I feel like a different person the moment I step into an airport. It’s a little like stepping into a wind tunnel for me—everything suddenly feels rushed, important. (This is probably because I’m usually rushing and unsure if I’ll actually make it on a flight, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Kylie always makes fun of my ‘airport walk,’ because no matter how early or late we are, I’m basically running. I can’t help it. There’s this heightened sense of potential and uncertainty that the monotony of our daily routines lulls us into forgetting once we’re on the ground at home again.
Caitlyn and I headed to Love Field after work Friday to try to get on a completely full nonstop to San Diego. We walked (ran) up to the CSA as A-group was boarding, and I had checked the load just prior—2 seats for sale, 9 standbys listed.
“You’re #7 and 8 on the list,” the CSA told us matter-of-factly without feigned sympathy. I breathed out sharply, realizing we wouldn’t be making it on this flight. I started considering our next option (going through Austin) as we idled nervously next to the CSA desk, waiting for them to start clearing the other 6 people in front of us.
By some true Roman Catholic miracle, the first 6 people didn’t show up. The second the CSA rattled off ‘Krusinsky’ and ‘Gatti,’ I practically threw my badge at him, and we had our golden tickets. It’s a legitimate high when you get cleared for a flight you’re almost certain you won’t make.
While we were boarding, we realized we hadn’t yet actually figured out where we’d be staying if we made it out there—subconsciously, I think I was afraid we’d jinx ourselves. We pulled up a hostel on Ocean Beach and booked two beds in a 6-bed dorm. Confirmation came almost suspiciously quickly, and before we had even settled into our middle seats, we had a little reservation code that promised a place to sleep.
There are countless ‘travel inspiration’ quotes that posit travel is a means of ‘finding yourself’ or ‘losing yourself’ or whatever else Thought Catalog is pushing this week. It feels stale to me. Standby travel is true travel improvisation. It’s not about finding yourself—it’s about finding a seat on a full plane and a last-minute place to stay that won’t cost more than the airfare would’ve.
As we were walking to our gate Friday night, I looked at Cait (who had never traveled standby before), and said, “We have to accept right now that the next 24 hours may go horrifically wrong.”
Luckily, they didn’t. But they could’ve.
There is an electric sense of freedom that comes with a boarding pass. Before I worked at Southwest, I wouldn’t go anywhere without a minute-by-minute itinerary of every meal and potty break. Now, I come equipped with only Plans A, B, and C—three different potential cities.
If nothing else, it’s taught me—the world’s most obnoxious control freak—to surrender control and accept that things can’t deviate from the plan if there is no plan. Loopholes, right?
Cait and I stayed in this super cool hostel ($35/person) and completely lucked out—it was right in the middle of Ocean Beach, and nobody else booked our room that night, so we were the only two people in the 6-person room.
We got dinner at Coasterra, drinks at a brewery by the beach, breakfast at Swell Coffee Co., and rented longboards from a surf shack on Pacific Beach. It was the most glorious 18 hours—the kind where you feel exceptionally clear, and everything from the rest of your life shifts into perspective. I think that’s why people love to travel. Everything comes into focus. Thousands of miles of separation—if only for 18 hours—recalibrate you.
When you're mired in the details of your own life for too long, situations become distorted. It's like that cheesy Carrie Underwood song where the mountain you're climbing is just a grain of sand (or something to that effect). Getting out of your real life for a minute and traipsing around California in Birkenstocks is the best way I'm aware of to shake some shit up and let the dust settle where it should be.
It’s ironically empowering.
It makes me feel like I'm the only thing I need to figure shit out and have a good time. As I've mentioned before, the importance of feeling whole—all by yourself—cannot be overstated.
But the best thing that happened? As with any standby trip, it’s the part where you get cleared on your first-choice nonstop home.
Where to next?
On my first-ever standby weekend trip, I packed four different outfits in a giant pink duffel bag. It's no coincidence that's the weekend I end up stranded in not one, but TWO connecting cities, making a 90-minute flight a 10-hour travel day. I scoff at my former self.
(I really hope I'm not jinxing my next standby adventure.)
Here are a few things that I've learned over my many weekends and day trips that may make your next adventure a little easier.
If at all possible, use a backpack.
I think we all know I'm partial to backpacks as I've named this entire category "Girl with a Backpack," but it's with good reason.
For one thing, they're hands-free. This is huge when you're running around an airport or traversing a new city.
For another, you can shove them under the seat in front of you, so you don't need to worry about finding overhead bin space on full flights.
And lastly, they fit a deceptive amount of stuff—but will also force you to pare down your belongings and not bring unnecessary junk with you on your trip.
