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Overpacking is a problem that affects many travelers every year. Complicate that with the threat of baggage delay and baggage loss, and overpacking can become a much bigger problem. By following the virtues of packing light, you too can overcome overpacking, and spread goodwill in each of your travels.I used to be a heavy packer.  I had a suitcase so large that my co-workers affectionately dubbed it the “Green Monster”.  I dragged it through the pockmarked streets and sidewalks of Brooklyn, eventually coming to the realization that it wasn’t a suitcase at all.  It was an all-terrain vehicle for my clothes.

If you pack anything like I used to, you know it can be a bit of an operation.  For me, it usually involved a long checklist of items, a staging area where I could spread out those items and survey them, a reluctant volunteer to recheck my list, and the unenviable task of getting the items from the staging area into my suitcase: a process that typically involved a lot of cramming and smashing and, um, applied geometry.  (Pro tip: you can alter that third thing with enough of the first two.)

One day, as I was struggling to pull my suitcase off the luggage belt, somebody asked me, “Why do you pack so much?”

I didn’t have a good answer.  I need these things. Nope, not really.  I want to be prepared.  Prepared for what – a blizzard followed by a dust storm?  I have the space, so why not?  By that rationale, I should fill my trunk up with stuff every time I go for a drive. Plus, what would happen if my bags were lost or delayed? Everything I spent all that time applying geometry on would be gone, possibly never to be found again.

I decided I would start packing lighter.  Immediately, I noticed the surface-level benefits like having less luggage to tote around, being able to carry-on and avoid baggage fees, and the absence of dirty looks from people that wanted to get on the elevator with me and my luggage. 

But there are some peripheral benefits I noticed over time: the “virtues” of packing light.

Prudence

There’s an oft-referenced idea in writing that concision requires time.  It applies to packing as well.  I thought packing less would go quickly.  You know, cause less stuff.  But in the end I spent just as much time.  I just spent it differently…more prudently.

Instead of gutting my closet of shirts, pants, and shoes – trying to prepare for any social scenario, or inclement scenario, or socially-inclement scenario – I checked the weather forecast and researched the restaurants and landmarks and nightlife. From there, I asked myself what I would be doing each day and night and packed accordingly.

True, I didn’t know exactly what I would be doing.  There has to be some room for spontaneity when it comes to travel.  But that doesn’t mean I need four different shirts for every scenario.  Just pack what is most versatile and go with it.

Pack smarter, not…well, just don’t pack so much.

Discipline

This is more of a permeating virtue than the other two.  We live in a culture of excess, and while that’s a nice problem to have, it requires discipline to uproot yourself from it and say you’re going to do it differently.

Having decided you’re going to bring very little, you have to resist sinking back into that mindset.  You have to resist the urge to throw it all out the window because this trip is too important, or you just want to enjoy yourself without worrying about a lack of things, or whatever else that tiny, rationalizing voice can throw at you from the back of your mind. Also remember that baggage loss is always a threat when traveling by land, air, and sea. Is it easier to replace your entire wardrobe, or just select items from it?

Kindness

It’s a nice thing not to pack so much.  It’s nice for the bell-hop, it’s nice for the cab driver that loads your bag into the trunk, it’s nice for the person that loads your bag into the airplane, and the person that loads it on the cart before him.  True, it’s their job.  But that doesn’t mean you have to make it harder on them.

And you never know, one of them could see how little you packed and pay forward some other kindness.  Before you know it, everyone is being nice to each other, and there’s peace in the world, and random strangers are giving you hugs on the streets, and why?  I’ll tell you why.  Because you left those argyle socks at home. Nice job.

Are you a heavy packer or light packer?  Tell us about it in the comments below.


Unfortunately, this is not one of my photos from my student travel to Germany - in fact, I don't know that I'd really want those photos shown. I wasn't a great photographer back then. But I did visit Linderhof Palace, known for the breathtaking Hall of Mirrors. Now, I need to find a way to make it back to Germany...Just over a month ago, I participated in one of many Twitter chats that I'm known for participating in. In this particular session, we talked on the topic of reunions – and the travels that we would want to be reunited with. This immediately brought me back to my very first flight – and, in all reality, my very first major trip - as a student traveler going to Germany. It was an act of sacrifice by my family to help me make the trip as a high school exchange student; something that I will forever be grateful for. More importantly, that allowance gave me a passion for travel – and helped to get me where I am at today.

