It's been awhile since I last shared some of my favorites when it comes to travel these days.  I've got a few new tricks that I really like, and since I'm trying to build up my mile balance for some (hopefully) upgraded long haul flights in the next year, it shouldn't surprise you that most suggestions are miles related.  To accompany my hints, I've gathered together some aerial photos I took on my iPhone from my airplane seat recently, edited into some nice, contrasty black and whites.  Try to guess the state in the photo, if you can!

1. Global Entry

Five Stars for Convenience!

The U.S. Global Entry program is perfect for the low-risk, U.S. traveler who likes to fly internationally at least once a year.  Not only do you get TSA Prestatus on every domestic flight, which is pure traveling bliss, you also get to speed through U.S. customs checkpoints using kiosks.  Granted, you may still end up waiting for your baggage along with the rest of the non-Global Entry passengers, depending on the speed of the airport to get them off the plane and to the terminal, but you have a separate line on exit that may still help you win the race.

Why Global Entry and not just TSA Pre?  While it may cost a little more, with a $100 application fee instead of $85, but I think it's worth it for the 5 years it covers.  Of course there are some annoyances associated with the application process.  With its popularity, it may be hard to get an appointment within a reasonable amount of time.  Speaking of appointments, it's a time commitment to go to the Global Entry office, wait, then do the required background interview and fingerprinting. One additional annoyance relevant to my situation is that I am going to have to return to the Global Entry office once I renew my passport - which is bound to happen soon for space issues. Back to the positives: no paperwork (blue customs forms) means no digging around for that pen at the bottom of your bag on the plane, you can try to make crazy faces for the kiosk camera that will print out on your slip to hand to the Border Patrol agent on exit (I know I'm weird), and there's even expedited entry into some other countries. G'day mate!

I encourage reading all of the eligibility requirements in detail before applying for Global Entry because if there is any reason you may be disqualified, your application fee is not returned when denied.

2. Google Map Directions without Wifi

If you are driving internationally, nothing is better than having the convenience of Google Maps.  I'm not a fan of paying tons of money for data plans while I'm abroad, though, so when without a car navigation system, this is a perfect alternative.  

Before leaving the hotel wifi, download your desired map.  Start by opening the Google Maps app.  Find your destination using the search bar.  After it has loaded, go back to the search bar and blank it out, then scroll to the bottom of the menu.  Select the "Download a new offline area" option.  You can find all of your offline maps in your profile menu (the three bars on the search line).  Note, each map has an expiration date one month from download.


3. RocketMiles

Talk about a fast and easy way to earn airline mileage points!  The rates I've been able to get on Rocketmiles are comparable to other hotel aggregator websites, and I still earn thousands of miles. Last year, when I went to the UK, I think I earned enough miles for a one-way saver ticket on my favorite airline!  Sign up is easy and then just link to your favorite airline frequent flyer program.

4. International Charging Needs

Now that a lot of my trips also include my camera kit, I find myself needing more power sources than usual to charge my electronics - phone, tablet, computer, camera batteries, etc.  This is especially true when I travel to cold weather countries, where I may be running through several camera batteries in a day and have to simultaneously charge them fast just in case the Northern Lights decides to pop out in the middle of the night. Enter the Monster Power Strip connected to the Monster Global Adapter with USB.  Lightweight and efficient, this is a easy and safe solution to my electricity needs in foreign countries, especially in rooms with limited outlets.  

5. Winter Ski Travel 

There are still a few more months of ski season, so I have to give you my "go to" website!

There is no better resource for snow forecasts than the gang of forecasters at OpenSnow.com.  I check their predictions frequently whenever I am traveling with my skis to Colorado, Utah, and the Pacific NW.  Snow conditions are always going to have an element of unpredictability, but these guys are detailed and have a good understanding of how storms move and how that impacts total dump amounts and road conditions.  After driving through some treacherous conditions over the Vail Pass in Colorado a few winters ago, I am always looking up snowfall expectations and preparing to make my drive as safe as possible.  Which leads me to my next suggestion....

6. Silvercar

I feel like whenever I make a car rental reservation for winter travel destinations, I'm always playing a game of chance.  Should I select a car/sedan which may be the cheaper option, or spend the extra money on an SUV? Will that SUV selection actually guarantee a 4WD or AWD car?  Who knows. What I do know is that the Audi Quattro traction system is one of the best, and the idea of a rental car company that exclusively deals in Audi A4s is a huge relief for my winter travel planning.  

Silvercar is a new entry to the car rental industry.  And while the daily cost sometimes may be more than an equivalent vehicle type at a more well known rental agency, you're getting the comfort of a luxury car as well as the convenience of knowing it's getting you from the airport to your winter destination as safe as possible (the variable being your ability to drive comfortably in snow).  Reservations are managed online or on a phone app, there is no paperwork, and you are greeted by a concierge via text when you arrive at the airport, in person when the shuttle drops you off, and by text again the day of your return.  Alas, the Silvercar experience is only available at a select number of U.S. airports, but I am hoping that their success continues and inspires expansion to new destinations.  Check out their Facebook page for some first time rental promotional codes.

7. Southwest Companion Pass

For my last tip, I picked a doozie!  Imaging bringing someone (me!) along with you on all your Southwest flights for FREE. Enter the Southwest Companion Pass.

The rules are simple, the journey to earning the pass is challenging...or is it?  

After qualifying for the Companion Pass,  a companion is designated for the pass and Southwest mails the pass to you.  When booking tickets online, there is an option to choose the companion pass to assist with the booking process.  The passholder's fare comes up and the companion is zero.  This companion benefit is good for the year in which you earn it AND the next calendar year.  So, the sooner you get it, the bigger the return!

And now, how to get it.  There are two ways:

1. Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights with Southwest in one calendar year
2. Earn 110,000 Southwest points in one calendar year

Number 1 is tough!  That's flying every 3.65 days!  Number 2, however......well, how is your credit rating? If you don't already have the Southwest Chase credit card, they have 50,000 mile signup offers.  Oh, and by the way, you could qualify for the personal AND business card.  If that's the case, boom, you're at 100,000 points already.  You'll have to spend some money on those cards to earn the initial 50k bonus, likely $2000 minimum, so there's 4,000 more miles.  For the remaining 6,000 miles, check out other Southwest travel and shopping partners (like Rocketmiles!) or simply use the card to shop all your favorite places and fly a little bit (hit the slopes?).  You'll get it no sweat.  Again, the earlier in the calendar year, the better because after this first companion pass is earned, the second will not come as easily since the credit card bonuses are for first time applicants only.  Still, what an offer if you can swing it!  Also, remember you get two checked bags free (a.k.a. ski bag and large duffel for that winter vacation) on Southwest and the option to pay a nominal amount to get hassle-free, early bird check-on.  Oh, and they still give you snacks for free!  Could they cement their status any more firmly as one of the best U.S. domestic airlines??

Happy trails!

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