Úna’s Travel Tips

For years, I would race out of the house to the airport, wearing damp jeans – because I had left it so late to pack I had to wear clothes I had grabbed out of the washing machine, still wet!!! After a decade of travelling, I’ve finally figured out a few things that make the process more efficient. Hope these help you…

PREPARING

Long-term:

I always travel with two cards from two different ATM networks, e.g. a Visa AND a Mastercard, or a Link AND a Cirrus. Either I have 2 cards from 2 different ATM networks, or I have a card from one ATM network, and my travel buddy has a card from another ATM network. On a trip with a pal years ago, my friend’s card didn’t work, and if we hadn’t had cards from two different ATM networks we would have had a serious problemo.

6 weeks before departure:

  • Last year when planning a long-haul trip, I suddenly realized I might have to get vaccines. 3 weeks before my departure, I went to the doctor, to find the lead-in time for all my jabs was … 5 weeks. I was able to get most of them, but had to travel without one of the recommended jabs. I do NOT recommend this. In future, I will give myself at least a 6-week lead-in time for vaccination. Please learn from my mistake, and check your vaccination requirements at least 6 weeks before departure!!

7 working days before departure:

  • We all have a secret fear. Mine is I arriving in a country and my ATM card not working, or it taking me a few days to find an ATM where my card works. Therefore, particularly if I’m going far away, I think it’s a good idea to bring a bit of local currency with me. My local bank doesn’t carry currency from any developing country, so I have to order currency at least 5 working days before I depart.
  • It’s a good idea to confirm the dress code for the gig a week before departure in case I need to get a particular garment.

3 days before departure:

  • The obvious: laundry!
  • …and I try to use up as much of my perishable food as possible. This few days is usually marked by unusual food combinations… Brussels sprouts and sweetcorn, anyone?!

1 working day before departure:

  • It’s old-skool, but some airlines require a printout of the online check-in. So the last day before travel, I check that I have ink in my printer, and if not, I buy some. If I’m really organized, I go to McCambridge’s in Shop St., and buy Barry’s Tea and some gorgeous hard Irish cheese as a gift for my hosts. (Ask McCambridge’s to vacuum-pack the cheese and it travels beautifully). If I’m under pressure for time, I buy Barry’s Tea or a hard Irish cheese at the airport.
  • I was in Asia in 2017; I didn’t tell the bank about my trip, and upon me using my card in an ATM so far away, the bank froze my card as an anti-fraud measure. It was SUPREMELY stressful being in a foreign country with no access to cash. So I recommend ringing your bank and telling them you’ll be going abroad, particularly if it’s to a different continent.
  • If I’m anxious about theft, I make a photocopy of my passport, medical insurance docs, credit cards and put that page in a different location to my wallet.
  • Buy any items I’m short of, e.g. protein bars ( …any excuse!  ) .

PACKING

A science in itself, here are my thoughts on How, and What, to Pack for a Trip , and The Perfect Travel Outfit .

LEAVING THE HOUSE

Before leaving, I aspire to …

  • Empty my kitchen bins
  • Put all perishable food from my fridge into the freezer
  • Turn of all sockets EXCEPT for freezer
  • Set up an autoresponder on my emails
  • Put a msg on my voicemail

This prevents me arriving home to an exceedingly bad smell. !

FOR LIAISING AT ARRIVALS / MAXIMISING PRODUCTIVITY

I’ve made a habit of putting my plug converter and device rechargers in my handbag, not main luggage, so I can recharge my devices as necessary, even if my luggage is checked. (This is especially necessary now that some airlines have a policy of checking carry-on luggage at the gate.) This was a particularly good idea that one time I was landing in Beirut and had no idea who was picking me up…!

