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Kate’s travel essentials and tips

Hello Gambuca lovers,

As an out of state Passholder for Universal parks, and an avid traveler to other destinations as well, I’ve put some miles on my suitcases in the last few years. I’ve picked up on a few key items that I always pack, and a few tricks that have saved me so much aggravation.

Finding flights:

Living in the northeast USA I have more options for flight than others. Philadelphia, Newark, New York, Trenton, and Atlantic City are all international airports nearby. JFK being the largest with hundreds of worldwide destinations, and Atlantic City being the smallest with only ONE airline and a few dozen destinations options. By being flexible with where my flights originate, I can usually find an affordable price. Since 2017 I have chosen to fly with Spirit Airlines more than 20 times for flights. Atlantic City or Philadelphia are usually the two cheapest origination options, and only once haven I chosen to fly out of each Newark and JFK with separate airlines.

Here’s some flight price comparisons, round trip price per person including all taxes and fees:

2016 November Orlando $77.17 (with a suitcase)

2017 September Orlando $125.38 (added 2 suitcases $84)

2018 December Orlando $34.02 (add 1 carry-on $74)

2019 April Fort Lauderdale $102.6 (add 2 suitcases $84)

2019 April Punta Cana $187 (part of vacation package Groupon)

2021 January Orlando $34.20 (add 2 suitcases $92)

2021 September Orlando $50.98 (add a suitcase for $62)

2022 February Albuquerque $537.20

2022 March Dublin $462.70 ( part of vacation package travel zoo)

2022 June Orlando $313 ( add two suitcases for $132)

The two cheapest flights were in 2019 and 2021, showing that COVID travel changes didn’t change the prices as much as everyone assumes. Or, if they did, it either didn’t affect the value airlines as much, or it didn’t affect the months and days I am willing to travel. The most expensive domestic flight was the only Summer flight I have listed here. It pained me to pay over $300 per person, but it was a graduation/birthday trip so we traveled during peak vacation time. Of course the above list is not comprehensive of all of the flights or situations I have encountered. That sampling doesn’t show any of the flights I purchased in person at the airport, and it also includes estimations on flights that were part of vacation packages. I frequently fly with just one friend or family member, but 2-3 times a year I fly with my entire family of 5 (and a service animal) so that may also change the per person flight.

The things I can tell you about flying are be flexible, travel “off peak” for your destinations, and try to fly mid week if you can. I usually fly more from September to April, and tend to travel less from May-August. Some of our trips are actually “day trips” flying out on Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning, and flying back on Wednesday night. If we are staying longer, I plan to have our first full day be a mid week day, and fly back by Friday. I absolutely refuse to engage in tourism on the weekends, even during off peak months, mostly because I have a hard time with crowds.

If you think the flight price is too high, try going to the counter and purchasing your tickets in person. You may have to add your bags after the fact with this option, and they might be higher. I frequently travel with no bags, using the bare fare option, and packing what I need into my free personal item. This works well for shorter trips, and I can purchase a cheaper ticket at the airport counter.


Do not overpack. It’ll be cheaper to run a load of wash at your hotel than it would be to pay for a suitcase, or overweight baggage fees. Plan your outfits for the days you will be there, and add no extra clothing. Wear or carry any bulky items like jackets or sneakers/boots. Instead of a book, read on your phone or tablet. (I know, I know, I don’t like it either, but it’s only for a couple days. You could also try free audiobooks on your phone from your library.)

Your hotel will have toiletries, you don’t need to pack a bunch of small bottles unless you have an allergy or a specific face soap. I pack a toothbrush/toothpaste and a deodorant. It helps here that I am not a makeup wearer so I carry even less, but even if you are, you will save some space by using the shower supplies that the hotel provides.

Pro tip: you can dispense with wearing makeup by getting your makeup applied by a professional. I personally get my eyelashes done, extensions with 2-3 week fills. You can also get your eyeliner, lipstick, and brows tattooed on, or get your brows microbladed which is similar. I find, however, that I don’t need other makeup when I get my lashes done, so I just haven’t worn any additional makeup in several years.

Choose a lightweight backpack for travel. This is the one I use:

I love these backpacks! There are a ton of different color options, I have two! It folds very small, and is very lightweight. There are a lot of pockets and it’s adjustable for everyone in family to be able to wear it. The chest clip also adds a level of comfort during wear. Definitely holds all my daily travel needs as well, perfect for walking around with. It’ll fit in the free lockers at Universal if you don’t pack it too much!

A money belt is also a great option for travel, and is flat enough that you don’t usually need to remove it for rides if theme parks are you destination. The one I purchased is currently unavailable, I will find a similar one and link later.

If you do travel with suitcases, be sure to get TSA approved locks. I like to keep my suitcases locked when I leave them in the hotel room as well. Using TSA approved locks is important because if the TSA inspects your luggage, they can remove the locks without damaging them, so you don’t loose your lock. If you use other locks, you run the risk of TSA cutting them off.

The last things would be to make sure you have a good set of headphones, a portable battery charger, and some snacks if you have room! For longer flights, like transatlantic ones, the airline will usually provide an inflight meal, a blanket, and headphones to connect to the airlines entertainment system.

For domestic flights, you should download a book or movie before you board, just in case the plane’s Wi-Fi is spotty (which it usually is).

The day before travel:

Make sure you have everything packed. There’s no need to rush right before your flight. I can speak from experience and tell you that packing in a rush right before you leave isn’t the best idea. You always forget something. (Don’t do what I do!) Get your passport or Real ID packed up in the bag too. Most airlines have digital tickets now, so you usually don’t have to worry about forgetting your paper tickets on the counter.

Plan your parking. While most airports have on site parking, it’s often quite expensive. Using a site called OnAir parking. If you use my code, you get $5 off too. Just go to and use coupon code KATE3527 for $5 off. Using OnAir Parking saves me a TON of money at the larger airports. I checked the parking for 10 days in mid September at the Philadelphia airport. Parking at airport parking would cost $150 , where using OnAir parking came in at $92. You also can’t book parking at the airport in advance, so if the economy lot is full, and you have to park in the garage, the cost would be $200. Unfortunately, I can’t use the OnAir parking service when I fly out of the smaller airport at Atlantic City, but parking at that airport is more reasonable, and for a 10 day stretch would only cost $100.

For when you land:

How are you reaching your hotel when you land? Are you renting a Car? Taking an UBER? Using a resort shuttle? If I’m traveling with a small group, I usually choose to Uber, but a large group requires a car/van service. If I’m staying for a few days, I might rent a car. Always rent your car through the car rentals dedicated website. When rentals are overbooked, 3rd party site rentals get bumped first (this is also true with hotels). It does happen, in 2021, after car rental companies had sold off many vehicles to try and stay profitable during 2020, there was a car rental shortage. I was waiting in line to pick up a car at Budget (my rental company of choice in Orlando) and several people in line in front of me were told that their rental agreements were cancelled from 3rd party booking sites.

Hopefully these tips help you on your next journey! Stay tuned for more!


***This post contains some affiliate links.

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