When December approaches, students flee campuses across the nation in favor of several weeks worth of free room and board with the parents. Yearly pilgrimages home for the holidays are as much a tradition as drinking too much on New Year’s Eve, but it doesn’t have to be a trip from hell. No matter your choice of travel, the Vanguard has tips for making this travel season, if not blissful, at least hassle-free.
The quickest way to travel is by air, although you do have to get past the security checkpoints at Portland International Airport (PDX). Stand in line to check your bags. Stand in line to get your boarding pass. Stand in line to get frisked by the underpaid security guards. Then when you finally get to your gate, inevitably the last row called is yours. However, if you can actually get onto the airplane, it’s a straight shot from there.
The holidays are traditionally the busiest time for all sorts of travel, and airports especially can become a bottleneck without some advance planning. The Port of Portland offers the following tips for students traveling via air during the holidays.
First, label all your bags, and for god’s sake don’t leave them unattended! Only two carry-ons and two pieces of checked luggage are allowed now for space reasons, so pack wisely. Standard no-nos apply to any kind of baggage: no drugs, firearms, sharp metal objects, or items that might look like bombs. It never pays to argue with the luggage handlers either – if your bag’s too big, it’s not getting on the plane regardless of how much leg you show.
Second, leave the studded belt and two-dozen piercings at home. Anything that might set off metal detectors at the security checkpoints will just increase your time in line. But just think, without all that hardware you’ll look that much more dignified if you’re going home to visit the parents.
Several security checkpoints, overseen by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), have been added at the airport in anticipation of the busy travel season. All passengers will need government-issue photo ID and an airline-issue boarding pass. Online tickets must be exchanged for official boarding passes before passing through the security checkpoints, so allow time to stand in line for that, too. The Port of Portland, which runs PDX, recommends arriving at least two hours ahead of time, especially for international flights.
To make the time spent in all those lines pass more quickly, PDX has lots of entertainment scheduled for the coming month, including local pianists, instrumental and choral groups. In addition, shoppers can peruse the mini-mall of shops inside the terminal building, located outside the security checkpoints. But keep the two-bag limit in mind and save the buying spree for a later date.
For more information on airport security or flight schedules, check out the Portland International Airport official Web site at www.portlandairportpdx.com, or call 877-PDX-INFO. The Airport MAX line is the most hassle-free way to get to PDX, and schedules are available online at www.trimet.org or through 503-238-RIDE.
For those squeamish air travelers or students just looking to beat the lines in the terminal, Amtrak offers a more earthly means of traveling. Dozens of trains leave daily from downtown’s Union Station in the direction of Vancouver, B.C.; Los Angeles and Boston, with connections to all major cities along the way.
Walk-up fares are available up to a half-hour before departure time, though discounts are given for advance purchases. A recent check of their web site gave prices for a one-way ticket to Los Angeles as $78 with two-week notice, but $158 for next-day travel. Like most travel options, it pays to plan ahead, but if you need to go at the last minute, there are options.
Students can also purchase a Student Advantage card for $20, which gives them a 15 percent discount off train fares year-round. In addition, the Student Advantage card offers discounts at a wide variety of retailers, from Greyhound tickets (see below) to Barnes & Noble to Urban Outfitters. Students can apply for the card online at www.studentadvantage.com or by calling 877-2JOIN-USA.
And just because you’re encased in a steel box on wheels, don’t think of it as a chore. Most trains have sleeping cars, a lounge, dining cars and other amenities to ensure their passengers aren’t bored. Amtrak also has several options for shipping bicycles and cars along with people, so a trip on the train doesn’t have to mean leaving it all behind.
Union Station, located at the corner of N.W. Sixth Avenue and Irving Street, is also a great place to people-watch. Last fiscal year almost 240,000 rail passengers passed through Portland, making it Amtrak’s 19th-busiest station. In addition to the quarter-million paying customers, the terminal also houses a variety of preachers and other interesting people to amuse you while waiting for the train to arrive.
The only security restrictions in place on Amtrak trains are a required photo ID check for all passengers and required labeling of all baggage. Neither carry-on nor checked baggage can contain any “dangerous, fragile or valuable items, as well as animals and household goods,” according to their Web site. For schedules, fares and last-minute information, check out Amtrak’s Web site at www.amtrak.com or call 800-USA-RAIL.
There’s nothing quite like sitting next to a complete stranger for 18 hours to make you appreciate your loved ones, especially if that stranger is either screaming at you in a foreign language or in particular need of a bath. And where else can you get this experience than on a bus? However, unless you’re traveling within the confines of Tri-Met or C-Tran’s service area, you’ll have to take Greyhound.
Buses depart from Union Station hourly, going just about everywhere one could want including places not directly served by rail service. Ultimate procrastinators can purchase tickets up to an hour before buses depart, but again the price increases with less notice. Fares to Los Angeles ranged from $87 for next-day travel to $69 with 7-day advance purchase, and the aforementioned Student Advantage card provides an additional 15 percent discount.
With the reduce price comes reduced service. No food or drinks are served, and although there is an on-bus bathroom, if you can avoid the experience it’ll probably extend your life. However, periodic stops do give students the chance to eat at only the finest bus-station delis (think hot dogs and cup-o-noodles) and pee in toilets that flush.
Bags are limited to two carry-ons and two in the luggage compartment. Everything has to fit under the seat or in overhead bins and it has to be labeled, so ship that snowboard or leave it at home. An odd assortment of items are prohibited, in addition to the standard explosives, firearms and flammable liquids. If you’d planned on taking any furniture, merchandise for resale, electronic equipment or perishable items, you’d better find another means of transport. According to their Web site, Greyhound also won’t accept any “protruding articles” or “materials with a disagreeable odor,” so leave those stinky odd-shaped packages at home.
And if you just can’t get enough of that bus experience, Greyhound offers a Discovery Pass that provides unlimited bus rides for up to 60 days anywhere Greyhound travels. For fares, schedules and acceptable baggage items, go to www.greyhound.com or call 800-229-9424.
If all else fails, grab a mug of coffee and a stack of CDs and go by car. Your local car-rental agency will be happy to gouge you anywhere from $10 on up for a loaner, with Enterprise usually the cheapest in both price and vehicle quality. If you happen to own your own vehicle, the average going price for unleaded gas in Oregon is $1.65 per gallon, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA) Web site. AAA can also help you plan your trip and give you all the maps you need along the way – for directions and weather information, check out www.aaaoregon.com.