Speeding up Pre-Boarding – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

A quick introductory note – When I began authoring VirtualWayfarer in July of 2007 I never expected that I’d still be blogging on travel, adventures, study abroad and everything that goes with it nearly five years later. Over the years I’ve had a lot of questions and luckily my friends, network, and more than a few random strangers have gone well out of their way to answer those questions. While I still find myself asking questions on a regular basis I’ve found that I can also pay it forward as a resource for friends, my readers, and strangers alike. In an effort to share what I’ve learned from my various adventures I’ve launched Travel Question Wednesdays. I’ll be answering one reader-submitted question every week. You are all encouraged to submit, and all past questions will be archived and available as a resource for readers of this blog. I’m going to take a very open approach to the topics I’ll cover, so feel free to ask me just about anything , just keep it somewhat travel related.

This week’s travel question is from AJ S. he asks,

Q. “How to cut your prep time down (everything pre-boarding)?”

A. – If you review the packing videos that I’ve posted you’ll note that I tend not to change the basics much.  While it may vary slightly depending on what I have on hand, a lot of the core items such as jeans, shirts, underwear, etc. are all the same from trip to trip.  I would estimate that these stable items make up about 60% of what I pack.  The remaining 40% depend on the duration of the trip and the climate/weather I’m expecting. This consistency cuts down a lot of my prep time as I generally know exactly what I need in advance. As a result, so long as I’ve remembered to do laundry, I can throw my gear together a few hours before leaving.  I also like to make sure that I pack relatively light which means I don’t have to worry about dealing with heavy/checked baggage. Remember, in most cases if you’re not sure about taking an item I suggest you leave it behind. If it turns out you need the item, you can usually purchase it while traveling without too much added cost/trouble.

If there are items you need, consider buying them online ahead of time.  While this can create an issue if the item gets delayed or you don’t order sufficiently in advance, it can save a lot of time hunting around for things like power converters and combination locks.

To aid and speed up the boarding process I tend to avoid mailed/pre-printed paper tickets. Instead I prefer e-tickets.  Many airports allow you to check in and print your tickets through automated kiosks provided you have the credit card you used to book on hand.  These are a great option that often lets you bypass long checkin lines.  I’ve noticed that many airports have expanded these kiosks beyond carry-on-only travelers, allowing you to check in at the kiosk, note the number of bags you have, and then proceed to an expedited luggage drop off window.   This can cut a lot of stress and bypass significant airport delays.

Another easily overlooked time delay is what you wear to the airport.  It always amazes me when I see people, women especially, wearing a number of bracelets, jewelry, and other metallic items.   If you are going to wear these types of items, a belt, or have a lot of coins on you make sure you put them in a jacket coat pocket or your carry on bag before getting in line for the metal detectors.  You’ll find yourself significantly less stressed if you slide through security without any major delays.

An additional airport hack is to try and schedule your flights at times that are less popular.  Think about when people prefer to fly and keep in mind that those times will often have significantly longer check in times, and long lines at security.

One of my biggest time savers tends to be how much pre-trip research I (don’t) do.  I’m pretty comfortable taking a by-the-seat-of-the-pants approach, so planning out every little detail and researching every item I’ll be visiting in advance isn’t something I spend time on.  That frees up a lot of time while preparing for the trip, and gives me a lot of added flexibility.  Instead of doing a wealth of pre-trip research I usually glance through the wikipedia page for the destinations I’m considering, then look at wikitravel. From there it’s mostly done through word of mouth, or on-the-ground research a few days in advance.  This approach won’t work for all travelers, especially those interested in traveling at a quick pace – but there’s a good balance which is just right for everyone.  I always encourage friends to remember: a key part of travel is adventure and a cornerstone to finding adventure is having enough flexibility to explore opportunities as they arise.

For additional tips head on over to the more-in-depth resource list I’ve created at The Ultimate Packing List.

Have a question of your own? ASK IT! Want to see previous questions? click here.

