Los Angeles is now my favorite place to visit. The weather is mild during Spring and Fall. Lots of places to visit because it’s the home of Hollywood and all things movies. There are shopping outlets and huge malls to satisfy the shopper in you. The food choices are immense you won’t have a problem finding an eatery to satisfy your needs. Los Angeles is also a fantastic family destination.
Los Angeles has become a regular travel destination for me. My daughter left her home country of Australia and settled in Los Angeles to make a life for herself with her American husband. Together they have started their parenting journey and for me, grandchildren change everything. Grandparents would agree. Right?
Not having a real affinity for travel I never considered the USA as a destination for me. However, I now find myself traveling to Los Angeles once or twice a year. And I love it!
First Time or Solo Traveler
Having been a few times to Los Angeles I thought sharing my experiences may ease any anxiety a first-time traveler may be feeling. Especially a first-time solo traveler. I would have loved to have known what to expect along the way. Having some idea would have eased my anxiety. Especially since I am over fifty and a solo traveler. Not my first International trip, however, my first long haul International trip.
International travel was daunting. When you are a homebody it is difficult to step out of your comfort zone. Los Angeles is far, far away from my comfort zone.
My experiences may be a travel guide of sorts for those of you who may be considering a trip to Los Angeles for the first time. I have tried to cover everything I can think of regarding the trip. Sharing some tips and ideas that may help put you at ease.
Every topic has a heading to help you find the question you may like answered. A travel checklist for you to consider in your preparations. You can do it!
Carriers and Flights
So, I created a travel checklist which began with the booking of the flights. Choose the carrier most familiar was my first decision. In Australia the most trusted carrier is Qantas. The first box ticked. Then deciding departure and return dates to assist when booking flights to get the cheapest deals. Begin checking deals a few months before traveling is the best idea to get the best deals. I travel in February so I begin checking deals from June the year before. Deals are offered at different times of the year, just keep checking until you find the deal best for you.
Take into consideration the best route for you personally. Traveling solo as a fifty plus female I choose a direct route. I travel from Perth to Melbourne because the airport in Melbourne suits my personal travel requirements. Melbourne domestic airport is walking distance from Melbourne International. I admit it costs me a little more for this convenience. However, for peace of mind the extra cost is worth it. Another tip when booking is consider the stopover time. Three plus hours is good because it allows for flight delays or any unforeseen problems.
Do you book directly through the carrier? Not necessarily as there are other options. For instance, I book through Expedia as they often have flights cheaper than Qantas itself. When you book the flights include travel insurance. Expedia offers travel insurance. However, you can research the best travel insurance cover for your personal needs and book separately. Read the PDF to ensure you get the cover you need. This is important.
If you are not confident booking your own trip then your best option would be consulting a travel agent. Research travel agents don’t go with the first one you consult. Then choose the one with the best deal.
Agents are a great option if you are traveling to different destinations within one trip. Research your trip before you visit an agent to ensure you can give them the best idea of your personal requirements. Giving them a guideline for the best experience for you personally. After all, it is your experience and your trip. You want it to be a trip to remember for good reasons, right?
Days and Times to Travel
To decide the best days and times to travel I considered my personal requirements. For instance, the time difference between Australia and Los Angeles was a big consideration for me.
I work full-time and have four weeks of annual leave. So, I worked out which days suited my work roster which gives me a few days at home on return to alleviate any effects I may have regarding jetlag.
I leave on the red-eye flight from Perth on Thursday night. Arriving in Melbourne around 6 am on Friday. This suits me! I choose not to sleep during this flight preparing me for the time difference arriving in Los Angeles.
The flight to Los Angeles departs Melbourne around 11 am. Fourteen and a half hours later (give or take) arriving at LAX around 6.30 am on Friday. One benefit going to Los Angeles from Australia is gaining a day. Win! Sleep on this leg of the trip is my priority. It sets my body clock in line with Los Angeles time. Minimal jetlag.
The return trip is also planned to suit my personal circumstances. Choosing to depart Los Angeles on the long-haul flight around 11 pm on Wednesday. Sleep, sleep, sleep! Arriving in Melbourne around 10 am on Friday morning losing a day on the return trip. Flight from Melbourne to Perth departs around 12 pm and arrives in Perth around 1 pm.
