I 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?