Airport Hacks

Airports can be stressful. Especially for first-time travelers.

Even for seasoned veterans, fumbling through the airport is a negative experience for everyone. Break free of the stress and anxiety (and save some money) at the airport with these airport hacks.

For a seamless security screening – Get Global Entry and Clear

Global Entry is a Trusted Traveler Program that provides expedited screening benefits for domestic and international flights. It costs $100 for a 5 year membership. With Global Entry, you will also get TSA PreCheck upon the approval of your application. Some benefits you’ll receive are…

  • Access to TSA PreCheck expedited line to TSA counter
  • Keep on shoes during screening
  • Electronics can remain in bag during screening
  • & more!

These benefits mean you get through security faster. In fact, the official TSA PreCheck site reports that, in July 2021, 96% of their customers waited less than 5 minutes.

Clear is another registered traveler program that offers expedited screening benefits for its members. It costs $179 for a 1-year membership. Members use biometric authentication (fingerprint or iris scan) to verify their identity and. Some Clear benefits are…

  • Access to Clear expedited line to TSA Counter
  • Escort to TSA Counter
  • No need to show ID. Only your boarding pass – no scanning it either
  • (Sometimes) complimentary items like hand sanitizer or a mask

Both services expedite the security process at the airport. Global Entry provides the most benefits, but having both memberships is worth it! When I use Clear, it is by far the fastest and easiest way to get through airport security. When an airport doesn’t offer Clear (only available in select airports), I use my TSA PreCheck membership.

Tip

You can also use Clear at select sports stadiums!

Click for the Global Entry and Clear enrollment processes .

For affordable flying – Never pay for a seat

I repeat – Never pay for a seat! Nobody wants the dreaded middle seat, but don’t let fear influence your wallet. You can get a preferred seat without paying for it – just ask!

Once you arrive at the airport, go to the checked baggage agents (before security) or the gate agents (after security) and politely ask if there are any aisle/window seats available. Unless the flight is overbooked, they’re always happy to change my seat assignment.

You can also go into your airline account settings and change your seat preferences to either middle, isle, or window seat. Next time you check in for a flight, if you skip the seat selection screen, you’ll most likely automatically be assigned your preferred seat.

If all of these options fail, then pay for your preferred seat. But let payment be your last resort.

Tip

There are – almost – always more seats available than displayed. Airline employees can book seats that you may see as unavailable online.

The only occasions where you’ll need to pay for a preferred seat is flying business or first class or if you’d like to be seated in an exit row. With these hacks, I’ve flown in the middle seat less than two times and have paid for a seat once.

For worry-free traveling – Invest in a good luggage

Here are things to look for…

  • Sturdy/durable
  • Strong zipper
  • Smooth, gliding wheels
  • Dark color

Whether you check or carry-on your bags, good luggage makes all of the difference.

Your bag goes through a lot after you check it. I’ve had horror stories of damaged luggage, dirty luggage, lost luggage, and even the zipper busting open and losing over $2,000 worth of items! A durable luggage can save you from a headache in the future.

Tip

Purchase a tracking device to track the location of your luggage.

I use the Away Bigger Carry-On & highly recommend it! Other noteworthy brands are Tumi, Monos, and Samsonite.

For a pleasant flight – Bring the essentials

Flying is public transportation. With that being said – there are a lot of unpleasant things that can come along with public transportation. Five essentials I bring on every flight are:

  1. Layers
  2. Perfume
  3. Medicine
  4. iPad
  5. Extra headphones

Layers – The temperature fluctuates a lot from the airport, to the gate, to the breezeway, and on the plane. A worst case scenario is getting stuck on the tarmac for several hours with no A/C. Ensure you wear a comfortable outfit with light layers to avoid discomfort later.

Perfume – Unpleasant odors are common on public transportation & they become even worse thousands of feet in the air in a metal capsule. I always bring a roll-on perfume for myself and I apply it lightly to the outside of my mask as needed during my flight.

