During 11 days in February I took 9 different flights to visit Haiti, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, and back to San Diego. I slept on the floor at the airport, at my sister’s, at a Best Western in Port Au Prince, and a Motel 6.
What kind of messed up itinerary is that? Well it was my choice and I don’t mind a few unusual connections. I had planned to go to St. Louis for a birthday party and added on other parts of the trip from there. Here’s a few lessons from the trip.
1) Airline miles are great.
The total cost of all those flights? Around $270. I used American Airline miles to fly from San Diego to Port Au Prince and then Southwest Airlines points for the trip from Ft. Lauderdale to St. Louis and then on to Salt Lake City.
If a fare is relatively cheap I’ll usually pay cash. For example the flight from Salt Lake City to San Diego was only $85 so I paid cash for that instead of using 12,500 Delta miles. At that rate, those miles would have been worth less than 1 cent per mile.
On the other hand, San Diego to Haiti was around $500 if I paid cash but only 17,500 American miles which works out close to 3 cents per mile.
There’s no right or wrong way to use miles but there’s usually better value for international flights than domestic. It’s nice to get around 3 cents a mile in value but if you never use the miles then what’s the point in having them.
I earn miles from flying and I use some more typical travel hacking techniques too.
2) Get a Known Traveler Number.
I applied for a Known Traveler Number last year and it has been worth it. It makes life much simpler when going through airport security or US Immigration. When I returned from Haiti, about 50 people were waiting in the normal Immigration line.
But the GOES Immigration line that I used? No one was there. Just me. I walked up to a kiosk, scanned my passport, pushed a few buttons, and was on my way in about two minutes.
I avoided long TSA security lines too at four different domestic airports. I would survive if I went through the normal line, took off my shoes, removed my laptop, blah, blah, blah. But instead I went through the PreCheck line with almost no waiting. Little things like that make me happy.
3) Carryon luggage only. Seriously.
Okay, you probably know this already but I can’t imagine taking a trip and having to check luggage unless it’s for some special equipment like a snowboard, heart-lung machine, or a stuffed yak.
I see so many people waiting to retrieve their luggage at the airport and then waiting to recheck it from international flights. It makes my head hurt. Maybe they have lots of very important luggage that they simply have to take with them. Maybe, but I doubt it.
Also, I see people using a carryon roller bag with all the outside pockets stuffed so full the bag still doesn’t fit in the overhead compartment. Don’t be that guy.
4) Just pick a destination and go.
I get the feeling that some people delay trips until they make everything perfectly lined up. Time of year, who’s going on the trip, how many days, destinations. It’s great to take the perfect trip but don’t wait till everything is absolutely perfect or you may never go anywhere.
I was only in Haiti for 24 hours but that was enough time to go a museum, look around Port Au Prince, go to a couple of different bars and restaurants, and walk around the neighborhood. It wasn’t my favorite place in the world and if I was going to visit a country for only a short time, then Haiti is probably the one.
I tried to go to a rum distillery and even though the hotel told me they were open till 4:00 p.m., when I arrived at 10:30 a.m., they told me I had to come back tomorrow. Oh well. Everything wasn’t perfect but it was better than not going at all.
No matter where you are there’s something new and different to do. In St. Louis my sister and I drove to a state park at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi River. Lots of trees lined the river banks and a trail eventually dwindled down to just a narrow strip of rocks that disappeared into the water. One huge river to the left and another huge one to right.
Not the biggest, baddest tourist destination ever but it was fun to image the first people who came to this point and saw those two amazing rivers. They probably looked up and down each one and said, “I wonder.”
Also, when I was in Utah I went to an indoor skydiving center in Ogden that was about an hour drive from where I was staying in Salt Lake City. So snowboarding in the morning till early afternoon. Then drive to Ogden for the wind tunnel.
For skydivers, a wind tunnel is great because you can practice lots of aerial techniques in a a short period of time without the time and expense of flying up to 13,000 feet. Over two days I had an hour of tunnel time which is the equivalent of 60 skydives. That many skydives would have taken at least six weeks back in San Diego.
That particular wind tunnel has a good reputation for its reasonable prices and quality instructors and skydivers come from all over to practice there. I met people from Canada, Mississippi and even ran into some jumpers I knew from San Diego who just happened to be there at the same time.
My trip was originally just for snowboarding but when I learned about that wind tunnel I decided to add it to the agenda. Why not? It was something new, I was close by and it was much better than hanging around the motel.
So here’s the condensed version of what this trip reminded me about travel.
Save money with airline miles.
Pick a place and go, even if it’s for 24 hours.
Make everything more convenient with carryon luggage and a Known Traveler Number.
Pay attention and you can find new adventures anywhere you go.