ETA Added: Air Travel - Hints and Tips?

Updated on July 12, 2017
D.B. asks from Hopkins, MN
11 answers

After some 6 years of not traveling a lot by air, I'm taking a few short trips this summer. I'm looking for some handy tips to make it easier.

One trip is across country by myself (Boston or maybe Providence to California). Another is a shorter hop (Boston/Prov to Washington DC) with someone else. Both trips are being arranged by our son, who is using some air/hotel points and the rest is his Mother's Day/Father's Day gift to us. (Nice kid!)

I'm familiar with security protocols as of 6 years ago, but wonder if there are updates you'd like to share with me. Yes, I can contact the airlines, but the tickets aren't arranged yet and I don't know where the points will be used.

I usually take an empty stainless steel water bottle to refill at water fountains, and I wear sandals to manage the shoe check deal. I know to keep a change of underwear, medication, some snacks and basic essentials in my possession rather than in a checked bag. I'd like, though, to avoid checking a bag (especially since many airlines charge now and because it's a short trip and I don't want to deal with lost baggage in general and because I will have a change of planes most likely). Although I'm going to 2 hot climates, I'll take a light windbreaker for the plane air conditioning.

For the solo (longer) trip, I'm trying to decide on the best way to handle taking a laptop as well as some medical equipment that I know TSA will want to inspect. It's a little heavy so I would rather have it on my wheeled carry-on than in a bag I'll have to lug around on my shoulder. I can go without a purse, and just use one of those mini-wallets that hold a cell phone, ID/credit card & some folded bills. Does it make sense to put the laptop in my suitcase? I would love to be able to work on some things on the plane, but the laptop doesn't have the world's longest battery anymore. Are there charging options on planes now? Sounds dumb - sorry - but I just don't know.

I'm content to read and do old-fashioned puzzles if I can't work. But if I know up front that it's not going to be possible to plug in to a regular outlet, that takes the laptop off the (tray) table. (See what I did there? LOL!) I don't like to sleep on planes but I think it might make sense to take one of those neck pillows just in case.

I'll be in a hotel in CA (looking forward to not getting up early to walk a dog!) and probably staying with our son on the DC trip. My husband is going on the DC trip so there will be an extra person and obviously double the bag allowance. He's a nervous flyer so I'll have to do all the prep and management on the way.

So, without buying a lot of new luggage, what's my best option for a few clothes, some electronics, and not carrying a lot of weight in a shoulder bag or backpack? I have great neighbors and a huge email list of some 45 families on the street, so I can easily put out a request to borrow rather than buy if there's a great technique for putting one carry-on on the top of the other.

Anything else?

Thanks for your ideas! Sorry to be so ancient in my viewpoints!

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So What Happened?

Thanks for the great ideas! There were a few things I never thought of. I do tie a thick colored yarn to my suitcase, but will add it to my computer bag as they do all look alike. I'll either take my laptop in a padded computer bag I have, or borrow a good backpack from a neighbor. I have my flight info now and it says there are no overhead bins, so you must check a bag and put carry-ons under the seat. Even the $25 is less than the regular fare would have been, so it forces/allows me to travel light in the terminal. It lets me pack liquids (I double-ziplock them) in the larger bag. I'll keep essential personal items, phone charger, computer/charger, book and a change of underwear (because if they lose my suitcase....and if I can't find Doris Day's lost bra under my seat - LOL!). I had planned on a few snacks - there's so little airline food these days and most of it is junk or outrageously expensive. I'm used to taking my pre-measured health shake powder in a tiny ziplock so I can just add to my water bottle any time, and that has enough nutrition for a full meal in case I don't get to really eat anything decent. I have a tiny carrier for phone/cards/ID/bills/medical insurance card that can, if needed, get tucked inside the bag.

I have a layover in both directions to CA so I can charge the computer in the airport if there's a free outlet (I'm sure those are prime targets for travelers) and I can work for a while on the plane with just one open program (like Word or Excel) since I won't be using the other things that drain battery (email, internet, games etc.)

The idea of a clothespin for hotel curtains is great! That goes in the carry-on! I'll take 2 in case they lose my suitcase and I have to rinse out undies for the 2nd day!

I'm debating taking my older GPS unit with me in case I can't figure out the newer GPS in the rental car. It's another thing to carry but I'm arriving at 9:30 PM and won't be able to read my printed directions and may be too tired to figure out the newfangled GPS - LOL!

By the way, I'm stuck flying United, and after the 4 recent PR disasters (teens in leggings, overheated baby, re-selling a toddler's seat, dragging the doctor off the plane....), I hope nothing horrible happens! I'm no shrinking violet, of course, and do speak up, but still....If the staff is horrible, you may not hear from me again!

Thanks again, ladies!

More Answers



answers from Las Vegas on

We travel a lot, both across country and internationally.

