Thrifty Tips for the In-Transit Cheapskate

Having accomplished the, in my mind, unimaginable feat of six countries in six months, having probably spent weeks of those months in transit, whether it be plane, ferry, fishing boat, bus, train or car I think it’s safe to say I am a well-experienced traveler. Maybe that’s too soon to say, but the last person to send me traveling tips had me laughing because I had, without knowing, done all of the things recommended by frequent flyers.

That said, for anyone wanting to travel the world, particularly, in a money-savvy, cheapskate sort of way, I want to give you some tips for flying internationally.

Dress for Success

I am well known for my smart, though maybe ridiculous style, so if I have learned anything with my time abroad, it’s how do dress for flying.

Don’t dress for business success. I can’t even imagine an international flight in heels, tights and tight-fitting, shit fabrics. I would even go so far as to say no makeup. Believe me, you will value sleep much more than a photoshop-face. As for clothes:

  1. Wear shoes that you can take off easily. You don’t need shoes on a plane. It’ll keep you from getting stinky feet too.
  2. Wear layers. Instead of toting a blanket, just have layers to shed and add. You don’t know what the temperature is going to be in each waiting room, lounge or airplane, so be smart. I knew I was flying to Nadi, Fiji. It’s horridly humid and hot, so no sleeves for me. Though I have a pull over in my carry on and am also wearing shorts under these breathable, blanket-like pants.
  3. The comfiest bra, or no bra at all. You choose. You know why.
  4. Mesh tank for ventilation and hair ties for heat prep.
  5. Always have something with reliable pockets. I usually only need two. One for phone and head phones, the other for passport, boarding pass and notebook. Those will constantly be needed on hand, everything else? Not so much.

Just Buy the Damn Pillow

I thought I was made of the tough stuff that didn’t need neck pillows.

Don’t be arrogant. You need the neck pillow. That said, you could spend $25 or more at the airport or store for one, or you could get a pillow at thrift stores in big cities, they are bound to have neck pillows. I’ve seen 3 so far from two stores. Or, of course, you could get a mameshiba instead. $2


I didn’t used to do this because with all the fear-mongering, customs threats and security lines, I didn’t think I could, but you can. Pack your own lunches, dinners or snacks for your flight. This means you can choose what you eat, when you eat it, and it saves you money typically.

Pack salty and sweet choices, you’ll crave different things at different times. Nuts are a great healthy munchie. Also, who cares about health.

Bring an EMPTY Water Bottle

You can’t bring more than 100ml of fluid through security in a single container, but you can bring an empty one. Bring an empty bottle and fill it at water fountains in the airport.

Again, you get to choose when and how much you drink. Sure they have water on the flight, but bugging a flight attendant for every cup gets annoying.

Also, don’t buy an expensive bottle. If you’re like me, you’ll lose it within the week. Just spend a dollar or two on a water bottle and refill it. That way when you lose it, it’s another two dollars. Not a loss of $30 only to buy another.


I know is sounds tacky, but seriously, call your airline before you fly, and specifically request a vegetarian meal. It costs you nothing and you get a special meal. Not the pasta dish or sadly cooked meat option everyone else gets.

This is important for a few reasons. Not only is the veggie option alone 10x better than the meat option (always), but getting a special order means your meal is different and prepared separately, so almost always better than the other meals served on the flight.

So special. Seriously, Aubergine curry??

Also, airlines assume that more people will order meat than veggie, which means, sometimes, they might be out of that pasta option by the time they get to you. I have seen strict vegetarians just not eat on flights because they ran out of the pasta option.

The other perk is, special meals, they get served before any other meal. Don’t you feel special!

Hydration and Lubrication

Flying makes you obscenely dehydrated. This means prepare to replenish fluids.

  1. Don’t wear contacts, you’ll murder your eyes. Just suffer the glasses. In fact, bring eye drops as well.
  2. Chapstick.
  3. That bottled water. Just pee for days, it’s fine.
  4. Moisturizer. For your face and hands. Either apply a ton before you fly or find containers with 100ml or less.

Go Without the Alcohol

I know you want to. Free booze on the plane, and for less than 5 hour flights, I can understand why. But for flights where you want to sleep, alcohol will not help. At least for me, it makes me more queezy and makes sleeping really groggy and uncomfortable. It also further dehydrates you. Which isn’t helping you any.

Do the Math

Calculate your flight time, include hours waiting in terminals, and gather all the entertainment you need for that amount of time. Jennifer and I have done this for our road trips and it’s really helped passing the time on my flights.

Sometimes in-flight movies are worth your while. I watched 12 Years a Slave on my flight to France and was an ugly mess the rest of the way, but most of the times, I couldn’t give less of a shit about the films on right now.

Bring multiple stimulus because god knows you can get bored on a 15 hour flight really fast. For my flight from New Zealand to Fiji to LA I have prepared the following:

  1. Charged laptop for writing and note taking. I can also pass time organizing files and music.
  2. Charged phone with all my music on it for meditating/ blocking the sound of crying babies.
  3. A book or two. I have two…
  4. Downloaded 20 podcasts from three different shows with varying subjects.
  5. Notebook for taking notes on podcasts, drawing, planning and writing.
  6. pdfs of poetry from different authors including Mary Oliver and Rumi.
  7. Snacks. Bored eating is acceptable on long flights.

At least look into Lounge Options

At least in countries where the USD totally dominates, look into the lounge for layovers. Fiji for example, has a lounge that costs only $35USD and provides open bar, showers, dinner, wifi, air conditioning and other refreshments. For a six hour layover? I could pay around $20ish USD on a meal and a coffee, or I could pay a little more for…a lot. Just, look into it.

I have tips for once your in a new country, but we’ll leave that for another post, shall we?

Happy trails!

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