YOUR AIRPORT TRANSFER

There are 3 bus companies that service the route between Galway city and Dublin airport (in no particular order: Bus Éireann, Citylink, Gobus) When I’m bussing to/from Galway to Dublin airport for a flight, I deliberately buy only a single ticket. That means that when I fly back and arrive in Dublin airport, exhausted and needing to get home ASAP, I can hop on the next bus departing, rather than waiting for a bus run by the company I made the outbound journey on. It’s totally worth the extra €10 to get home to your bed when jetlagged and exhausted.

GETTING THROUGH SECURITY FAST

I consciously wear light, preferably slip-on, shoes to airport so I get through security asap. I once wore punk boots to the airport… what a TERRIBLE idea. Never again.

I deliberately don’t wear hair accessories going through airports. As they’re frequently made of metal, I have to take them off and put them in a tray going through security, and it’s one more thing to worry about plus I left a particularly nice flower in a security tray in Philly last year. Philly, you deflowered me. !

AVOIDING DVT

On most flights, I…

  • stretch my legs while sitting in my seat
  • get up and walk to the toilet / around the cabin at least once

Just once in my life I neglected to do this, and my legs swelled up – SO SCARY! If your legs swell up, it’s probably not serious, this is what I did and the swelling went down in a few hours.

Super sports therapist, Adrian Cradock, gave me a great tip to avoid / help back pain: bring a tennis ball, place it between your back and the seat, and rub the ball into your back as you travel. Also, to avoid DVT you can place the tennis ball under your thighs when sitting. To save space, I use my hand-therapy ball, the Handmaster, instead of a tennis ball.

TO FACILITATE SLEEPING

  • Buy a J-pillow… A travel pillow recommended by Alexander Technique teacher (and excellent musician) Teresa Turner, it’s one of the best things I ever bought. Latch it to your handbag and never go on a long journey without it.
  • I try to sleep as much as possible on flights. I generally sleep better with a bit of shade / darkness on my eyes. For years I travelled with a funkily-designed eyeshade, feeling very hip, until it was time to actually wear it, when the whole illusion of being ‘cool’ crumbled… the eyeshade would end up on my nose, in my mouth, on my forehead, EVERYWHERE but actually on my eyes. These days I bring a light raincoat with a hood, and pull the hood over my face to block out light when trying to sleep.
  • When in the air, I try to drink more than my normal amount of water. I find that unless I do this, I wake up from dehydration. Yeuch.

WHILE ABROAD

I try to eat some natural yoghurt when I’m abroad; it lines my gut with local bacteria that help me digest local food.

So that’s it… Úna’s Últimate travelling system, conveniently condensed into a one-page checklist, which you can download here.

Hopefully these tips will help you to be healthy, relaxed, comfortable, time-efficient and rested during your travels… and at the very least, ensure that you don’t return to a smelly house! 🙂 In Irish, we say ‘Go n-éirí an bóthar leat… ‘ May the road rise to meet you. GOOD LUCK on your journey. Let me know if you find any of this helpful, and if you have any tips for me!!

Go n-éirí an bóthar leat,

Úna

How, and What, to Pack for a Trip

One of the things I am totally nerdy about is … packing. Yup, weird, I know. So here’s my two cents on how to save two cents, do the deed as quickly as possible, and keep your mind clear on the road!  🙂

Before even starting to pack, I recommend confirming your checked luggage allowance. A development in long-haul airfares this year is that some airfares are exceedingly cheap, but don’t include checked luggage. So, it’s sooo simple, but…  I recommend confirming your checked luggage allowance before you pack.

Choose your weapon: are you going to check a bag or not? If at all possible, I recommend bringing a carry-on case (both in terms of security and size), because…

– it’s better for your body (less to haul around)

– it’s likely to be cheaper (you never know when you’ll come across an unexpected luggage charge when travelling, plus if renting a car you’ll be able to rent a smaller car)

– it’s friendlier (if you have a smaller case you’ll have more carspace and can give a lift to someone!)

This saved me €50 lately… I was flying transatlantic, thought I had the option of bringing a large case, decided to bring my carry-on for ease, and it turned out my flight didn’t include a checked luggage. So I merrily used my carry-on and saved myself an extra charge. Wahoo! A cherry on the lightly-packed cake!

