Road Trips & Travel

Ten Tips For Smoother Travel

* We’re sending lots of love to everyone in Boston (our cousins were at the marathon but are thankfully safe).

Back in October we hardly would have called ourselves traveling experts. Honestly we only took a flight once every few years (we went to Alaska for our honeymoon in 2007 and didn’t get back on a plane for a family vacation again until 2012 when we went to Hawaii for our five year anniversary). But thanks to our book tour, we’ve been on lots of flights. 29 of them in four months to be exact. So while we still can’t quite claim expert traveler status yet, here are a few things we learned about planes and hotels along the way…

#1. If your airline is gate-checking bags, get on the plane towards the end of boarding (even if you’re invited to board earlier). On small planes where rolling suitcases & duffel bags are tagged at the gate and stowed underneath the plane, we found that often the last bags to go on were the first to come off. So if you’ve got a tight connection or just generally don’t like waiting for your bag, don’t be in a rush to board because your bag may end up at the bottom of the pile. Don’t be dead last and get left behind or anything, but try going on with Zone 4-5 people instead of Zone 1-2. Note: this works best if after you gate-check your bag, the only other carry-ons that you have can slip under the seat in front of you since overhead bin storage fills up while you wait to board.

#2. If you’re arriving to town before hotel check-in, just call ahead. Our flights often got us into town before noon – a few hours before the standard hotel check-in time of 3 pm. We used to think this required us to kill some major time, but usually all it takes is a call to get into your room early at no extra charge. We often called before getting on the plane (to let them know we were interested in an early check-in) and then again when we landed in that city (to hopefully secure something that was ready). This method only failed us once, but in about a dozen other circumstances when we arrived early, there was a room waiting for us.

#3. Be the bright spot in the front desk clerk’s day. Hotel employees deal with plenty of jerks each day (we witnessed more than a couple), so by being the friendly / smiley / not-engrossed-in-your-phone guests can sometimes earn you more than good karma points – we even scored a couple of random room upgrades.

#4. If you can’t reserve plane seats together, book seats that would be next to each other, even if they’re in different rows. All of our tour flights were booked by our publisher (many of them last minute). So on the few occasions where we couldn’t get seats together, we’d ask the desk agent, which worked in most cases. But for two instances it didn’t. So as a last ditch effort, we chose an aisle seat in one row and a window seat in another – even if it was a row up. Then we’d get on the plane and before the person in the seat we wished to switch with sat down and got settled we asked if they minded sitting one row up in the same exact seat that they booked. In those two cases, the person didn’t seem to mind at all (of course nothing’s guaranteed, but we thought it was worth a shot).

#5. Whenever possible, pack light and carry on. In all of our 29 flights, we never lost a single bag. This is because we packed light and carried on every single time. I just carried my purse (which also had our camera, our phones, our tickets, some snacks, and our itinerary) and John carried the backpack (with our books for reading on the plane, our computer, and signing stuff in it) along with dragging the carry-on-sized rolling suitcase along (full of clothes, shoes, etc). This is all that we brought with us, even when we were gone for nearly a week:

It might seem hard to get all of your stuff down to just a few bags, but our advice is to pack a few wardrobe staples that can all be interchanged (ex: don’t pack any tops that need specific shoes or pants that don’t go with anything else). In our case, a few pairs of jeans and tops along with one extra pair of shoes each, and some obvious things like underwear was all that we needed in our suitcase. When we travel with Clara we use one more rolling suitcase for her clothes, sound machine, blanket, and a few other comfort items, but since each person is allowed one suitcase and one carry on, we’re still good to go in that scenario without any bag checking.

6. Keep toiletries easily accessible in a plastic bag that you can pull out in two seconds at security. Many of the airports we traveled through were extremely strict about removing our liquid toiletries from our luggage when going through security (and it can really slow you down if you have to dig through your suitcase to grab them) so we learned to keep our plastic bag of contact solution and other small liquids more easily accessible. Rather than burying it with the rest of our toiletries in our suitcase, sticking it into the front pocket of the backpack made for easier grabbing.

Oh but they’ll take any and all fancy sodas away from you as you go through security 100% of the time.

#7. Make a travel document to use as a quick-reference itinerary for every trip. We put all of our hotel accommodations, flight confirmation numbers, and scheduled dates for departures & check-ins on one sheet of paper that we printed out before we left for the airport. It’s also a nice simple sheet to copy for a family member so they know where to find you in an emergency.

