Traveling is the ultimate escape. When wanderlust sets in, there are few things more exciting than the prospect of exploring a new place. Immersing yourself in the languages, culinary traditions, arts, sights, and sounds of another country or continent is the best way to get away from it all. Even preparing for a trip possesses a degree of excitement. The anticipation that builds as you pack your suitcase with the essentials for a vacation somewhere balmy (sunscreen and flip-flops), or for a weeklong stay exploring a new city (comfortable footwear), or a European getaway (universal plug-ins, people) is often part of the experience.
At times, however, the planning stages before you embark on your next great adventure can be overwhelming. Additionally, after the packing there is the actual travel-component of your trip to contend with which, depending on your level of expertise, can be a nightmare to navigate. Long lines and wait times coupled with unexpected flight and transit delays can often be frustrating. I have, on occasion, during a particularly long layover or after missing a critical connection, wondered if the whole damn affair is worth the hassle and headache. Over the years though, I’ve learned some valuable lessons that have upped my travel game considerably. These are lessons born of my own on-road experiences as well as ones pulled from the pages of my friends’ travel diaries—consummate voyagers who have journeyed across the globe and who were kind enough to share with me some of their professional traveling tips.
This is part one of a two-part series entitled “Travel 101: A Guide to Traveling like a Pro.”
Traveling by Trains, Planes, and Automobiles 101
The Power of Distraction—I know few people who actually enjoy long-haul flights. I’m referring to those flights that tip the scale from a tolerable few hours to an onerous eight or nine (and beyond). The kind of flight where restricted legroom and a stuffy aircraft cabin start to wear on your nerves. Where unbearable boredom sets in and the thought of watching another in-flight movie simply doesn’t appeal.
When embarking on a lengthy flight, plan ahead for a mix of activities to keep yourself occupied. Download bingeworthy podcasts (This American Life, S-Town, and Serial Season 3 are my current obsessions), new music, and audio books to listen to on your phone. Bring your iPad to watch Netflix and enjoy a personalized stream of your favorite series, documentaries, and movies. Stock up on enticing page-turners like thrillers and mystery novels and download games (I recommend Jeopardy! World Tour, Trivia Crack, QuizUp, and Sporcle) to keep yourself occupied for hours. I have several friends who will pack a carry-on with their knitting or crocheting projects to keep themselves engaged. Transform a tedious plane ride into an opportunity to focus and make some headway on a creative endeavor, such as embroidering, drawing, coloring, or writing.
Comfort is Key—You know what’s sexy? Being comfortable. Which means orthopedic shoes and compression socks are sexy as hell; hear me out. Traveling often involves lots of walking (or if you’re late, sprinting) followed by extended periods of sitting. Being sedentary for hours at a time reduces blood flow and can pose a health concern in the form of blood clots. In general, excessive sitting time can also exacerbate aches and pains. Walking up and down the aisle or stretching your legs mid-flight can help to promote blood flow and alleviate discomfort, but restricted space and activated seatbelt signs make it challenging to move around. Enter compression socks. Compression socks can help to reduce the risk of blood clots in your legs and combat deep vein thrombosis during lengthy flights. If you think all compression socks look frumpy, think again. There are super cute pairs on the market, like this set of trouser socks with a scalloped detail by Nordstrom.
Comfortable shoes are also essential for aiding fatigued and achy feet. Opt for a pair that is easy to slip on and off while going through security. Please, however, refrain from wearing flip-flops or Birkenstocks on a plane at all costs. Speaking from experience, catching sight of someone’s snaggle-toe or a whiff of their potent foot odor during an in-flight meal is enough to make a person hurl.
Gear Up—Small comforts can be your saving grace on long flights. Pack your carry-on with some go-to gear. Consider it an emergency relief kit for when the novelty of flying has been dwarfed by the bothersome crick in your neck and the deafening sounds of plane engines and a snoring seatmate. Some essentials to consider packing include:
- A Mini Skin Care Regime—Recirculated cabin air can be cold and dry, making it an unfavorable environment that wreaks havoc on your skin, eyes, and hair. Bring trial-sized portions of your favorite lotions, potions, and sprays to keep your skin and hair hydrated and refreshed. Artificial tears can help to address bloodshot eyes so you don’t arrive at your destination looking like you belong at a casting call for The Walking Dead. Either fill a series of travel-sized bottles, like this TSA-approved, silicone set by Human Gear, or invest in a trial-sized kit of beauty essentials that has all your bases covered, like this one by Burt’s Bees. Many beauty lines market travel-sized kits, or you can pick and choose what you fill your own bottles with so that you can customize your hair and skincare regimen.
