This is a portion of an article originally posted on Conde Nast Traveler.
In our office, between conversations about visas and gorging on international chocolate, we often discuss the difference between a tourist and a traveler. There’s a quote by English writer G. K. Chesterton that we keep coming back to: “A traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” We might also add: “A tourist goes to the Eiffel Tower. A traveler also goes to the Eiffel Tower—but knows to visit at twilight (to see the sunset and the tower sparkle at night); has read up about its secret apartment within; and made a reservation for Hôtel Raphael’s rooftop terrace to get a spectacular view of the landmark itself.”
It’s our job to help people feel at home in the world—to enjoy being outside their comfort zones—and to be well armed with the latest info and apps, restaurant picks, and hotel openings. We’ve all felt like tourists before, so-called strangers in a strange land, but with these ten tips, leaving the house is about to get a lot easier.
Tuesday! Just kidding. Kind of. For the last few years, a study about air travel trends by Expedia and Airlines Reporting Corporationsupported the notion that travelers get better airfare deals on Tuesday afternoons (after the business travel rush died down). But the latest data—analyzing 10 billion (yes, billion) passenger flights from October 2014 and October 2015—shows that weekends are actually an ideal time to get a discount on a flight. “Most analyses show low air ticket prices on weekend days because that’s when many leisure travelers purchase tickets (and leisure tickets are much cheaper than business tickets).” There’s a caveat (isn’t there always?): Airlines change their fares multiple times a day, so it’s best to check often.
That same study is a little more definitive when it comes to how far out you should book flights to get the best rates. For flights within North America, look to buy about 57 days before flying (for savings of about 10 percent); from North America to the Asia-Pacific region, book about 160 days out; and for North America to Europe, try to plan 176 days(or about six months) in advance.
Holiday travel plays by its own rules, though. Thanksgiving deals come in October, with more savings the last week of the month and, surprisingly, Thanksgiving week itself. Book Christmas travel while you’re packing for your Thanksgiving trip, and New Year’s flights by the week of December 5.
Thursdays! Not kidding this time. A recent study by cruisewatch.com, a search engine for cruise deals, looked at some 600,000 fares and found that prices were their lowest on Thursdays, dropping 17 percent, reports Traveler associate digital editor Katherine LaGrave. And the priciest day to book? Wednesday. Dirty, dirty Wednesday.
Two words: TSA PreCheck. Two more words: Global Entry. PreCheck is an $85, five-year “known traveler” membership that gets you expedited screening in U.S. airport security lines (though it may soon extend to European airlines). That means shoes stay on, laptop and toiletries stay in your carry-on, and dignity remains intact. But for $15 more, Global Entry gives you PreCheck privileges and the ability to speed through U.S. customs in minutes. It’s the better deal, in our humble opinion.
Sure, we all use Kayak, but it’s not perfect: The flight search engine doesn’t show a complete list of airlines (e.g. Southwest famously doesn’t share its fares with aggregator sites). When we’re feeling creative, we check The Flight Deal, Fareness, Airfarewatchdog, Skyscanner, and Concorde, which is a wholesale list of amazing flights—the kind you need to jump on immediately. And don’t forget to sign up for the Scott’s Cheap Flights for a daily deal.
Start by finding out what kind of international plan your phone has. Verizon has one of the most comprehensive data plans abroad. Google’s Project Fi means Android phones can also work abroad—in 135 countries—in much the same way as they would at home. When in doubt? Buy a portable Wi-Fi hotspot like Skyroam to keep in your purse or pocket. You can pay as little as $8 a day for unlimited data in about 100 countries.
Sadly, there’s no fool-proof way to get from economy to the front of the plane, despite the sweetness of your talk. But Traveler contributing editor Mark Ellwood has long preached the good word of loyalty programs: By flying regularly with one airline, you rack up miles and status that can get you upgrades on routes that aren’t business-heavy (think New York to West Palm Beach). You can also use miles to upgrade a paid ticket, though you may have a cash co-pay.
We could write an entire story about this—in fact, we have. Read Traveler contributing editor Cynthia Drescher’s deep dive into the latest changes to travel-friendly credit cards (and their perks), and compare that with contributing editor Lilit Marcus’s review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which we were all freaking out about this summer—$450 annual fee notwithstanding.
TripIt. LoungeBuddy. SeatGuru. GateGuru. Google Translate. Mobile Passport. They’ll get you through every stage of your trip, from planning to flying (comfortably) to twirling cacio e pepe at a cafe down a Roman side street.
We’ll be taking a trip with Lola soon—our new A.I. travel agent, which also comes with actual humans on the back-end and 24/7 service. And we hear good things about Sky Guru, an app that’s meant to act like in-flight Xanax by explaining each of the plane’s bumps and dips in real time.