Why 37days?

IMG_7865I travel almost every week to give keynotes, workshops, retreats, or to facilitate difficult meetings for clients. Today, in fact, I'm winging my way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to talk to 3,500 of my closest friends. Via Detroit, since evidently there is no straight line from Asheville to anywhere. 

Delta Platinum status is a blessing–and a curse. I've gotten a lot of emails over the years asking how I pack for trips, and how I endure all the travel. Here's the answer–from my perspective. What works for me might not work for you, and I'll likely think of something I should have added at about 37,000 feet in the air later today, so please add your own tips in the comments!

1. Travel light: This is as true of life as it is of travel. Put every single thing you need for your trip on your bed. Now put half of it away and pack the other half for your trip. Seriously. Do it once and while you might have a moment's pang of regret that you didn't bring that handknit cardigan made for you by an elder in Nova Scotia from the hair of yaks, the regret won't last and you'll get by just fine with the much less bulky shawl you did bring. Make outfits look different with scarves (I always carry two) rather than bringing more tops and pants. The same goes for closets, bookcases, the things you hide under your bed or in your crazy basement thinking you might need them one day. I plan to take my own advice on this one in April with a big Yard Give (a Yard Sale with a twist–come take what you need).

2. Never check luggage: This is as true of life as it is of travel. Being agile is important. When things go wrong (the inbound plane is stuck in the Cape Verde islands because the wing fell off, for example–or your dream job isn't so dreamy), you need to be able to take your own luggage and do a work-around. This can never happen if you've left your luggage in someone else's care, if you've abdicated your responsibility for your luggage to others, if you've watched helplessly as it rode down that weak conveyer belt behind the ticket agent, a tiny tag the only thing between it and oblivion. Keep it with you. Which means you really must go back to #1 and take it seriously.

3. Bring your own water bottle: This is as true of life as it is of travel. I was amused by the snarky tweets from the South by Southwest (SxSW) conference last week about the lack of power strips in the room for laptop users to plug into. You need a powerstrip? You always need one at conferences or in airports where people circle columns with plugs like carrion circling roadkill? Bring it yourself and stop complaining that someone isn't providing for you. I could make millions selling plug space on the powerstrip I use in airports. Need a snack on the plane or would you rather complain about the lack of food service on planes these days like that is still news? Save that energy for studying the safety instructions. Stay fully hydrated. Bring your own water bottle, a tiny Sigg bottle with peace signs on it that you can take empty through TSA and fill up at a water fountain once you've redressed after the pat down.

4. Don't expect upgrades: This is as true of life as it is of travel. I love upgrades. Love, love, love them. A little breathing space makes my day happier. I used to peruse the Delta site 24 hours before every flight like a crack addict looking for a fix, hoping to see "Upgrade Granted." But when I expect them and bank my whole happiness on getting them or not, I fall hard when the first class cabin fills up and I'm relegated to my tiny perch in what Emma called as a child the "third class cabin." Also true of life: Writing a book? Don't put all your hopes into being on Oprah. Come, sit back here with us and enjoy the ride!

5. Be able to carry your own bags: This is as true of life as it is of travel. Akin to #1 and #2, this has long been my edict. After traveling for years with bags that were too heavy, I have pared down to something I can pick up. This was for a long time my happy Ogio backpack, but in recent months, I'd moved to a rollaboard Ogio Layover bag (the best piece of luggage I've ever, ever owned and a hat tip to Peter Shankman for pointing me to them) to save my back. Being able to pull your own weight is important. (Asking for help when you need it is also important, I know.) 

6. Don't rush the line: This is as true of life as it is of travel. I don't think I've ever been as mortified as I was once traveling with a colleague who pushed people aside as he made his way to the front of a line to board: "I HAVE A FIRST CLASS SEAT!" he announced to all those he pushed aside. "PATTI, GET UP HERE WITH ME." Um, no. I'll wait back here with the human beings.

7. Help others: This is as true of life as it is of travel. Young parents with babies on planes are the bane of every business traveler. I know this, having looked at it from both sides now, as the song goes. That young mother or father with the baby or rambunctious toddler is doing the best they can. Let's make that assumption, shall we, and extend some empathy and help to them. Children are tiny miracles, they are. YOU WERE ONE ONCE. A two-hour flight with Emma during which she screamed–and I mean SCREAMED UP A LUNG–during almost the entire flight taught me this. A kind older woman who took her and walked up and down the aisle with her for me was the only thing that soothed her. Help, don't complain. Would you rather be disdainful or fly peacefully? This is why I always have a few sheets of stickers for kids in my wallet (always ask the parent first).