My student trip opened my eyes to a world much bigger than my childhood home of California. And it got me to understand that student travel is much more important than letting young people take a holiday. In measure of culture, economics, and social enrichment, student travel is so much more important than we may give it credit for.

One statistic that caught me off guard was the amount of student travelers that go to different destinations around the world every year. According to the Wyse Student Travel Initiative, 20% of the global travel marketplace consists of student travelers. From their travels alone, student travel provides a direct impact of $165 billion in ticketing alone. With this much of an impact, student travelers are a vital part of the travel ecosystem.

But student travelers aren’t just going abroad for holiday or fun travel. Like a younger version of myself, over 2 million student travelers take trips to other countries to immerse themselves in a new language. As the understanding of the English language is growing in importance, 75% of those travelers are coming to English-speaking areas to learn the language. As a student traveler, I did it in reverse: I went to Germany to learn how to speak German. Of all the lessons I came out of from my travels, that ended up being a minor one.

Perhaps the biggest reason students travel is to seek higher education outside of their home countries – which can be an incredibly enriching experience. Despite the economic downturn that we experienced years ago, higher education was not touched as a result of the recession. And while many students come to the United States to pursue a higher education, other areas are growing as destinations for educational and student travel. Those areas include the United Kingdom, France, China, and Australia. The growth of student travel is so important to China, that they are now investing more into domestic infrastructure in order to accommodate students visiting the country.

As I did my research into student travel, one of the biggest surprises that I had was the growing trend of “voluntourism.” That is, traveling to a destination to do volunteer work in a country. Nearly two million students travel to another country each year to do humanitarian work and community development, and leave a significant economic impact behind them. This growth in traveling for self-enhancement is pretty amazing to see, and proof that student travel doesn’t have to be traditional in order to be fulfilling and completing.

The world of student travel has grown significantly over the past decade, and far more since I was a student traveler myself. If I could go back to be reunited with my travels to Germany…I absolutely would in a heartbeat. In fact, I probably should have done a little l0t better in school, so that I could have done lot more travel.

Have you been on a student trip that changed your life? Or are you planning a student trip of your own? Have you gone or are you going to try "voluntourism?" I’d love to hear about it your plans – let me know what your experiences in the comments below!


In this undated photo provided by the Transportation Security Administration, a backscatter operator views a scan from a backscatter machine. Once I have my Known Traveler Number and can breeze through the Precheck line, standing still and holding my hands above my head will be a thing of the past! At least in most major airports.
Photo Courtesy: Transportation Security Administration

The day would inevitably come sooner or later. It appears today is finally that day that so many travelers have anticipated for quite a while. 

I've used this space previously to write about the Transportation Security Administration Pre✓™ (or Precheck, if you prefer) program, and how it will change the way we travel. For those unfamiliar with the Precheck program: select trusted travelers would be allowed access to faster security lanes at select airports across the United States. This privileged lane allows travelers to keep on belts, shoes, and keep select items (like laptops and 3-1-1 compliant liquids) in their carry-on bags,  and walk through a metal detector instead of the backscatter machines. This creates a faster and easier experience for the trusted traveler. 

Previously, Precheck was only guaranteed to accepted applicants in Custom and Border Protection's Trusted Traveler Programs (Global Entry, NEXUS, or SENTRI), active duty military, and select frequent flyers in the major airlines' frequent flyer programs. On Monday, the TSA announced that this select benefit would be open for new applications into the program on a stand-alone basis. 

So how does the new Precheck program work? For $85 (estimated price), you can apply for guaranteed Precheck status with the TSA. The application will be a two-step process, starting with the application. Second, once the application is submitted, applicants will have to travel to a Precheck enrollment center (currently planned for Washington Dulles and Indianapolis Airports) to prove their identity with a photo ID, and provide fingerprints. Once complete, the clearing process is anticipated to take less than a month, and approved travelers will receive a letter in the mail with their approval information and Known Traveler Number. 