So, I start back at work on the coming Tuesday, therefore, I have three and a half days to adjust to reality. Allow time to adjust you will benefit!
Where To Stay
My first two trips to Los Angeles required I book accommodation. My daughter lived in a small one bedroom apartment. No room for grandma to stay. Fair enough! I chose Airbnb over hotel accommodation the options were cheaper in Los Angeles. Not being a tourist I required accommodation within walking distance of my family. Airbnb was the best option for my circumstances.
When you look online at accommodation you don’t really know what you are booking. The pictures look great and that is the case with all accommodation. Am I right?
Again, personal requirements come to the fore. Cost, location, convenience and needs are important considerations. I needed a room close to my daughters residence as cheap as possible.
My first experience was a room in an apartment. It was separate to the tenants who were living there. So it was private. It ticked all of my boxes and that is the main thing.
The second Airbnb experience was completely different. A granny flat behind the main house. Perfect!
You really have to be open-minded and hope for the best when choosing accommodation. All experiences differ especially when booking online. I am sure you would agree.
Passports and US Visas
When departing your home country be sure to check you have at least six months remaining on your passport. This is important when departing.
When traveling to the US for a short period Australians are eligible to apply for the Visa Waiver Program. Known as ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). Apply for ESTA at least three weeks prior to departure. There is a small fee of approximately US$14 per application and once accepted it covers 2 years of travel to the US. As long as you have 2 years left on your passport. Research eligibility and cost via the U.S Customs and Border Protection website. Important: go to the official website. Beware! There are other sites online offering the visa waiver which are fraudulent.
A notable encounter I experienced was when my partner was traveling with me. He is an Australian Permanent Resident and travels on a British Passport. We were departing Australia and once clearing customs we were pulled aside and advised he was not able to re-enter Australia upon returning from our trip to the US.
He had not left Australia for twenty years and was unaware he required a VEVO to allow him re-entry into Australia. If you are a Permanent Resident in Australia be advised to check if you require a VEVO. Go to the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
We had to apply for it online while in the US and it was very stressful. Better to be sure than sorry. Check prior to departure for peace of mind. Trust me!
Never previously traveled overseas/abroad? Trip Advisor is the site for you! The name says it all and it offers advice on all sorts of things a traveler may need to know. Trip Advisor has reviews on everything travel. It compares prices on all aspects of travel. You can book online via Trip Advisor as well. Trip Advisor has been around for a long time, is a reputable site and has lots of information. Worth a look when researching your trip. Nothing to lose by taking a look.
Closer to Departure
There are many options when considering a money exchange. Travel cards, your credit card, travelers check. Keep in mind the rates vary and there are fees to consider. The best option is to consider your personal requirements. What is good for one traveler might not suit another so research your options for the best one for you. Try to avoid the airport money exchange facilities they often do not offer the best deal regarding rates and fees. It is wise to have at least one hundred dollars in cash of the currency of your destination. A precaution.
If you are traveling to visit family consider this option. Do they have a bank account in the country you are visiting? Are they able to offer you access to an account via an Eftpos card? Are they trustworthy?
My daughter allows me this option. I transfer my spending money to her account via Transferwise online. She provides me with a card upon arrival to Los Angeles. With only my money in the account, I can keep track of my spending.
Transferwise is my choice when transferring money online. I have been transferring money with them for years. They offer the most up-to-date exchange rates with low fees and they are fast. In fact, if you are transferring money overseas for any reason check this company. You won’t regret it. Trust me!
I carry my documents with me at all times. Being old school I print copies and carry them with me. Hard copies are easier for me than trying to find them on my phone. Less stress. I also leave printed copies of all documentation with my partner. Just in case. My passport, ESTA, itinerary, and travel insurance are all carried with me. Giving me peace of mind during the trip. It’s an age thing.
I also photocopy my passport page and drivers license, print them in color and laminate them. Carrying them with me as well as leaving a copy at home with my partner. Do not pack them in your suitcase. Suitcases can be lost in transit.
Mobile Phone Access
Contact is important when traveling. I am traveling to Los Angeles to stay with family. My needs may differ from yours. All I rely on is Viber. This app is all I need. All of my family also have the app so I am able to contact all of them as long as I have access to wi-fi. Unlimited free calls and text using the Viber App. Give it a go!