One wheeled carry on and one backpack should handle all your needs for the trips you describe. That's your one carry on and one personal item (the backpack that can fit under the seat). We just got back from a week in Oregon, and each of us just had a small carry-on and a backpack (husband had briefcase). I was able to fit all of my clothes and five pairs of shoes!

Get TSA pre-check, if you have the time. It's cheap, good for several years, and allows you to leave your shoes on and go directly through screening. Otherwise, you'll have to take your laptop out to go through security.

Use TSA-approved sizes for your hygiene and toiletry items. Put all of the liquids in one quart-sized zip-lock bag so you can easily pull out for security. I usually don't even take mine out of my backpack, but that may be because of the pre-check. But just in case, you want to be ready and not hold up the line. Plus, it's good to keep the liquids (shampoo, etc.) in a zip-lock, just in case something leaks.

Some of the newer plans have the capacity to charge, but you'll have to know what plane you'll be traveling on. When you book your flight, you can check with the airline. You could always get a second battery or carry a portable charger, or you could work until your battery runs low and then read, work on puzzles.

I have a family member who travels with a medical device. In the past that has never counted as any of her luggage, but again, check with your specific airline as things change quickly in the industry.

Check out Allbirds shoes online. My husband brings his on all of our trips. They are super light and comfortable. Great for packing because they don't add much weight to your bag.

Have to go make dinner. If I think of anything else, I'll add later. Hope you have great trips!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

There are typically not outlets for use on planes, so you won't be able to plug on your laptop. Nonetheless, I'd put it somewhere easy to access for security because you will have to take it out to be inspected at security.

I fly often, and I find it easiest to have a backpack (one with a slot to hold the laptop if possible) and rolling carry on.

In the backpack I put my laptop, my ziplock of liquids, an empty insulated drink container (I fill it with water or hot tea after security to carry on), and my book to read on the plane. My ID, wallet, etc are in one of the backpack pockets.

In a 24 inch rolling carry on, I can pack for 4-5 days or longer if I know I'll have access to laundry facilities. If I think I will want a small purse at my destination, I pack an empty one into the rolling bag. I don't wear sandals through security, I wear my tennis shoes. Yes, they take a minute longer to get on and off, but tennis shoes take up too much space in the carry on, IMO.

If you don't want to carry the weight of the backpack, hook it onto the rolling bag after you go through security. I just cross the backpack straps then slide them over the rolling bag handle and it sits on top of the rolling bag. As long as I pull gently, it will stay on. I've also seen people using simple bungee cords over the bag and hooked to the handle to securely hold their bag to the rolling bag - like this, but no need to buy something special, just use a regular cheap bungee cord:

I love to travel and I find that the hassles of security are a small price to play for the payoff of seeing the world. Enjoy your trips!

ETA: I forgot to mention snacks. I always carry a few protein bars. Sometimes planes run out of food if more passengers than they expect decide to buy food and/or if there is a long wait on the tarmac.

ETAA: Depending on how much you plan to travel and how much time you have, TSA Precheck might be worth it. It is $85 and it's good for 5 years - I love it, but I'll probably use it 40+ times over the 5 years so it works out to less than $3 per flight for me - totally worth it. YMMV. You get a shorter line and you don't have to pull your laptop or liquids out of your bag and you leave your shoes on when you go through security. It takes a few months to go through, so if you want to do it, fill out the forms ASAP. It's administered by the Dept of Homeland Security and requires a full background check and fingerprinting.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I love to fly, but honestly, the airlines don't make it easy these days. Things I always fly with in my one personal item (a large shoulder bag) empty bottle to fill for drinking, small fan (hand operated), chapstick, a sandwich or cheese and crackers, a book. I also bring a small carry on, packed with chargers for all electronics, hand washable clothes, etc. I pack plastic bags (for God knows what) and clothespins to fully close curtains in hotel rooms. For long flights, I often wear socks, so that I can take off my shoes.

I also usually spend quite a bit to get the extra 5 inches of legroom on long flights. The seats today are so much closer together, I find it necessary. And I am short!

Be aware that most airlines try to leave on time and therefore board much sooner than they did several years ago. Be in the area at least 30 minutes before boarding.

Have fun!

Added: We flew United two weeks ago, four flights in all. We found the staff helpful and pleasant. I guess if you don't get a flight attendant who is difficult, you are fortunate enough to get one of the many others who are embarrassed by those peers. Wishing you the wonderful attendants!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Lots of great information below. I just want to add that I often see flights have the situation of the overhead space filling up quickly (people who board first and have carry-on suitcases etc - these days it seems like many people try to avoid checking bags due to the fees), so what happens is that the airline then requires everyone else who is boarding after those people to "plane-side check" any carry-on that cannot fit by your feet. As people board the plane an airline worker puts luggage tags on the suitcases and takes them away to be loaded under the plane with the other checked bags. The "plane-side check" is free - they do not charge a checked bag fee for that - but then of course there is no way to have in-flight access to the stuff in that bag.

