I love traveling. But it can sometimes be a pain. I’ve been traveling for work for a little over three years now. This doesn’t make me the most seasoned traveler out there, of course. But having experienced some extremely uncomfortable flying conditions, I’ve learned a few tricks and tips for making my current and future trips more comfortable.
This post contains (and will continuously be updated with) my favorite and most relevant air travel tips that I learned and personally practice during my travels. These tips I mention here have all worked for me and made my travels a lot, lot easier and more comfortable. They may or may not work for you. You may or may not find one or two that do. But, if I’m lucky, you may be inspired to find similar solutions that work for you, and help you make your future travels ever less painful.
Pack Light, and smart: The last you’ll want while traveling is to drag yourself down (literally) by carrying too much.
I always check a bag in. This means that I can carry as much clothing and amenities as I need. Sometimes I check the amenities provided by the hotel I’m staying at and find that they don’t provide all the amenities I need such as an iron or kitchen utensils, so I bring my own travel-friendly versions with me. And I’m only able to do so because I check a bag in.
But when it comes to carry-on luggage, I try to stay as light as possible.
I try to stick to a carry-on backpack only. Carrying only a backpack has many benefits: not only does it provide me with a lot of mobility moving around, but it also helps me not stress about cabin space. A lot of people rush into the plane and stand first in line so they can get on board sooner and find space for their carry-on bags before the cabins fill up. When I’m only carrying a backpack, I place it under the seat in front of me and don’t need to stress about cabin space.
I keep a small foldable bag in my backpack in case I decide to buy something at the airport that doesn’t fit in the backpack. (Sometimes I don’t carry one if I’m trying to cut down on spending money at the airports, where everything tends to be waaaaay overpriced.) I also sometimes keep a foldable bag in my checked bag if I know I’m going to come back home with more stuff after going on a shopping spree abroad. (This doesn’t happen as often now since I adopted more of a minimalist lifestyle, though.)
I create and pack a capsule wardrobe for the trip. The concept of the capsule wardrobe is simple: carry few items that you absolutely love wearing and that you can mix and match to create multiple outfits from—Perfect for travel! Packing just enough takes time and practice. For me, it started with overpacking, then underpacking, before I finally reached a point of balance.
Carry a spare change of clothes in your hand luggage, just in case of emergency. This hasn’t happened a lot to me before but on my first ever flight to the US I had a flight delayed so much that the airline has us spend the night in a hotel close to the airport. Luckily, I was able to get my checked bag which made it possible for me to get my change of cloths from there, but had that not been the case, I would have been miserable. Having a spare change of cloths in your carry-on bag is one of those tips you’ll find almost every single frequent flyer recommend.
I save space in my bag (carry-on or checked) by carrying travel-friendly clothing such as foldable flats, extremely light walking shoes (which happen to be the most comfortable ones I’ve ever worn), and less wrinkle-prone fabric.
I’ve started using packing cubes recently and the only thing I could think of after using them for the first time was why on earth I never used them before. I’m an organization freak. I usually have a place for everything at home and in my office, so being just as organized during my travels was something that should have been a no-brainer from the start, but somehow I only managed to do it recently. I’m never going back to the packing mess I used to be.
- I own a carry-on bag that helps me stay organized by having a dedicated place for almost everything: laptop, iPad, small electronics, spill-proof water pocket, phone pocket, etc. in addition to the main large compartment. This is very important to me as it helps me stay organized and therefore stress less about where my things are at on the road.
I went through a few bags before I finally settled for a couple of favorites. I switch between my bags depending on the length of the trip and the amount of stuff I’m carrying or packing. I’ll share which ones those are along with more details about my tech travel pack in a separate post.
Get through airport security as fast as possible.
Not having a lot of carry-on luggage is step one to moving quickly through security. In addition to the amount of lugagge, you can also move quicker by planning the kind of content you carry in your luggage.
Buy solid versions of your liquid products if you can. I like to go through security as fast as possible, and having one less thing to take out of the bag (in this case that would be my liquids bag) helps with that. Most of my solid products (shampoo, deodorant, lotion) are from Lush—I love this brand because it’s strongly focused on making animal cruelty-free and vegetarian products. Also, the smell of these products (and their shop) is just sublime.
