I travel a lot for work. Wave is a distributed company, and we have week-long company retreats once every two months, often in Africa. On top of that, I’ve spent a lot of time working on the ground in Ethiopia. I actually flew enough last year to qualify for frequent flyer status on United, though only barely and not at a level with particularly good perks.
Getting to see the world is super awesome, but it’s even more awesome because I’ve found a lot of ways to make traveling as easy for myself as possible. Here’s some of the key stuff I do:
Sleep on the plane
For long-distance travel, I used to avoid redeye flights because I’d always sleep badly and be exhausted the next day. But then I realized that if I spent the whole day on the plane, I’d sleep badly because of jetlag and be exhausted the next day anyway—so I’d lose two days, compared to one for a redeye.
In fact, I can usually get over jetlag completely by taking a redeye and sleeping for all of it. In January 2017 I changed timezones by eight hours every week and barely suffered from jetlag at all. (Part of this is definitely because I’m young, of course, but timing my flights so I always arrived in the morning after lots of sleep made a huge difference.)
I’m fortunate that moving vehicles put me to sleep really easily, but here are some things I do to make it even easier:
I always get a window seat so I can rest my head against the plane wall.
I shopped around for a pair of in-ear headphones comfortable enough to sleep in.1 When I’m trying to sleep I play brown noise through them, to screen out the sound of any screaming babies that might be nearby.
I always take all the free drinks on international flights. Depending on the timing, I’ll also give myself caffeine withdrawal on the day I leave.
Almost all things that market themselves as “sleep masks” hurt me behind the ears and fall off when I move my head. But I finally discovered that a tube of wool works great for this and, as a bonus, also works great as a hat, mini-towel, eating surface, bandage, or anything else you might want a piece of cloth for.
I have a memory-foam Cabeau Evolution pillow,2 which is both more supportive and more compressible than standard bean-filled neck pillows. I usually combine it with the airline-provided head pillows (and the aforesaid window seat) for full comfort.
- I set my phone clock to the new timezone before I leave (note: be sure you don’t confuse yourself about your departure time this way!). I try to take melatonin close to my bedtime in the new timezone, and eat meals at the appropriate time, to reset my circadian rhythm.
Be robust to everything
Lots of minor things go wrong when I’m traveling, so a lot of the things I take with me are geared towards making small mishaps as recoverable as possible. If you’re traveling mostly in the developed world, you probably don’t need to be as hardcore about this, but it may still be useful:
I take clothes that are odor resistant and easy to hand wash, plus a small travel clothesline and towel. I wash my base layers in the shower and dry them overnight. This means I don’t depend on any hygiene amenities except running water, and I can travel much lighter since I don’t need multiples of bulky pants/overshirts, or more than a few of anything else unless the trip will be really long.
I depend a lot on electronics, so I make sure I have backups of everything small: two universal adapters, two of each cable (MicroUSB and Lightning), and so on. I also have a spare battery big enough to give my laptop a fair amount of extra charge.
I can almost completely avoid getting lost with an offline maps app. I prefer an OpenStreetMap client (I currently use Galileo) because Google Maps often has poor coverage in Africa and the OSM clients have an easier interface for adding pins for important locations.
I carry small amounts of a lot of different kinds of medicine (ibuprofen, Nyquil, antacids, and zinc; I should probably add something for nausea); also lots of protein bars in case I’m stuck somewhere without food nearby.
I have the complete works of Terry Pratchett on my Kindle, which means I’m pretty much never bored during long unexpected waits. Hypothetically, if you were to purchase a bunch of physical Terry Pratchett books before ebooks became a thing, I think you would have a reasonable moral case for pirating the electronic copies somehow, which would make this not prohibitively expensive.
And that’s basically all I carry, which means I don’t ever need a checked bag. That’s important because about half the time I do check a bag, it somehow gets delayed. (I’m probably more accident-prone than most people here.) Skipping the checked bag also saves a bunch of money and lots of time at baggage claim.
If I were into junk psychology, I would tell you that making your return flight relaxing is important because of the peak/end rule. That doesn’t replicate, but I do feel like the few most stressful parts of my trips—packing and flights—have an outsized impact on how I remember them. So here are a few ways to make that easier:
The most important thing for me is good luggage. I (and a surprising number of friends!) use this Osprey backpack, which zips apart into a carry-on-sized main suitcase and personal-item-sized day pack. It’s also maneuverable and easy to carry up or down stairs, unlike roller backs, and doubles as a hiking backpack.
The Osprey pack doesn’t have very many internal divisions, which means you’ll need some packing cubes for organizing. I seriously underestimated how nice these were until I bought some. Instead of keeping track of everything I brought with me, I now have two much easier tasks: (a) make sure I have all my packing cubes; (b) keep everything inside the right packing cube. It also makes it much faster to pack and unpack, because you can move things around in the cubes.
I make sure always to put my important documents (mainly my passport and any tickets) in exactly the same place—inside an overshirt breast pocket while I’m in transit, and inside a particular backpack pocket otherwise. This means I only have to check one pocket to know whether I’ve lost them, which means I spend less time vaguely hoping I have everything with me, and more time with my mind securely at rest.
I put together a playlist of all the music that makes me happiest to listen to, and I listen to it on repeat whenever I’m in transit and not trying to sleep. This made a surprising amount of difference to my mood level.
I’m excited about potentially getting custom-molded headphones for even more noise isolation and comfort, but haven’t had time to get fitted for them yet. ↩︎
I haven’t explored the space of fancy neck pillows very thoroughly, so there may be even better ones out there. I used to have a Trtl, which gave slightly more neck support and was easier to pack, but broke after about four uses. ↩︎