I recently had the joyous opportunity to take my first flight in almost a year and a half. It wasn’t just the joy of traveling (which I do love), but the impending excitement of seeing family I hadn’t hugged for so long! I was a walking, talking example of “giddy” as I told anyone who would listen from the Alaska Airlines Lounge greeter to the TSA security officer how excited I was, where I was going, and why!
My flight planning was easy. I went into my cache of Alaska Airlines miles for the quick trip from PDX to OAK. But what about more complicated travel planning? If you’re planning your first trip of 2021 or thinking about 2022, you may be wondering about the best way to make those reservations so your time and money are protected.
I travel a lot (a couple of domestic trips every month and a couple of international flights each year), but I like to rely on the expertise of others who plan travel for a living.
Here are some tips I’ve collected from travel experts, as well as a few from my own experiences:
Be flexible on your dates. Contrary to past advice there isn’t one day of the week that’s best to buy your airline tickets. But if your dates are flexible, booking your travel to fly on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday, may save you some money since those days typically have the lightest passenger count.
Set up alerts and search for deals. Subscribe to one of the air travel search sites, like Scott’s Cheap Flights or Google Flights to search for your favorite destinations. You can also set up alerts for places you have your eye on and get a heads up on great deals. Scott’s has a limited Free version and a Premium membership for $49 annually where they’ll send you deals more often, including airlines’ “mistake fares.” Other sites I’ve used to search for flight options and deals are
Kayak, Expedia, Monondo, Kiwi. Sometimes I use these sites to see which airlines are headed to my destination, then I go directly to the airlines’ sites and compare the routes and deals. I prefer to book directly with the airlines when I can because if I have to make any changes it is easier to deal directly with the airline than with a third-party booking site. Although sometimes the deals you find on Momondo or Kiwi are too good to pass up!
Consider alternate airports and one-way tickets. Sometimes you can find great deals booking in or out of larger airports. In addition to searching for flights from your home airport, look for flights from other major airports to your destination or even alternate destinations for great deals, then purchase separate tickets (or perhaps a train ride) to get you to your final destination. For instance, if I’m headed to Sicily and my home airport is Portland, OR, I might see a great deal for flights from San Francisco to Rome. If the deal is good enough, I would then buy separate tickets on regional airlines. Caution…there are some risks to this type of travel. I advise carrying on your bag or making sure you have plenty of extra time for connecting flights if you must pick up your checked bag. If your connection is on another airline, it could be in a different terminal and the airlines won’t watch out for you if one of your connections is canceled. This strategy is best for those who like to carry on their bags.
How far in advance should you book your flight? Although there aren’t hard and fast rules, experts like The Points Guy and Cheap Air recommend:
Work with a pro. Sometimes you need the peace of mind that comes from working with a professional travel advisor; your time is valuable and your life is busy (isn’t true for all of us?!). There are reasons to work with a professional in many areas of your life, from taxes to home repair. For travel, I highly recommend contacting Mary Cecchini and her team at Living Big Travel.
Protect your investment. Look for refundable flights which will be more expensive but might end up being worth it if your trip is canceled. Keep in mind that most “refundable” flights will give you a voucher for future travel with the airline, rather than cash; just be sure to read the fine print. But the best option, even when we’re not in the uncertain times of cancelations due to COVID-19, is to always purchase travel insurance. Most travel insurance companies offer a wide range of choices covering theft, baggage loss, flight delays, and cancelations. Some even offer the pricier option of “cancel for any reason” insurance. Here are two great resources – an article from Money.com recommending travel insurance companies and Travel Insurance 101 from Living Big Travel. Another great resource is a recent post about buying travel insurance in today’s changing market from Nomadic Matt.
I hope some of these tips get you where you’re going safely and efficiently, and that you have a joyous trip!
Do you love to travel? Do you get excited about exploring new countries and learning about the culture through food and meeting local people?
Travel and food are my passions too, but in the interest of stemming the COVID-19 virus, all that adventure is on hold for us right now. We are being responsible citizens and staying close to home, maintaining “social distance” if we must venture out, and washing our hands for at least 20 seconds (which we should have been doing before the Coronavirus!).
So how do we satisfy our culinary travel bug and still do our part to prevent the spread of this virus? Here are six suggestions:
1. Catch up on food/travel movies and shows. There are so many ways to see the world without leaving your couch. Sadly, with streaming you’ll miss out on the actual sipping and tasting, but you can save that for your next “real-time” adventure. Or do a "virtual" watch party with friends. Here are some of my favorites:
2. Read fiction and non-fiction about travel, culture, and cuisine. Below are some great food and/or travel books. There are so many more, these are just a few to get you started. Some I’ve read, and some are on my Good Reads shelf. If you’re not familiar with Good Reads, it’s a great way to stay connected with friends who love books, follow your favorite authors, and look for new books to read. I usually order my fiction books in Kindle format from Amazon, and often order hard copies of the non-fiction as I’m more inclined to refer to them again. But since we know Amazon is probably doing just fine right now, how about supporting your local independent bookstore if they have online shopping? One of the best bookstores in the world, Powell’s, is only a few miles from me, but they are closed due to the Coronavirus. They have an amazing selection of new and used titles. Please support them or your favorite neighborhood bookseller!
Don’t forget food-centric travel blogs, magazines, and newsletters. Some of my go-to sites are:
Saveur Travel, Afar, Travel and Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, 10 Great Food & Travel Blogs, and while not food-focused, you can learn so many helpful travel hacks from Nomadic Matt, @nomadicmatt.
