Travel

Airports: we love them for their usefulness, but hate them for the stress they cause. Growing up as an airport frequenter, I want to share a few useful tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way that make navigating even the maddest airports a breeze. Follow theses tips and, who knows, you may begin looking forward to – and even enjoying! – the airport rather than dreading it:

  1. Check-in before the flight.

Most airlines now allow you to check-in online, 24 hours before your flight. This means you can completely avoid ridiculously long lines at the check-in counters. Not only does this option allow you to (sometimes) pick your own seats (window, please!), but it also gives you wiggle room to show up a few minutes behind schedule and still make the flight in perfect time.

  1. Keep accessories minimal and shoes open.

Taking off loads of rings, bracelets, a watch, a belt, and your favorite sports hat can seriously slow going through airport security. No one wants to be that person who is continuous beeping and holding up the already annoying process. To avoid this, be sure to keep accessories, especially metal one, to a minimum. Also, try and wear open-toes shoes like sandals or flip-flops. Most times, TSA will not request these types of shoes be taken off through security. This saves both time and your feet from walking on the cold dirty airport floor.

  1. Ask if there are any first class seats available.

This might sound silly, but you truly never know until you ask! When there are those luxurious, first class seats available, airlines do not always announce it. Make sure to speak kindly and smile wide to the worker at your gate because sometimes airlines will update you for a reasonable price or even for free. Along with this, occasionally airlines overbook and need volunteers to switch flights in exchange for a stipend, free flight, or other perk. Be sure to take advantage of these opportunities if your travel plans are flexible.

  1. Don’t skimp on snacks and water.

I always have three things with me while traveling – granola or Chex mix, a fruit, and water. Because you cannot bring any outside food through security, pick up a few healthy, filling snacks from your gate that will last you for at least 12 hours. Usually I will leave these items in my carry-on and make them last until I reach my final destination. It is important to travel with some sustenance in case you do not have time later to pick snacks up or you’re like me and need to eat every few hours to function properly!

  1. Make the most out of a long layover.

Like I said in another article, “why not turn an inconvenient few hours into an opportunity to explore?” Layovers can be pleasant if you plan them wisely. Quickly explore the city if you have a long layover, get a massage, browse the bookstore, or eat a good meal in the gate during a short one. Regardless of how long your hiatus is, if you start to look at your layover as an opportunity you’re bound to enjoy it.

  1. Strategize your carry-on essentials.

It is important to pack your carry-on lightly and cleverly while traveling. Make sure everything you need is there, and necessities are all you have. Along with typical necessities like boarding passes and passports, I always pack a thick pair of socks and over-the-ear headphones. Both of these items keep me feeling calm and comfortable in the airport and on the plane. Pick a few items that keep you level headed, whatever they may be, and remember to pack them on your carry-on. You’d be surprised how much a few familiar objects can lower stress and anxiety levels.

I hope these airport hacks serve you as well as they’ve served me throughout the years. Happy traveling!

Image: Flickr

CultureTravel

What do Scandal, House of Cards, and Bones all have in common? Aside from them making for an absolutely ideal television binge, they all take place in your next daytrip destination: Washington, D.C. This powerful city has been my home for the past four years and I’ve learned that it has much more to offer than architecturally impressive government buildings. Washington, D.C. is teeming with art galleries, farmers markets, and funky neighborhoods waiting to be explored.  Welcome to the Nation’s Capital!

Morning

Good Morning! If you’re like me, you wake up ready to eat, so head over to Ted’s Bulletin in southeast D.C. for breakfast. Known for their homemade pop tarts, this timeless diner-style restaurant serves breakfast all day. I recommended The Big Mark Breakfast comprised of eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, toast, and a pop tart… because why not treat yourself?

After your delicious breakfast, walk just a few blocks and explore Eastern Market, D.C.’s original food and art market. There’s no better way to begin a day in the city than pleasing all your senses by tasting fresh food samples, appreciating stunning artwork and antique trinkets, and smelling the fragrant homemade candles and incense. The market has such a magnetic energy about it that can put even the grumpiest person in a bright mood.