Bonus Protip: A friend of mine uses long flights as an opportunity to catch up on self-care, often going barefaced and applying a series of eye or sheet masks. By the time the plane touches down at its destination, they emerge with a dewy, rejuvenated complexion. I know the thought of layering on a sheet mask has a Hannibal Lector vibe to it, but if you’re committed to looking refreshed and are comfortable with your seatmate, why the heck not?! Before applying a sheet mask prep your skin by removing excess dirt and oil with face wipes.
- Emergen-C Dietary Supplement Powder—Dissolve some in a glass of water for a shot of Vitamin C to keep your immunity up.
- Hand Sanitizer—Even with a bolstered immunity, you’ll be coming in contact with a lot of germs, so take the precautionary measure of keeping a small bottle of sanitizer with you to sterilize your hands after touching different surfaces or before consuming food. Besides, let’s be honest, you’re almost certain to come across an empty soap dispenser at least once or twice during your travels.
- Gum or Breath Mints—The uncomfortable change in inner ear pressure that often develops during takeoff or landing (and sometimes persists for an entire flight) can be eased by chewing on a mint or piece of gum. In addition to this, a minty fresh pick-me-up might be just what you need after a mid-flight meal. Your seatmate will thank you.If you want to step up your hygiene while traveling, bring a toothbrush and travel-sized tube of toothpaste with you to brush your teeth. Try to bring some water with you into the bathroom, since the potability of tap water on a plane is still widely debated. You can also buy a travel-sized bottle of mouthwash, like Listerine, if you’re looking to rinse your mouth with something stronger.
- An Extra Layer—I’ve always found plane cabins to run on the cold side. There is usually a complimentary blanket and pillow provided during long flights, but as a general rule I always pack a scarf or lightweight sweater to layer on when I’m hoping to curl up and get warm.
- Earplugs and an Eye Mask—Catch some ZZZs that are less likely to be interrupted by a fussy baby or the glare of your neighbor’s overheard light by investing in earplugs and an eye mask. If you’re looking for an eye mask with some pizazz, try shopping these style-savvy options by Free People. If your eye makeup is on point and you don’t want to arrive at your destination with smudged mascara, try a cute, contoured option like this one from Indigo.
Bonus Protip: Pack all of these essentials in a small, clear carrying pouch or toiletry bag that will fit in your seat pocket, like this trendy Clear for Take-Off Bag by MIAMICA, which is available at Bed, Bath and Beyond. This way, you’re not having to rummage through a bulky carry-on bag that you need to keep retrieving items from in the overhead bin or from under the seat in front of you.
Noise-Cancelling Headphones—When choosing a set of headphones to travel with, opt for a noise-cancelling pair. I love products that deliver results without compromising on aesthetics, and this plush, retro-inspired pair by Bohm is the perfect blend of fashion and function.
Keep Hydrated—That in-flight coffee, soda, or glass of wine may seem like a good idea at the time, but it will only dehydrate you; so where possible, avoid caffeine and alcohol. Instead, opt for herbal tea or bottled water (bypass carbonation) to quench your thirst. It’ll help you keep hydrated after a long flight, so you emerge from that metal tube of recirculated air more refreshed. It’s also a good idea to hydrate yourself very well the day prior to traveling. For an added boost, drink something infused with electrolytes so you feel replenished the day of your big trip.
Bonus Protip: Pack a water bottle and once you’re through security, fill it up at a water fountain or filling station prior to your flight. You can also request it be filled up during your flight by a stewardess in lieu of using one of their disposable cups. If you’re looking to save on space, consider investing in a collapsible water bottle—which can be folded up when it’s empty. There are lots of decent options on the market, but these brightly colored collapsible water bottles by que and Nomader rank high on my list.
Pack a Pen—Hands down, a writing implement is one of the most valuable commodities to have when traveling internationally. Every time I travel outside of North America, as soon as the flight attendants distribute immigration and customs forms, half the plane’s occupants start to scramble in search of a pen at the bottom of their bags or ask to borrow one from their neighbor. I always diligently pack one or two (as a backup but also to loan out).
These retro office pens from Hay feature bright pops of color that make them nice to look at and even easier to track down should you misplace one. You can order them for $4 a pen on ban.do. Fun fact, these color-block pens are interchangeable, so if you buy more than one, you can switch the colors around!
Bonus Protip: Choose a pen that clicks or twists closed so that you don’t have any unfortunate mishaps with it leaking ink or illustrating the insides of your bag when you stow it away.
That’s it for part one of this two-part series, “Travel 101: A Guide to Traveling like a Pro.” Stay tuned for more tips and tricks on how to travel like a champ!