#8. Do a night-before-check on your flight, print tickets at home, and double check your hotel reservation. This is another one of those prepping-beforehand-is-much-easier-than-panicking-later things. We liked to check on our flight the night before, just to be sure it wasn’t delayed or canceled and, if possible, even print tickets at home to save time at the airport. We also learned the hard way to check our hotel reservations – on one of our first tour stops, we arrived to find that our hotel was booked for the following night instead of that night and we had to kill a few hours while everything was straightened out.

And if you’re lucky, your room looks like this

#9. Everything takes longer than you think. Always give yourself a lot more time to do basic things like fly somewhere, catch a cab, check into your hotel, etc. In the beginning of our tour we tried to squeeze in a lot of things that we soon learned we’re close to impossible (ex: a house crashing after a delayed flight meant shooting a house in the dark and then eating a crazy-late dinner and collapsing into bed at 1am, which didn’t set us up well for our morning signing the next day). So it was a lot less stressful once we stopped underestimating the time it would take to do things and started being realistic about how much “fuzzy” time there is in there. You know, all those moments spent deplaning, waiting for a cab, or sitting in a restaurant waiting for the food can really add up.

#10. Hotel TV can stink. I know, this isn’t a huge deal for most people (us included) when you’re going to be staying somewhere for a few days, but when you’re traveling on and off for four months you definitely start to miss the simple comforts of home that help you unwind (your own couch, your own bed, and even your DVR). So we wised up in the last month of travel and got a free one month trial of Amazon Prime, which allowed us to watch Downton Abbey on our computer in any hotel. It sounds odd, but having this simple luxury really helped us relax and it made those random hotels feel a little more homey (instead of sitting on the bed watching Cops and missing “real life” like crazy).

So there you have it. Ten things that made all that traveling a little easier, more fun, tastier, and more comfy. Do you guys have other tips out there! I’m sure there are some we have yet to discover and a few that we’re forgetting thanks to scrambled travel brain. That’s a real thing, right?

Psst- Here’s a post about toddler travel that we did a while back, just in case that’s on the agenda for you.



Squeezing In Some Craftiness

Since we always share our road trip adventures with the Bowers (like this one, this one, and this one), here’s a long overdue recap of our most recent visit – which included lots of kid fun, a fair amount of antiquing & crafting, and even a little luxurious mom outing for good measure (along with a really cute gift idea). Let’s jump right in, shall we?

Oh but for those looking for pictures of us doing sexy exciting things like cutting wood and using a nail-gun, that’s going on as you read this. The soundtrack of the day is bam-bam-bam! Yes, we’ve begun our big board & batten project and can’t wait to share our progress next week! Our goal is to not only finish it, but to have all of the nail holes filled, prime it, and paint it (along with painting the hallway walls) by next Wednesday. So we’re buzzing around like crazy to make that happen. And we can’t wait to spill all of the details!

As for the Katie-crafting I mentioned, at around 11pm one night she and I were feeling antsy and hyper, so we decided we couldn’t just sit on the sofa. We needed to be crafting. Seriously that happened. So we looked around for some things we could use and Katie quickly came up with two old terracotta pots, some wrapping paper with a faux wood look, some pom pom fringe (which made me jump up and down like a child) and some craft paint.

Our first step was just to paint the entire inside of the pot along with the lip around the top with craft paint. Katie went with red and I went with a soft blue color. Then we used the wrapping paper in that faux wood pattern and cut out a piece of it that could be wrapped around the base of the pot like a little sleeve or slipcover. Once we knew it would fit (you can make a paper template to get the shape right since it’s not a straight strip, it’s more like a curved C-shaped piece of paper since the pot is tapered) we Mod Podged the side of the pot and laid the paper over it to hold it in place…

We also applied Mod Podge to the top of the wrapping paper to seal it and make it nice and durable. Bam: two cute little countertop pots for everything from pencils to keys or loose change. And as for the pom-pom fringe, we had planned to use it around the lip of each one (pink on mine and soft blue on Katie’s) but sadly it looked a little too “Liberace” – so we slowly backed away from the pom-poms. Don’t worry though, it inspired me to buy some from JoAnn when we got back home (it was a remnant so it was super cheap) and I have a little project planned with it. Gotta work the pom-pom fringe in there somewhere!