8. Take a book and a sweater: This is as true of life as it is of travel. There are a few things I always–always–have with me. One is a book, and one is a sweater (or my interpretation of "sweater," which is "shawl.") You will always have to wait and you will always get chilly. I used to bring several books on a trip in case I got bored with one. I stopped doing that. Now I bring one book and its sole presence allows for greater focus and determination–I make it through the parts that feel slow to the meaning beneath. It has been a remarkable change, that one thing. I always carry in one ziploc bag: Ginger chews (taste great, and ginger is also good for motion sickness, should you suffer from that), two Coconut Chai tea bags, a luna bar, a Himalaya Institute Neti Stick, Badger Sleep Balm, index cards, a pen, photos of my family (I put one on the podium wherever I speak to remind me that I am loved no matter how the audience reacts), two baby Aspirin (call me crazy, but once I had them on a plane and a man was having a heart attack and when the call came over the intercom for baby aspirin, I felt like I had singlehandedly saved his fabulous life at 37,000 feet IN THE AIR, so have carried just two of them ever since) and an extra pair of glasses (I learned my lesson once.) Don't prepare for every eventuality–that will burden you (You do not want to know what all was in the huge bag of survival gear I carried with me right after 9/11, no, you do not). Go back to #1. You'll only need half of what you think is urgently necessary. Be prepared for surprise, not against it. Sometimes the most fun you can have on a trip is when you are woefully unprepared, like the time my luggage never caught up with me on a two-week trip to Moscow. That became the story of the trip–Little Red Riding Hood needs the wolf to be a compelling story–you need some kind of travel drama.

9. Call the airline directly: This is as true of life as it is of travel. When the inevitable happens–delay, canceled flight–call the airline directly. The non-travel equivalent of this is to take care of it yourself, call the person up who is disagreeing with you or obstructing you, don't allow someone else to do it for you. Call the airline's 800 number while you stand in line at the gate to rebook. See what you can get them to do for you as you await your fate in line with the other 300 passengers. Get them to hold a seat on another plane for you until you can get to the gate agent. Ask for creative solutions. Go direct to the source (sometimes the most direct source is the gate agent, but sometimes not).

10. Gracefully push back when you need to: This is as true of life as it is of travel. One memorable example of this for me was a trip to Deerfield, New Hampshire, last year for a book reading. My host, Debbie Kelley, was awaiting my 3pm arrival, as I learned of a four-hour delay out of Asheville. Everyone lined up at the gate agent to be rebooked; I went back through security to the ticketing agent to ask for help, knowing I had to get to Debbie that day for the reading that evening. THERE WAS NO OTHER OPTION. I WOULD GET THERE OR MY HEAD WOULD EXPLODE. "Well," the man said, "we can't do anything. The earliest you can get in is 10pm tonight." I explained that my reading was at 7pm and that I had to be there. "I'm sorry," he said, finally. "Maybe check with USAir and see if they can help you." Blink. "Well, um." I said. "Since I bought the ticket with you–and it's your delay, not USAir's–I'm going to ask you to check with USAir." He rebooked me. What doesn't work is screaming, threatening, belittling. Know what your bottom line is ("I have to get to Deerfield, New Hampshire") and work toward that rather than working toward being righter or smarter.

11. Be consistent. This is as true of life as it is of travel. I used to have to do my own full body search when it came time to board the plane: where is that boarding pass? Now, I know. I always carry it in exactly the same place. Always. I reach there automatically now, knowing it will be there. The panic of days past (at least on that issue), gone. Especially because 99% of the time I travel wearing my beloved Scottevest travel vest  on which there are a hundred bajillion hidden pockets, each with its designated content: left front vest pocket is phone, right front vest pocket is camera (never, ever travel without one), inner left front pocket is boarding passes, and so forth. It sounds compulsive. It is gloriously compulsive and removes one source of stress from my travel days. Plus, when I go through security, I just take the whole vest off and, VOILA, I know I won't make the metal detector sing. All chargers and cords are in a single gear bag. If I need one, that's where I know to look.

12. Make people smile. This is as true of life as it is of travel. I tweet when I travel, mainly to report on my success–or lack of success–in making people smile or laugh, particularly in the worst of circumstances. When you put your focus on the other (my intention is to make you smile or laugh rather than boil in the stew of my own unhappiness at the fact that this flight was just canceled), great things can happen. Maybe you start smiling too, and then happiness breaks out all over. Don't let your sleepiness, panic, anxiety, horror, or fury get in the way of a good belly laugh.

13. Acknowledge the reality. This is as true of life as it is of travel. Sometimes you miss your flight. Sometimes you have to stay overnight in an unfamiliar city. Sometimes a tornado blows into town just as you were getting on board. Spend less time ranting at the heavens and more time being grateful that you weren’t on a plane in the tornado.