So I would say, plan to have anything you might want to use during the flight packed in the shoulder bag that you can stick under the seat in front of you. (Also, of course, opening a large suitcase in the aisle during a flight can be difficult anyway.)

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

Carry a lightweight purse that has a long strap that you put across your shoulder/chest for easy carrying. That should have your money, cards, plane and hotel info, chapstick, comb and any other non-liquid essentials in it.

Your 3 ounce stuff should be in a ziplock plastic bag. Makeup, contact lens stuff if you need it, toothbrush and small toothpaste, etc. This is the stuff that would possibly leak. Use a different ziplock plastic bag for other makeup that won't leak, and your medicines. Keep both of these in your carry-on ON TOP so that it's easy to access.

Put your computer in your carry-on, on top, along with your ziplock bags. This way you can access them both. You put your carry-on up on top of the security table, unzip it, pull out the liquids bag and the computer, and put them in two separate bins. Put your little purse in the bin with your liquids bag. Zip your suitcase back up. Hold onto your plane ticket and take that through in your hand.

If you do decide to check a bag, do not check your computer in it. Period. Tape a piece of paper with your name, address and phone number into the top of the inside of your checked bag. Take a picture of your suitcase so that you can show someone what it looks like. Tie a long distinctive and easy to see ribbon onto the handle (or both handles) so that you can easily tell which suitcase is yours, coming off the belt in baggage claim. All my suitcases have identical ribbons. Easy for me, and easy for airport security to know that all those bags belong to our family.

I would even use that ribbon for your carry-on so that someone doesn't inadvertently pull YOUR bag out of the overhead bin on the plane, thinking that it belongs to them.

I like to have a carry-bag that holds papers, my computer and liquids outside of my carry-on rolling bag. That's just me. My little pocketbook can go inside of it briefly when they say I need to consolidate (they usually don't even bother to ask me to do that). That way I don't have to open my suitcase. But I have learned that this bag needs to have a zipper! I lost a bra out of my bag - it probably fell out under the seat in front of me on the plane. That was an expensive bra, too...

Good luck on your trips!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

My husband flies frequently between Hawaii and Washington DC for work, often changing planes in LA or Dallas.

One thing he's noticed recently is that it's more and more difficult to predict what kind of plane he'll be flying on, or what kinds of planes the carrier is using. Recently he flew on a major carrier and he was really unhappy with the outdated electronic options (no charging ports, no little tv on the ceiling or the back of the seat). Sometimes the plane is state-of-the-art but even when his flight indicates he'll be flying on a certain type of plane, it's not unusual for the plane type to be different. So all that to say it's really hard to predict whether you'd be able to charge your laptop, even if it appears that you would from looking at your flight arrangements. You can't plan on it. My dh recently selected a seat assignment and then when he went to board the plane, that seat didn't even exist. The plane was different, with a different configuration. He got a seat, but he ended up being in a completely different boarding zone, in a very different seat than what he had selected.

He never flies without two essential items: wireless noise cancelling headphones (he loves Bose Quiet Comfort) and one of those eye masks that cover your eyes.

Now, I'm not sure how this next idea really works, but what I do know is that my dh is ordering one. It's a USB charging carry-on bag, with room for the laptop and the essentials. You can google USB carry on bags and you'll find several. I can't recommend any because my dh hasn't received his yet. But they are approved for carry-on, and they contain a USB port for charging a phone or laptop directly from the bag. So it's something you might consider.

And regarding the medical equipment, it would be helpful to have a doctor's letter, specifying the type of medical equipment, that it is medically necessary, and if applicable, any special instructions (don't Xray it, etc).

Easier than taking a stainless steel water bottle is taking an empty disposable water bottle through security, then filling it up at a bubbler once past security. Less to carry. Just put it in a recycling bin when the trip is over.

Enjoy your trips! What a thoughtful son!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

We travel quite often, and I think it's pretty easy. My husband when he travels alone for work just packs very lightly and does not check a bag. He puts his carry on in the overhead compartment and has another carry-on (small backpack) with his laptop. During layovers he recharges his laptop/phone in the airport if there is time...there are charging stations. When I travel I pack my things in a roller suitcase that is light and easy (I pack pretty light and it's a small one) and I check it. I always pack my laptop down in between my clothes in the roller suitcase because it is too heavy for me to carry around. I wear slip on tennis shoes and socks bc my feet get cold easily. The shoes are super easy to slip on and off. I bring on carry on bag and my small purse. I have a light sweater, a good book to read, and my empty water bottle (which I fill up past security) in my bag. It always goes smoothly. I don't bring a neck's just unnecessary and is something extra you have to carry. If you feel like you have to have your laptop then you should get one of those small rolling backpacks which are much smaller than a rolling bag.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