I've been using my L.L. Bean middle school backpack because it's #DurableAF, but once I get a little extra spending money I think I'm going to splurge for a Herschel.
Follow the CSA Rule of Three.
While this one may be a little controversial coming from someone who works at an airline, I've heard that the rule of thumb with Customer Service Agents at airports is, if one tells you they can't do something for you, to ask two more.
This is because (sometimes) they either (a) don't know how to do what you're asking them to do, (b) don't think they can or (c) could but don't feel like it. Whether this is switching a flight, rerouting you through a different city because of weather, or a number of other things, it's always good to follow up with two more if your first CSA claims ignorance or inability.
I feel compelled here to mention that you should always, ALWAYS be extremely polite to the CSA. They are not obligated to help you, so if you give them an attitude, they probably won't. The best way to guarantee you get the help you need is to be excessively kind and patient, even if you're panicking about your situation. Keep calm and ask another.
Remember the 10-Minute Rule.
This is the rule that states as long as you're at your gate 10 minutes before departure, you're in the clear (if you're a confirmed passenger).
I feel like before I started flying a lot I'd end up sitting at my gate for an hour and a half before departure because I wanted to "have plenty of time." I'd always WAY overestimate the amount of time I needed to get through security and get settled, which made travel far more tedious and time-consuming than it actually needed to be because I spent so much time just sitting in the gate area.
Moreover, if you show up an hour and a half early and your flight gets delayed, you're tacking on an excessive amount of time. I remember one instance in particular where I showed up to the gate in SFO at 1:30 p.m. for a 3:10 p.m. flight, and at 2:15 p.m. I got a notification that the flight was delayed—until 9 p.m.
I had to sit in that dang airport for almost eight hours. If I waited a little longer, I would've gotten that notification before I had left for the airport and had an entire extra day in SF. The same thing happened to me flying out of JFK in the spring.
I'm not telling you to push it to the last-minute and see how late you can possibly be, just be realistic about the amount of time it'll actually take and don't show up two hours early. (This is purely from a "get more out of your trip and make the most of your time" standpoint.)
I hope one or more of these comes in handy for you.
If there are other travel-specific topics you'd like to know more about, don't hesitate to reach out!
*Disclaimer—this is not directly travel-related, but if you try hard enough, you can see the connection. In other words, I had nowhere else to put it. Enjoy.
"Budget” used to be a cringe-worthy concept for me. It reminded me of my lack of self-control and unhinged spending habits, vulnerable to every Urban Outfitters sale and Starbucks breakfast menu.
As a Millennial, when I'm not Snapchatting or eating avocado toast, I'm probably spending my money on useless stuff like VSCO filters and cat T-shirts. It's safe to say our generation could use a little help with budgeting. But, also wholly Millennial, I want it to be fast, easy, painless and efficient.
For some reason, money is a sensitive, hot-button topic for a lot of people—but it shouldn’t be. Maybe if we had more candid conversations about our finances, there would be fewer people buried under mountains of debt. I want to make it clear before I launch into this that the way I choose to spend my money is entirely up to me, much like the way you choose to spend yours is up to you.
I merely wish to show you a tool that can help you make the most of your income and stretch your dollar a little further (unless you work for Goldman Sachs or some other investment bank and don't have to worry about this; in which case, VenMo me @katie-gatti).
For the sake of full transparency, my newfound eyelash extension habit is what prompted me to get myself on a real, no-BS budget once and for all. I knew that, with the amount of money coming in (#InternSalary), I’d have to be intentional and conscious about how I was spending my limited expendable income.
I grew up in a house where money was micromanaged to the cent, so it’s bizarre that I spend with such an “ignorance is bliss” mindset. My mom used to catalog every single expenditure in this massive spreadsheet she called “the SS” (short for spreadsheet, but I always found it offensively humorous that SS was also the name of the secret Nazi police since we’d joke my mom was the receipt Nazi).
No joke, the woman had years’ worth of purchases catalogued in there, and the receipts for every single one of them filed in her office in our basement. To this day, I could ask her to find me, say, a Kroger receipt from the second week in October 2012 and she could walk downstairs and, within 10 minutes, emerge with the receipt in question. (I wonder why I'm so Type-A?)
Anyway, money seems to be the one area of my life where my obsessive-compulsive tendencies have yet to pervade—and I definitely didn’t want to pick up the old Excel workbook habit.
I have, however, found an easier and more convenient way to track, customize and set boundaries for spending habits, incentivized in part by the obscenely high credit card bill I received after my first month in Dallas. This spending black hole on my Discover statement is what I now affectionately refer to as the ‘Fast Food Free-for-All 2017’ stage of my summer.