14. Leave a trail. This is as true of life as it is of travel. Offer notes to the world without waiting around to see how they are received. Sometimes this is in the form of a post-it note left on a bathroom mirror: “YOU LOOK AMAZING. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL JUST THE WAY YOU ARE.” Or a stone with a word of wisdom. Sometimes it’s an index card stuck in an inflight magazine with a fantastic quote on it.

15. Talk to your seat mates. This is as true of life as it is of travel. I know. I know. This is why you love your iPod. Trust me, I have those days too. But take out your earplugs for a while. Listen to their story, tell them part of yours. I’ve met some of my closest friends on planes.

16. Take time to see the big building shaped like a picnic basket. This is as true of life as it is of travel. If you see a giant chicken statue or a giant building that looks JUST LIKE A BASKET on the side of the road, that’s clearly a SIGN that you need to get off the highway AND GO SEE THAT CHICKEN, GO SEE THAT BASKET. Make time for a detour. See what’s around you, not just what's waiting for you at your destination.

17. Thank people. This is as true of life as it is of travel. Find 10 people every day to say thank you to. FIND THEM. THEY ARE THERE. Always tip the hotel maid. And don't just leave money on the desk, but write a short note to say thanks, too. Say thank you to the gate agent as they scan your boarding pass. Say thank you to the flight attendant who does the safety demonstration. Tell someone you love their sweater. Admire the baby in 10B. A crew member or hotel staff person does a spectacular job? Get their name. Tell their supervisor. Always. Just like with our kids or students or co-workers, focusing on what people do right is powerful. Too often we only focus on what goes wrong.

18. Stay connected to your human survival units. This is as true of life as it is of travel. Call home. Check in. It's too easy to get swept up into the fray of the travel. Just reach out to the people you've left at home. Just for a moment. A quick good morning, a text message to a teenager, a photo to a toddler. I always leave individual notes on index cards for my family to find on their pillows after I've left for a trip. 

That's it for now. Travel in a nutshell. I'm sure other things will occur to me. How about you? What are your travel tips that also apply to life?

Jo Nelson says:

An addition: treat whatever happens as an adventure. Once we were caught overnight in a Red Cross shelter when the road was closed due to a snowstorm. People were whining and depressed. I suggested that we think of it as an adventure that we could tell stories about later and the whole mood in the room lightened. (We also appreciated more the work of the Red Cross volunteers when the tsunami hit Asia a week later.)

Kate Dillon says:

what I loved beyond the practical things was the repeated reminders to be kind and smile and do loving things…its what makes a difference and it is SO easy to practice..

jylene says:

is the picture of the basket building from ohio? the longaberger basket company is headquartered in dresden and their building looks just like that.

great tips, by the way! what about the crisp white blouse that never needs ironed? could you mention again where you buy them please?

Sally says:

I agree wholeheartedly with all but one. I always check my bag. I don’t want to lift it (too many things hurting these days); I don’t want to drag it back down; I don’t want to drag it down the aisle; I don’t want it with me in the waiting area (I packed all that stuff in that bag for a reason: I’ll need those things later, not right now). It stresses me to carry on, so I don’t. (Knocking wood that my bag gets off the plane at O’Hare with me tomorrow.)

Excellent article. Even as a seasoned traveler I picked up several good tips.

Heather says:

Patti, I was one of the 3,500 friends today and I really enjoyed seeing you – so much that I came to read your blog. Much of what you said today resonated with me and your writing does as well. Thanks for being you and for putting yourself out there every day. :)

Joy says:

Good tips. How do you stay vegan on the road?

Beth Cooper-Zobott says:

#18 made me think of Dave and I calling each other every morning when one of us is on the road, and again to say nigh-night. Loved this column, and that Ogio Layover bag is calling my name – I think I need a nice bright, cheerful color. Beth

Nicola says:

I loved this post. So many wonderful thoughts and ideas.

I travel a lot in the UK. My favourite trick is to pack on the morning I’m leaving. I brush my teeth. I pack toothbrush, toothpaste, floss etc. I use soap. I pack soap. I put on underwear. I pack underwear for the appropriate number of days, plus a spare. Whatever I use, I pack the item multiplied by the number of days. It means I never forget anything. I just pack as I go. I also keep a little pre-packed toiletry bag with some bubble bath and body lotion. And I have a travel bag with wheels!

I always take a notebook, my iPod with books loaded on it, and audio (currently Jennifer Louden’s Virtual Retreat …). I’ve got kind over matter ‘thank you’ messages printed out so that I can leave them in restaurants, cafes etc. I often take something printed out from a favourite website – the Unravelling PDF, Goddess Guidebook, notes on one of my own projects so that I can spend some time jotting notes.