Haven't read all of the answers, but wanted to throw in to take your ear buds. I never use mine unless I am running (literally, with an arm band carrying my phone so I have music and my running app). So it never occurred to me to take a set. My husband and daughter did, though, b/c they both listen to music on their phones/ipods when just sitting around or as passengers in a car or whatever. Well, depending on the plane, you may have in flight movies in the setback in front of you, and you need headphones/earbuds to listen. Yes, the plane provides them free, if they don't run out before they get to you. On our flight to Puerto Rico, the flight attendants didn't have time to restock before we departed, and only had about 40 sets. They ran out before they got near our row. Fortunately for me, my daughter was willing to share one ear of ear speakers, and we were able to start our seatback movies simultaneously so the sound matched the video for me, too. (We watched the same movie. I used one ear bud and she used the other.) Since you will be traveling alone, you will not have this option.

Most longer flights do offer snacks (pretzels, almonds, cookies, and water or sodas) free of charge. And also meals/sandwiches, that you have the option to buy if you'd like (no cash, credit card only).
I did not find it to be a problem to access charging stations in the terminals. Some are USB and some are simply 110 plugs. So, if you take a cord, include your wall plug and you'll have more availability.

Hope this helps.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Things change all the time.

My 22 yo daughter is flying to Norway tomorrow. Yikes!!!! She will have 1 checked bag. You get 2 carry on and she has a large purse which will be item 1. Today she found a really cute carry on with wheels that can also be a shoulder bag. It's by Nicole Miller. It can fit under the seat too!! It has lots of compartments and will be handy as she travels with school as well. It could easily be used for a 1-2 overnight trip if you are a clever packer. I tend to take way more than what I need!

We love our Swell bottles so she'll have those along with the gifts to her friend, etc. in the extra carry on. Shes not taking her laptop.

The precheck is helpful and you avoid some of the things such as shoe, belt removal. We found out by accident last time we flew because we checked in at the curb downstairs, the agent checked our credentials, our boarding passes were noted precheck so we avoided a line. I know you can also pay for precheck. I did that for hubby when he flew a lot.

I prefer to check my bag and just be light on the plane. The downside is $25 and in Dec, my bag was lost and not returned to me for 4 days!!! That was nerve wracking because my RX was in it.

Whatever you choose.... safe travels to you!!! If you want a pic of this bag let me know. She got it at Tuesday Morning

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

You are not ancient in your viewpoints and I am forever trying to figure this out. I have learned year after year that less is better. For instance the possible neck pillow, I think they have something like that on the airlines. One bag? jeans,lightweight pants or shorts...a couple of light shirts, clean underwear and socks of course and I like your windbreaker idea.a huge tshirt or moomoo -again all lightweight to sleep in... While shoes can be heavy you really need at least two pair-your choice of what, but simply because rain or dirt or other things can get them wet and uncomfortable and flipflops so if you walk outside a hotel room door you aren't barefooted and walking on who knows whose germies.I would definitely carry laptop separate so you can use it,along with a pen or paper to jot anything down. And my last and very strange bit of advice is if you wear lipstick and decide to keep it in your pocket (Like I have done) be prepared to go through security a million times because who knows what they thought I had with me til I remembered and shakily told them 'oops I forgot.' HAVE FUN.


answers from Washington DC on


Planes don't have charging stations yet. I'm sure they will one day - but not now.

I would contact TSA regarding your medical devices to see how they suggest you make it as smooth as possible to get through security check points.

Lost luggage is NOT common. I've traveled a LOT and never once has my luggage been lost. My girlfriend who travels at least once a month? Has only had ONE instance where her luggage was "lost" and that's because the weather was bad, they changed her flights and it took 2 days to catch up with her at home.

I bought a under the seat luggage

(i bought it at Tuesday Morning's for $55) and it's great! My tablet, extra set of clothes, purse, etc fits in there. I actually have a wristlet that is stored on the outside with my ID, ticket and debit card. So when I get to my destination? I still have my purse, I just don't have to deal with it and luggage until I get there.

I would get a neck pillow that fastens around my wheeled luggage. this one is inflatable so it doesn't take up space

You are VERY right to wear easy slip on/off shoes. Makes going through security faster.
Make sure that what you are wearing to the airport is simple - no belts, no heavy decorations that will set off the metal detectors.

Remember the 3-1-1 rule. If you can pick up shampoo and body wash at your destination? Then you might be able to carry on. Or use the travel size. Still needs to be in the plastic bag and pulled out at security.

Remember the KISS method - keep it simple silly - don't over think and don't over pack.

Remember to have a GREAT TIME!

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