Medicine – For long haul flights, I bring NyQuil, Pepto Bismol, and any prescription medicine. You can purchase travel size OTC medicine in pill form.

iPad – Many airlines offer in-flight entertainment that you can access via a personal device. I bring my tablet to access this entertainment & pre-download movies on Netflix to enjoy during my flight.

Extra headphones – Flights can get noisy. If my Airpods are low on battery or Bluetooth isn’t working, I always have an alternative.

Bonus: For first class treatment on an economy flight – Bring treats for your flight attendants

It is not required or expected to bring anything for flight attendants, but it is appreciated. Bringing small chocolates, cookies, or other store-bought treats can elevate your flying experience greatly. Including extra snacks, preferred seating, or other in-flight benefits.

Tip

As always, give expecting nothing in return. Perks are not guaranteed.

Sit back, relax, & enjoy your flight!

How I Packed a Carry On & Personal Item for a 2 Month Trip

From May to July 2021, I spent 8 weeks in Costa Rica & only packed a carry on & personal item. Not only was I able to avoid expensive checked bag fees, but it also made my travel around Costa Rica a lot easier. After reading this, you’ll have the essential skills to fight overpacking & enjoy your vacation with less stuff.

Before we start – none of the products mentioned in this post are sponsored. These are my authentic opinions!

I’ll admit, taking only a carry on & personal item for two months was tough. On top of that, I was moving out of my apartment in Dallas, Texas at the time of my departure to Costa Rica. Ensuring I had everything was stressful, but when I got to Costa Rica, I realized I probably brought too much stuff.

So, what should you bring on your next trip?

The least amount of stuff as possible.

This is easier said than done. I practiced packing four times before I was able to fit everything in my carry on bag. And even after that, it was a tight squeeze. Here is everything in my carry on…

About 10% of these items, I purchased in Costa Rica.

To fight anxiety about “forgetting something” on your trip, make a list of items you need (phone, wallet, passport, prescriptions, etc.), pack some items, and buy the rest at your destination.

Tip

Bring two piece sets! With a floral two piece set (crop top & skirt), I made several different outfits for the beach, dressy, casual, etc.

Packing cubes or no packing cubes?

It depends. Packing cubes help me organize my luggage, but I don’t believe regular packing cubes help you save space.

If you want to save space, I recommend purchasing compression packing cubes. My packing cubes are not compression.

I use the rolling method to fit my clothes into one large packing cube. My medium packing cube holds my PJs, hat, swimwear, and extra bags. Finally, my shoes, accessories, and miscellaneous items fit into the two remaining cubes. My toiletries and underwear are already packed. Here’s what it looks like all packed up!

Everything in cubes and bags.

Tip

Use a combination of rolling and folding methods for your clothes. Roll bulky items and place them on the bottom. Once you have two layers of rolled items, fold thinner clothing and place on top.

My luggage is an Away Bigger Carry On. I highly recommend Away luggage (or Monos for a slightly cheaper option). It has built in compression, a strong zipper, a lock, and a lifetime warranty. Here’s how it all fits in my carry on.

Tip

Place hard, flat items on the left side & soft items on the right. Only the right side can be compressed.

After compression, I’m ready to zip everything up!

Packed carry on

This luggage will fit in most overhead bins. On smaller, older, aircrafts you will need to check this luggage. It is heavy, but the wheels glide across the floor & there are several sturdy handles on the top & sides of the luggage for easy transport.

What about my personal item?

I was working remote during my trip needed a bag that would fit had my 16 inch laptop, a second monitor, and more (cords, chargers, book, etc.)

I purchased the Calpak Hue Duffle Bag & it worked perfectly as a personal item on the plane and large laptop bag for the office. There are so many pockets & compartments inside the bag. It was easy to slip some extra souvenirs in at the last minute. Here is everything I fit in my duffle…

Contents of personal item

And the finished result!

Final Thoughts

There’s no magical way to fit your entire closet into your carry on. Bring the least amount of items as possible & practice packing before leaving for your trip. You can always buy items at your destination so relax & get excited for your well-deserved vacation instead!

