Research tells us millennials are the most global generation yet. The desire to explore seems to surface in many of us as we seek to understand the world and contribute in some way. Almost every time I open my Instagram feed I see someone traveling some place new or dreaming of where to go next. Simply put, millennials love to travel. And I'm definitely one of them.
What follows is series of travel tips and resources written by a close friend of mine. If you do any sort of travel, you are sure to glean some helpful insight and tips about the traveling process from beginning to end!
Meet Mike: a small business owner in Waco, Texas who started making business deals when he was in high school and ordering his toilet paper from Amazon. Mike's one of the people I call when I have a question about real life or being an adult. He's just knows stuff. He travels often, so I asked him if he'd consider answering some questions for me to include in this post. By the time I finished reading his responses I definitely felt as though I had gotten smarter. Read on my friends if you wish to be enlightened. :)
1. How frequently do you travel and where have you visited? Where are you going this next year?
Way more than I should, but not nearly as much as I want to!
Once every few months I'm going somewhere, even if only for a short weekend trip to visit friends. This year I have a lot of really fun international trips. I just got back from Japan in January, and I am visiting Boston, Cape Town, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Tokyo and Osaka (again), Singapore, and Hong Kong.
2. What's your favorite place you've ever visited? Why?
Cape Town is my favorite city overall, but my favorite big city is Hong Kong. I had never been to a big city I liked before I visited Hong Kong.
It's been several years since I've been to Hong Kong (I'm excited to return!), and it's hard to put exactly into words all the things I like about it. Super efficient subways, stunning skyscrapers, beautiful people... It's just nice. Really nice. You walk down a public sidewalk where the handrail is polished metal with glass partitions and lush manicured greenery all around and you realize that the people of Hong Kong live differently than the rest of us. It's as if moderation isn't a value or the bar is just set much higher than I'm used to - everything is nicer than it needs to be and that makes for a very enjoyable city.
Cape Town is near and dear to my heart because some of my best friends live there, it's absolutely stunning visually, the people are amazing, and your money goes a really long way. It's got something for everyone - it's a good sized city with tons of great restaurants, wine estates, beaches, and mountains.
I did really enjoy Tokyo, so I'm actually considering bumping Hong Kong from it's top spot... I'll know for sure after I revisit Hong Kong later this year.
3. When preparing for a trip, what's the first thing you do?
Book flights! I love flying. Plus, it's way easier to nail down everything else after you figure out flights, because you know your dates and know that you can even make the whole trip work. I book a lot of trips because there is an amazing airfare sale or because I can redeem miles on a particular route.
4. Do you plan an itinerary ahead of time? How do you begin researching? Any websites you visit or resources you reference?
I typically don't plan very many activities or restaurants ahead of time, but I do nail down hotels, flights, and transportation as early out as possible. In some cases waiting can actually get you better pricing, but it's not guaranteed and the price can as much as double if the airline or hotel is mostly booked up by the time you book.
For airfare, I really only use Google Flights. I also keep an eye on thepointsguy.com for airfare sales. I enjoy flying different airlines and so my criteria includes either flying an airline I know I love or one I'm excited to try. For most people, the cheapest flights with the best dates are probably sufficient ... :)
Once I have airfare, I look for hotels. Hotels take the most time for me, as there are typically 3-5 that look good in my price range that all seem to be really close quality wise. I am a huge believer in TripAdvisor for both finding the best rate a hotel has as well as seeing which hotels are best. If I still need help deciding, I'll look at the ratings for my top picks at booking.com, which breaks down the scores by different amenities and has a 1-10 rating instead of 1-5 like TripAdvisor. Location is something I've learned to get better about looking at especially in big cities - being in a good or bad location can make all the difference. You can't just rely on the map though - your hotel may be a little out of the city, but it may also have a subway stop in the basement. Those things are hard to tell just by looking at a map, but hopefully some friendly reviewer has mentioned it in a recent review.
5. What's your favorite thing to find when traveling? Good wifi? The best coffee shops? Men's footwear? You tell me.
I work a lot when I travel, so coffee shops with good wifi and comfortable seating is number one. Comfortable seating is maybe the bigger deal than the wifi or the coffee.. I'll take somewhere that's comfortable to work with okay coffee and internet. I always get a local SIM with a lot of data so I can tether my laptop if need be and not have my productivity tied to someone's $25 router their cousin setup in their coffee shop.
I also love things that are hard to find in other places. Tokyo had a really unique coffee shop / cafe / motorcycle repair shop called Deus Ex Machina that I really loved. The food and coffee were great, but just being there was the best part. In Cape Town you can eat lunch overlooking a beautiful wine estate. I try and take advantage of the things I can't do elsewhere. And also Starbucks :)
6. Let's talk about the packing process. Can you share some of your favorite packing products with us? What are your non-negotiables? Anything you can't travel without?
In general people pack too much. I checked in for a really nice flight in New York recently and the checkin agent said "This is all you have? This is the lightest bag I'll check all day." Only take what you need. Do you need five pairs of shoes? No way! Tennis shoes cover a multitude of sins. Take those Clarks only if you have insoles or love back pain. Boots or Chacos, maybe, weather dependent.