The airports I travel through have wi-fi so I have contact. Airports offer free wi-fi access, however, be aware they may have a time limit. I connect to Bing in Los Angeles with an access time of 45 minutes. So I wait until I am at customs before I contact my daughter to arrange a meeting spot.
While in Los Angeles I connect to my daughter’s wi-fi and use Viber to call and text family at home. When out and about in Los Angeles there are no shortages of Starbucks Cafes and they all have wi-fi. Most times I am out with family and therefore do not require my phone to make calls.
Research the best options for you.
Packing For The Trip
Check baggage allowance for International travel. Consider the allowances of the domestic carriers you may be traveling with as well. If you have to purchase excess baggage it is cheaper to do it when booking. Doing this at the airport when departing is costly. Believe me.
Qantas allows two check-in bags weighing 23 kg (50 pounds) each in economy class. One carry-on maximum weight of 7 kg and the size is also important. I also carry a handbag which fits under the seat in front of me and easily accessible.
In my carry-on bag, I have my laptop and charger, a change of underwear, snacks for the trip, mobile phone and charger, toiletries, magazines, and a pillow. The pillow is a normal size bedroom pillow, I don’t find travel pillows comfortable to use. Personal choice. Toiletries include makeup, moisturizer, toothpaste, and brush, hairbrush, hairspray, and deodorant. All of the required carry-on travel size of under 100 ml. Very important to know carry-on liquid and aerosol limits when traveling. If your containers are over the allowance security will confiscate them. Fact! There are no exceptions. For example, if your toothpaste tube is 110 ml and is only half full it will be confiscated. Make sure your containers hold a maximum of 100 ml.
If you take medication pack it in your carry-on bag. Another tip is to have a copy of your prescription with you as some countries do not allow certain drugs even if they are prescribed. Research this prior to travel. Better to be prepared.
Packing Your Check-in Luggage
Make a list to ensure you have everything you need. Research the weather at your destination to avoid surprises. If it is summer pack a sweater or jacket just in case. Los Angeles can have warm days in winter and cool evenings in summer. Pack accordingly to cover all possible conditions for the area you are visiting. Saves having to make unnecessary purchases.
Your list would include clothing, underwear, footwear. Skincare and makeup if you use particular products. Haircare and tools you may use like hairdryer, straightener, etc. We all have personal preferences and they may not be accessible at your destination. Better to be safe than sorry in my view. Most important is making sure you take a power adapter when taking electrical products to a foreign country. Power sources differ from country to country. Again, research your requirements before you leave. No surprises at your destination. You got this!
Choosing when to pack is a personal preference. Whether it is days before departure or hours. Give yourself plenty of time so you are able to weigh your luggage before leaving for the airport. Discovering you have excess baggage at the check-in area at the airport is something you want to avoid. Trust me on this. If you need the excess you pay a hefty fee. If you don’t need it you will have to unpack it. Not a good experience at the check-in counter.
The best advice I can give you. Purchase a luggage scale. You won’t regret it! Can I suggest the Travelon luggage scale available online from Amazon. I have owned a few luggage scales and this is the best I have used. This scale is accurate and allows you to use it alone as it has a needle that locks in place at the weight. It reads in kilograms and pounds. Weigh your luggage at home and take the scale with you to use before departing your destination. This tool will save you a lot of money and hassle. Fact!
Another handy travel tip. This could save time at the baggage carousel on arrival at your destinations. Tie a colored ribbon onto the handle of your suitcases. This will allow you to identify your suitcase as it sits on the carousel so it doesn’t pass by you. Grab and Go!
Tags on your check-in luggage are important. Make sure they have your name, contact number, and address written on them. I include my email address as well. One side for departure the other for return.
Packing tip for carry-on luggage purchase a double contact lens case with a screw cap lid. In one side pour in liquid makeup, in the other side face moisturizer. When packing your liquids and aerosols for your checkin luggage. Place containers into plastic zip lock bags to avoid possible leakage through your luggage. You will thank me for this tip.
If you are planning on packing food products be sure to research what you are allowed to take into the destination country to ensure you are not violating customs laws entering with prohibited products. There are consequences when caught and they are not worth it. Laws are laws. Best to abide by them. Do you agree?