Also, invest in good luggage. A built-in compression mechanism & a strong zipper saved me from carrying my items in-hand through the airport.

If you’d like to schedule a 30-minute video chat for more packing tips & tricks, please contact admin@ashleytravels.com

Costa Rica FAQs

I spent 8 weeks traveling in Costa Rica. Here are a few common questions.

  • Why? How?
    • My lease was ending in Dallas, TX and I work remote. Instead of moving to another US city, I decided to pick an international destination to live for a few months. Costa Rica is safe, inexpensive, and has a lot to do.
  • Can I drive in Costa Rica?
    • Yes, with a valid drivers license. They drive on the same side of the road as the States.
  • How did you rent a car?
    • I used Alamo & Economy. You will need to purchase additional, required government insurance on top of the daily rental car rate. Ask for the minimum coverage.
  • What about navigation?
    • Waze (recommended) & Google Maps.
  • What about other transportation?
    • Bus, Uber, Shared Shuttle, Taxi, and Private Transfer are available – listed from cheapest to most expensive. I mostly used Uber & Shared Shuttle. Uber is mostly available in San Jose, and is the cheapest private option. I recommend using Interbus shared shuttle for long distances. They offer door-to-door pickup/dropoff & have great customer service!
    • I used bike rentals once in town.
  • Is Costa Rica safe?
    • Yes. The places I felt least safe were San Jose & Tamarindo, but the most common crime in the area is petty theft.
  • Where did you stay?
  • How do you book excursions?
    • I used Airbnb experiences, Viator, and in-person vendors.
  • What excursions do you recommend?
    • All of them! There’s so many to choose from. Canyoning, hiking, zip lining, ATVs, nature tours, horseback riding, tubing, rafting, catamaran tours, chocolate tours, coffee tours, cooking classes, mixology classes, scuba diving, snorkeling, & more!

If you’d like to schedule a 30-minute video chat please contact admin@ashleytravels.com

5-Step Beginner’s Guide to Solo Travel

After the COVID-19 global pandemic, the world is finally starting to reopen & people are starting to travel again. Remote working has also become increasingly popular and a new term, “digital nomad”, is emerging. Maybe you’ve traveled with family & friends in the past but wonder what it would be like to travel solo.

One of the most rewarding experiences of my life is solo travel. You’ll gain confidence, personal strength, love for yourself, and enrich your view of the world.

If you’ve asked yourself “Is solo travel safe?”, “Where can I go?”, “Will I get lonely?”, or “Where do I even start?”, then this blog post is for you! I will give you 5 simple steps to take your next trip solo.

  1. Ask yourself. Why do I want to solo travel?

Are you tired of waiting on your friends to travel? Do you want to travel on your own terms? Maybe you need some “me-time”, ideally in a beautiful destination? Are you ready to begin your self-development journey through travel?

Whatever your reason, write it down. You’ll need it later.

Tip

Keep a small travel journal to record your solo-travel journey! Take it with you on all your adventures.

2. Go somewhere!

Start small. I recommend going somewhere you’ve been in the past.

Here’s some ideas to started:

  • Instead of Netflix, go to a movie theater.
  • If you’re a foodie, take yourself out to eat.
  • Make yourself a picnic at the park.
  • Window shop at the mall.

Tip

Bring something to do – a book, your phone (download a game, podcast, or music), or your travel journal.

Try to stay off of social media & disconnect as much as (safely) possible. You may feel uncomfortable – that is normal! Embrace the feeling & remind yourself why you want to solo-travel.

Journal your experience.

Repeat this step until you feel comfortable in your own company.

3. Research

I recommend initiating this step 1 year – 6 months prior to your proposed departure. Step #3 is has two purposes. First, to ease any anxiety about solo travel. Second, to find an ideal solo destination for you!

