A few years ago we asked the Chefs what travel tips they might want to pass on. Like many of you, many of us travel and have developed preferences and strategies for making the most of it. So this month we thought we’d revisit this topic to see if any new tips have emerged.

We asked the Chefs: What travel tips have worked for you?

passport stamps

Robert Harington: My first  tip for traveling by air is simple; just don’t do it at all. There really is no pleasure to be had in cramming in with all the other sheep, with the lamb like promise of being sheared somewhere along the way. Travel less, video conference more, and add years to your life. This tip is of little use though if you have to travel.

Back when I last thought about this question, the main quality I extolled was that of being zen. It is easy to be frustrated. There are so many excruciating trials to face. When on a long haul flight you may experience a joyful hour or two waiting in line at security, only to find out that your ticket has your initials, rather than your full name, and you are subsequently listed as persona non-grata. It is worth ensuring all the names match from passport to ticket. One of the best purchases I made in recent years here in the US is the Global Entry pass. If you are a US citizen this eases your return through immigration and customs, and buys you access to TSA Pre on all domestic flights.

But still there are many more irritations. What do you do when your seat back is being kicked by a stubborn toddler, or the person sitting next to you decides that they own your seat as well as yours, or perhaps they determined early that morning that not showering would be their gift to you, their fellow passenger, or the headphone jack is so wobbly, you just can’t get a connection — the list continues? Amidst all of this, it is natural that your blood will rise, and perhaps your face may turn a putrid red, with exasperated gasps of frustration emitted in place of actual words, as you desperately cajole yourself to use your inside voice. Instead, just breath deeply and practice the art of being zen. The way to do this is to pretend you are not traveling at all, but in some land of limbo, where time does not count, and all is good with the world. Yes, part of you wants to be that person pulled off the plane, kicking and screaming for complaining your pretzels are soggy, but instead just be cool, be zen.

Joe Esposito: The best thing I have ever done regarding travel was to move from the West Coast to the East Coast. This reduced my annual air-miles by 75%. Air travel is expensive, time-consuming, uncomfortable, and unhealthy. The people who run airlines are, in my view, no better than tobacco executives.

Rick Anderson: The tip that has worked most consistently for me is also the most boring and predictable one: always arrive at the airport at least two hours prior to your scheduled departure. Now, I have heard stories about people (sociopaths, apparently) who don’t even leave their homes until an hour prior to the flight. What do they do when they arrive to find a quarter-mile-long line at security? (Granted, they probably have TSA Precheck, but still.) What do they do when they go to check their luggage and find themselves in line behind someone who doesn’t understand the concept of weight limits, or who thought they could check an unlimited number of bags of unlimited size for free, and who are still failing to understand these things despite having them explained, multiple times, by multiple airport employees of gradually-escalating managerial rank? No. No, no, no. The key to happy (by which I mean boring and uneventful) travel is to get to the airport early and have either a good book to read, or lots of email to catch up on, or both, in the departure gate while you wait an hour and a half to board. Also to have TSA Precheck.

Lettie Conrad: Travel can be exhausting and hard on the body, so I’m a big fan of eating well and getting extra rest where possible. I usually travel with trail mix and veggie snacks, which serve me better in the long run, than airport indulgences (I’m looking at you, Cinnabon). I usually eat mostly vegetarian on the road, so I don’t get feeling weighed down or sluggish. And drink lots of water!

For jet lag, I’ve found shifting my sleep times at home a few days before, even just going to bed / waking up 30 mins earlier, can really help speed time adjustments when going west-to-east. Also, low doses of Melatonin (1-2mg) has worked wonders to knock me out when I have trouble getting to sleep, but doesn’t leave me groggy.

Speaking of sleep, I’ve learned to give myself permission to rest intermittently during long days at conferences. Even a 20-min snooze or meditation can help get through 14+ hour days with a sharper mind and better attitude. The art of the power nap!

David Crotty: I have to admit that Robert Harington’s tip about “travel zen” from the previous post (mentioned above) greatly improved my travel experiences. There are times where the trip is absolutely crucial (a wedding, a funeral) and you need to be on schedule, but most of the time you can adjust, and those you’re working with will be understanding. Getting angry or anxious about things out of your control just makes the experience worse.

I’d also advise staying hydrated, and if possible, join the airport lounge for the airline you travel on the most frequently (my company pays for this for frequent travelers). As is often the mantra around here, “privacy is the new luxury”, and really the only way to escape the blaring televisions and chaos of the airport is to pay for a quiet space. Factor in a table, good wi-fi, and ample electrical outlets and you have a reasonable space to get things done, turning wasted hours into productive ones. Better yet, if your flight is delayed or cancelled, dashing into the Club to get your flight changed or adjusted lets you avoid the long line of angry people at the gate, and the level of service offered is usually vastly superior.

Ann Michael: What is interesting to me about the suggestions so far is they are mostly about attitude and preparation.

On the attitude side, don’t let yourself go to that negative “put upon” place. Don’t be the one that feels entitled or expects perfection, and you have a much better chance of a less stressful trip. Some of us that travel a lot have affinity program privileges that, if we’re not careful, can turn us into a high expectation group. Fight that. Practice the art of being thankful!

