, I often check out the partner lounges as you can access anything but the United Club as a United Premier Gold or higher. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) has an Air Canada Maple Leaf Club in the terminal adjacent to United — it’s almost always quiet. Another good bet is the Turkish Airlines lounge at Dulles International Airport (IAD). If you get there, try the mouthwatering baklava.
My Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card gives me access to Plaza Premium lounges. Among my favorites are the Virgin Atlantic lounges at IAD and San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
I also was blown away by the Captial One lounge at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) during a recent connection. There was a plentiful selection of locally inspired food including lots of grab-and-go options. After lunch, I took to the pedals on a Peloton bike overlooking the taxiway at DFW. Leaving the Capital One lounge, I came across a long line out of the Admirals Club.
Regardless, I always check LoungeBuddy to see what lounges I have access to (you can type in your airline status and credit cards for a personalized list). And before long, it’s time to board. Just make sure that you get on board before the overhead bins fill up if it’s in your power.
I also use App in the Air to be notified by text message of flight updates. Oftentimes, I’ll be notified of flight delays before the gate agent or pilot picks up the PA. App in the Air also has a lovely interface that lets you track your flights, giving you a sleek way to see your mileage statistics and flight patterns.
Having a game plan before your travel day is the secret to having the most stress-free and enjoyable experience. And part of that game plan is to have a contingency plan in place when things don’t go to plan. When is the next flight? Are there any other lounges that you can access?
Before long, you’ll get into a routine that you’re comfortable with. And who knows, if you’re like us, maybe you’ll even begin to enjoy it.