Ready To Go
At least one week prior to departure I book and pay for window seats on the long haul stretches of the trip. Departing and returning. A personal choice allowing me to sleep better leaning against the cabin wall. Yes, it costs extra and the seats are not guaranteed even though you pay extra. Be sure to print the receipt for the payment to present at the check-in counter. I have not been denied these seats so far, probably because I check-in early. I always book seats at the rear of the plane. Most passengers book as close to the front of the plane as possible.
I have benefitted twice choosing the rear seats. The rear is the area that is emptiest if the flight is not fully booked. Twice on the flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles, I have had the whole three seats to myself. Slept laying down the whole trip over and arrived refreshed and well rested. Win!
You are also able to request special food requirements online with Qantas if you have any. I am sure most airlines offer this service. Be sure to check this prior to leaving. A great option for those with particular dietary requirements. It’s all about you!
What to Wear
You could be traveling 20+ hours choose clothing that is presentable yet comfortable.
My choices are long pants a loose fitting top, shirt or light sweater and footwear you can easily kick off. Slip-on shoes for instance. Aircraft cabin temperatures are always cool this is why I suggest long pants and tops. Blankets are provided onboard, however, I usually wear black and the blankets always leave fibers on my clothing. Not a good look!
My clothing and my pillow offer all the comfort I need to survive the long haul flight. If you can manage to sleep the flight passes quickly.
Check-in Departing From Home
You cannot check-in online for International flights with stop-overs. When leaving from Perth I am at the airport 3 hours prior to departure to allow for any delays or unforeseen problems. I don’t like surprises. You never know. Right?
Arriving at the check-in area first thing to do is weigh your luggage before heading over to check it in. Just to be sure you got it right. This gives you time and space to make any changes required. Peace of mind!
At the check-in desk, you will be asked for your itinerary, passport, receipts if you have paid for seats and the address you will be staying at upon arrival at your destination. They will also ask for your ESTA information, have a copy ready to produce on request. Whether printed or on your mobile phone. Be prepared!
Have all of these ready for a quick check-in experience. The staff at the check-in counter will appreciate your preparation. Gold star!
If you are traveling with the same carrier for the entire trip your luggage is booked through from Perth to Los Angeles, as is your ticket. Confirm this at the check-in counter. Just to be sure! When arriving in Melbourne you don’t have to worry about your luggage it automatically gets transferred from the Qantas domestic to Qantas International flight. Confirm this as well for peace of mind. Questions cost nothing and they have the answers.
You will walk away from the check-in counter with both the boarding pass for your domestic flight and the connecting International flight. If you are flying with the same airline for the entire trip. Therefore you do not have to check in to the International flight before departure at your stop-over. Be sure to put your boarding pass in a safe place. I carry my documents in a passport wallet. Everything in one place and easily accessible. Therefore no searching through everything and getting stressed.
Security on Domestic Departure
Time to head through security to the departure gate. Items to remove from your hand luggage are your laptop, any liquids, aerosols, and gels (LAGs) and the umbrella you may be carrying. Have your liquids, aerosols, and gels in a clear plastic bag. This makes it easy for security to check. Be aware any metal objects will need to be taken off your person, like belts, and empty your pockets. Place into the trays provided. At the security point, you walk through a metal detector and your carry on passes through an x-ray machine on the trays. You may also be randomly selected for explosive trace detection as part of the security process. Don’t be alarmed.
Once you clear security read your boarding pass for your boarding gate number. Find your gate and wait! Be aware flights board half an hour prior to departure. You must be at the gate or risk missing your flight. Boarding instructions are given prior to the boarding process have your boarding pass ready to scan. You do not need your passport at this stage.
Arriving At Your Stop-over
Arriving in Melbourne I head straight for my fave cafe to enjoy a light breakfast but only if I have at least a three-hour stop-over. The best advice is to head through to International Departures as soon as possible. That way you avoid being late for your flight. There are plenty of eateries and shops to browse on the other side.
Heading Through Security and Immigration Leaving Melbourne For Los Angeles
A couple of hours prior to boarding I head through security. You will need to show your International boarding pass and passport to enter this area. Have them out and ready to show the staff to pass through into the security area.
