Sara’s Travel Challenge

So Sara Soueidan laid down a twitter challenge this week:

<caveat> I travel quite a bit and have lots of personal tips but these are things that work for me. Your mileage will vary. </caveat>

I’m going to avoid specifics on what tech I carry. It’s extremely tied to my job and, to be honest, there’s a certain competitive spirit among some on this topic. I’m reminded of this scene from Our Man Flint where his boss offers a super spy briefcase but Flint is way ahead with his cigarette lighter.

I’ll sheepishly admit in the giddy pride I have with my tech bag but I expect it’ll be more useful to focus instead on travel tips that apply to the broader travel experience: compartmentalize your stuff, food, and general comfort.

Compartmentalize your stuff

Traveling involves lots (and LOTS) of things. A single cavernous suitcase and a single compartment backpack are recipes for disaster. They create bottomless pits of flotsam that prevent me from finding things easily. What I find helpful are:

  • A few packing cubes to help organize my clothes
    I don’t go crazy here, just a few to organize my shirts and socks.
  • A backpack with multiple compartments
    My backpack has 5 outer compartments each with an assigned use: travel docs, snack food, airplane comfort, quick phone power, ‘hardware store’ (all my tech stuff (I, um, have a lot)). These are areas I need to get access to quickly.
  • Ziplock bags of various sizes
    I use a large 2 gallon bag for my dirty clothes (which I can compress down to MUCH less space) several snack bags with, well, snacks, and tiny bags for all sorts of fiddly things (e.g. batteries, USB gizmos, even pills) This makes my tech bag much simpler and less tangle prone.

This level of compartmentalization might seem a bit overkill but there’s something else at play, I REALLY lose things easily. A highly structured set of compartments are frankly a pain, but it’s worth it for me. The more tired and jet lagged I get, the more I can relax knowing I’ve put things back in the right place and will always be able to find them later.

Food

I like to eat healthy and well. Travel usually makes that hard.

  • Travel protein snacks
    For me a protein bar can get me through quite a bit. I usually carry 3–4 in my backpack so I don’t have to think about it. Of course, anything works (e.g. almonds) but I’d suggest individual servings using ziplocks which provide not only quick access but portion control.
  • Hot-Water Food
    Most places I stay have a means to heat water so I always carry my quick cook staples: Tea and oatmeal. I carry a quart sized zip lock of my two favorite teas and sweetener. I also carry several smaller snack bags of instant oatmeal (I mix my own) Recently I’ve stayed at a few places with no means to get boiling water so I’m now shopping for a reliable immersion heater. (suggestions welcomed!)
  • Microwave Food + Grocery trip
    If my place has a microwave or better yet a stove top I usually do a quick happy dance and then go shopping. I can step things up quite a bit by buying bagged vegetables, eggs, cheese, and fruit (for my oatmeal) and whip up something quite reasonable. It helps to carry a “travelling spice rack” which can be used to spruce things up.
My travelling spice rack

To be honest, this particular spice rack is a bit overkill. So far I’ve only used 4 of them very often. I just like knowing I have the options. If you wanted to just give this an exploratory try pick 3–4 things (e.g. salt, red pepper for pizza, an herb mix for vegetables, and something for eggs like cumin) and using those tiny 1x2" ziplock bags I suggested above for each one. Just tuck them into the tea ziplock.

General comfort

Good earphones

My best friend on long flights are my custom fit noise cancelling earbuds. They sound better, feel better, and are much easier to pack than those big over the ear types. The key tip here isn’t the brand but the custom molding to my ear. It’s very inexpensive to do and the tight fit naturally removes most extraneous noise. Just follow this video tutorial using sugru. By reducing the ambient noise, it even makes dirt-cheap earphones sound better. I always carry an extra emergency pair with me in case the battery runs out on my fancy pair.

Audio Book

Get an audio book or podcasts cached to your phone. Most people travel with reading material but there is so much time spent moving and standing in line. I find an audio book really helps make moving through crowded airports much less stressful. One last point, sometimes I’m even too tired to read and just sitting and listening to a book can be very relaxing and enjoyable.

Sleeping on the plane

I travel with a good quality sleeping mask, ear plugs and sleeping pills. I don’t fool around when I’m on airplanes. Flying 8 time zones east is SO MUCH better if you can sleep even for a few hours. I went to my doctor and got some Ambien and it has made all the difference in getting some decent sleep. The best part about Ambien it is out of your system fairly quickly so even if I only sleep 4 hours, I’m not groggy. This of course, is highly personal so please find what works best for you.

Exercise

Again, a very personal choice but even just packing walking shoes and going for a 30 minute morning walk does wonders for me. My point is that you don’t have to be a triathlete in training, just something that gets you out and hopefully into the sun, which helps for jet lag.

Jet Lag…

… is a pain. Like sleeping, it’s very specific to each person, my point is simply don’t suffer and have a plan. For me, when travelling east, I try to sleep on the plane, arriving in the morning if possible. I’ll stay up as long as I can, getting as much sun as I can, exercising when I arrive if possible. I’ll take sleeping pills again when I go to sleep. When travelling west, I try to stay up on the airplane, watching movies if necessary, turning my travel day into potentially a 36 hour day. I’ll crash pretty hard, also taking a sleeping pill to stay asleep. I find I get have less trouble with jet lag flying west than east.

Conclusion

That’s it. Not really sure if this was useful, but I enjoyed the exercise and I thank Sara Soueidan for giving us all the prompt. Happy to answer any additional questions in the comments.