In many ways, this is very good news for travelers. First off, this opens up the Precheck and Trusted Traveler program to many previously unqualified travelers, or travelers who will not be leaving the United States. Because travelers aren't required to provide a passport from a participating country to enroll (as they are for Global Entry or the North American trusted traveler programs), it appears that there is potential for many U.S. residents and business travelers to join the program. Plus, once approved, the status is good for five years - breaking down the price to only $17 per year. When you consider how Precheck makes getting through the security checkpoint a much easier (and faster) process, it's a rather low price to pay for convenience. 

That being said, is it the best value for the traveler? NEXUS costs only $50 each, and each provides expedited entry into and from Canada for nationals of the United States and Canada. For $50 more, Global Entry provides expedited processing into the United States at any supporting port of entry. Global Entry is open to citizens and permanent residents, as well as citizens of several countries, including South Korea and Mexico. For a little more, SENTRI provides expedited entry from several ports along the United States/Mexico border. In addition to expedited entry benefits, entry in each program is valid for five years, and each provide a Known Traveler Number - thus opening the Precheck program to these travelers. Additionally, Precheck is still available to select frequent flyers through participating frequent flyer programs for free. But the problem with that is that unlike the programs mentioned above, Precheck is not necessarily ensured for all applying travelers.

For the casual traveler who has no interest in traveling abroad, this new TSA program offers a relatively fast, convenient, and easy way to obtain trusted traveler status. For the value, the new Precheck application allows for the regular traveler the opportunity to breeze through security. But for those travelers who have grandeurs of seeing the globe, or visiting our North American neighbors on a regular basis (like me), my opinion remains that applying for one of the three international programs is a better value and offers more. 

How do you feel about the TSA opening up Precheck for application? Do you plan on applying for Precheck? Leave me a comment below with your thoughts!


This is a blog that I would rather not write.

But considering that this is a blog for a travel insurance company, I feel that we have some obligation to talk about safety in this moment. Many of you are aware of the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 tragedy this weekend in San Francisco. Local news sources report that the flight carried 307 people; many of those were transported to 11 Bay Area hospitals for treatment, and two lives were lost in the accident. Certainly, my thoughts and prayers are with those who were affected by this incident.

As a frequent traveler myself, this incident is a very sobering reminder of what can happen in the blink of an eye. While there are preliminary reports of what may have happened, investigators will be searching for answers for quite a while. Something that resonates with me is the words of one of the passengers on that flight: "You just don't think it's going to happen to you."

That being said, the minimal amount of injuries is a testament to the safety measures built into modern airplanes. In 18 years of service, this is the first incident where a passenger on a Boeing 777 lost their life as a result of an accident. And according to the Washington Post: before this incident, there had been no fatalities on U.S. commercial jetliners in the last four years. Many people get to go home after this incident - something that I think is incredible to hear.

In this blog, I write a lot about traveling - going places, places that I've visited, and how I work to make travel more comfortable through different plans. I've also written about travel safety, especially when it comes to being safe in the event of an emergency. And something that this event brings home for me is keeping safe on an airplane in the worst of situations. We never think that an event like this can happen to us - it's always something we see on television, and certainly worry about. But every time we get on an airplane, the unlikely event of an emergency can happen to us.

Taking preparatory measures before and during your flight can make the difference between escape and injury. When getting on an airplane, here is how I prepare for the worst:

  • Don't skip over the safety announcement
    I know that you feel like you've probably heard it at least a hundred times. But every plane layout is slightly different from each other - meaning the location and position of emergency exits can be much different in every airplane. Always take a look at the emergency exits, and know their location. Taking this moment to know where to go in an emergency could save your life.
  • Keep tray tables and seats in an upright position at takeoff and landing
    I know how tempting it is to sneak your seat back a little after the flight attendants do their final checks. But in the event that requires evacuation, you could be hampering others (yourself included) from getting out of the plane. By keeping everything up, you are saving valuable time that can make a lifetime of difference in an emergency.
  • Shoes on at takeoff and landing
    I always wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off not just to get through security easier, but to also reduce fatigue on my feet. But I always keep them on for takeoff and landing. In the event something happens and I need to take action, I am prepared - and I don't have to worry about exposing myself to what could potentially be very hazardous situations.
  • Keep your ID and at least one credit card on your person
    In an emergency, you are forced to leave everything behind and get off the plane - that's just the nature of the situation. That can also mean that you're leaving behind your Passport, identification, and possibly your credit cards as a result. ID theft is less of a worry here than is ID verification - which is very important at the time of an emergency. Always have your ID and at least one credit card on your person when in an airplane, as these items can help you immensely after the situation.
  • Keep a list of critical numbers on hand with you
    After an emergency, you may not remember every number of people to call off the top of your head. This is why it is equally important to pack your numbers with you in the event of an emergency. It does not have to be an exhaustive list - just the people you would want to contact after an incident, and the numbers to your service providers (airlines, hotels, travel insurance, etc.) in the event you need to seek rebooking.