Same process as before. Remove the same items from your carry-on and place in trays. Empty your pockets, remove belts and metal objects and pass through metal detectors as instructed. Remember, if in doubt, ask. There is always someone to help.
Next, is immigration This requires showing your boarding pass and passport to enter. Then simply follow the instructions of immigration officials. It’s a process. ePassports are the norm these days so the immigration process uses facial recognition technology. Just watch the person in front of you. That’s what I do. It’s a simple process to follow.
Once you are through immigration you are in the Duty-Free. If you have given yourself a couple of hours there is plenty of time to browse. I recommend you don’t purchase alcohol if going to the US. It is cheap to purchase in the US.
Check The Flight Information Boards
Your International boarding pass will not have a gate number on it because it is printed before the departure gate is determined. After you come through security there are information boards with all flight numbers, gate numbers and departure times displayed. Find your gate, sit and wait. Boarding is half an hour prior to departure. My advice is to be at the gate waiting to avoid missing your flight. Peace of mind and front of the queue. Win! Win!
The Long Haul Flight To Los Angeles
Flight time varies. Most of my flights have been 13+ hours. My plan is to get as much sleep as possible to prepare me for the Los Angeles time difference. The cabin lighting is minimal most of the flight. I snooze in between meals.
Depending on your choice of carriers entertainment options are available for passengers. Of course, you can always supply your own entertainment as long as it meets traveling requirements. Do you have a kindle?
Food and Beverages
Meals have been enjoyable from my experience so far. No complaints from this traveler. Three meals are served on the long haul flights with choices of hot and cold beverages. Alcohol is also served with meals if you choose. During the flight you have access to water and snacks you can get yourself at anytime. Or you can have your own snacks in your carry-on luggage. Up to you!
Arriving At LAX
You survived the flight! Time to disembark. Follow the crowds, after all, they are all heading to the same destination as you. Immigration.
Immigration is the first stop. Depending on the number of flights landing this process could be long or relatively short. I have experienced both. Just line up and follow the crowd having your passport ready of course and any documentation required for entry into the US. Having an ePassport makes the experience a little faster as you can use the computers available to answer the necessary questions and prove your ID. You take the printout with you and move on to the next point. Then line up again to have your passport stamped and answer a few questions. It’s a process!
Head downstairs to collect your baggage. The carousels are labeled with your flight information. Grab a trolley and wait for your bags to appear on the carousel. Be patient they will eventually appear.
Head for Customs you are nearly there. Follow the crowd again or ask directions. Simple, trust me! Once you have cleared Customs you have arrived in Los Angeles. Just head up the ramp and out you go! Always excited at this point. My daughter awaits. Good times!
LAX is an extremely busy airport I strongly recommend you arrive with plenty of time to spare. My daughter lives approximately an hour from LAX. My departure flight boards at 11 pm so I leave for the airport at 7 pm.
Approaching LAX the roads are busy and traffic is slow. Try to stay relaxed you will get to the terminal. Have patience and trust in your transport. I have used Uber and I have been dropped off by family members. As long as you have allowed enough time you will be Ok.
Be sure you are dropped as close as possible at the Tom Bradley Departures area to avoid a long walk. It is all signed clearly so don’t panic.
Baggage trolleys must be paid for so have some change on your person. Hopefully you have used your luggage scale and your luggage is at the correct weight. An important step before you reach the check-in area.
The first experience of departing LAX could be daunting. It was for me traveling solo. I couldn’t find my check-in area and began to panic. I was directed incorrectly by an airport employee, but, did finally find my way by asking. The check-in area at LAX is very busy, so many people, just focus on finding the check-in for your airline. Don’t let the crowds overwhelm you.
After checking in your luggage you head towards the stairs with your passport and boarding pass in hand ready to show staff. Then up you go to the security area. Where you line up and follow instructions at each point. Security is the same at every airport. Staff instructs you as to what you need to take out of your luggage. Just listen. Simple!
Departure Area LAX
Once you are through to the departure area, and because it is busy, it is advisable to find your departure gate so you know where to head to catch your flight. Then you can have a look around. You will find there are Duty-Free stores, cafes, and coffee shops. For smokers, there is an outdoor smoking area. If in doubt as to where to go, ask!
