Live in the Sky, Love Every Minute: How I Traveled 150,000+ Miles This Year and Still Look Forward to More in 2018

When the dust settles and the last wheels touch down just before the ball drops, I will have flown 154,755 miles this year. I spoke at a US Army Base in Japan, rode a camel across the dunes of Arabian desert, and danced the night away in Cartagena. But, I also spent a cold and sleepless night on a concrete floor in a Tennessee airport, was curled in fetal position for 24 hours of food poisoning in Patagonia, and got harassed for hours while crossing the border from Jordan into Israel.

And yet, I’m still never happier than when I have a passport in one hand and a ticket to anywhere in the other. Whether it is with friends, family, or just by myself, I’m stricken by wanderlust of epic proportions. It is a fatal case, I’m afraid. Like with all fatal cases, there is no cure, just the opportunity to make the disease more bearable. (Get out your hankies and hear my tragic tale of woe, I know, I know.)

Friends gape in wonder when they keep tally of my volume of travel. (Mostly it’s because I chose not to share those fetal position moments in Patagonia and cold lonely nights in Oak Ridge as readily on social media.) But, here’s the thing: traveling is far easier when you do it all the time than when you do it sporadically. Why? Because one develops hacks and finds products that make the road feel like home.

Here are some of mine. And, if you do nothing else, do #10, all day, every day.

