I consider myself to be pretty well-traveled, but when I think of a pro, I immediately picture my mom. She’s been traveling the world since she was five years old, and has not stopped since. I think we once tried to count how many countries she’d been to, and the number tallied way over 100. She’s been in more airports than anyone I know, and she is a complete master when it comes to packing and traveling. With her in mind, I thought it might be fun to round up some of the best tips I’ve learned from her, as well as a few things I’ve figured out on my own, into a list for any novice travelers to refer to in the future. Let’s get to it!
BEFORE YOU TRAVEL
Roll, roll, roll, weigh, weigh, weigh
This one is a classic, but if you have any items that can be rolled into a little sausage, do it! You’ll save so much space, it’s ridiculous. Also, be sure to stuff any free spaces (in your shoes, for example) with rolled items, too. Next, keep a scale nearby and weigh your bags as you pack. There’s nothing worse than getting to the checkout counter and having to put on four sweaters and three pairs of pants all at once because your bag is too heavy. Save yourself the hassle and weigh as you go.
Pack your carry-on with security checks in mind
I always pack my carry-on imagining myself opening it up and removing the essentials in a crowded, sweaty security line. Thus, I begin with a few pairs of extra underwear, a second outfit, and my books and papers, followed by any other miscellaneous items (extra pair of shoes, snacks, headphones, chargers galore), and, finally, I finish with my laptop, camera, and a plastic bag of travel-size toiletries. These are the items you will most likely have to pull out during security checks, so you’ll definitely want them at the top of your bag, especially while being glared at by a list of tired, grumpy travelers and even more tired and more grumpy TSA agents. Also, always wear shoes that you can easily remove, and forgo any belts/jewelry/keys, etc.
This one goes without saying, but after an easily-avoidable fight with Conrad after he neglected to charge his phone and my phone stopped working en route to Sweden one year, it’s worth mentioning once more: the night before your flight, CHARGE EVERYTHING. And bring your charger(s) in your carry-on. And don’t forget them when you leave the house! Set a reminder or alarm on your phone, or put out a piece of paper on your suitcase or coffee mug with the words “Don’t forget chargers!” written across it to prevent yourself from leaving them behind.
Separate essentials into pouches
I’m constantly losing things in my bag. Of course, I mostly lose them when I’m in a long line, where people are waiting behind me, and an officer or cashier or whomever is giving me the evil eye. Thus, individual pouches to store certain types of items are a must for me. I try to decide on a few different categories – Important Stuff, Hygiene, Snacks, Entertainment, for example – and sort accordingly. That way, if I’m rooting around for my passport, I don’t have to empty out my entire purse onto the counter, only further pissing everyone off around me (husband included). I simply locate the corresponding pouch, and voila! Super-organized, highly functional adulting achieved.
“Go” before you go
This one may be TMI, but I always have a hard time staying…regular when I travel. Ahem. I don’t know why, but I just cannot go to the bathroom in airports or airplanes (and we’re not talking about pee-pee here, folks), which usually ends up in me having awful stomach cramps either before, during, or after the flight, or, in the worst case, during all three. To thwart this, I always try to get up a little bit earlier than I need to, eat something, drink some coffee, and *try* to go before I…go. It really helps! Ok, moving on.
Use the flight as ‘me time’
Long flights are boring, uncomfortable, and generally kind of a drag. Unless you are a Shah or a YouTube celebrity, or some other kind of important person, you are most likely traveling in Economy, and it is what it is. That said, a flight can be turned into a pleasant experience. You just have to change your mind-set. I now look at flights (long or short) as a chance to do pamper myself a little. I splurge on good magazines, bring a book I never have time to read, and stock up on some really nice travel-sized products, like a luxurious hand cream, or some nice-smelling facial wipes. And I always try to get an aisle seat, because I pee frequently, and constantly having to ask people to move gives me anxiety! Oh, and bring a pillow! A life-saver.