Carol Sanders says:

Fabulous advice. I met a woman last year who has made it a personal mission to send postcards to a huge assortment of children–addresses gathered over the years. She has the forethought of going to the post office and getting post card stamps and then finds the least expensive place to buy cards (I think a quest is always a fun part of any travel!) I’ve started trying to do this a little more with my own grandchildren as I travel. Everyone, especially children, loves to get mail!

Lyn Hopper says:

Just in time for me, as I am about to get on a plane for a week in Portland. The one-book rule I’m going to take to heart–I’m always sure I need 3 or 4 in case the first one I pick up is not what I’m in the mood for. I may have to order the ogio layover…in spite of resolving to acquire less…Thanks!

Becky says:

Love this!

“Knowing the end Goal” really resonates with me. (Push back) DH has always said, “What’s your end goal here? What do you want to happen? Ok, now let’s work backwards from that the best way possible.” It almost always works. It takes one from being reactive to proactive.

Nigel Pottle says:

I’ve been travelling the world for over 30 years – on long holiday trips, not business trips, and I have only ever used carry-on. Five months in Thailand – 1 carry on. Three months in the Philippines this year – 1 carry on. Life is easy and how much underwear do you need anyway? Wash them in the sink.

a.q.s. says:

Great tips!

Also, I just discovered having awesome off the counter eye drops really helps when eyes dry out due to the air in the plane…

Also, I eat oranges on all flights more than 5 hours. It is the most refreshing when drained trying to make the flight or when one doesn’t feel as rested right before landing.

Also, Aveda’s clear hydrating mask (a tiny drop all over your face–even on top of light make-up) secures moisture and hydrates you the entire time better than a moisturizer! Although it is a mask, you can leave it on and viola: you walk out of the plane with a dewy glow!

I just get dry eyes and skin very easily so those are important pour moi! hehe!

Erin says:

Thanks so much. I live in a little town in Alaska where you have to fly or take a boat to get in and out of. So – I fly a lot. Usually it takes a while (read more than four hours) to get to the lower 48 to even start to go anyplace else – so, thanks, these tips are invaluable (and the tips within the tips invaluable, too).

David Gammel says:

Great tips!

My travel jumped a lot last year and early this year and having a more zen approach to it has made me infinitely more happy while traveling.

Plus paying for the air club membership. :)

Sue Horner says:

Yes, yes, yes to all of your points. My fave carry-on bag is a Heys xcase (“the world’s lightest carry-on” at http://www.heys.ca) in shiny candy-apple red. It’s light and amazingly roomy, and makes me smile – and others as well. The times I’ve checked my bag, I’ve regretted it. And when I bring too much and don’t end up wearing half of it, I regret that, too. And oh, yes, to diversions. By the way, what IS that basket building?

Violet says:

I don’t have the opportunity to travel often and when I do, I always overpack clothing. I have a short trip planned at the end of April and I am determined to follow tip #1.

I have gotten better – I used to be obsessive about packing EVERYTHING I might possibly need, as if I was headed to the wilds of Africa instead of, say, Omaha. I have come to the realization that there really are stores in, say, Omaha that sell deoderant and bottled water and socks.

My rule of thumb now is to make ABSOLUTELY SURE to pack my glasses and prescriptions. If I forget anything else, I can either do without it or buy it there.

I already try to live by many of these tips but can always use a reminder. This is a lovely post. Thank you.

Sandy says:

Patti, those are excellent tips! I congratulate myself because I do #17 all the time, not just while traveling…but I promise to work on the others!!! Thank you! :D

Patti, I’ve forwarded this post to all of my friends who travel — and who travel with me through life. Perspective is a wonderful thing.

Thank you, Patti. Unlike you, I never fly any more. It’s been years. But my mother and I are flying to Spain in one week and I needed this today!

Love this, Patti! And I love that the travel vest now has room for the iPad :)

Vickie says:

Beautifully said. I also try to move through life with the assumption that most of the time, people are doing the best they can (leaving room for the fact that from time to time, we all need to allow ourselves some slack), and that we make the best decisions we can with the information we have at any given time. This helps me forgive others, but also to forgive myself. Also, having worked in retail, I know how much a genuine nice greeting or smile from someone can mean on a rough day. I always try to keep that in mind.
Thank you for your words, Patti.

Lynn Walsh says:

Patti, this post totally resonates with me. Particularly carry your own bags. It’s amazing how much pleasure one can get by travelling to another country for a few days facilitation work – clothes and materials all in one medium size bag. And on holiday too. Recently my partner and I spent 2 weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia with carry on bags only. At one point on the trip, I was delighted to hear him say “I’m amazed how liberating it feels to have so little stuff with us”.

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