You asked, we answered: Our best travel advice of 2023

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Readers asked our By The Way Concierge advice columnist about durable luggage, TSA pat-downs, absent pet sitters and more

In 2023, By The Way covered all things travel, from bad tourist behavior to extremely gross planes to the best pizza in the country. We also spent the year answering your questions in our By The Way Concierge column. To solve your travel dilemmas, we interviewed flight attendants, pilots, tour guides, doctors and travel agents. We solicited advice from insurance companies, government agencies, airlines — even the American Civil Liberties Union.

To end the year, we’re revisiting their most helpful tips to prepare you for travel in 2024.

And, of course, keep sending us your requests for help, big and small.

Know the risks of skiplagging

Airlines do not want you to “skiplag,” the term for booking a trip with the intention of getting off at the layover city and skipping the last leg(s). Also known as “hidden-city ticketing,” the practice means you could be underpaying for flights and leaving the airline with an empty seat it could have sold. While a one-off skiplag could go unnoticed, repeat offenders run the risk of being flagged in the airline’s system and potentially banned from flying with the airline in the future.

Call out the sitter for ghosting your dog

The etiquette experts we polled agreed you should absolutely say something to an absent sitter, even if it reveals you’ve been keeping tabs on them. What to say, however, is more delicate. Wait to draft a message until you’re feeling calm and in control. Your goal should be to come across like you’re on the same team. Go for gentle, honest and clear, and avoid sounding passive aggressive. For example: “I neglected to mention, but we really try to limit leaving the dogs alone to a four- to five-hour window. Is this something your schedule could accommodate?”

You can’t refuse a TSA pat-down, but you can make it more private

Many travelers have found security line searches invasive since the TSA introduced the current procedure in 2017. But is there any way around it? The short answer is no. If somebody triggers an alarm at the checkpoint, the way for TSA to resolve the alarm is to do a pat-down. If you’d prefer your search away from the prying eyes of strangers, you can ask for a more discreet pat-down in a private screening room with a TSA officer of your gender and a witness, like a second officer or a travel companion.

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The middle seat gets both armrests

Anger will get you nowhere if you run into an armrest hog. Instead of getting in a shouting match, establish dominance early by assuming both armrests from the moment you sit down, and hit your neighbors with some kindness immediately. Establishing a nice relationship will come in handy if your neighbor begins encroaching on your territory and you need to ask for your domain back later in the flight; people are more inclined to do favors for friends than strangers or enemies.

The 52 definitive rules of flying

Spend under $200 on a durable suitcase

We fielded dozens of recommendations from flight attendants, travel writers, foreign correspondents, heavy commuters and other frequent fliers. One brand name popped up again and again: Travelpro. The company has been popular with airline industry professionals for decades, with some carry-on models for sale in the $150 range. If you have your eye on a pricier piece, know that deals on luggage abound if you know where to look. Keep your eye out for sales, secondhand steals and stores like T.J. Maxx.

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When to buy rental car insurance

You definitely want some kind of insurance in case something bad happens while the rental car is on your watch. But there’s not a one-size-fits-all coverage option. What you need and the cost will depend on a few elements of your personal life, the insurance coverage level you want and the type of car you’re after, and where you rent (both the company and the actual location). We broke down a few key variables to consider.

Keep luggage off the bed

Is it actually a health risk to put your suitcase on your bed after you travel, or is it just gross? While the doctors we interviewed agreed that suitcases should stay off the bed (just think about where your luggage has rolled), they said the biggest risk of the practice is probably just bedbugs.

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Hotel keys don’t store your credit card info

We were suspicious when a few big hotels declined to comment for this column on an old wives’ tale. But once we spoke with nearly a dozen experts, we learned hotel key cards don’t carry your sensitive information.

You’re still not allowed to fly with weed

Keeping up with the country’s weed laws can be complicated, but the rules about flying with weed are simple: No matter your departure and arrival destinations, it’s still illegal to fly with marijuana. Yes, even when you’re flying between two states where marijuana is legal. That’s because marijuana possession still remains illegal under federal law, and when you fly, federal agencies are in charge.

And while we’re on the topic: You can bring vapes on board if they do not contain weed, unless your cartridge has less than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis (at that point it’s considered a legal hemp product, not marijuana). However, vapes are not allowed in checked bags and must be transported in a traveler’s carry-on due to risks associated with their batteries. But remember, you can’t smoke or vape on a plane. Travelers who violate FAA vaping laws may face fines.

Tip your wheelchair porter at the airport

We don’t tip most staff members we encounter at the airport: gate agents, TSA officers, flight attendants. But you should tip the airport wheelchair assistants who are tasked with a physically demanding job, often for minimum wage. Many travelers who need wheelchair service might not be able to afford to tip, particularly those on a fixed income. But if you can afford to spare $5 or $10, it goes a long way.

More travel tips

Vacation planning: Start with a strategy to maximize days off by taking PTO around holidays. Experts recommend taking multiple short trips for peak happiness. Want to take an ambitious trip? Here are 12 destinations to try this year — without crowds.

Cheap flights: Follow our best advice for scoring low airfare, including setting flight price alerts and subscribing to deal newsletters. If you’re set on an expensive getaway, here’s a plan to save up without straining your credit limit.

Airport chaos: We’ve got advice for every scenario, from canceled flights to lost luggage. Stuck at the rental car counter? These tips can speed up the process. And following these 52 rules of flying should make the experience better for everyone.

Expert advice: Our By The Way Concierge solves readers’ dilemmas, including whether it’s okay to ditch a partner at security, or what happens if you get caught flying with weed. Submit your question here. Or you could look to the gurus: Lonely Planet and Rick Steves.

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