  1. Have a “Go Bag,” and Never Ever (Ever!) Check It. When you travel often, you get into a routine of what and how to pack, and have luggage that suited to the task. Long gone are the days of dragging your spindly-wheeled, bulky case through the airport only to find out that it doesn’t fit in the overhead. (Gah, the indignity of that walk of shame back up the aisle!) I love the sleek and stylish hard-sided Rimowa, which comes in multiple sizes and designs but two are best: the smaller Multiwheel, which fits into every domestic overhead, and the larger Salsa, which goes internationally on the larger long haul birds. As a bonus, you can sit on it when every seat in the gate area is taken except for the ones next to Smelly McSmellerson and Speakerphone Sally. Every member of my family also has the less expensive, but still adorable Hideo Wakamatsu Jelly Bean, which is cheaper and comes in every color plus some super fun designs (my youngest has the cherry blossom explosion!). In whichever case you pick, place an extra set of toiletries in clear pouches to make packing (and unpacking) a breeze. (Bonus tip: these little pouches can be throw into your gym bag too.)
  2. Invest in Good Gadgets. Yes, yes, they are expensive. But so is your time, your health, and your happiness. Pick gadgets that multi-task, like the charger/fuel cell from Anker CoreFusion, which charged two USB and one micro USB ported device at the same time, while also charging itself to be a fuel cell for when you are on the go. I belong to a secret society of people who speak and travel for a living, and this was recommended last month by one of our finest, so you know it’s good. My iPad Pro and Apple Keyboard and Apple Pen weigh next to nothing and multitask as a laptop, a movie screen, a catalogue of magazines, a library of books, and a notepad. I have the big, honking 12.9” version, and it’s big, but light as a feather and does it all. (In fact, I wrote this blog post on it.). I always wear Bose QuietComfort Earphones, not just because I’m an antisocial misanthrope, but also because I want to keep my hearing until death do us part. Personally, I like the physicality of a real book, but my husband never boards a plane without a Kindle. And for the gadgets already in the hotel room, you know the ones with the blinking lights and the bright numbers and the laser beams right to your eyes in the middle of night? Light Dims will become your best friend.
  3. Take Your Routine with You. I am athletic at home, so I am athletic on the road. The first thing that goes into any bag are my running shoes; then again, I do check the hotel to see if there is a pool and force myself to swim a lap or two. I hate swimming but it’s damn good for you, so I treat myself with tunes and podcasts on waterproof nano. I also stay on my own time zone as much as I can. I live on the east coast, which means that in California, I get up super early, workout, and then start my day with breakfast meetings but rarely take dinner meetings. In Europe, I sleep late and eat dinner like a local at 10pm. In short: be your own time zone. Bringing a good dosage of Vitamin D, and seeing the sun early helps with this. If you find self-motivation hard, check around for drop in classes like SoulCycle and Orange Theory, or guest passes for local branches of your gym, which will force you get your sweat on.
  4. Set a Maximum Number of Shoes, and Start from the Ground Up. I know, I know… it’s practically blasphemy for me to limit shoes, but if you are still reading, here me out: you can get away with three pairs for most every trip, and a fourth for adventure travel. I pick a color family, black or neutral, and build upwards. I take three pairs of shoes on every trip: workout sneakers, heels, and something casual which for you might be Prada flats, but for me are customized Converse Chuck Lows. If adventure travel is on the docket, then there is a pair of hiking boots or similar that I wear on the plane. Having two or maximum three pairs of shoes in your luggage increases your odds of not having to check said luggage.
  5. Dress for Travel. I beg of you, stop traveling in sweatpants; sure they are comfortable, but your body is a storage unit of precious space that could be housing clothes that otherwise bulk up your suitcase. Unless you are going to wear your sweats on your trip — and, even then, we aren’t savages, after all — leave them home. Wear your bulkiest sweater or chunkiest shoe on board. (Ladies, you can keep a slim pair of travel flats in your purse, too, for an easy swap out.) In addition to that, I bring three things on every overnight flight. First, a pashmina, which keeps me warm when wrapped around my body, blocks out the light when wrapped around my head, and blocks out the smells when wrapped around my face. Second, compression socks, which keep my toesies warm, but also thwarts little things like DVTs. Lastly, a wool cap, which keeps my noggin warm but also lets me cover my eyes when I roll it down without having to futz with eye masks all night. (Bonus for the ladies: if you part your hair opposite to your normal direction and put on the cap, when you take it off in the morning and flop your hair back to usual, et voila, volume!)
  6. Less is More. Unless you are traveling back in time to the 1600s, or going way off-the-beaten-path to lands without modern sanitation and medical supplies, you can provision anything you need once you hit the ground. Pack what you can’t live without, get the rest once you land. One exception: I usually carry a travel-sized toothbrush and toothpaste, which I use before landing for a mini-refresh.
  7. Own Your Time. Never check your bag. When you check your bag, you check the rights to your time. The only instances in which I checked a bag in all of 2017 were when I took hiking gear to Chile, and when the airline forced me on the way from Cairo to Dubai. (File Under: Sometimes you know you’ve lost a fight before it’s even begun.) And, know that the key to fitting everything in your bag is to roll your clothes; seems to break all laws of physics in my science-addled brain, but it really does save you space (and helps prevent wrinkles too). And, along that vein of preventing wrinkles, Downy Wrinkle Release, which comes in handy TSA-approved three ounce size, will change your life. Get TSA PreCheck, and if you travel internationally, get Global Entry. If you travel a lot, consider a credit card that gives you loads of benefits, many of which give you a rebate for Global Entry. The Points Guy has a great website in which he totals the value of various cards so you can make an intelligent choice for what suits you best.
  8. GSD. Get Shit Done. I pack thank you notes and stamps in my carry all and endeavor to write at least one per flight, usually in the boarding time when I can’t settle in for a movie or dig into my work. I also put into my calendar an appointment with myself “To Do” while I’m on the plane. My team fill this with items for which they need my attention, as well. They knows that they will have me as a trapped audience and get what they need by a time certain, and I know that I have a deadline of the plane landing to stop procrastinating all the annoying tasks that I piled into this time window. (Bonus tip: because the WiFi is often slower than molasses, I try to use that flight time to blow through my to-do list, and leave the web surfing to my time on the ground.)
  9. Don’t be a Lizard. Hydrate, moisturize, lather, rinse, repeat. The air on planes is poison. Dry, stale, recirculated poison. It will suck you dry, and laugh at you while doing it. Before I get on any flight, I use oil, during long flights I moisturize and defend, and after I use a hydrating mask for the 15–20 minutes while I’m unpacking. Yes, I’m high maintenance; but I travel 150,000 miles per year and I’d look 106, not 46, if I didn’t fight the flight tooth and nail. These are the brands I use, but I also am no snob when it comes to dropping free samples into my travel pouches; form over function when it comes to staying light on the road. I also grab a liter of water at the airport and drop in a Nuun tablet in flight to help replenish the electrolytes or an Emergen-C if I’m feeling the threat of winter’s back-of-the-throat flu tickle. You can also rinse out that bottle of water and pop it into a travel humidifier to keep from desiccating overnight in your hotel room.
  10. Be Home More. When you travel as much as I do, you have to be home more. Huh? What I mean by that is this: say no to everything that is non-essential when you are home. Do you have to go to that party? Is your attendance in that meeting vital? Would it kill you to miss that event? The best piece of life and work advice I ever got was, “You’re just not that important.” Yeah, it hurt my massively oversized ego to hear, but it was absolutely correct. Despite being flattered by invitations and guilted by peers (and self), I wasn’t actually all that important to the every single one of the burdens I allowed (and recruited) to be placed on my precious and limited time; I was, however, exceptionally important to just a few. Being spread too thin meant that I didn’t show up well enough for anything, so I stopped, recalibrated, and reorganized. I encourage you to do the same, such that travel remains as it should be: a joy. Decide what really matters to you, and then shut out everything else. Put away the technology and be present when you are home, pay attention to those and that about which you care deeply, and be home when you are home. It’s as simple as that.

By the way, you may have noticed tips related to gadgets and goods all have Amazon Affiliate links. I’ve sat on the board of College Bound Dorchester for ten years, and missed far too many board meetings due to my heavy travel schedule; the proceeds from the purchase of these items will go directly to them in the form of Amazon gift cards, so that they may buy supplies and other items necessary to continue to fulfill their mission of getting formerly gang-involved youth on a path to and through college.

Like what you read? Give Laura Gassner Otting a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.