I certainly hope that this blog never applies to you, and that all your travels are safe and well whenever you go. But in the event of an emergency, knowing how to best react and being prepared for an emergency could very well save your life.


In all honesty: I did nearly get hit by three of these late models pulling into their paddocks while taking pictures. While I'm absolutely a fan of Travel Insurance Select, I'm in no hurry to test out the travel medical insurance benefits.I’m back on dry land once again – and this time, for a good while. I’m back from Charlotte, North Carolina, where I had the particular honor of being the celebrity color analyst for the UARA-STARS event at Hickory Motor Speedway! It was great to meet so many fellow race fans who are happy to travel across the United States to follow their favorite sport. I can’t wait to do it again very soon!

This time, my flights were mixed as a proposition of economy. As a result, I did not gain a whole lot of miles towards my gold status challenge and all the free cheese I can eat at the airline lounge. But the flight itself was $100 cheaper than my preferred flight. In this situation, I’ll trade economy for miles.

One would think that it would bother me that I’m not earning miles in my favorite travel programs. While I always try to plan my travels around my preferred airline partners (with an eye to avoiding trip delay and trip cancellation), in this case I was less concerned. With the recent announcements that major air carriers be changing their elite status qualification to also consider spend with the airline (or on branded credit cards) starting next year, my planning has been changed.

I don't disagree about the logic behind this change is being put in place in order to make sure people don’t abuse the system, and to ensure that high-value customers to the airline are getting the most for their loyalty. But for the casual traveler, it now becomes harder to earn rewards for my travels – unless I plan my travels exclusively around a particular carrier. And even in that case, I have to either consider minimum spend on a branded credit card, or purchasing fares on an exclusive carrier, or some combination of both – even if they aren’t the most economic.

As much as I like certain carriers over others, I have to look at making the most of my dollar, especially when considering economy travel. So starting in 2014, my preference is going to lean towards economy over loyalty – in both points and spend. To make the most of my travels, it’s now time to think outside the box. Looking at 2014, my strategies will change as follows:

1) Alternate Programs for Qualification
So I might not directly qualify for elite benefits across the four major national airlines in the United States. But through different programs, alliances, and code sharing, I can make sure the miles I do fly add up to something. For instance: as I’ve written before, I can earn Aegean Airlines miles on any Star Alliance flight, and have Star Alliance Gold status once I’ve hit the threshold – giving me more free bags and special airline lounge access (though the downside is that those miles might not be good for a whole lot). And while I might not fly on Delta and American often, I can collect miles on Alaska Airlines across both of them, and redeem for flights and earn status at a later date.

2) Alternate Points Programs to Earn (and Burn) In
Depending on your travel habits and preferences, collecting airline miles may not be the best proposition. In some cases, earning points on credit card programs may be a better proposition, as those can be turned into free travel across many air carriers, rental cars or ground transfers, and even cash back. And many cards offer bonus rewards for purchasing travel on their cards. If you’re not particular about an airline, or hold value in another program, this could be a better return for you.

3) Alternate Ways to Get Benefits
Although status is starting to get just out of my reach, it doesn’t mean that I can’t travel like an elite. With credit card programs, I am able to usually get lounge access (with a one-day pass, or more regular access with certain partners), priority boarding, and at least a free bag checked to my destination. If credit card programs don’t interest you, then consider some other alternatives, like purchasing priority boarding at the kiosk, or finding alternate ways to get lounge passes online. One instance is when I got a day pass to the American Airlines lounge via Klout earlier this year!

My thanks go out to Tony and everybody at UARA for hosting me this weekend at Hickory Motor Speedway. It was a definitely an experience I won’t forget anytime soon! And, like everywhere I go, I learn just a little bit more about how to make travel work out the best for me. Have you ever taken a trip with plans that were less than ideal? How did you make it work? Leave me a comment below – I’d really enjoy to hear how you made it work!