Prepare yourself to pass through security while you wait in line. I take my watch off as well as jacket or belt or any other item I’m required to take off a couple of minutes before it’s my turn to pass through security. I’ll grab a tray and put some of these in sooner, too, if I can. The only thing I sometimes have left to take out is my laptop, unless I already have that out too. Everyone around you will thank you.
- The closer to the departure time, the more busy airport security lines usually are. I learned to arrive early to the airoprt simply from living in Lebanon. Arriving three hours before the flight is ideal, especially in busy airports. Arriving early also means less waiting in line at check-in and bag drop.
- Check in online whenever you can. And even when you do, it doesn’t hurt to still get your boarding pass printed at the airport too. Checking in online helps you get to the check in and bag drop counter faster. There are sometimes lines for people who have checked in online and that are faster and less crowded than the regular lines for people who haven’t checked in yet. As a Lebanese, I don’t get to download my boarding pass on mobile most of the times and have to print my boarding pass at the airport in Beirut anyway, so this also kinda got me in the habit of having both versions of the boarding pass all the time. I also find I use the physical boarding pass more even if I do have the digital version downloaded.
Staying productive: getting more work done on the road.
Since I’m a freelancer who also happens to travel a lot, I try to make the most out of my time by getting more work done during my travels, so that my traveling doesn‘t disrupt my client development projects too much. So, being able to get work done on the road is very important to me.
I find that the most important things I need to get work done on the road are: my laptop (always charged and ready), a bottle of water, a snack, wifi (though not always required), and some quiet.
Always carry an international adapter and portable chargers so you never run out of power. You won’t get much or any work done with a dead battery—be it a laptop battery, iPad or phone—whichever you need.
Make sure you always have a bottle of water on you and some snacks. Dehydration means you’re going to be physically incapable of focusing. If you need coffee, get you some. Food and drinks are possibly the only thing you’re guaranteed to find at any airport—though the options may be limited in some.
Noise-cancelling headphones are a must-have for any frequent business traveler, in my opinion. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to focus enough to get any work done on the road. They help you turn your small corner into a quiet oasis. Airport noise, chatty neighbors, crying babies, the sound of utensils… they can drive you mad if you’re tyring to focus. Noise-cancelling headphones are a blessing. You’ll only know how much you need them after you try them.
Airport lounge access is a luxury that a lot of us don’t get to enjoy but if you do, you’ll find it helps you get a lot more work done too. Lounges usually offer quiet work spaces, free food and drinks, comfy seating, and uninterupted free Wifi. After a year of traveling without signing up for any airline memberships, I finally decided to stop letting my frequent flyer numbers go to waste and signed up for one. Today, I have a membership with a few airlines which got me to a frequent flyer status that I automatically get access to airport lounges everywhere. So, I can tell from experience that this level of comfort gets really addictive, and you start appreciating it more and more, especially when you start getting more work done more comfortably. So, if you can, make sure you don’t let those frequent flyer points go to waste.
If you don’t have lounge access and happen to be at one of those stingy airports that offer limited free wifi, you can hack your way around it by spoofing your MAC address to get more free wifi.
Healthy habits result in peak physical performance.
Eat well. Eat Healthy. Make sure you choose and eat healthy food only. Finding good food can be hard, especially if you have special dietary requirements. But you can provide your body with the bare minimum nutrition by carrying travel-friendly super food packs—be that in an edible or drinkable form. For example, I carry my super foods in powder format that I can dissolve into a cup or small bottle of water and drink. I get mine from organicburst.com. They’re great. A lot of my friends always carry protein bars with them. Try to avoid sugary snacks and focus on getting a good amount of protein and fiber instead.
I stopped eating airplane food a few months ago. I always bring my own snacks and food on to the plane now. I usually purchase these at airports so I don’t have to carry much with me from the moment I leave home. I look for healthy options like green salads, fruit salads, and bean salads (my favorite one I usually purchase from Beirut airport).
Stay hydrated inside and out. Make sure you avoid getting dehydrated, by continuously drinking water and moisturizing your skin (especially face and lips). Always bring your own water on to the plane. Always. The amount and frequency of water offered on the plane is nothing compared to the amount I find my body needs during the flight, and waiting for flight attendants to make the round and serve water to drink is something I’ve learned to avoid long ago. I need to drink when I need to drink, not when they choose to offer a drink. I’ll usually buy one large or two smaller bottles of water right before I get on the plane.