3. Cook and bake. As we’re spending more time at home, there’s less time commuting and eating at restaurants. I don’t recommend the hoarding we’ve seen going on at grocery stores, but I do recommend the nesting some people seem to be doing. Instead of spring cleaning, how about looking online or in your cookbooks for some of the favorite dishes you’ve had during your travels? The first that comes to mind for me is the Chicken Khao Soi dish I couldn’t get enough of when in Chiang Mai last year; I ordered it everywhere from the Night Market to our hotel restaurant. I may try this recipe from Bon Appétit since it looks doable for me. Just looking at the photo of the big bowl of spicy, curry noodle broth makes my mouth water. Or perhaps I’ll try my favorite treats from Lisbon, Pastel de nata, also called Pastel de Belém, named for the monks in the Belém monastery where the decadent, creamy Portuguese custard tarts were created. There’s nothing like popping them in your mouth, warm and fresh out of the oven. But perhaps I should leave them to the experts and enjoy them next time I visit Lisbon. Maybe I’ll bake chocolate chip cookies instead!
4. Support your local restaurant. As we all know, the restaurant industry, along with the travel industry and so many others, is struggling right now. Many restaurants have already closed their doors; some may not come back, but let’s hope most can survive and emerge on the other side of this. Many restaurant employees survive on tips and this is going to be a difficult time for them. For those restaurants that are able to remain open, please support them with take-out orders, delivery, or the purchase of gift cards or merchandise. I heard that the founder of Fresh Books, the accounting software program I use, pre-purchased lunches from a local restaurant. He knows he’ll use the lunches when they are open again and this gives the business support when they really need it.
5. Meet new people – virtually or at a distance. Do you have an elderly neighbor you don’t know? How about introducing yourself, while keeping a respectable distance, and ask if they need anything? Even the healthiest senior citizens should be self-quarantining, along with the rest of us. If they don’t have family or friends nearby, they may need assistance with groceries or outside chores. Maybe they need help learning how to use a food delivery app! Make yourself useful to others; you’ll be surprised how good you’ll feel while doing good.
6. Plan your next trip. I love planning travel almost as much as I like traveling! Well, maybe not that much, but I do enjoy the process. We don’t know when it will be safe to travel again, but we know that someday the world will open up to travelers again. It may be a different world, but those of us who love (need?) to explore it will find a way. If your style is DIY for your trips, order a couple of guidebooks, or do some online exploring. If you want to create your own custom trip for your family or friends, but prefer a professional to do the planning, check out one of my favorites, Living Big Travel. If you like the idea of exploring local markets around the world with a chef and choosing ingredients for the meal you’ll make together, check out some of the Global Palate Adventures tours. At this point, we’re planning to go to Barcelona and Croatia in September 2020, we hope. If not, that’s just more time for planning future trips! For now, stay home and stay safe!
Realize a Dream! Spending time with elephants has long been one of my dream adventures. In January of this year, I realized that dream (and more!) with a group of amazing women on a journey to Thailand organized by Mary of Living Big Travel.
Here are some of my experiences and tips for this beautiful Southeast Asia destination:
Have an adventurous palate! Trying new foods and beverages are one of the top reasons I travel. Look for the local specialties and then put aside your trepidation and dive in! One of my favorite dishes in Chiang Mai was Khao Soi, a specialty of Northern Thailand, full of egg noodles swimming in a spicy broth of coconut milk, curry, ginger, chilis, soy sauce and fish sauce, garnished with lime and pickled cabbage, topped with crunchy noodles. It is typically filled with chicken, but I also tried it with shrimp and beef. Yum – I can taste it now!
You don’t have to be as brave as my friend Becca, who tried the famous incredibly stinky, Durian fruit, but do venture out of your comfort zone.
Don’t count on fine wines…Thailand doesn’t have any wine-growing regions and isn’t known for a great selection of fine wines at most restaurants. You can certainly find a decent but limited choice of white or red at most restaurants and hotels, as I did since I do like wine! But why not do as the locals do? There are so many great selections of refreshing juices, teas, including the delicious Thai Iced Tea, all great choices in the hot, humid Thai weather. There is also a good selection of Thai beer. Or like our group did, start the evening with a classic Gin & Tonic. Always keep hydrated with bottled water too.
Plan a side trip…traveling to Thailand isn’t a short journey. Take advantage of your airport transfers to visit another location for a few days before or after your Thailand adventure. Consider destinations such as Singapore, Vietnam, or one of the many relaxing Thai islands for a beach visit (like we did on our Living Big tour.)
My side trip was two nights in Hong Kong, a city I'd dreamed of for years. Two days was not enough time. I hope to go back soon!
Be respectful…Thailand has a rich culture so different from ours, but the country is filled with the warmest people you’ll ever meet. Be respectful of the differences and learn the etiquette to treat your hosts well. Some of the things I learned:
I’m excited to share the Thai culture and culinary surprises with my Global Palate Adventures travelers in January 2020. We have a few spots left! Here are the details for our trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand 2020.
There are many reasons each of us intentionally leave our homes for one night or many. Duty, luck (good or bad), or simple wanderlust take us out the door and out of our comfort zones on business trips, long weekends, road trips, and global adventures. There is a WHY behind each type of travel.
I consider myself lucky. I travel frequently for work, and I enjoy it. I travel less frequently for vacation, but I feel privileged to be able to do both.
When I was little, I couldn’t imagine living and dying without visiting every country on the planet. Now I’ve accepted that perhaps visiting EVERY country might not be possible, but I plan to do my best to make a dent in the list.
For me, travel is part of constant learning and discovering. Learning about other cultures, how people live, speak and dress; and of course, how they eat. Food is a daily activity in lives all over the world. Food is a way to learn about other cultures through taste, touch, and smell, and can forge bonds, even when the spoken language is a barrier.
Some of my top travel WHYS are memories involving learning, food, and friendships.
WHY do you travel? Whatever your travel WHY, I hope it creates memories that make a difference in your life.