To transfer or not to transfer?

I was talking to a friend the other day and we were exchanging horror stories of various airports we had to transfer through when travelling. Over time I have developed a list of favourites and a list of no-gos that I will avoid if possible and I wanted to pass it on to hopefully help others avoid some of the less fun aspects of airline travel. Here are some tips for travellers from Canada when there is no choice but to get on a non-direct flight to some fabulous place abroad.

1. Avoid Toronto. Last time I flew through Toronto on my way to Europe I had to walk about 2 miles and show my boarding pass/passport to about 10 different people. I wish I was exaggerating, two of the people could even see each other they were so close but when I reached the second airport employee they made me show my passport and boarding pass yet again. It took ages and was quite annoying.

2. Choose Montreal. I have flown home through Montreal a couple of times and it was easy and quick. There is a special line at passport control for people transferring flights and my next gate was not too far away. Plus I only had to show my passport/boarding pass one time past customs, that was a win for me after experiencing Toronto.

3. If you are going to South America, consider transferring through Panama instead of somewhere in the U.S. That way you do not have to go through U.S. customs, which is required when transferring through the U.S. even though you are just passing through. Also, Panama was an easy transfer, lots to do at the airport, and you stay inside the secured area so no need to go back through the security check line again.

4. Avoid Las Vegas. I was forced through Vegas once on a transfer (if only I could have stayed for a few days it would have been better) and it was a nightmare. I had to go through customs, re-check my bag, get a new boarding pass (the Air Canada readers couldn’t read the boarding pass I received in Ecuador), then go stand in a massive security line to then rush to the gate. Not fun.

5. Avoid Frankfurt. To get a direct flight to Europe there are a few main choices from Western Canada, London, Amsterdam or Frankfurt. Both London and Amsterdam are much better options. Every time I have flown through Frankfurt it takes approximately an hour to get through the customs check, another hour to two hours to get back through security and by then you are running for your gate which is inevitably far away. If you have to use Frankfurt, make sure you have at least 3 hours between flights, you will need it.

6. Use Amsterdam for a trip to Europe. Amsterdam is an easy airport to transfer through and offers flights to any other European destination.

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7. Use Minneapolis. If you do need to transfer through the U.S. use Minneapolis. It was quick, easy and there is even a Canadian/American line for customs which is much faster. The customs line for Canadians/Americans is automated, you are in and out quickly, your luggage is already there by the time you walk through and there is a separate security line for transferring passengers only that is right outside the gate beside where you drop your luggage. Perfect.

8. Avoid Los Angeles. On my way to Asia I transferred through L.A., it was busy and the transfer process was awful. As I was coming from Canada I flew into the domestic terminal and then had to transfer through the international terminal and it was ridiculously busy. People everywhere and it took forever. Better to transfer in Vancouver or another country overseas.

9. Use Phoenix. Phoenix is easy, my gates have always been close together and customs was fairly smooth, not as good as Minneapolis but nothing is.

10. Use Vancouver. It is a nice airport, lots to do, and is a great gateway to Asia as there are many direct flights from there.

I’m always interested in new transfer options if anyone has recommendations, although my preference is always to try and go direct. If only it were always possible… At least hopefully there is a good airport to land in at the end!

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Packing Tips

As I have traveled a fair amount many of my friends ask me for tips on what to pack, particularly for longer trips. I have to admit, I’m not always the best packer. I often over-pack and struggle reducing the number of clothes I want to bring. But, I have managed to come up with some packing tricks over the years, some to try and overcome my over-packing tendencies, some to help with long trips with limited packing space. Below are my top tips. I would love to hear from others if they have any tips to pass along.

1. Always pack enough underwear to have a clean pair a day. Underwear is small, easy to stuff into small corners of your suitcase or backpack and no matter how dirty the rest of your clothes are, if you have a clean pair of underwear you feel infinitely better. If your trip is many months and this isn’t feasible, bring as much as you can (I always bring at least one month worth) as you will have to do laundry either way.

2. Bring layers. This is important whether you are going on a trip with many different climates or even just to a tropical island. Evenings can always cool off, or some places are so air-conditioned that the 30 degrees outside doesn’t even matter, you still need a sweater. Layers also allow for multiple outfits and versatility with minimum clothes. Thinner layers pack better and you can pack more of them without sacrificing warmth.

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Biarritz in the South of France. The weather went from rain to hot and sunny throughout the day.

3. Gather up what you want to pack. Then cut it by about a third or more, especially if you are backpacking. Even though it doesn’t seem like much, or you can lift it after you have closed your suitcase, remember that you will have to carry it for longer than the 30 seconds you just lifted it. Whether backpacking from place to place or just carrying your suitcase up the many stairs at that adorable European hotel (that is much less adorable when carrying a huge suitcase up five flights of stairs where there is no elevator), it will feel much heavier when you are actually traveling. Plus most people need some room for souvenirs or shopping along the way.

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Stairs in Dubrovnik. Carrying a heavy backpack up the stairs in the heat is not fun!

4. Pack versatile items. For women, dresses are great as they can be used in multiple scenarios. For shoes only bring a couple pairs, shoes are heavy so a couple of comfortable styles that can be used with any outfit will be enough. Bring sweaters or cardigans, they can be used to layer, will keep you warm, and can change the look of an outfit for variety. Only bring one jacket, a nice raincoat can be used in multiple weather situations, is usually wind resistant and is lightweight and will fold down easily for packing.

5. Especially for long trips, only bring the essentials for toiletries. There are not many places in the world anymore where you cannot buy replacements along the way. Bring enough for the entire trip of key items like contact solution, toothbrush, special skin care, makeup etc. that you are less likely to find where you are going. For items like shampoo, toothpaste and similar things, bring smaller amounts as they can be easily replaced if you run out of them.

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6. Use an e-reader. Technology has made bringing books on vacation so much easier. I used to bring 3 to 5 books and then swap them out along the way, either with other travelers or at hostels. But books are heavy and cumbersome, e-readers mean you can take hundreds of books and only sacrifice a couple pounds of weight.

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7. If you are traveling with other people, share appliances like hair dryers, power converters and chargers, if possible. Everyone will then share the weight and space to carry these items.

Hope these tips help. Happy traveling!