Best Things to Know Before Traveling, From a Former Flight Attendant

Best Things to Know Before Traveling, From a Former Flight Attendant
  • During my decade as a flight attendant, I found ways to make travel more seamless and enjoyable.
  • Simple tips, like packing a carry-on instead of a checked bag, save me time at the airport.
  • I also recommend contacting hotels directly to check for lower rates, which has worked for me.

I worked as a flight attendant for 10 years. Even after I left the job, I continued traveling the world and have been to a total of 74 countries.

As I’ve globe-trotted for work and leisure, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to make travel as seamless and enjoyable as possible.

Here are 10 tips I learned during my days as a flight attendant and still use today.

Stay awake until bedtime the day you arrive in a new time zone

After an overnight flight, I’m always tempted to collapse into my hotel bed. But as someone who’s gone straight to sleep after landing and struggled to adjust to a new time zone, I recommend staying awake.

I used to have a rule that I’d let myself take a short nap if I landed in the morning. But if I arrived any time after noon, I’d force myself to stay up until the evening. 

Powering through the first day until bedtime helps me adjust to a new time zone, get the best possible night’s sleep, and beat jet lag. 

When it’s finally time to snooze, be sure to set an alarm so you don’t sleep through the morning.

Ditch your checked bag and opt for just a carry-on instead

flight attendant riding moving walkway at aiport with suitcase

I prefer to travel without a checked bag so I can avoid waiting in long lines.

Europa Press News / Contributor / Getty Images

When I was a flight attendant, I got into the habit of traveling with just a carry-on suitcase and a tote bag.

This method allows me to have my belongings with me at all times and lowers the risk of losing luggage halfway around the world. Traveling with only a carry-on also means I can avoid waiting in long check-in lines and wasting time at baggage claim.

Most airlines allow passengers to bring a carry-on plus a purse or small backpack into the cabin, but you should still check the luggage policy before arriving at the airport.

If you pack everything in a carry-on, I suggest freeing up space in your bag by wearing larger items, like coats and boots, on the plane. 

If you do check a bag, invest in a luggage tracker and packing cubes

Portable trackers and packing cubes are game changers for travelers who check luggage. 

I wish portable tracking devices, like Apple AirTags, were around when I was a flight attendant. They’re easy to pop into your suitcase to help locate any misplaced bags.

Packing cubes were my best friend when I needed to take a lot of items with me for extended periods of travel. 

The cubes divide your belongings into separate sections and help keep them organized. If you’re looking for a particular item in your suitcase, they save you a ton of time.

Put a shoe in your hotel safe to remember any valuables

Leaving a hotel and realizing that you left your most valuable, important possessions in the safe is horrible. 

I have a simple solution to help avoid making this mistake. When you put all of your items and documents in the hotel safe, place one of your shoes in there too — preferably one that you’ll wear the day you check out. 

You’re probably not going to head out of the hotel wearing one shoe, so the trick is a good way to make sure you remember to empty the safe before you leave.

This was the first piece of advice another crew member gave me when I was a flight attendant. I found it so helpful that I’ve passed it down to countless other crew members and plane passengers over the years.

Look into last-minute jet charters — they might be less expensive than you think 

private plane jet luxury

Flying in a private plane isn’t always crazy expensive.

Shutterstock/Mikhail Starodubov

Flying private may seem like an extravagant option (and it usually is), but hear me out. Depending on where you’re traveling, jet charters can be surprisingly economical, especially if you’re flying with a group. 

Many operating companies offer discounted charters for last-minute, empty-leg sectors. If a jet is scheduled to fly to or from a destination without passengers, the companies will try to fill it shortly beforehand for a lower price. Companies such as Lux Aviator and Daflo Jets often advertise these open sectors on social media.

You can also book a single seat on a semi-private jet rather than having to charter an entire aircraft. Thanks to charter airlines like Aero, you can travel in luxury for slightly less.

Before you splurge, it’s worth considering that private jets generally produce more carbon dioxide (CO2) per passenger than commercial flights, which has a negative impact on the environment. So if you’re looking for a flight that has a lower carbon footprint, stick to commercial. 

Not all hotels have irons, but you can still remove clothing creases without them

Many hotel rooms around the world don’t have irons, which wasn’t ideal when my flight-attendant uniform had to be pristine and wrinkle-free. 

To avoid paying for an ironing service or waiting for a communal iron, I pack a small travel steamer to remove creases from clothes.

If you don’t have space for one, you can crank the hair dryer in your hotel room to the hottest setting and blow the air close to your clothes. 

Alternatively, you can hang your garments in the bathroom, run the shower at the highest temperature, and shut the door for 10 minutes. In my experience, the shower steam smooths out the creases.  

Download a translation app before you arrive at an international destination

Before your flight lands, download a translation app, like Google Translate, in the local language so you can use it offline. 

This tip has served me well on trips to places where English isn’t widely spoken and internet access is spotty. Even if the translation isn’t perfect, the app helps get your message across.

I also recommend downloading currency-convertor apps ahead of arrival so you can use them offline too. 

Pack enough medicine to get you through the trip, and include some extra in case of emergency

Pill bottles on a shelf in a medicine cabinet

I make sure I have enough medication to last through my trip, plus some extra just in case plans change.

Tetra Images/Getty Images

Just because you can buy certain over-the-counter and prescription medications at home doesn’t mean they’ll be readily available when you travel.

Every time I prepare to fly, I make a basic travel pack with enough medications to get me through my trip. I also recommend bringing a backup supply in case you lose some or extend your travels.

Just make sure to do your research about drug laws in the places you visit, as some medicines that are legal in the US are banned in other countries. 

Contact the hotel directly to ask for the best room rate 

Most people think that hotel-booking platforms provide the cheapest accommodation prices, but that’s not always the case. If you want to stay at a specific hotel, call or email the property directly to ask for a less expensive rate.

I’ve been amazed at the number of times this tip has worked for me. Sometimes it’s even gotten me an upgrade to a higher room category. 

For travelers intent on getting a restful night’s sleep, call the hotel and request a room that’s in a different part of the hotel than the pool or entertainment area.

Consider getting a prepaid travel card to help you stick to a budget

When I was a flight attendant, I would always get a prepaid travel card, which I loaded with a set amount of money.

It helped me stick to a tighter budget and allowed me to withdraw money in the local currency.

Some prepaid travel cards come with fees, so make sure to do your research as you prepare for your trip. That way, you can figure out whether a prepaid travel card, a debit card, cash, or a credit card is the best option for you.