Everyone needs a great spinner carry-on and checked bag. TravelPro makes really high quality luggage that will also last forever. Amazon's pricing is typically about as good as anywhere. Spend a few extra bucks and get the spinner - unless it gets sucked into the plane turbine, your TravelPro luggage should last a decade or more.
Five days or less I can do in a carry-on and my life will be much better because of it. There is zero chance they will lose your bag, it's free, and you don't have to wait for it when you arrive at your destination.
I don't pack anything besides my laptop, tablet to read on, clothes, and dopp kit.
I can't travel without my Schwab debit card - there are no fees to use it internationally and they refund any fees that the ATM owner charges you with no limit on how many refunds you can get. Opening a Schwab checking account is essential for anyone doing a lot of international travel. Rather than carry a bunch of cash with you and pay to convert it when you land, just withdraw cash from your account at an ATM in-country.
7. When purchasing your flights, what do you look for and what websites do you use? Is there a better time to look and buy in your opinion?
As mentioned, I really only use Google Flights. I'm looking at the airline, stops, and total flight time. I don't typically care much when it leaves and arrives if it is international; domestic trips over a weekend obviously arriving really late may be a bummer since you have to buy a night at a hotel whereas you could have just gotten there really early the next day.
Knowing what is 'typical' for the price on a route really helps. I think waiting to trying to pay less than what is typical is not a very good strategy as it very well may only go up; if there is a sale I'll take it but otherwise will just shoot to pay a 'normal' price on a route.You can usually figure out what is normal pretty easily by looking at a few different months of fares in Google Flights. If the price for the dates I want is too high, maybe I waited too late and may want to try and find other dates that work.
Booking award flights is totally different and depends on the airline. Some airlines release all the available seats a few weeks before the flight and so the best time to book is either immediately after the flight becomes bookable or just a few weeks before it departs. You can learn this by googling "booking american airlines award travel" (or whatever airline you have miles with OR want to travel with) and looking in the results for a travel blog or website other than the official one. This is also good because you can use your miles to book with partner airlines that may not be available on the airline's website. For instance, American Airlines doesn't list Etihad on their website, but you can learn where to find Etihad's availability by Googling an Etihad award travel booking guide and then after you've found a flight you call American Airlines to place the reservation. You may even learn that calling a different country will get you through faster or better in some ways - when I booked the Etihad flight with my AA miles, I called AA's call center in Australia as they are able to see Etihad award availability that US based agents can't for some reason. Welcome to the knowledge of the internet!
8. Best flight you've ever been on? Why?
Best service was on Singapore Airlines - I was flying in business class and Singapore is a league of its own in regards to service. The seat is very unique too, which is cool.
Qatar Airways is probably the best overall business class in terms of perfect seat, perfect food, and amazing business class lounge. However, the service leaves a bit to be desired sometimes - it can either be great or it can be very robotic and dismissive.
Best economy flight was also on Qatar Airways several years ago, though I was impressed with the great service on my recent United Airlines flights to and from Europe this last summer. Fly the Friendly Skies.
I've flown what's widely considered to be the world's ritziest first class product, which is the Etihad First Class Apartment on their A380. It was cool, but the concept was way better than the execution in my opinion. I've had better food on Qatar and I've had better service on Singapore. The seat itself was the only thing that set it above...well, that and the in-flight shower :) I paid for that and most of my other 'premium' flights using miles.
9. When navigating a new airport or settling in for a long layover, what do you do first?
Finding a good seat next to a wall outlet is usually tied for first with locating a Starbucks or some other coffee shop. I have a free Boingo account thanks to my SPG AMEX credit card, so if the airport wifi isn't free Boingo will usually allow free access to the paid service.
If the layover is longer than 8 hours, some airlines (Emirates, Qatar, and others) will provide a free layover hotel and transportation. This is usually not the case, but it's worth checking!
I sometimes have lounge access, in which case the first thing I want to do is take a shower, and it's sometimes also something I'll do again right before I leave. The low humidity of the airplane causes your body to produce a ton of oils, and nobody likes feeling oily.
10. How do you stay organized for your trip? Any travel tools or apps you'd recommend?
I keep all my trips organized via Kayak. It's free and all you do is forward your booking confirmation emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. You don't even need to setup your account first - just forward your any booking confirmation to that email. They can automagically read just about anything you send them, and will keep your itinerary all in one place and organized. Plus, they'll let you know via their iPhone app and/or email when there are flight delays, checkin reminders, etc. It's really the best and only travel tool I use other than the sites I use to actually book the travel.
11. What about jet lag? What's the best way to beat it?
Drink a ton of water and when you arrive at your destination, don't sleep until it's evening!
12. Lastly, what would your advice be to a first-time traveler? As a seasoned traveler yourself, is there anything we should know ahead of time?
I always have more fun going with a friend or visiting a friend. I travel solo occasionally, but the best memories are made with others! Also, travel credit cards can be really helpful, but there is enough to say about them that it would require a whole separate post. Lastly, Europe is just okay! Asia and other places are way underrated travel destinations for Americans. Europe is barely more interesting than Austin in my book.