Here’s some facts to get you started on the first part of research:

  • One out of every six people in the United States have taken a trip alone.
  • 84% of solo travelers are women.
  • According to the Global Peace Index of 2020, the United States ranked 121st out of 163 nations for peacefulness and general safety. This is below El Salvador (113th) and above South Africa (123rd).
  • The United States has the highest rate of death by guns in the developed world.
  • 90% of the worlds mass shootings happen in the United States.

My intention is not to discourage US travel but to put things into perspective. You most likely live in the United States. The truth is, the US isn’t too much safer than many other places in the world. I feel much safer walking alone at night in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica than I do in New York City.

Living as a single woman in several large US cities, I already have certain skills to keep myself safe. I use those skills day-to-day & when I travel. Odds are – you already know safety tips & tricks too!

Tip

Join groups on social media to connect with others & watch solo travel YouTube videos. I mostly use Facebook groups & search keywords like “female”, “black”, “solo travel”.

The second piece of research is to find your ideal solo trip destination.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to get started:

  • Close your eyes. When you imagine your next vacation, what do you see around you?
  • Do you like all-inclusive, cruises, adventure, or a cultural trip?
  • Domestic or International travel?
  • Where was your favorite vacation? Why was it your favorite?

There are endless possibilities. For example, if you like all-inclusive, beaches, & international travel, I’d recommend Mexico or the Caribbean! If you enjoy mountains & US travel, I’d recommend Utah or Gatlinburg, TN.

You can use Google, Facebook groups, YouTube, blogs, and word-of-mouth to narrow down your options.

Tip

If you’re still unsure about your destination. Go on Google Flights, enter your departure city, & leave the destination blank. For the dates entered, you can see several travel destinations by flight cost.

4. Planning

Start this step 1 year – 3 months before your planned travel date. You’ll select a destination, create a budget, and start booking.

When selecting a destination, consider:

  • Your ideal vacation
  • Travel Advisories
  • Travel Restrictions
  • Cost
  • Time of year (i.e. high/low tourist season, weather, national/local holidays)
  • Your background & local norms (racism, colorism, LGBTQ+ friendly, woman’s rights)

I recommend finding a tourist-friendly destination. Many countries main source of revenue is tourism, they are usually safe and easy to navigate for English speakers.

Travel doesn’t need to be expensive. There are lots of tips & tricks to save money on your vacation.

When budgeting consider:

  • Accommodations
  • Food & Alcohol
  • Souvenirs
  • Pre-travel spending (clothes, toiletries, etc.)
  • Airfare
  • Other transportation (Uber, private vehicle, car rental, taxis)
  • Excursions
  • Foreign transaction fees
  • Other (mobile phone fees, forgotten items, hotel fees, etc.)

Tip

Keep an emergency travel fund. This is in case you need to rebook a hotel, get money stolen, or any other unexpected event.

You can now start booking! You’ll probably feel a mix of butterflies, nerves, anxiety, and excitement. Rely on your community for support. If family & friends aren’t solo travelers, post your milestone in a Facebook or other social media groups (excluding travel dates and lodging info). We will celebrate with you!

Tip

Book everything in incognito mode. I once saved over $200 on an all-inclusive hotel just by using incognito mode!

5. Enjoy your trip!

Stay safe & trust yourself. You deserve to have a great time.

Solo travel has the power to change your life. You will explore a new place, in a new perspective, & learn about yourself along the way.

Booking excursions, staying in a hostel, or hanging out in public areas, you will meet new people. Or you can relax in a spa resort, totally isolated. The best part of solo travel is the freedom! You can be as spontaneous or planned as you want. Either way, it’s all about you.

Final thoughts

Congratulations on taking the first step of your own self-development through travel! I guarantee the experience will be invaluable!

Please be patient with yourself. If you’re not used to spending time alone you are not going to instantly take to solo travel on the first day of your trip. Keep journaling, rely on your community for support, and follow this blog. You wont regret it!

“If you are waiting for someone to travel with you, you’ll be waiting a lifetime!”

If you’d like to schedule a 30-minute video chat please contact admin@ashleytravels.com

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