The app/website is called Mint, and it’s from Intuit (the makers of TurboTax) so it’s safe and legitimate (famous last words, I know, but we’re all in this data cloud together!).
I’ve been using Mint for all of July and it’s amazing to me how, just by capping my spending in customized categories, I think twice—and sometimes three times—before making a purchase. I am SO much more conscientious about what I’m spending my money on, because I have to watch this tiny green bar climb closer to the top with every swipe.
Before I launched into the tips, I want to mention that the Mint app is not as useful to me as the Mint website. I prefer setting my budgets and reclassifying transactions on desktop, then checking on the go using the app.
Here are some tips I’ve found that work best with Mint:
Connect your checking account, savings account and credit card(s).
Mint automatically pulls in your transaction and balance data. Then, it uses that data to cross-reference your spending with the budgets you’ve set for yourself. This is an inevitable first step, but it's pretty easy if you have a major bank or credit card. More on budgets now…
Customize, customize, customize.
I should mention that I did have one failed attempt at becoming a Mint budgeter last summer (after Dallas Fast Food Free-for-All 2016). My theory as to why I failed is that I didn’t customize the budget for my lifestyle.
I kept the standard categories it generates for you, and allowed my transactions to be siphoned in automatically (some incorrectly). The great thing about Mint is that it allows you to reclassify a transaction’s category, but if you don’t use that feature, your budgets won’t be accurate.
For example, I went to a bar called Public School the other night for Happy Hour appetizers and a drink. My Mint transaction classified the “Public School” charge as “Tuition” (LOL), and was just floating around in my budgets ecosystem, unclaimed. When I noticed the transaction was categorized incorrectly, I changed it to “Food and Dining > Restaurants.”
You can get really specific. For example, I have three “Food and Dining” categories since I spend a lot of my money in that arena. I have “Restaurants,” “Fast Food,” “Groceries” and “Bars and Alcohol.” I’ve found that the more specific you make your categories, the more likely you are to stick to them. Here’s a screen grab of my current budget categories, to give you an idea of just how customized they are:
Once you determine how much you want to spend in each category, Mint adds it up and tells you your total budget for the month (and how close you are to it, as the month progresses). I like this feature because it keeps my credit card bills around the same price.
On the mobile version, a tiny line moves along each bar to show you how far into the month you are—and you can pat yourself on the back when your spending is "under" for that point of the month.
Pick a dollar amount and stick to it—but allow some rollover.
Remember those AT&T commercials back in the day with all those tiny orange clocks that represented rollover minutes? Heck, remember minutes? That was so 2009.
Some of your budgets will likely work the same way. For me, I set a $75 clothing budget each month—but I’m anticipating I won’t use it all the time, because I won’t always need new clothes. I set this budget to “roll over” so, each month, anything left unspent in that $75 will tack on to next month’s clothing budget.
If I go three months without buying any clothes, that means I’ll have $225 to go on a baby shopping spree (and not feel bad about it, because I’ve budgeted that money aside already).
This brings me to my next point—prioritization.
Prioritize your spending habits.
I know this probably should’ve gone first, but I’m all about effective flow in my writing and this just seemed like an apropos segue.
For me, keeping my clothing spending under $75 a month is extremely doable. I barely ever shop for clothes—I just don’t care that much, for whatever reason.
But did you see my eyelash budget? I set aside a whopping $100/month to subsidize that completely unnecessary trend! That’s as much as I spend on groceries! (Exclamation points!!!)
The point is, you should spend your money in a way that makes you happy. If you’re a HUGE foodie and couldn't care less about manicures and makeup, then dump that extra $100 into your restaurant budget. If you’re super into your SoulCycle grind and hate eating out, you probably don’t need $120/month in Restaurant money and can spend it on (four) SoulCycle classes instead. Seriously, how do y’all afford that?
OH, and what do you know… it’s time for an equally appropriate segue!
While I’d love to get highlights every month and biweekly pedicures, I know there are other things that are going to come up that need to be budgeted for. For example, my lovely parents got me a new car last year and I’m obsessive about keeping it perfect. I get it washed and vacuumed every two weeks, so I budgeted in that $26 monthly charge.
I also know that I run out of things like shampoo and face wash from time to time, so it’d be nice to have some money set aside for “Personal Care” items. There are smaller ticket items, like these, that crop up and need to be paid for too, so don’t ignore your other routine spending.
It’s also important to budget for things like Uber (if you use it) because that’s a sneaky charge that can add up quickly if you use it enough for short haul trips. Even though your $10/ride trip from your house to downtown may not seem like much at the time, if you’re doing that round-trip twice a weekend every week, that’s $160 in Uber charges for the month (or, in KG language, a mani/pedi).