Afternoon

By this time hunger is likely creeping up again which means it is time to grab lunch at Founding Farmers. Beyond satisfying its hungry customers, this friendly hotspot works to support regional farmers by serving sustainably-farmed and locally-grown food. Try their Farmers Slaw Reuben or Creamy Vegetable Bacon Bucatini, both dishes are like nothing I’ve ever tasted and simply delicious.

This afternoon, be a proud tourist by a visiting a few of D.C.’s most famous sites. Because you have just one day in the city, I would pick just two or three you are most interested in. My favorite spots in the city are The White House, the Lincoln Memorial, and The National Museum of the American Indian. Take your time at each of your destinations, relishing in its immense history and appreciating its impressive construction. After all, you’re in the heart of America.

Evening

After a busy day in Washington, D.C., begin to wind down with dinner at one of the city’s beloved restaurants. For those looking for a place with a story, try Ben’s Chili Bowl or its neighboring upscale restaurant, Ben’s Next Door in the U Street Corridor. Only differing in their atmospheres, Bens’ celebrates the historically African American presence in D.C., as it’s survived through 1960s race riots and gentrification. The energetic restaurants serve D.C. signatures, like half-smoke chili dogs, and are especially lively on the weekends.

For those looking to try new cuisine, go to Das, and Ethiopian restaurant in the Georgetown neighborhood. Romantically lit with candles on each table, Das serves traditional Ethiopian cuisine consisting of the fluffiest injera (a sourdough-risen flatbread with a unique, slightly spongy texture) and a variety of spicy meats and vegetables. I usually get their combination plate, which has injeria with flavor-packed chicken, beef, greens, potatoes, chickpeas, and egg. Don’t forget to order their chocolate cake; something about it is inexplicably magical.

If you still have some energy left, head over to the Dupont Circle neighborhood to people watch at its fountain or browse the series of quaint boutiques and stores. The picturesque area is usually quite relaxing with street performers or live-music at nighttime. Be sure to stop by Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café. Open nearly all hours of the day, this part bookstore, part café is frequented by passionate writers and mysterious-looking intellectuals. If we are being honest, I’ve only ever been here for dessert, but let me tell you, their Rustic Apple Tarts are the only way to end a day in Washington, D.C.

Time-Permitting

If you have time, honor our troops in Arlington National Cemetery, shop in Georgetown, or catch a free performance at The Kennedy Center.

*Hey day-trippers, check out itineraries for Philadelphia and Savannah!

Image: Aysia Woods

Travel

Many people love to travel. Yet some complain that they don’t have the time or money to do so. The truth is that there’s always a reason not to travel. We need to find some way to make it all work. A weekend trip could be the answer to all these problems. Here are some reasons why a weekend trip might work for you:

1. It’s Less Expensive

When you go on a week long trip for Christmas vacation or spring break, the costs can add up. However, if you are only traveling for a couple of days, you are also spending a lot less on food, hotels, and shopping.

2. It Takes Less Time Away From Your Regular Schedule

It’s hard to take off work or school to travel. You might miss something important or it might take you awhile to save up vacation days. With a weekend trip you can leave right after class. You might not need to take any time off, depending on your schedule. It may seem too short to be a good trip but frequent travelers say we must use every spare day we can. You can get a great experience in very little time.

3. It Forces You To Explore

Instead of saving up for popular destinations like Hawaii, New York, or California, weekend trips are convenient if you stay close. You could book a flight to parts unknown, but you could also take a train or a long drive to a neighboring state. Even if you are not at the most popular destinations, you are seeing a little more of the world.

4. It Takes Virtually No Planning

There are 52 weekends a year. That gives you plenty of opportunities to take off on an adventure. You may want to have a couple of sites in mind so that you can make the most of your time. Either way, the journey can often be the best part of traveling.

Take the time for a weekend trip. There are so many things out there to do. Make the effort to take a trip. You will be rewarded with an adventure and all the great memories that go with it.

What is your dream weekend trip destination? Let us know in the comments below!