When it comes to the actual deed of packing, I find there are just too many things to remember. So, nerd that I am, I have written a packing checklist, and every time I have to go somewhere, I print off this list and check items off it as I pack. Good news: I am making this checklist available for you to download here. Items are listed in order of importance; items in italics are optional depending on the destination, weather, and itinerary.

(One musician pal packs in a more intuitive way… he leaves his suitcase open in the kitchen for the week before departure, and as he thinks of things he needs to pack, he throws them in the case.)

So when it comes to The Deed, here are a few of my considerations.

HOW MUCH TO PACK?

I figure out how many mornings I’ll be away… that equals how many knickers to bring.

I generally pack one daytime outfit for every two days away.

If I’m going for 8 nights or less, I don’t plan on doing laundry.

If I’m going for 14 nights, I either

a) pack 7 outfits or

b) pack 4 outfits and do laundry on the trip.

Whether I do (a) or (b) depends on my luggage allowance, itinerary, and access to laundry.

If I’m away for longer than 2 weeks, I pack for 8 nights and do laundry on the trip.

WHAT TO PACK?

Firstly, I check the weather at the destination, and decide what to wear for the journey itself. I find deciding what to wear for a trip from rainy Ireland to a warm destination to be a science in itself, so I wrote a separate blogpost on this … read it here. I put those clothes for my travel-day by my bed, so I can get dressed quickly the morning of my departure.

I wear dresses as much as possible when travelling, because

  • they’re more space-efficient to pack than, for example, a trousers plus top
  • I can wear a light dress with a long-sleeved top beneath / cardigan on top / with fleecy tights, and hey presto – I’m warm! I find long-sleeved tops, cardigans and tights to be far more space-efficient than, say, a bulky jumper, so I then get a lot more ‘bang for my buck’ from my packing.

My system for planning my outfits is…

  1. I decide on the core garment – usually a dress (sometimes shorts, a skirt, or trousers, but for coherence in this article we’ll just say a dress)
  2. I decide on the shoes I’m going to wear with it
  3. I add in a long-sleeved top, cardigan, tights, hair accessory, and scarf that match so I can put on layers depending on the temperature.

I try to make all the shoes and accessories match at least 2 dresses; e.g. I’ll bring 2 blue dresses, then pack black pumps, a blue long-sleeved top, navy cardigan, navy tights, blue hair accessory and white scarf… all of which match bothblue dresses.

When travelling I generally avoid outfits with jewellery and belts.

I usually swim in a swimsuit, but when travelling I pack a bikini because it’s more space-efficient.

If going to a cold place, I try to bring a fleece rather than a massive woolly jumper or a hoodie; fleece is more space-efficient. I’ll pack boots, and wear them rather than pack them.

If I’m not sure what awaits me on the trip, I try to pack smart casual, with one ‘glam’ outfit.

Little toiletry note: Ace fiddler Soazig Hamelin gave me the idea of packing a shampoo bar, rather than liquid shampoo, to simplify my journey through security.

HOW TO PACK?

My globetrotting pal Ali recommends folding all clothes in an ‘army roll’ for the following reasons:

  1. It’s far more space-efficient than normal folding
  2. You can see at a glance what your wardrobe options are, so it saves time when dressing
  3. The fact that your luggage is tidy helps keeps your mind clear. This may sound illogical to some, but it makes perfect sense to me! I find it difficult to think clearly if my house or devices are unorganized and chaotic. Ergo I understand how keeping my luggage in order when travelling would help me maintain mental clarity.

You can learn how to do an ‘army roll’ here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuD-ZZydsVg

Agus sin é! Hopefully these tips will save you some time and / or grief. For a couple of tips on how to make the journey as easy as possible, read here. Let me know if you have any tips! And watch this space – I mean, I haven’t even got started on my real passion, which is … luggage! 😉

Go n-éirí an bóthar leat, may the road rise to meet you!