Y'all, the struggle is real, I know. Being realistic? Making sacrifices? Not eating Fuzzy's Tacos for lunch every day? UNSUBSCRIBE!!
But, as un-fun as it is, sometimes taking steps like this make it a little easier to exercise a sense of control over the (small amount of) money we have as Millennials (unless you're one of those tech startup tycoon Millennials, in which case, please see my VenMo username above).
Happy spending, friends, and more importantly—happy saving!
It’s embarrassing how many times I hashtag “#BallaOnABudget” in my daily communication (or say it out loud to waitresses when I question the price difference between the standard mixed drink and the drought beer).
In other words, my checking account matches my coffee order—skinny. My flight privileges, however, make it possible for me to live a lifestyle (on the weekends, at least) that doesn’t match my budget-conscious weekday life.
But—as most of us know—travel isn’t exactly the cheapest hobby, even if your flights ARE free (and your bags, if you’re on Southwest). :)
These are a few money-saving measures I’ve learned from being on the “inside” at an airline. Disclaimer: I’m plugging some cool Southwest products here because (a) I’m biased, duh, and (b) I truly believe it’s the best option for people who don’t have money to blow on extras.
Use the low fare calendar.
It blows my mind how few people know about this hack. The low fare calendar is for people with flexible travel plans (i.e., you could leave Thursday or Friday, or early or late) and it shows you an overview of the cheapest fares for a given route (for the entire month!). It looks like this:
This calendar is for Dallas-New Orleans for the month of August, but you can see any route.
Consider renting a car instead of using Uber.
This one surprised me. I always thought renting a car was for adults with 401ks and that people my age couldn’t afford the luxury of a 2011 Toyota Corolla on vacation, but Kylie and I actually tested this one out for ourselves in San Diego. Granted, we rented a boujee 2017 bright red Chevy Camaro convertible, so we paid through the nose for it—but there were incredibly economic options available as well.
To test which was cheaper, Kylie and I looked up the (would have been) Uber price for each leg of our trip and calculated the grand total. We went from the airport to Pacific Beach, from Pacific Beach to La Jolla, from La Jolla to downtown and from downtown to Hotel Coronado (then back to the airport). Our grand total for Ubers would have been around $120 total. Our fun and totally-worth-it convertible was about $125.
Even with the most expensive rental car you can get from Thrifty, it was still only about $5 more than Uber—and we got to drive a sports car up the coast of California, which, in my opinion, is #priceless.
Join a loyalty program.
If you’re traveling a lot, join the Southwest Rapid Rewards program. You can earn points every time you fly (and by booking your aforementioned rental car through Rapid Rewards). Joining a loyalty program should be a no-brainer, but for whatever reason, some people don’t bother to do so—it just makes sense to earn credit for every time you fly, book cars or hotels.
If you’re someone who’s open to getting a new credit card to help subsidize travel, consider getting the Chase Visa Rapid Rewards Card—Southwest is running a deal where, if you spend $1,000 on the card in the first three months, you get 40,000 Rapid Rewards points (this is about the equivalent of a free roundtrip, depending on where you’re flying; right now the offer is 40,000 but I’m sure the 60,000-point offer will come again as it was offered a month ago).
There’s a $69 annual fee, but if you’re a big traveler and put big-ticket items on your credit card every month (like rent), you’ll spend $1,000 on your card in three months with ease. You also earn Rapid Rewards points on every purchase you make on the card—for the older folks reading who may be paying for, say, college tuition, I have a friend whose mom pays for her out-of-state tuition on their card and earns enough points to fly her daughter back and forth from school. That’s the kind of savvy spending I aspire to.
The key with loyalty programs is to book your whole vacation through the loyalty program's portal so you can take advantage of your hotel and rental car spending as well.
On my first-ever standby weekend trip, I packed four different outfits in a giant pink duffel bag. Not coincidentally, that was also the weekend I got stranded in Houston AND Tampa on my way to Birmingham due to weather. I scoff at my former self.
As a verified standby aficionado (i.e., an airline employee), I know a thing or two about how to pack the perfect carry-on that'll allow you to sprint hands-free across the terminal when your gate gets changed or you decide the move is the connection in Phoenix instead of the nonstop to Vegas.
While overpacking gets a lot of diva glory (women love to subtle-brag about having separate suitcases for their shoes and hair products), a true travel junkie knows that less is always more. Here are a few ways to travel light and get the most out of your bag (and trip).
Always carry-on. And, when possible, use a backpack.
