Thursday, June 6, 2013

Life Lessons: Travel Smart

One of the lessons I wish I knew when I graduated from the Naval Academy (heck, even while at USNA) is how to travel smarter. Since taking a job that requires me to travel about once a month, I've become intrigued by several resources for light travelers.

Probably my favorite, OneBag was a great resource to renew my thinking in this area. Another site was by Andrew Hyde. Also a good read.

I won't repeat everything they've said, but a couple things that are serving me well.

Get One Great Bag

I accidentally ran across a Delsey Helium Pilot personal carry-on for a rail trip, and have used it faithfully over the last few years as my one bag. It stows overhead, stows beneath the seat in front of me, and fits perfectly in the trunk of our car. With careful planning it can serve me for over a week. Laundry keeps me afield longer if necessary. My next move is to "upgrade" to a similarly sized leather bag, more for looks than anything.

Find the Right Travel Accessories

To make one bag work takes a little ingenuity. I have a couple of accessories that make traveling this light possible. I keep all of my liquid toiletries in a heavy clear vinyl bag in one of the end pockets. Easy to pull out for TSA inspections. My dry toiletries (razor, comb) go in another small zip pouch kept in the same pocket.

I bought a clothes folder that fits snugly within the main compartment of my bag; I think this is the model from Eagle Creek. I use this to neatly fold my dress shirts. I also have two small "packing cubes" that I use to separate my underclothes and workout gear. Small pouches or zippered bags are used throughout to sort items for handiness.

Use a Travel Checklist to Pack

The OneBag website gives a great piece of advice in using a checklist to pack. Mine is a 5x7 card, folded and always kept in the top pouch of my bag. I wrote the list a while ago and add items if necessary now. It's not an "everything" list; it's more of a mental reminder of things to think about. Many items are kept in my travel bag permanently, so I don't have to think about packing at all.

The list helps me sort through what I need for a trip as well as helps me remember to repack everything when I'm ready to come home.

Items that are permanently kept in my bag: phone charger, HDMI cable (for my tablet), extra microUSB cable, book light, spare glasses, collar stays, goggles for swimming, several plastic bags for wet items, a small mesh bag for laundry, one pouch of dry laundry detergent, some quarters, and a few dryer sheets (in case I need to do laundry), extra headphones, pens & note cards, and a flashlight.

Be a Great Air Traveler

One of the travel methods I tend to dislike the most is air. While you probably can't guarantee a perfect flight every time, you can do your best to make it a better experience. A few things that I've learned.
  • Be a part of every major miles program (and hotel programs as well). You may never use the miles, but if you aren't collecting them, you will never use them. Do this early! Like right now!
  • Only wear slip-on shoes at airports. Never laces. Maybe zippered sides.
  • Before hitting the TSA line, my pockets are empty and in the front pouch of my bag. Only an ID card and boarding pass in a shirt pocket.
  • I tend to use my flight time to relax (vice feeling I need to do work). With that in mind, I almost always pack the same way: I have a small satchel, easily stored in my carry-on and removed once through security. It counts as my hand-carried item. In it are my tablet, phone, headphones, earplugs, a paper book or magazine (for take-off & landing), and some snacks. The beauty of the tablet these days is that it (or a good phone) substitutes for an ebook, video player, video game console, and more. I've never felt the need to, but many flights have wifi, so you could surf (but why? Really?).
  • Food: I try to use my airport experiences to find something interesting or comforting to eat. It's a cheat day for me, so anything is on the table.
  • Smile: I like to talk with new folks, and keep a positive attitude. More than anything, it tends to help reduce the friction involved.


Do your best to think through your travels ahead of time. You'll get many opportunities to build and practice your skills, so make the best of it!

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