I love to travel. I always have. Even though air travel has, generally speaking, deteriorated to the level of subway travel since 9/11, doesn’t mean it has to for you. I somehow found myself on more than 40 flights over the last year and I figured I would pass along some of my tips for traveling in style.
In no particular order:
1. Your suitcase is the single most important item you bring with you
It can make your traveling life a breeze, or be a constant headache. I almost never check a bag. Of those 40 flights I’ve taken, I’ve checked a bag on less than 5 of them. Twice were due to the extended nature of the trip, and the others were out of necessity (I moved cross-country twice this year). Other than that, I can almost always cram my things into the generally allowed two carry-on bags.
A few years ago, I purchased a suitcase from Japanese store Muji. I cannot imagine living without it now. Muji is a cross between Ikea, H&M and… nothing that North America really has (other than Muji, which you can find in New York City, and online). They make a wide variety of products, including household goods, clothing and luggage. I own their black, wheeled, carry-on bag and it is outstanding for the price. Their luggage is incredibly light, smart looking (it’s simplicity defined), durable, with lots of interior space, and most importantly has 4 wheels on the bottom. I cannot stress the importance of having a rolling suitcase with four wheels enough: it will make your life much, much easier. Instead of dragging your roller behind you, you can now walk normally with your bag rolling beside you (which surprisingly makes a large difference). You can also nudge it ahead in whatever line you inevitably find yourself in. Basically, it almost does the work of rolling itself along for you.
2. Add a passport case
While the Muji suitcase is decidedly ‘downmarket’, it’s always nice to mix a downmarket item with an ‘upmarket’ item. Especially when this item can assist you in organizing your travel essentials. In Canada, when boarding a flight, one has to always show a piece of photo I.D., along with one’s boarding pass, even for domestic flights. Trying to flip open a passport to the right page, hand said passport and boarding pass to the gate agent while lugging your coat, the aforementioned two carry-on bags, a coffee and whatever else you may be carrying, is a collosal pain in the ass. Smythson of Bond Street’s passport cases are made out of beautiful leather, keep your passport open to the picture and also have a space for your boarding pass. This prevents your boarding pass from looking like a piece of origami when you take it out of your pocket (or worse, losing it), while also letting you hand one thing to the gate agent rather than two. It is also great for storing other travel documentation (Frequent Flyer membership cards, NEXUS/Global Entry cards, etc). It keeps your travel documentation organized in style, which is always nice and lets you simply toss one thing into your bag that has everything you will need to board a flight. If I didn’t already have my Smythson, I’d definitely look at the offerings from WANT Les Essentials de la Vie (a line of leather goods from Montreal that actually has a stand-alone store called ‘Passport’ in the Island Airport in Toronto), Valextra or, if you’re looking to save a few bucks, the Aspinal eBay store, which sells slightly imperfect or previously monogrammed goods.
3. Loafers are best
Sadly, we are now all one step away from being al Qeada in the eyes of the security personnel at North American airports. We’re scanned, frisked and generally dehumanized as we slump through security with our shoes off, and pants de-belted. Rather than spending 3 minutes searching for a chair to re-tie your shoes on the other side of security, go with some loafers that allow an easy on-off transition on either side of the metal detector/body scanner/guy-named-Jim-with-rubber-gloves-on. One caveat for this piece of advice is if you require boots for your trip – in that case, it will likely be best to wear them as they will take up an immense amount of your available luggage space.
4. Wear a blazer or coat
Similar to the loafers, I always wear a blazer or coat (depending on the season), preferably with a number of pockets. This serves a few purposes. First, it allows me to toss all my metallic items (change, wallet, watch, etc) into the pockets before I get into the security line so that once I get to the security line, rather than dumping all of these items messily into a bin, I simply remove my jacket. Furthermore, as airports and airplanes swing wildly in temperature, it’s always good to have a few layers. In addition, I find that gate agents, lounge attendants, flight attendants and the like treat you much better when you’re a little bit more dressed for the occasion. Finally, packing a blazer into a suitcase will make said blazer look like you slept in it when you reach your destination. Save the headache and just wear it (you can always lay it over your carry-on luggage in the overhead bin if you get hot). Having more storage space on your person while traveling is always of benefit.
The best jacket for travel tends to be more casual, with a fabric that won’t get too wrinkled (or looks good a bit wrinkled), with soft shoulders and a few usable pockets. A good example is the soft-shouldered Boglioli with patch pockets that can be seen above. Obviously climate and time of the year are important when choosing a jacket as well.
5. Noise cancelling headphones
A frequent flyer’s best friend. They can take that crying baby six rows behind you and replace him with peace and serenity. If you travel more than a few times a year, these are well worth it, particularly for long flights. I have a pair of Bose, which seem to be the most common, but I’m sure there are other reputable brands out there. My girlfriend borrows them when she’s looking for some peace and quiet to study at home as well, so they’re not a one-dimensional purchase. I would note that they are typically not allowed for take-off and landing, so make sure to bring some earbuds (which are allowed on many airlines if plugged into their in-flight entertainment system) for these two times, and also for walking around the airport.
6. Scratch off the size
As mentioned above, nobody is beyond suspicion anymore in the security line. Don’t even think about bringing more than 3.0 ounces of liquid or gel through that line or you will be met with an extended dialogue along the lines of: “Sir, can you please come over here for a minute. Are you aware that you cannot bring liquids over 3.0 ounces through security? Blah blah blah….”. Yet, there are things you want to bring when you’re not checking a bag that don’t quite fit into those guidelines. If the size is close, do what I do: scratch off the size. Security personnel will, almost without exception, only throw away something if they can PROVE it is over the limit. Even more annoying is, that while there may have originally been more than 3 ounces of liquid in a particular item, I rarely travel with new products and therefore there’s likely around 1.5 ounces left and the “3 ounces” listed on the side is merely academic. Save that pomade from the garbage and simply scratch off the size – I’ve been doing it for years and have never had even the slightest issue.
