I’ve been traveling as part of my career since 1999. I’m a “Million Miler” on American Airlines and have Platinum status for life with Marriott. At last check, I had spent the equivalent of 4 years on the road. With those travels, I have learned and streamlined my travel necessities and “go to” items that I always make sure I have. This list is not for the over-prepared. This list is for those who are trying to minimalize their travel life and simplify as best as possible and be ready for most things that could happen to you on the road. The list, in no real order, is as follows, with explanations:
U.S. Customs Global Entry program (Now call Trusted Traveler Program)
This program, started in 2013, possibly earlier, should be your starting point. This is your ticket to the TSA Precheck line at every airport in the country, regardless of airlines you travel on. You need a passport to apply, then you have to go to an interview after a few months at your closest airport. The interview involves them taking your picture and giving you your card. You get a “Known Traveler” ID that you can use for your airline reservations. You also get streamlined entry to/from Canada and Mexico. I can’t say enough about how great it is to have Precheck ALWAYS.
If you have never had a bout of explosive diarrhea on a plane, be glad. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that I never travel without Imodium within reach anymore. The generic works fine.
Ironing is a fact of life on the road. I’ve done everything from carrying spray starch with me to the old hot shower steam trick. This product doubles as a wrinkle releaser and your starch. It works, plus, it will get nasty smells out of your clothes if you happen to be out to dinner with a smoker, etc. I carry two 3 oz bottles in my little one-quart ziplock baggie.
Check the iron
The Downy recommendation leads to my favorite tip, check the iron as soon as you check in to your hotel. Look at the surface, is it blackened like Cajun catfish? Call down and get a new iron. I also always take a washcloth or hand towel, wet it, and use the iron on the towel first. Never use the steam from the iron – you have no idea how long it’s been sitting in there, and what might come out. That’s why you brought wrinkle releaser.
I love to have variety in my clothing, but I will attest that every single light-colored pair of pants I ever took with me on a trip got ruined/stained the first time I wore them. Here’s the bad part, if you’re packing light, and possibly only have enough pants for this trip, you end up having a stain the rest of the trip – not very professional. By wearing darker pants, you can literally hide issues until you can get home and to the dry cleaners.
GPS/Maps and downtown
Just so you’re aware, GPS in a downtown area, even on your phone, isn’t very good. Have a good idea of where you need to be first, maybe even print a map from Google Maps just in case. There’s nothing quite so discouraging as being in a strange city looking for an address and have your GPS randomly sending you to the wrong part of town.
With the GOES TSA Precheck program, shoe choice is less of an issue than it used to be. You do want to make sure you take shoes that will make it through the metal detector without setting it off. One of the big benefits of the TSA Precheck program is not having to remove clothing to go through security. But, I always find it’s easier to have a nice slip-on shoe, just in case. I don’t want to get caught having to lace up a shoe at any time during my travels.
Put all your stuff in one bag
OK, the airlines let you have one piece of luggage to carry on and one “personal item”. So whether that’s a handbag or your laptop bag, stuff your cell phone, keys, etc into that bag BEFORE you get to the security line. Since I normally use my cell phone for my boarding pass, that’s the last thing I stuff into one of the outside pockets once I show my ID. This again greatly simplifies getting through the security line. Recently, you don’t even need to show your boarding pass at TSA Precheck – they run your ID and know you have a flight for the day.
Noise canceling headphones and an eReader
My final two suggestions are really about making your time in the air as comfortable as you want it to be. First, the noise-canceling headphones are a must. If you’ve ever sat in front of a noisy child, or a loud talking adult, you know what I mean. Couple those with your cell phone and whatever music service you have (I use Amazon and have a specific phone playlist that puts me in a good mood) and you have the ability to bear anything on the plane ride. The second is just my preference. I read on the plane, but that’s because I’m a reader. I carry my iPad with me because it has Nook, Kindle, and iBooks on it, and I have literally hundreds of books I could read. Prior to eReaders, I would select my reading by the size of the book and the room in my laptop case. Thus, I never got to read anything too heavy. Plus, after I got some really ugly looks while reading Lolita, I love the anonymous nature of reading an electronic book.
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