As knowledge workers (or anyone for that matter), some of us travel for work so often that it’s worth spending some time reflecting on what we can do to make our travel easier and more efficient. Here are some tips that I hope will help you make the most of your travel. I know they have certainly helped me.
When you’re traveling frequently on business, you tend to do more of the same things. It makes sense to have a checklist of things you need to do before leaving home. This will keep you from thinking through what to do for every trip. One such example could be to always check your flight status before leaving for the airport. You don’t want to be surprised to hear that your flight has been delayed after arriving at the airport. Having a packing list can also help you from having to rethink what to pack for every trip. Two rules with packing: Use a single carry-on bag, and pack everything you need and nothing you don’t. Don’t check your bags (more on this below).
Consider using a small seat pack for things you’ll need during the flight for quick access. This might include eye mask, pens, earplugs, cellphone, small notebook, passport, wallet, headphones, sanitizer, anti-bacterial wipes, medication, etc. Having these things in one place keeps you organized from takeoff to landing, with a place for everything and everything in its place. I’ve been happily using a Classic Seatpak from Flight001 for many years.
When passing through the security checkpoint, you can enclose the seat pack in the outside pocket of your carry-on bag and take it out after you board the flight, so you’ll have your essentials in front of you for quick access. This will also remove the need for taking out these things later in the flight from the carry-on bag in the overhead bin.
Use a single carry-on bag; never check your bags. First, because you’ll have your bag with you, you don’t have to worry about theft. Second, you save time when you’re not waiting for checked bags at the destination carousel. And third, you save money by not checking luggage because the airline can levy hefty charges for the same. The less stuff you have on you, the better your travel experience will be, generally speaking.
Use an airline credit card to get priority access for checking in, lounge access, and for boarding the flight.
Try to sit in front of the plane. This will ensure you deplane quickly and your chances of getting through immigration and customs are higher with fewer people ahead of you. Consider paying extra for priority boarding in order to get a suitable seat.
Right before the plane begins its descent, collect all your things you took out over the course of the flight and put them away in the carry-on bag in the overhead bin. This is your chance to get all of your belongings in order — not when the plane lands.
If you start traveling around the world, you’ll need your passport number for a lot of things, so you might as well memorize it. This is how you can tell an experienced traveler from a beginner. This is particularly useful when you’re given the immigration forms to fill in the flight before landing. I use a passport-sized travel wallet from Bellroy to consolidate my passport, cash, credit cards, etc. in the same place.
If you’re not traveling first/business class, you can still try to get in the priority lane at the destination airport’s passport control. You need to be a bit creative such as asking your fellow passenger to accompany them. The thing is that when you do anything with enough authority, you can (usually) get away with it.
Take advantage of Global Entry, which provides expedited entry into the US.
Take advantage of people-movers such as escalators and moving sidewalks, etc. Keep walking briskly on these sidewalks and stay on one side.
Here’s how to get through security fast: get in the premier line if you can. Fish out your airline card or a platinum credit card. Premier lines always move faster. Ask the agent which line is fastest. Look for male business travelers, as they take the least amount of time. Avoid getting in the line behind married couples or families traveling for leisure. They’re the slowest moving people you’ll ever see, and they might cause you to miss your flight. If you have a smartwatch or smartphone, use a digital boarding pass to check-in and get through security. That’s one less thing you’ll have to print and take with you.
When looking for places to eat at airports, see where pilots and flight personnel are eating. Go for proteins over carbohydrates, as the former lasts longer. Chicken quesadilla is the safest thing to order. Avoid drinking soda on the road – it messes up your stomach and makes you belch; instead, drink lots of bottled water during the flight; it’s one of the best ways to stay healthy on a plane.
Eat less during the flight. For example, eat no more than half the food offered to you on a long flight. The food you should eat at high altitude is the food that requires the least oxygen to digest. Carbohydrates give you quick energy and don’t use as much oxygen. You need small amounts of carbohydrates at high altitude. Again, drink a lot of water on the plane. When you get to the destination, eat the appropriate meal for the time of the day.
Use disposable ear plugs to avoid hearing flight noise. Use a comfortable eye mask, one that even covers your ears.