Lugging Luggage, The Quandary: Backpacks, Suitcases, Duffle Bags and Broken Wheels

Broken Luggage Wheel

While the question of what and how to pack comes up quite often, there’s another question that is equally significant: what to use to transport what you finally decide upon. My recent move to Copenhagen offered several fresh reminders and new insights into how to pick luggage and the risk of heavy inconvenience if you choose poorly.

While diehard backpackers are inclined to advocate vocally for (unsurprisingly) backpacks, others will only travel with duffel bags (some of which now come with built in wheels), or more conventional suitcases.  Advocates of backpacks like myself focus on their portability and their flexibility.  In a similar camp die-hard duffel-baggers swear by their wheeled or “rolling” duffel bags, often arguing that they offer the flexibility of a backpack with less weight and without the requirement that the bag always be carried.While not nearly as comfortable as a backpack, in a pinch the rolling duffel can usually be used like a make-shift backpack despite their unpadded straps.  The third class of luggage is the traditional suitcase with built in wheels.  These offer easier access to your clothing, a firmer outer shell, and of course wheels that make transporting your luggage across flat surfaces significantly less labor intensive.

Ultimately which type of bag you choose will depend on your age, your physical condition, the type of travel you prefer, and where you’re going.  A trip to New York? You’ll probably find a suitcase to be the best and easiest form of luggage.  Heading to Europe and expecting to have to walk with your luggage a bit?  A destination with a lot of sand or dirt streets? I’d suggest going with a backpack or duffel.

Broken Wheel

I was recently reminded just how important selecting the right type of luggage was.  When I moved from Scottsdale, Arizona to Copenhagen Denmark I had a lot of clothing and gear to re-locate.  I fit it into four bags.  Three were large suitcases, each with different types of wheels and the fourth was my standard travel backpack. While able to take the heavier weight, traveling with the suitcases quickly reminded me just how much I love my backpack and hate having to use conventional suitcases.

You’ll notice that this post has a series of photos of a broken suitcase wheel.  The main lesson learned was that when picking a suitcase, one of the most important things isn’t color, handle, or size. It’s actually the type of wheels it has. As strange as it is, this is something I’ve never heard discussed before.

My three suitcases had three different types of wheels.  One had 4 small spinning wheels located on the bottom of the suitcase horizontally.  The other had 4 larger spinning wheels located vertically on the bottom of the suitcase while the last had two large fixed wheels built into the bottom of the suitcase as it stood vertically.  Of these three suitcases the wheels on two of the three were partially or completely destroyed by the cobblestone streets I was pulling them across.  The combination of the small-medium size wheels and their ability to swivel actually made them less resilient and quickly led to them being bent and eventually broken as the uneven stones combined with the weight of the fully laden bags to slowly tear them apart.  In total I covered less than a mile with the bags in tow. Despite that limited distance it was enough to turn the wheels from helpful-aid, to obnoxious nightmare.

Good Luggage Wheels

The surprising winner? The large fixed wheels built into the base of the suitcase. While seemingly less mobile/versatile and resilient, by being fixed they were able to better traverse the cobblestones and survived relatively intact. They also tended to roll better (which was partially also a matter of size).

So, the takeaway?  Not all luggage is ideal for all situations.  I think it’s easy for us to slip into a set category.  I’m a “backpacker” or “suitcaser” etc. the reality is that there are ideal types of luggage for different travel styles and destinations.  In gearing up for a trip and preparing to pack our gear one question we should all ask ourselves is, “what’s the right bag for where I’m going?” and the following five questions:

  1. How much will I be walking with my luggage?
  2. What type of ground will I be covering with my luggage in tow (sand, pavement, cobblestones)?
  3. What are my luggage weight requirements?
  4. How many different destinations am I visiting (keep in mind more destinations = more flexible luggage is needed)?
  5. What type of luggage best fits my physical/health needs?

What’s your take?  Any bags you really strongly suggest? Have a luggage nightmare?  I’d love to hear your thoughts via a comment.

This post was made possibly in part due to the support of our partner – Travel Republic who are offering cheap holidays in October