Check out the business class lounge
If you have a long, boring layover in a meh airport (LaGuardia, anyone?), look into how much access to the business class lounge is. They’re usually between $50-$100 per person, and, if you’re going to be spending 5+ hours in an airport, it is sooooo worth the money. They usually offer food, drinks, showers, comfortable seating, free wifi, and an abundance of electrical outlets. If you plan on eating airport food three times, you’ll practically spend that much anyway, and you’ll be eating it on those hard, incredibly-uncomfortable plastic airport seats. We opted for the BC lounge in JFK on our recent flight to Sweden, and it was so worth it. Plus, we ate and drank enough to make it worth it!
This one’s a little tricky, because my first goal for any travel is to be as comfortable as possible. However, this does not mean that I need to arrive to my gate in my Sponge Bob Square Pants pj bottoms. Dressing nicely not only boosts your chance of being upgraded (always ask about this when you get to your gate, by the way), it also helps to make you feel more ‘human’. Airports have a way of making me feel like a cow in a herd (all those lines!), so being nicely dressed does wonders for my well-being. I usually opt for black leggings, some sort of tunic or long-ish button down shirt, and a cozy cardigan to throw on top. Easy, comfy, and not too shabby.
Prep your carry on for the flight
Just as I prep my carry-on for the hell that is security checks, I also re-pack it slightly before my flight. I take out all the things I know I’ll want or need (sweater, books, magazines, etc.), and put away those I don’t (chargers, travel documents, etc.). This way, I’m prepared before even heading onto the plane, and I don’t have to wait until the seat belt sign is turned off before desperately flinging my items around the cabin in search of my fuzzy socks (see my in-flight essentials, below).
I just read this tip, and I think it’s brilliant! Apparently, when given a choice of which direction to go in, people inherently go to the right. Thus, make a concerted effort to go left! The lines will be shorter.
AFTER YOU GET HOME
Don’t go to bed until the sun sets
We just got this tip from a nice man we met on our last flight back to Colorado, and I think it’s brilliant. He said that to avoid jetlag, all he does is to try to stay awake at least until the sun goes down, or to make sure to wake up when the sun comes up (depending on which direction you fly). Being in-sync with the earth’s rotations helps your body to trick itself into thinking it’s back to normal. Genius!
Drink lots of water and try to exercise
This one’s obvious. I try as much as I can to do it, but it doesn’t always happen. I at least try to go for a walk before crashing face-first into my bed. The point is, try, but don’t beat yourself up if it does not happen. Also, always plan to take the day after you arrive off from work. Trust me on this one.
Go back to your routine as much as possible
This one’s important, though. I often get the post-travel blues, and can easily lay around the house like a useless lump for days on end. The best way to beat this is to jump back into your usual routine as quickly as possible. Set an unpacking ‘deadline’ so that your suitcases don’t start to grow cobwebs on them. Plan to meet up with a friend to force you to a) take a shower, and b) get out of the house. Go food shopping. Which reminds me: try to empty and clean your fridge before your trip. It is so much nicer to come home to an empty fridge, all ready for nice, fresh groceries than it is to open it up and find five different kinds and colors of mold.
Here are my in-flight essentials:
For sleep (1):
- Warm, cozy socks
- Ear plugs
- A soft pashmina to wrap up in (I’m always cold, can you tell?)
- An eye mask
For feeling human (2):
- Facial wipes
- A sheet mask (this one’s definitely going to raise eyebrows, but I usually couldn’t care less. Unless Ryan Gosling was sitting next to me. And even then, I’d still probably go for it.)
- Hand sanitizer
- Lip balm
- Really fancy hand cream
For sanity (3):
- A natural sleep aid (I like melatonin, as medical sleeping aids make me too groggy)
- Snacks – bars/nuts are the best because a) they don’t smell and b) they don’t get crushed easily
- A travel pillow
- A water bottle, filled after security checks
For entertainment (4):
- A stack of magazines
- A notebook + pens for journaling (I always find myself brainstorming on flights, no idea why!)
- A good book