Úna

 

The Perfect Travel Outfit

Returning from a trip lately, I realised that I had not nearly passed out from the heat; I had slept like a baby on a freezing overnight flight; and I had not been arrested for indecent exposure. SUCCESS!! I had finally, after years of epic fails, nailed the thorny issue of what to wear when travelling from rainy Ireland to hotter climes. This question is further complicated if, like me, you fly slightly unconventional routes (be it to get to gigs in remote areas, or save the pennies), and are a bit clueless about clothes. 

There, I’ve said it. I am the furthest thing you can imagine from a fashionista. I tend to spend my days in pyjamas, or tracksuits. My despairing mother, sister and pals Muireann and Bogna tell me what to wear for gigs, and I only get dressed up for work or to please my (gorgeous, kind) mother. So if you’re a style queen, WOW – take a bow, I really respect your art!! – but leave now, because this article will not be useful to you. But if you’re a clueless colleen like me, these selfies taken in my kitchen may give you some ideas. 

My go-to outfit involves 4 layers, which I put on or take off as required.

Layer 1 is for arrival in hot climate: a short skirt, string top, comfy pumps.

Sample outfit for hot climate

On top of this, grabbed out of the handbag as necessary, goes Layer 2, for a warm airport / Irish summer’s day: a full-length top (thermal if it’s a bit nippy) and thick tights. (Penney’s sell amazing tights with fleece lining!)

Sample outfit for moderate temperature

On top of this, I put Layer 3, perhaps for a cool airport / Irish autumn day, which consists of… a long cardigan

Sample outfit for cool airport

And finally, for Irish outside temperatures or sleeping on transport, I throw on layer 4: a light scarf and a light raincoat.

Una_Ni_Fhlannagain
Sample outfit for rainy climate

If this works for you, or if you have any other ideas, please let me know!!  It would bring me great joy to know that someone has gotten more sleep on a bus because of me 🙂 If you want to design your own custom travel outfit, here’s a few questions I use for my jump-off point:

  • What’s the temperature at the destination? Imagine what would feel comfortable to be wearing upon arrival.
  • What will you need to wear to be warm and dry outside in Ireland, going between cars and buses?
  • If you’re getting a bus transfer to the airport, what will the temperature be like on the bus? (Irish buses are quite moderate, I find.)
  • Will you want to sleep on the bus? (If so, I wear something I can throw over myself as if it’s a blanket … every little sleep-cue helps …  🙂 )
  • What will the temperature be like in the departure airport?
  • What will the temperature be like on the plane? (I find overnight planes can get a bit chilly!)
  • How long is the flight? Do you want to sleep? (If so, see above 🙂 )
  • What will the temperature be like in the airports / areas you’re transferring in? (To me, the level of air-conditioning in American airports is actually a bit nippy. On the other hand, a small airport in a remote area of Asia might not have a/c, and be quite warm.)

And here’s a couple of final things to throw into the mix …

I wear glasses and contact lenses. It’s not advised to sleep with my lenses in, so I generally wear my glasses on journeys where I need to try and sleep, and keep a pair of ‘dailies’ lenses in my handbag to insert if needed.

I find that if I wear my hair in a top-knot I sleep better, and my hair doesn’t get quite as shtuck to my head as otherwise.

I find the J-Pillow to be a great travel pillow. I use the Healthy Back Bag as a handbag, and a carry-on with stow-away backpack straps like this.

So that’s it! There’s no substitute for experience, but hopefully these pictures / questions will trigger some interesting thoughts for you, and you’ll enjoy your journey that little bit more because of your extra sleep or comfort level in transit. If you’re also wondering about what else to pack, or what else you should be doing to prepare for your trip, read here for general travel tips or here for how and what to pack!

Wherever you’re going, go n-éirí an bóthar leat – may the road rise to meet you.