Work out before and after the trip (this is especially true for flights over 6 hours).
There are three main things to consider when it comes to avoiding jet lag: time, food, and light (most important).
It’s very important to trick your body as soon as possible into thinking that it’s in the time zone of the place you’re going. Reset your watch to your destination day/time when you get on the plane. During the flight, sleep when it’s dark outside and stay awake when it’s day, even though this can be difficult.
Only sleep during the sleeping times of the place where you’re going (even if you’re very tired).
Have trouble falling asleep quickly at the destination? Take a small bit of Benadryl, wait for ten minutes, and start reading The Economist. This will put you off to sleep fast.
Use flight time to renew yourself. Avoid using the internet, and avoid any “screen time” such as watching films, TV shows, etc. Doing so would only tire you. Either relax in some way, form, or fashion by reading a book or listening to music. You can even do some work (assuming you have a running list of things you can do in the flight, but more on this in a future piece), or simply use that time to think. We are so busy living our lives that we seldom spend enough time reflecting on it. You’ll be so glad you spent this flight time productively. You’ll arrive at your destination feeling good about yourself, well-rested, and ready to take on the world.
While there are certain things that the airlines can do as part of their cleaning standards to minimize the transmission of bacteria and viruses, there are some things that we can always do to minimize our chances of picking up a nasty bug during the flight:
- Use anti-bacterial wipes to clean the flight tray tables and arm rests. There is a dirty little secret in the airline industry that those tray tables and arm rests are rarely cleaned and may be infested with germs and/or bacteria. You just don’t know how the last passenger used it or what they used it for.
Use a paper towel to open the lavatory door because those door knobs are supposedly a favorite spot for germs to linger.
Wash your hands before leaving the toilet. Use an alcohol-based sanitizer before you get out of the lavatory because the water inside lavatories is often of questionable cleanliness.
After walking down the aisle, use the sanitizer to wash your hands again.
To avoid getting a cold or sinus infection from your travels, use an anti-biotic ointment such as Neosporin in your nose to avoid any airborne diseases. When you’re in a crowded area (plane, airport) with a lot of people, the chances of having an airborne flu or any other disease is high. Use hand sanitizer to clean your hands, and then apply a dab of ointment to the insides of your nose. Then, use the sanitizer to clean off your hands. This will shield your nose from all the nasty germs/bugs.
I understand that we have to share our world with germs. It’s just that we could all be a bit more proactive at keeping the nastiest ones at bay. This is especially important because you’re traveling (for a specific reason) and having sickness would be even more inconvenient than usual.
Here are some best practices for your travel:
- Invest in a good carry-on bag. I use one from Briggs & Riley; they offer lifetime guarantee on their bags.
Take non-stop flights. Stay near a major airport for access to most domestic/international flights, thus removing the need for connecting flights.
Get free airline lounge access any way you can for rest/recovery. Most lounges in the US suck, but they’re better than sitting at the terminal. Use Priority Pass to get access to airport lounges worldwide.
Have membership with at least one airline in each of the three major alliances to take advantage of miles/points in partner airlines for upgrades/statuses.
Travel first/business class. When you travel comfortably, you arrive at your destination well-rested, and ready to do the things you want to do.
When flying internationally, travel with cash — US dollars in 20s, 50s, and 100s — always new bills with no writing on them. (If you ask for them like that at the bank, they know what you need and will give you only new bills.)
When you enter your hotel room, avoid turning on your TV set. Before you know it, you’ll have spent a lot of time watching TV, which you’ll regret later. Instead, call a loved one, get some exercise, or read a book. You’ll be so glad you did those things instead of watching TV.
Pick up a local newspaper in a foreign city so you don’t look like a foreign traveler/tourist.
Watch the film Up in the Air to see some of the tips I’ve shared in action.
When we do something often enough, it’s worth thinking about how we can make it better and more efficient for ourselves (travel included). The idea is to make that process as automatic as possible so that we don’t spend time thinking about it, and instead use that time and space to think about things that really need our attention.
Thanks to Dan Pink for some of these travel tips.