Making Reservations & Buying Trip Insurance
Do it online, do it with a travel agent, do it however you like. Pay attention to whether you get paper tickets or e-tickets. Remember that e-tickets can never be lost! You just need to show up at the airport with your ID. However, some destinations require paper tickets. Don't loose these, and be sure to remember to take them to the airport. If you try to check in without them, you will get really frustrated.

While traditionally it's been a good idea to buy the tickets six months in advance, airlines are now selling seats really cheap 24 hours before the flight if they have a lot of openings. If you have time, try to track the pricing pattern of the flights you'll be taking. Remember that buying the ticket the day before the trip can be a big chance. It could be several thousand dollars, or less than $100.

When buying tickets, consider how many restrictions you can live with. Airlines now charge as much as $100 for ticket changes in the US and $150 outside of the US for restricted fares. If you think there is a chance that your trip will be changed, and the cost difference between restricted and unrestricted is less than the change fee, get unrestricted. Also, unrestricted tickets are more likely to get a "bump" into a higher class.

Consider what class you want to fly in, and what seat (window or aisle) you want. If you buy your tickets really cheap online, chances are you'll be sitting in a middle seat at the back of the plane. If it's a really long flight, you might prefer first or business class.

Remember to book a hotel / resort and rental car if needed. If you don't know where to go, try asking friends what places they have enjoyed.

Consider buying trip insurance. Check the web for news items about your destination. Consider whether a family emergency is brewing, or if you are going to the Tropics during Hurricane Season. Vacation or Travel insurance is inexpensive, and a good investment.

Packing

Necessary Items / Carry-On:

Tickets
Photo ID
Money, ATM Card, Credit Card
Prescription Drugs / glasses, etc.
Pager, PDA, Laptop, Camera, other non-replaceable electronic devices
Sports equipment that has been fitted for you (if possible)
Any other items which may be difficult to replace and/or will be required within the next 24 hours.
A book, magazine or game
Music device (CD Player, MP3 Player, etc.) and headphones
Presentation materials, if required the next day

You can only take so much on the plane. The more items you take onto the plane, the slower boarding and de-boarding will be. Carry on only what is necessary and/or irreplaceable.

Remember that there is a difference between the things that will be necessary in the first 24 hours of your journey and the things that would be nice to have. You'll be surprised at what you can do without! In addition, all toiletry basics will be available at the front desk (the hotels know how much luggage gets delayed). If you have some time in the morning, you can usually find a store to buy a new outfit. See Travel 115 - What To Do When Your Luggage Is Lost-

Checked Luggage / Things that can be replaced:
Clothes
Toiletries
Shoes
Hair accessories
Belts, underwear, socks, exercise band.
Film, books
Condoms (you never know…)

Yes, Exercise Band. If you have a workout routine, then do it even when you're travelling. I know it's harder while away, but in just three days without exercise a person starts to lose muscle tone. Exercise bands are light and take up very little luggage space.

When preparing your checked luggage, think in terms of
1. Do I really need it? Will I use it?
2. There is a chance that someone will open my luggage and steal what they can.

Pack Light!
Most people over-pack. I think all of us women have had trips where there's at least one piece of clothing that was packed and never worn. Learn to travel light. It's easier, and you won't be faced with so many choices each morning. Besides, you never know when you're going to have to carry your luggage up two or three flights of steps. (I can't tell you how many times that's happened to me!)

As a general rule, you can wear the same clothes two days in a row without dying. It's hard to get used to, but possible. Take it from someone who travels 14 days with just three suits (mix & match, of course.) Nearly all hotels have laundry / dry cleaning service, and possibly coin-up machines. It's more fun to have someone else do your laundry though. One suggestion I've heard that makes a to of sense is to lay out all of the clothes that you plan on taking, and then remove one outfit.

Ladies, you do not five pairs of shoes. If you take the right pair of shoes, they will be appropriate for all occasions. OK - usually I need two pairs - one formal and a pair of sandals. Shoes take up a lot of space, so limiting the number of shoes will help reduce the size and weight of your luggage..

Most hotels have a blow dryer in the bathroom. If you're not sure, and a hair dryer is important to you, call ahead and ask if they have them.

Some people do not pack toiletries, opting to buy them at the hotel instead, and then leaving them behind when they go. This is a great way to reduce the weight of your luggage. However, the items carried in the hotel shop are standard. If you prefer a special shampoo or shave cream, take it with you. You can use small containers (purchased at the travel store) to take just the amount you'll need.

There's always the idea of sleeping naked, and not packing pajamas. This is great most of the time, however I do not recommend it if you will be sharing your room with strangers or acquaintances.

How to pack:

Breakables should go at the center of checked luggage, surrounded by clothes, or at the top of your carry-on.
Rolling clothes makes them smaller than folding them.
Put your business suits / clothes you don't want to get wrinkled in dry-cleaners bags. It really works!
You can buy clothes-packages - canvas, mesh and velcro packs that will hold a good deal of folded or rolled clothes in a compact, easy to pack and unpack area.
Your local luggage store will sell books and give demonstrations on packing techniques
If you have a business meeting the next morning, either wear your business suit on the flight, or carry it in a small garment bag. Remember all of the accessories, and shoes!

Check vs. Carry On?
I know a lot of people like to carry everything they own onto the plane. These people annoy me. They take forever to board the plane, and even longer to de-board. They have 150 people standing in line while they putz around trying to find a space for their luggage in the already full overhead bins. Some of us have meetings, are in the back of the plane, and would like to spend less than 45 minutes watching these people mess around. At many airports the luggage usually gets to the belt before everyone is off of the plane, so it's not like checking it is going to cause a delay. It's the people who carry on too much that are slowing us down.

Now that I'm done with that rant, see the above about what necessary items you should carry on with you. If you can get all of your carry-on stuff into one carrier that fits under a seat (PC carrier, garment bag, backpack, whatever), then boarding and de-boarding is a breeze! Go to your seat, get out of the aisle, put your carry-on under the seat, and sit down. It takes about 10 seconds. I can get all of the necessary items listed above, except a business suit, into my PC carrier, and fit it under any seat. It's possible if you cut down to only what you need and pack compactly (good carry-on luggage or PC carrier is a must).

Notifying a Family Member or Friend
Leave your passport number and credit card number with a family member or friend. Tell them where you are going, the phone number there, and the day you expect to return. Make sure you call them when you get home or if you extend your trip, or they'll send out a search party!

This serves three purposes. If you do not return they will know where to look for you, and if there is an emergency at home they will know how to contact you. If you loose your ID or credit card, they will have the necessary numbers. It's especially important, if traveling in a foreign country, that someone have your passport number.

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