Úna

How To Fly To Seattle Cheaply (AKA Úna LOVES Momondo)

Just recently I had to travel to the west coast of the US at short notice. Me being me, I made an Excel file to codify my flight searches. I share my findings here in the hope that they’re useful to others…

First – what’s the cheapest origin and destination between Ireland and the northwest coast of the US? I can fly with equal ease from Dublin or Shannon; it didn’t really matter to me if I flew into Seattle or Portland.

Some friends had recommended Skyscanner as an online travel search tool (thank you, Mary and Lindsay), so I used that to compare the price of flying from Dublin or Shannon, to Seattle or Portland. Turns out

the cheapest combination from Ireland to the northwest coast of the US was Shannon to Portland at €873

(the cheapest flight from Dublin to Seattle was €1249. There was no route from Shannon to Seattle at the time.). Hence,

Lesson 1: It pays to explore alternative, smaller airports.

I was about to buy my ticket when I had a chat with my pal Bogna, a diving globetrotter. She was surprised I’d used Skyscanner – in her experience, Vayama was better value for long-haul. I searched for Shannon-Portland flights on Vayama, and bingo – I got a shorter flight (17 hours, rather than 21 hours) for €819. It was great to shave 5 hours off my travel time and save €54 while doing so. So Vayama was slightly cheaper for a transatlantic flight on this occasion … but upon a quick comparison today, Skyscanner fares beat Vayama on an intra-European flight (albeit by a tiny margin of €1.58). So, in my limited experience,

Lesson 2: Travel agents vary in competitiveness according to the region you’re travelling to.

A few weeks later, I had to go back to the west coast, but this time I had more time to research flights, and a few weeks’ notice before the departure date. I wanted to visit some friends on the route back, and as such, it was going to be a multi-city trip.

My travel buddy and I researched flying with the following airlines: American AirlinesDeltaUnitedAer Lingus

… the following online travel agents: VayamaExpediaOrbitzKiwi

… and the following meta-search sites (a site that searches multiple online travel agents): MomondoSkyscannerKayak

Through direct price comparison, we figured out the cheapest route for us on this trip would be Dublin to Seattle, Seattle to Ithaca, and Newark to Dublin. Aer Lingus was reasonable but understandably doesn’t offer domestic US flights. If we chose to fly Aer Lingus and then flew domestically (Seattle to Ithaca) with a different airline, the overall cost wasn’t competitive.

Lesson 3: Overall cost of a US transatlantic multi-city trip was cheaper when bought with one provider, rather than with multiple providers.

As such only online travel agents and American-based air companies were an option for us on this trip.

So let’s get to the good stuff. Drum-roll, please… here are the fares offered by the various companies for the multi-city trip, in order of their cheapest flight price:

PROVIDERCOST
MOMONDO€705
VAYAMA€781
SKYSCANNER€843
UNITED€853
ORBITZ€860
EXPEDIA€885
KIWI€886
KAYAK€924
AMERICAN AIRLINES€1354
DELTA€1627

Ergo,

Lesson 4: Momondo is BRILLIANT.

It took me 7 hours to design an itinerary and research prices for my 3rd flight. But with a price-difference of €2053 between the lowest and highest quotes, it was worth it…

my research was worth €293/hour.

Lesson 5: Do your research.

Conclusion: I have since found this excellent index of third-party booking sites, and next time I fly, would love to compare each one. But right now, my experience advocates…

a) If flying domestically within the the US, first get a quote from SouthWest Airlines.

b) If flying anywhere else in Europe or US, then get a quote from these meta-search sites / online travel agents, in this order:

1. Momondo
2. Vayama
3. Skyscanner
(if flying to/within the US, check United)
4. Orbitz
5. Expedia

So here’s hoping this is useful to you, next time you research flights! I feel extremely lucky to live in a world where, 39 hours after hearing a loved one was seriously ill, I could cross the world to visit them. Let’s pass on that goodness…!

Le grá,

Úna