Protect your body against germs and bacteria. I never go out of my house without anti-bacterial skin wipes, whether I’m flying out of the country or just going to the city doing errands. I use them everywhere. They’re also particularly important when you’re going to be using public rest rooms. I usually wipe the toilet seat with one and then cover it with the toilet seat covers which I’ve also recently started carrying with me. Anti-bacterial wipes are also a good ice-breaker. I’ve gotten some weird looks from people sitting next to me on the plane when I used them to wipe everything my hands will touch, up until I offered them one and they happily took it and started doing the same. This always made me grin. :D
Exercise (if you can). Let’s be honest: I don‘t exercise during my travels. It’s hard to find time for it. I mean, sure, I could do it if I can get myself to stress less about speaking and my workshops, but that’s still something I’m learning how to do. But I make up for lack of exercise by walking as much and as often as I can. Sometimes I tour the entire city on foot. I’ve walked for 6+ hours in some cities before. If I can choose between an elevator and stairs, I sometimes choose the stairs. Any chance I get to move, I do.
Getting sleep & staying comfortable on the plane.
It is extremely hard for me to get sleep in public places—unless I’m utterly exhausted and physically incapable of staying awake. But it got easier with time and practice. Now, I am able to get myself to sleep on planes as long as I:
- Wear an eye mask to shut the light out. I’ve recently backed this project on Indiegogo. This sleeping mask looks very promising and I’m optimistic that it’ll be much better than the mask I own now.
- Wear noise-cancelling headphones. I own an over-ear pair and an in-ear pair. When it comes to performance, the in-ear pair wins hands down. I invested in a Bose QC20 a couple of years ago, and after using them all this time, I can whole-heartedly say that they’re worth every penny.
- Listen to white noise. I use the Noisli app to listen to the sound of rain and thunder, for example, so I get the feeling of sleeping in a cozy house during winter with a warm fire sitting next to me. 😀
- Keep warm. It gets really cold on airplanes sometimes, so having something like a jacket or a blanket or a scarf to keep warm is important. I always carry and use my own scarf because I don’t trust the hygiene of the blankets provided on the plane. I even use the provided pillow as a back rest, not a head rest. Plus, the fabric they provide is really not my favorite.
- Carry a good travel pillow. I’ve yet to find my perfect match. None of the ones I tried have met my needs, but the one I use most frequently now (until I find a better one) is this Infinity pillow that I ordered from China last year. The fabric is really, really nice. It’s only the function I’m not 100% happy with. I would give it 4 out of 5 stars though.
- Raise those legs and improve circulation in them. I carry an inflatable foot rest that I found and bought at an airport. This is one of the best things I’ve done for myself. The foot rest, once inflated, is not high enough for my personal preference so I usually place it on top of my backpack which usually sits under the seat in front of me to get the height I desire. This makes sleeping so much easier and so much more comfortable. You can find one on Amazon. This one is almost identical to the one I own.
- Wear compression socks if you need to. This is not completely sleep-related, but it belongs in the airplane comfort section nonetheless. Sitting for a long time can exert a lot of hamrlful pressure on your legs, which is why getting up and walking on the plane every now and then is extremely important. But if you’re sitting on a window seat and this is not easy to do, wearing compression socks helps regulating the blood flow in your legs and feet and prevents them from swelling. (Since you’re going to be sleeping while you’re sitting, then it makes sense to wear them during your sleep as well.)
- When I plan to sleep, I pick a window seat. This is definitely a personal preference—you may prefer otherwise. I personally like having something to lean on. I pick an isle seat for shorter flights when I know I won’t be sleeping. An isle seat is also great when I do use cabin space and know I’ll want to get things out of my bag frequently, so I can do it without bothering the people sitting next to me.
