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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
In addition to the no-brainers such as passport, money and boarding pass, I:
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):