Image: Joe Lodge

CultureTravel

There are always risks to traveling. Your flight might be delayed or the airline might lose your luggage. I eliminated some travel risks from my life by creating an all purpose packing list. It’s the list that I consult before every trip to make sure I leave nothing to chance. The list is partly common sense and partly items I added over the years based on recommendations. Even if I don’t bring everything on it, it’s good to consult just in case. Here are some tips to make your own list:

packing

1. Remember The Essentials

Think of what you cannot live without while on a trip. Try to think of what you need in your everyday life. For me, my clothes, my wallet, and my cellphone must always be packed. I need these items no matter where I travel or for how long. Write down the things you can’t live without, even for a couple of days.

2. Be Smart When Packing Toiletries And Medications

It’s always good to bring travel-sized toiletries with you. You may want to take your chances using whatever soap and shampoo is in your hotel, but there might not be any. Remember that when going through an airport, you don’t want any liquids pulled out of your carry on, so think about that while you are packing.

I would also think about any medications you might need. Depending on how long your trip lasts, you might not need your entire pill bottle. In fact, you might not want to bring any medications if you are able to go to your local drugstore. Just consider where you will be going on your trip. When I was in Europe, the language and cultural barrier made it hard for my friends to find cough medicine when they needed it. Bring some medicine from home if you think it will be more convenient.

3. Think Seasonally

All of the items on my list are convenient for travel during every season. Once you have every possible item on your list, it is only a matter of deciding what to bring. For example, I won’t bring my raincoat to Hawaii in the summer, even though a raincoat on my list. Check the weather forecast and consider what you might be doing on your trip. You can also throw caution to the wind and say, I’ll just pack what I packed last time, but if your usual plans change, you might be unprepared. It doesn’t hurt to keep all of these items on your list so you don’t forget anything.

4. Only Bring The Electronics You May Need

Electronics can be optional on your list. It’s always a good idea to remember to bring your phone and your charger. Someone else might have one, but you don’t want to worry about it. Keep in mind that a lot of electronics, such as a laptop, are expensive and can be stolen. Also, you might not want to bring something as heavy as a laptop if you don’t think you will have a lot of downtime. Put it on the list anyways in case the opportunity presents itself. If you are traveling to a different country, remember to bring power converters for your plug-ins.

5. Entertainment Can Be An Asset

Entertainment doesn’t seem that important until you are stuck at the airport for two hours. This category could include a book or movies to watch in the hotel. It’s good to plan for these things. Just think about how much time you will have to read or watch movies while you are away. If this is not a priority, you can make room for other things in your bag.

6. Determine Your ‘In Case Of Emergency Items’

I have a list of worst case scenario supplies. This would include matches, batteries, or a first aid kit among other things. Chances are you can buy these wherever you go. The point is to have them in the moment that you need them. They don’t take up much space in a bag; however, a lot of supplies can take up valuable space and weigh you down. Be practical.

7. Pack Some Accessories

Accessories tend to be different, but we all have them. Accessories might include a hat, glasses, scarves, or jewelry. I would advise against bringing anything you are worried about losing. Sort your accessories into accessible bags for convenience.

8. Remember Anything Needed Specifically for the Trip

These are the items you will need to get anywhere. This would include your driver’s license, passport, flight plan, or money. Even if you are not taking a plane, you could find a car, a train ticket, or anything else you definitely need to get you to your destination. You don’t want to get all packed to go and then realize you can’t go anywhere. Put them on the checklist to be sure.

9. Take Care Of Things At Home

This is actually just one item on my list but it covers the broad idea of making sure that your regular life isn’t interrupted by your trip. Think about everything that needs to taken care of while you’re gone. An example would be getting time off work or returning books to the library. You will probably do this anyway in the months and weeks before your trip. The point is to give it some last minute thought before you leave so you are not stressed out during your vacation.

10. Make It Your Own

In the end, what ends up on your list is whatever you feel like packing. For example, I am not really a camper. If you are someone who goes camping often, there is probably a lot of camping gear on your list. The list is about making your travels easier. Once you discover what you want to get out of a trip, write down whatever you need to in order to make it happen.

These are just a few categories that I used to make my own list. You are your own person with your own needs. You need to find what works for you. It will take you awhile to think of everything you will need. You can even consult some travel websites for advice. My personal list is a checklist but I know that not every box has to be checked. The point is to be ready so at a moment’s notice you can get out there and have fun.

What does your ultimate packing list look like? What are your must-have travel items?

Image: Strange Luke