But our days weren’t all spent snuggling Mod Podge and craft paint. We had lots of awesome family time (Katie and I really bonded over being pregnant together with Clara & Will, so we love doing outings together where our kids can run around and have some fun). Along with going to the playground and soaking up some backyard fun time we also headed over to a children’s museum in Downtown Atlanta called Imagine It. Clara and Will had the best time playing with everything from trains, water, and sand to – of course – a nice big play kitchen. I think Will was frying strawberries and Clara was microwaving cereal here. Yummy.

During one amazing naptime that perfectly overlapped (all three kids were sleeping at once) Katie and I even squeezed in a pedicure and a run to Starbucks, which is about a once a year occurrence to ladies like us, so we pretty much felt like queens for that entire afternoon.

We also went antiquing, but Katie has all of those pics, so I’ll just share what I brought home: two little wooden doll chairs (too big for the dollhouse but perfect for a few of Clara’s bigger dolls), an old metal moose hook (you know I love a good moose), and a cute little red wagon for Clara’s dollhouse (the wheels even turn, so I knew she’d love pulling it around). Sometimes antique shops (as opposed to thrift shops) seem to have higher prices, but I think the chairs were $4 for both, the moose hook was $3 and the wagon was $3, which wasn’t too bad. When it was all said and done, for ten bucks I got some pretty fun stuff.  Especially when you see where they ended up…

Here’s the moose hook living it up in the hall bathroom (which is where we bathe Clara, so we’ve been dying for a towel hook for functional reasons). And the fact that El Moose goes so perfectly with Senior Horse (an old metal horse that I got at a secondhand store and repurposed as a towel holder)… well, that made my day.

As for the doll chairs, I originally thought about spraying them a bright color (you know me…) but once I cleaned them up with some soap and water they looked pretty charming just as they were.

Don’t mind the giant clown pants that the little doll has on. Those are from a stuffed babydoll, but Clara likes to switch everyone’s outfits.

And as for the little red wagon, I think it’s my favorite. Especially because I found it like this the next morning (this is not staged, Clara actually did this).

Seriously, how funny is that? She had dug two pigs out of her little pouch of plastic animals and explained that the big pig was pulling the little pig. And Olivia and Olivia’s dad (who are the kind of pigs who wear clothes) were watching. If that isn’t a good time, I don’t know what is.


We spent a good amount of time eating (mmm) and just hanging out and talking about blog stuff and life stuff while our kids played in the house and the yard. It was an awesome long weekend with them. And of course we made this video…

… and took some adorable kid pics while we were at it.

Then on Monday morning we published the morning post and made the long drive home (it’s about 8 hours), approving comments as we went. Oh and Clara blessed us with an awesome nap:

Speaking of blessed, can you believe that Katie and I have been friends for almost four years?! Crazy how time flies. It’s so funny when we think back to how we met before any kiddos (we did everything from vacationing in Nashville to going out for sushi at midnight) and now we collectively have three kids under three. Haha! My how the times have changed. But in the best possible way.

And here’s the thoughtful gift that I found sitting outside of the guest room when we awoke the morning after our very last book signing:

The hand written note on the top of the box talked about how Katie knew what a big thing the tour was (both exciting-wise and exhausting-wise) and she wanted to congratulate us for completing it and said that she hoped this new after-the-tour season would hold and be filled with many things and be a time that is… (yes she left me hanging so I had to open the box). Inside I found that she had put notes on each item in the box that correlated with what she wrote. So on the little box of chocolates she said “sweet and refreshing” and on the notebook she said “a fresh new start” and on the mug full of herbal tea it said “soothing and calm.” How awesome is that? I loved it. Just what I needed after living out of a suitcase for four months!

So a huge thanks to the Bowers for hosting us and being our buddies. John and Jeremy even went to a movie together while Katie and I hung back with the kids, which made us all nerdy and giddy. We love that our men are such good friends because it bodes well for them always saying “sweet!” when we bat our eyes and start planning another visit. Haha! What road trips have you guys gone on lately? Are you giving (or getting) any presents so charming and clever that they make you want to blog about them? What about crafting and antiquing. I’m sure we’re not the only ones doing that…

Psst- Clara’s just getting funnier and funnier. Hear her take on everything from baby naming to wheeling away from a yogurt raisin here on Young House Love.