- (Update: September 13th, 2017) I’ve recently also added the shoe-like socks “Skinners” to my carry-on pack. They’re extremely comfortable socks (or shoes? maybe neither?) that have an asphalt-like bottom that’s strong enough to protect even against broken glass. These socks are perfect for long-haul flights and airports. They even make for better shoe replacements for when I want to speak without shoes on, which is something that’s supposed to help with stage nerves and make you feel more “grounded” (pun intended) on stage. Every pair comes with its own pouch to pack them when you’re not using them. I can imagine they can make for a great alternative to foldable flats in some scenarios as well.
Jet Lag is hard to beat, but easier to combat.
I read somewhere that it takes one day for every hour of time difference to get over jet lag. In other words: if you’re flying to a destination with 10 hours time difference, you’d need 10 days to get over jetlag and for your body to adjust to the new local time. This is not very efficient and will certainly be a problem if you’re traveling to a 10-hour-different time zone and are staying for 3 or 4 days only.
But I’ve learned that you can lessen—and sometimes maybe even neutralize—the effects of jetlag by following these few tips:
Practicing healthy habits on my way to the destination, especially drinking lots of water and eating healthy! I can’t emphasize the importance of these two enough. Exhausting your body by allowing it to dehydrate and not giving it enough nutrients and healthy food is one of the worst things you can do to worsen the effects of jetlag.
Adjust your watch to the time zone you’re flying to as soon as the plane takes off, and try adjusting your body to the new time zone as early as possible. Try to eat and sleep according to your destinations’s time, not your local time.
If you can, get some exercise during the day at your destination. Exercising gives you that energy spark to get you through the day without feeling too tired and needing to sleep early. I have a friend who swears by exercising and says that it’s literally the only thing he does to get over jetlag, and that it just works.
Make sure you expose yourself to as much sunlight as possible during the day at your destination. Sunlight and water literally give us life, and they are great to help you energize during the day to make it through it.
I’ve personally tried some of these tips and noticed that they did help me a lot. I’m still not completely able to handle jetlag all the time, but I’m getting better at it the more I travel.
Other things I always carry/do
In addition to the no-brainers such as passport, money and boarding pass, I:
- Always bring comfortable walking shoes along. I never travel without them, even if the trip is a pure business one without any recreational activities planned. You just never know when you need them.
- Keep a digital photo of important documents on your phone (passport, ID, and itinerary, addresses, phone numbers, etc.) I also take photos of my bags sometimes, just in case it got lost in transport I can provide the airline with the exact description of how it looks. I also take screenshots of everything such as addresses, maps, telephone numbers. I usually use screenshots as a note-taking process in my daily life, so doing so during my travels comes naturally.
- Keep a printed copy of your digital documents such as invitation letters, itineraries, etc. Sometimes passing through customs they request seeing them. I know it’s happened twice with me so far so I learned to always save an offline copy of everything with me.
- Bring a pen. You’ll need it to fill out any required landing customs forms on the plane before arrival.
- Bring my own entertainment. If you travel a lot, then chances are that you’ll have watched most—if not all—intersting movies the airline has to offer at some point. I survived some flights in situations like these by carrying an On-The-Go USB flash drive that contains a bunch of movies. I use my iPad to watch on, read, and sometimes draw.
- Always carry a small emergency kit with me. I almost never fly without one. (Contains: band-aids, allergy pills, Ibuprofen, eye drops, and other small things that belong in an emergency kit.)
- Tag that luggage to make it easier to find. Also, I’ve read a tip once about keeping a copy of your ID inside the bag so that it’s easier to track you, the owner, when it’s found. I’m not sure how safe that is to do, but it may be worth considering.
- Always make sure to carry some local currency cash on you as well. I find that I need to pay in cash sometimes, and having to find an ATM in urgent situations is stressful. Try to have some (even if just a little) cash on you at all times.
The Tech Pack
I will do a separate post on this including photos of my tech travel gear, but here is a quick list of the most important things I carry when I travel for work (dev and speaking):
- Laptop (& charger)
- iPad (for reading, watching movies, writing/drawing)
- Mobile phone
- Portable battery (enough to charge my phone twice and iPad once)
- International adapter (includes USB cable for charging battery pack and other stuff)
- Slider remote
- Screen cleaner and cloth
- On-The-Go USB (I usually have movies on it)
- Charging iPhone case (with built-in battery)
- Noise-cancelling headphones
- Camera (& lenses, extra batteries, etc.)