If you have allowed the time you will make your flight with ease and avoid stress. Boarding is at least half an hour prior to departure. Sit and wait! Have your boarding pass out and follow the boarding instructions given by flight staff and you are on your way. Bye, Bye Los Angeles.
Disembarking in Melbourne
Disembark the aircraft and follow the crowd. While you walk down the corridor you will notice people on the left using their passports at computer stations to acquire a ticket. These stations are for ePassport holders and the ticket allows quick access to the immigration area for those with an Australian Passport. My advice is to line up at a station and get your ticket it will save time further on. Trust me!
As you head down the corridor you will come to the Duty-Free store. If you are not shopping by-pass the store and head to the left if you are traveling on an Australian Passport. This is where the ticket you obtained earlier comes to the fore. Line up and follow the instructions to pass through immigration.
Once you are through simply follow the crowds to the baggage collection area. Again the luggage carousels have your flight number on them. Once you have your luggage head toward Customs. You would have filled in a declaration during the flight have this ready to hand to staff. Join the queue and follow instructions. You may be chosen randomly to have your luggage checked, you may not. Once you are cleared you simply head out to the terminal.
The Final Domestic Leg
You will have a boarding pass for your connecting flight but you still have to check your luggage in. Head to the airline check-in area to check your luggage in. This area is mostly self serve, however, there are airline staff on hand to assist if you need it.
Once you have checked your luggage in you can head through security for the final time. Check the information boards for your gate number as it will not be on your boarding pass. Find your gate, sit and wait to board. Nearly home. Yay!
Finally, you are on your flight home. Just a few short hours to go. Remembering on the trip home to Australia, you lose a day.
Arriving in Perth disembark the aircraft and head to the baggage collection area. Again, your flight number is displayed at the carousel for easy identification. Collect your luggage. You made it home. Back to reality!
Problems I Have Encountered
Not all of my trips have been smooth sailing. Having experienced a few setbacks I would like to share with you just so you know every problem has a solution. No need to stress or become anxious if a problem does arise for you. There is always someone who can help. Just ask!
Forgot to Collect Luggage to go Through Customs
When leaving Los Angeles I asked at the check-in counter if my luggage was booked through to Perth. The answer was yes. For some reason, I thought it would be automatically transferred from the International flight to the domestic flight. Silly me! Of course, you have to collect your luggage to pass through Customs. After passing Customs I went to check-in to my domestic flight and the lady asked where my luggage was. I told her it would be transferred to the flight and she informed me, “Everyone has to collect their luggage before passing through Customs.” I began to panic. She was really good and escorted me to a counter where I could give my luggage and flight information. The airline collected my luggage from Customs and put it on the next flight to my destination. Apparently, this scenario happens quite a lot!
Missing Connecting Flight
My International flight was delayed departing Los Angeles. When arriving in Melbourne there was not enough time to catch my booked domestic flight. I collected my luggage, passed through Customs and headed to the check-in area of my domestic flight. When this happens they simply book you on the next available flight. This is why I strongly recommend you book a flight that has a three hour+ stop-over time. My stop-over time was two hours and it proved to me that it does need to be longer. Lesson learned!
Booking Extra Luggage and Paying For Seats
There is a cost involved when booking extra luggage. Be sure you have receipts to prove the booking. At the check-in counter, the cost is significantly more than if you book it beforehand. I booked extra and paid well before the departure day, however, I was not sent a receipt as proof of payment. Thankfully the staff gave me the benefit of the doubt and did not charge me again. Make sure you get receipts for any extra payments you make prior to departure to save time and money. Also, if you pay for particular seats be sure you have a receipt for proof you have paid for them in advance.
Frequent Flyer Points
Usually my daughter books all of my flights from the US. I was unaware I could add my frequent flyer membership when my daughter booked. At the check-in counter, the lady checking me in noticed I was a member and hadn’t added my membership for the points. She went ahead and did it for me. Just a reminder to make sure you get your points for every trip and if you aren’t sure simply ask! Be aware as long as the flights are booked for you it doesn’t matter who books them. You can still get your points. Win!
Traveling is exciting as long as you adhere to all the rules and regulations. Taking foods and liquids to another country you need to be sure of the allowances and restrictions. Always remember to declare them for a hassle free journey.