I know rolling carry-on suitcases are wonderful because they fit a lot of stuff and—hello—they roll, but there's a downside to bringing a true suitcase.
For one thing, they have to go in the overhead bins. Perhaps it's just my standby plebeian status, but I'm usually one of the last people to get on the plane—which means overhead bin space is limited. The worst thing in the world as a standby passenger (once on the plane, at least) is when they run out of space and you have to check your bag (luckily, dem #BagsFlyFree).
But it's a time suck, sometimes your bag doesn't make it to your destination, and I don't know who the heck has time for baggage claim, but it ain't me. The backpack can be shoved under the seat in front of you (which also allows you to sit in any empty seat on Southwest, regardless of the bin space above it).
Moreover, if you're a quick-trip traveler that enjoys spending as little time as possible in a hotel, suitcases pose an issue. You must drop off a suitcase after landing, or be tasked with rolling it around the city with you like a vagabond. If you're doing a day trip, you don't have anywhere to put your stuff. A backpack is a must.
I still use my L.L. Bean backpack from middle school because it's #DurableAF, but once I get some extra spending money I'm going to splurge for a Herschel backpack that'll make me look truly travel-y.
Wear a neutral pair of jeans or leggings on the flight, and bring one shirt change.
Again, this is specific to people who do only one- or two-day trips (obviously bring more than one shirt if you'll be gone for a week). If there's one thing I've learned from traveling, it's that wearing a different pair of black leggings or having two different shades of blue jeans is completely unnecessary.
Wear the pants on the flight and then use them over the duration of your 24- or 48-hour jaunt. You can cuff them if you need to switch the look up a little, but trust me, nobody's paying attention anyway.
I usually try to bring a shirt that looks radically different than the shirt I travel in, because I'm vain and usually anticipate taking pictures on the trip (gotta have an apparent outfit change, ya feel?).
(I'm sure all the boys reading are rolling their eyes—sorry fella, women think about these things.)
I also tend to wear black-and-white Nike Roshe's (or another comfortable, chic athletic shoe that's versatile) that'll be good for getting around in and won't give me any blisters, but will still look put-together. I have legitimately no idea how some women wear heels (or other fancy shoes) on trips.
Lastly, wear a raincoat or jean jacket on the plane. You'll probably want to have one anyway, regardless of where you're going, and they're both lightweight enough to not be too sweltering in hotter places. I'm almost always cold on airplanes, so it doubles as a little blanket in-flight. (It also works wonders if you end up stuck in an airport and have to sleep.)
Get creative with your toiletries (and makeup, if you have that).
Something that always stresses me out when traveling is the toiletry situation because you can't pack it until the last minute. Last summer, I made a 'travel toiletry kit' with minis of all my stuff, ready to roll and stowed permanently in my bag.
This took a little extra effort (i.e., going to Target and CVS and hunting down the appropriate minis), but it's so nice to have a small kit already in my backpack so I can grab it and go without having to round up all my travel necessities every time. I know most men have travel kits already, but it's a little less common for women.
Another tip—skip the fancy stuff. On quick trips, you aren't going to be deep conditioning and blowdrying. I always include:
Makeup works similarly. Most of the time I don't wear makeup at all when I travel because I hate the idea of having a layer of gunk on my face in the recycled plane air and outside sweating as I walk around, but if you must, I would suggest keeping it extremely basic and following the three-products-max rule.
I always used to bring way too much makeup on trips with me and 95% of it would end up unused in my bag, weighing me down. The truth is, when you're on-the-go (or staying in a hostel with 11 strangers), you're not going to be applying winged liner. You just won't.
I think people overpack because we always overestimate the amount of downtime we're going to have. How many times have you brought an abundance of stuff on a trip and realized while unpacking that most of it went untouched?
However, there is one specific amount of downtime I think you SHOULD prepare for...
Airport downtime checklist
While laptops can be super helpful when you're sitting around at the airport, they're also heavy and have to be screened separately in security (which is annoying). I also feel weird traveling with a $1,000 device in my backpack, considering my lodging style is more Motel 6 than Ritz Carlton.
I typically just bring my phone, but it's a "Plus" so the screen is big enough for surfing the web comfortably. I found out the other day that you can actually download Netflix shows now, so I'm considering trying that out on my next trip.
Here's my go-to checklist for airport downtime that doesn't add too much weight or inconvenience to my pack:
My favorite thing to do now in airports, however, is find the bar or main restaurant and sit alone and drink one of their drought beers. It makes me feel like such a real person, and it's so much better than sitting at your gate scrolling through Twitter. This is the best option during layovers and delays, in my opinion.
Travel hacks and must-sees from a broke frequent flyer.