Travel Time and Sanity Savers

View from airplane

I love to travel but I also get tired and cranky about the details from time to time. So these are some tips and apps that really help.

Often on foreign soil

If you do a lot of international travel, the Global entry program is definitely worth the money. For $100 for 5 years, a bit of paperwork, and a personal interview, you can breeze through US customs, and simplify security at lots of airports. You also have the option of expanding your pass. U.S. Citizens enrolled in Global Entry may use the Smartgate system when entering Australia without registration. With a little more work, U.S. Citizens may apply for the Dutch FLUX program, the Korean SES program, Panama’s Global Pass or the Mexican Viajero Confiable program for expedited entry into those countries. Additional fees and enrollment interviews will apply.

Usually a domestic traveler

Run, don’t walk, to get TSA Precheck certification. For just $85 for 5 years, you will minimize your security line hassles and time. You will have to go to a local TSA office for fingerprinting, but if you fly even 1 or 2 times a year, it’s worth it for the much shorter and simpler TSA Pre lines. You whiz through security without taking off your shoes, removing electronics or liquids bags from suitcases. It’s heaven. I’m notoriously cheap and this is a service I will continue to renew for eternity.

One caveat. If you fly a lot, you may occasionally randomly be selected to go through regular security. You’ll know, as your boarding pass won’t say TSA Pre. It will remind you of why you want to stay in this program. Also, some airlines don’t participate in the program. I flew American Airlines/Japan airlines in a code share to and from Japan. Since American was a TSA partner, I had Precheck for my American Airlines flight to Tokyo but did not have it for my return flights on a Japan Airlines plane. This was annoying, as Dallas/Fort Worth airport makes you go through security again after exiting customs to take your domestic flight. No TSA Pre might mean you don’t make your connection. Fortunately, we had plenty of time but we had to go through an extensive check of the sake we had purchased at duty free.

Not quite enough for Global Entry

If you don’t travel enough internationally to justify applying for Global Entry, you’ll definitely want yo download the Mobile Passport app. It will whiz you through US customs faster than you thought possible. I still think you should just commit to traveling abroad more, and get Global Entry, but this is a good stopgap.

Phone solution

As you probably already know, most US carriers charge an arm, a leg, and more for coverage in most foreign countries. There are several options to bypass that. 1) if your card uses a SIM card, you can buy a prepaid SIM card for your destination 2) rent or buy a cheap burner phone with data for your destination (downside: your information won’t be on the new phone unless you use Google and log in on the new device) or 3) my personal favorite – rent a Wi-Fi to go option. In Japan, you could reserve a Pocket Wi-Fi to be picked up at your Japanese arrival airport and returned as you departed. The fees were reasonable and it gave you great coverage in rural areas. Combined with leaving your regular phone on airport mode but turning on free Wi-Fi in hotels, metros, etc. it was a reasonable solution. Use Wi-Fi calling for phone calls and you’re all set.

Maps and more

When it’s available and not in beta, citymapper is my favorite app for getting around big cities. Here are the covered cities, but they are always adding more. It does a superlative job of combining all forms of travel: bus, train, subway, on foot, taxi, rental bike, and ferry.

For other places, like Japan, Google maps/navigator is a good bet. These tips will help you get more out of Google maps. And if you’re driving, you might check whether the Waze app has good coverage in your area. The social media input can be invaluable in a strange city.

Photos and social media

Usually, I carry a really good camera (a big bulky canon with several lenses.) This trip had such tight packing requirements that I opted to just use my smartphone (an LG G6 with really excellent camera optics.) I also opened up this blog, so I could share this adventure with friends and family who want to go to Japan but cant go right now. The smartphone was ideal for blogging on the way, and I was thrilled with the surprisingly good photos and videos it created.

When I want to play with the photos before posting, the Pixlr app is easy to use and has amazing options. Honestly, I didn’t use it as often as I should because we were always on the go and somewhat sleep deprived.

Another app, PicsArt, gives the option of creating collages with your photos. The few times I used this option, I really liked it.

Filmora Go was my video editing app of choice. And if you are starting a blog, WordPress is the blogger’s tool of choice for good reasons.

Travel light

I hope these tips help. The other key tips will be covered in future posts. Always travel light, and take a mini pharmacy along especially for countries with unusual alphabets (Greece, China, Japan, Morocco, etc.) But more on that later. For now, Bon Voyage!

Japan bound

Our airport parking lot, On Time Airport Parking at Gibson and Yale has a Ghostbusters car much like this one at the entrance. They also have a slew of beautiful vintage cars under covered parking. If you have extra time and love cool old cars, take a few minutes to wander around the lot.

Once at the airport, we managed to sleepwalk our way through the airport and get on the correct flight. Note to international fliers: American airlines now has you present your passport a second time when boarding. So keep your passport handy till you are in your seat in each flight.

At Dallas/Fort Worth, we got to walk through this cool castle to get to our gate. We had a quick turnaround, especially as we had to gate check our carryon bags, so we hopped on the sky train to get to our gate more quickly. I certainly didn’t want to miss my flight to Tokyo.

The airplane itself had fun high tech goodies, especially if you were in first class or business class, which unfortunately, I wasn’t. (They got super cool sleeping pods!) Still, there were some great features even at our economy level. I loved being able to plug in two devices at my seat. They also offered between seat chat messaging, which would be a fun way to distract the kids. And of course, they offered a ton of movies with free earpods. I always find the background noise of the jet makes the movie hard to hear at safe levels. If you like to watch movies, you might want to bring your own noise cancelling headphones for the best experience.

The food at lunch was pretty decent for an airline but not spectacular. It was an Americanized version of a Japanese main dish, some fun edamane treats and a churro cookie that bore no similarity to New Mexico churto. Later snacks were good enough and a welcome break from the monotony of sitting on a plane for hours on end (our two flights totalled 16 hours). They did serve free wine as a beverage choice, which while not recommended if trying to avoid jet lag, was quite tasty. A later salted caramel ice cream was another welcome break.

The view out the window was lovely but usually we were told to keep the shades down so a window seat wasn’t much of a plus on this flight. Ray and I had adjoining aisle seats, which felt less crowded, especially as we got lucky and each had an empty seat next to us.

 

 

Ray always loves the flight map and our seats had a personalized version with all sorts of cool options including a preview of the flight track. One really cool thing that I hadn’t encountered before was the “sunrise” lighting, which went from dark, to a dusk- light blue to pinks and then to brighter yellow and orange tones. It did make an easier transition than just going from dark to light.

We made it to Narita airport! Customs was a smooth, high tech process. The only glitches were caused by me filling out my form with a dark reddish purple ink. Only blue or black are permitted so I had to redo the form. They scan both index fingers for fingerprints and do a retinal scan. Both Ray and I took our fingers off the scanner when it went beep. Wrong! One must wait for the staff person to give you permission to remove your fingers.

Narita airport isn’t as crowded and overwhelming as I expected.

For my anime loving friends, there is a separate anime tourism business here.