Travel Tips

Nic-fit at 20,000 Feet: Travel tips for smokers

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Reader Bob offered helpful insight from a smoker’s perspective in the comments of Choosing Good Travel Partners, so we asked his advice for infrequent flyers who smoke: 

Travelling isn’t easy for smokers. All of the usual issues and hassles that everyone else has to be concerned with are ours to enjoy, but added to them is that ticking time bomb of nicotine addiction. The good news is that I’ve been around the country enough times that I’ve figured out a few things to help ease the burden of being a smoker away from home.

  • Be aware of your “lack of cigarette” tolerance. This isn’t just about nicotine, so patches and gum aren’t always enough. For me just the act of smoking calms my nerves, and in a busy airport I know I need that fix. A rare few airports, like Dulles International, actually have smoking lounges at the terminals (check out the Milepoint list of airports with smoking lounges), and that extends my tolerance time by as many cigarettes as I have on hand. Failing that, know how long you have until your flight, be aware of how close you are to the nearest exit and how long that security line is, because the last thing you want to do is miss a flight because you were too busy trying to hotbox an emergency butt. Also think about flight times and how long you could be sitting on the tarmac; for some people it’s better to get a connecting flight with a longer layover just to make sure you get that “safety cigarette” every few hours.


  • Pack an extra lighter. The only thing worse than getting off the plane and not having a cigarette RIGHT THEN is getting off, popping that smoke in your mouth… and not being able to light up. They confiscated your lighter at security, your last one ran out of fuel, you lost your matches, whatever the reason it’s enough to make a grown man cry. Always pack an extra lighter in the outside pocket of your checked luggage. That way as soon as you hit the curb outside you can reach it with one hand while you grab a cigarette with the other.

Smoking Tips for Infrequent Travelers

  • Know the relative cost of cigarettes where you are going. Some places have outrageous cigarette taxes (I left my heart in San Francisco, but I left my wallet in New York City), while other places are much gentler on the smoker’s budget. In my home state of Virginia I pay a modest $5 or so for a pack of smokes, but if I were to travel north to visit my grandmother I could get walloped for a grand total of $12.50. Do your homework and either bring enough with you to cover your stay, or pick some up to take home with you (but bear in mind that more than a carton or two will likely be looked at as smuggling).


  • Non-smoking means non-smoking. I know as well as anyone just how frustrating it is at the end of a long day to get back to your hotel room and see that evil little sign with the red circle and slash that only exists to mock you, but believe me when I say, it’s not worth it. Even if the room has a balcony, sooner or later you will get caught, and they will charge you at least $200 for smoking in the room. Do a little extra work on the front end to find a hotel that has a smoking room available. If there are none in the city, just make sure to ask for a ground floor room to make it easier to go out for a smoke when you need one.

  •  Be courteous to the non-smokers in your group. If you are travelling with non-smokers, there will be plenty of times you will be faced with agonizing decisions: sit in the smoking or non-smoking section, stay in the amusement park or leave to have a cigarette, go see that Cher impersonator or fake a heart attack (okay, I’m making up that last one, but seriously can you blame me?) The point is that the world is no longer built for smokers, and you need to acknowledge that going in. If there are non-smokers among your travelling companions, decide before you leave what the ground rules are about things like meals, lodging, and entertainment so that there are no ugly scenes later when you “have to slip out for a minute”.

For more of Bob’s insight on almost anything, follow him at

Have helpful suggestions of your own or a question for Bob? Please comment!


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Heels First is the travels and tribulations of two twenty-something frequent fliers jumping into the world of travel. Join Keri and Jeanne as they tackle mileage runs, elite status, and of course–the perfect travel accessories.

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