7. Don’t bring it as you can likely get it for free!
Along the same lines of #6, there is another way of getting around liquid restrictions, especially if you wisely are not checking a bag: don’t bring them. Many people are not aware that nearly all hotels will provide you (free of charge) a host of common items upon request. Toothpaste, toothbrushes, shaving cream, razors, mouthwash are some of the most common. Obviously soap, shampoo and conditioner are also standard fare. I would also save luggage space by not packing things like slippers and bath robes, as hotels will also lend you these (if they’re not already in your room when you check in, call the front desk and request them). Also, you can take these products home with you and use them on future trips, or throw them in your guest bathroom at home.
Even if you’re not staying in a hotel, travel size versions of these items are available for next to nothing at nearly any drugstore chain. $3 will kit you out with just about everything you need and so don’t stress about hauling your medicine cabinet across country.
I’m not a “list” person, per se – except when I travel. I typically jot down a packing list a day or two before I leave. I always organize my list into two columns – the first, is items that, if forgotten, would essentially ruin or greatly hamper my enjoyment of a trip (passport, glasses/contact lenses, wallet, cell phone, iPad….). The other is essentially everything else. However, there are some items that I don’t worry about because they are easily replaceable. Toothpaste, deodorant and socks can be purchased anywhere for next to no cost (as discussed in detail above). Don’t lose sleep over the small stuff, make sure you have the essentials and you’re basically in the clear.
Inevitably, you will only use 3/4 of the things you bring, so come to terms with that and slowly cut back on how much you pack. Unless absolutely required, you should be able to fit all you need into two carry-on bags. If you’re really pressed for space, buy a decent suit bag and fill it with things on hangers (and the bottom toss in a couple of pairs of shoes). Keep in mind that it will be heavy and cumbersome, and you will hate lugging it around after 10 minutes, but it will get everything you need to your destination (and, because they’ll be on hangers, with far fewer wrinkles). I try to avoid this approach as carrying a clothing bag is simply not fun at airports. On one occasion, I had a wedding with four separate events, each with vastly different levels of formality, forcing me to use drastic measures to get to everything onto the plane and back.
8. Relax and make the best of it: Having a beer is all about context.
Having a beer at 12:30PM on a Tuesday in your apartment? Sad. Having that same beer at 12:30PM on a Tuesday on Opening Day at the ballpark? Carry on and enjoy – in fact, have another. The airport, along with ballparks, stadium tailgate parties and the cities of Las Vegas and New Orleans are essentially “judgment free zones” when it comes to (the responsible enjoyment of) booze, so use that to your advantage. Airports in particular are becoming both less hospitable (hot, crowded, crumbling, low-ceilinged prisons with endless lines) and, in certain instances, more hospitable (there are some great restaurants, bars, shops, etc springing up in a number of airports. For example, the Anchor Steam Bar in San Francisco, Mill Street Bar and Brewery in Toronto, Ike’s Restaurant in Minneapolis, Anchor Bar in Buffalo, etc.). Either way, pull up a stool and enjoy a pint of the local specialty. I’ve found some amazing beers that I would never have otherwise tried this way, and even familiar beers and food items just taste better in their home locale. Beef on a weck, buffalo wings and Gennesse Cream Ale just taste better in Buffalo; the same goes for Anchor Steam at SFO, Brooklyn Lager at JFK, Fat Tire at DEN, Yuengling at PHL, Mill Street Tankhouse at Toronto Pearson, barbecue in Houston and guacamole in Cancun. Sit back and enjoy the ride – don’t get stressed at the airport, use it as an extension of your vacation.
There is no greater travel tool than the iPad. It fits into the seat pocket in front of you; is light and easily packed; lets you communicate with others via FaceTime, Skype, etc; holds movies, TV shows, e-books and music; allows internet access in the airport and on certain airlines mid-flight; and, you can now even put your boarding pass on it, making it a “one stop shop” for when you’re traveling. While in-flight entertainment is improving (especially in Canada, where you can easily amuse yourself with the bevy of options on Air Canada seat-back TV systems) but you still want that ace in the hole in case your screen is the one that’s broken or you’ve seen the movie that’s playing. The iPad can replace your laptop (especially if you have a keyboard for it) and is significantly smaller (huge plus when it comes to traveling) and lighter (even bigger plus).
10. Skip the line
If there’s a way to skip any line at the airport, find it. Programs like NEXUS, Global Entry, Known Traveler, etc are programs in Canada and the US that let you access special security lines and customs lines, speeding up your airport trip significantly. They’re really worth the half-hour interview and $50 for the three years of benefits you receive. Many airlines have credit cards that allow you to board the plane early, avoid baggage fees, access a special security line and/or access the first class lounge (this is a great benefit, especially if there’s a flight cancellation – everyone else will be forced to line-up at the gate or at customer service, while you can go to the lounge and get treated far better, far faster). If you travel on a particular airline regularly (but not quite enough to gain elite status), it’s worth looking into these perks and finding a way to attain them. There are many easily accessible websites which detail the best credit cards for earning points and earning status and/or benefits, or even setting up a “mileage run” whereby you fly simply to earn miles to gain status (seems insane, but if you fly enough on an airline, the above listed benefits can be hard to live without).