When it comes to preparation, Rick suggests getting to the airport early (which is a stress reducer!). I know it’s hard to do, but I strongly endorse that (although I’m only a 90 minutes early kind of person myself). Remember, this doesn’t need to be lost time. Schedule calls with team mates or calls that are a bit more informal in nature for your waiting time (when you can chuckle about the background noise!).

Lettie spoke of food and sleep. As someone that is often working 14+ hour days when traveling, I can’t agree with her more. One trick that was suggested to me a while back by William Gunn was to skip evening meals on transatlantic overnight flights. He had read research that it was easier to adapt to another time zone when you get your body’s digestive cycle in line quickly. I have done that now for years and, for me, it works!

Robert mentioned Global Entry and TSA Pre. I can add UK Registered Traveller for those traveling to the UK and Nexus for those of you that frequent Canada. I have them all and they make life so much easier. In my opinion, they are bargains that pay for themselves as soon as one multi-hour line is avoided!

Other things to add in no particular order:

  • Pack a bag in your bag! I have an expandable bag that I bring on trips when I know I’ll be tempted to shop. This way I have somewhere to put what I buy without having to buy another bag.
  • Whenever possible, carry all your luggage on board. If you have back or neck problems this may not be the best move for you. But if you can take your luggage with you and avoid baggage claim areas, do it!
  • If you don’t have a carry on bag (briefcase or purse) with an easily accessible pocket for boarding pass (paper or mobile) and id, get one. It needs to be secure, but easy access saves a whole lot of time.
  • Dress in anticipation of going through security. Try not to where things that will “alarm” like belts, shoes with buckles, etc. The faster you get through security the happier you (and those behind you) will be.
  • If you do need to take off belts or shoes, collect them on the other side of the scanning equipment and move out of the way to reassemble yourself (it’s just common courtesy!).
  • If you are traveling with your family or others that do not frequently travel, help them understand what they need to do before you get to the airport. I was at the Ottawa airport a while back and saw a family of four go through security and I wanted to give them a medal. They were brilliant! They weren’t perfect — don’t expect that — but they knew what they needed to do and did their best to do it!

Now it’s your turn. What can you recommend? Which travel tips have served you the best?

Ann Michael

Ann Michael

Ann Michael is President of Delta Think, a business and technology consulting and advisory firm focused on innovation and growth in membership organizations, scholarly publishers, and professional information providers. Ann is Past-President of SSP.

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Discussion

31 Thoughts on "Ask The Chefs: What Travel Tips Have Worked For You?"

Even the thought of travel makes me grumpy. Getting to the airport early … hmmm, I generally run by the mantra that if you have never missed a flight you are spending too long in airports (OK, yes this does stress me but I still do it). Hand luggage only – absolutely (I have lost three (or is it 4) cases, two permanently), take less than you think you need (I discovered they do have shops in other countries). The art of Zen (yup, it’s the only way to travel when a child peers over that seat in front and sneezes in your face). Take snacks (I tend to arrive in strange places in the middle of the night): don’t eat much of that plane food (you all know why): take your favourite relaxing music/audiobook and a good pair of earphones. And love, love, love your home, so no matter how ghastly the travel you can look forward to being there again…
Serious note: ditch the laptop and take a tablet – trust me, it is all you need and much lighter!

Very wise advice about hand baggage Pippa. I’m reminded of the vulture which tried to board a flight with a dead animal under each wing. The flight attendant refused to allow it on because there was only one carrion allowed.

When traveling to somewhere new, make a list of the ten “must see hot spots”, then avoid them all. You’ll learn more about the places you go, and have adventures no one else has had to tell your friends about when you come home.

Better yet, when traveling purely for pleasure, pick somewhere no one goes. I’ve spent over 20 years answering the question “Why Portugal?”. Their tourism board should be sending me checks for my advocacy work.

And whenever possible, rent a car and drive in a foreign country. Get a big map and explore. Use the GPS to find your way back if you must, but first get good and lost. You’ll see things you never would on a tour bus.

That sounds like fun. Your “Why Portugal?” campaign has been working, I know 4 folks that have planned vacation trips to Portugal within the last year. You’ll have to find another spot!

Although I hate to travel as much or more than anyone, let’s carve out one item that really, truly should not be on the list of complaints. I am thinking of the crying baby phenomenon. While no one wants to have a baby cry in one’s ear, my heart goes out to the parents, who are stuck in small seats with no opportunity to care for their kids in anything resembling a proper way. It takes a village to raise a child properly, and it is not too much to extend this to say that it takes a cabinful of inconvenienced travelers, too.

Pack clothes that match, and only clothes that match. Personally I start with the shoes; black or brown? (Both must be comfortable after a 14 hour day, but only one pair.) Then the jacket, trousers, shirts, belt, etc. all go with the shoes. Two or more sets of clothes just adds weight. The shoes rule doesn’t include my running shoes. I always run in a conference city. The first time I visited New Orleans I hated the place. The second time I had taken up running and an early morning jog in the (almost) cool neighborhoods showed me a side of the city, beyond the conference/tourist zone, I had not seen.

For jetlag, once I arrive (anywhere, no matter the length of flight), I find that if I can lay down for 10-15 minutes, and hit REM/dream sleep (even for seemingly a minute or two), then I can easily re-set to local time. Of course, this only works if you are the type of person who can slip into sleep easily — never a problem for me; I seemingly exist on the edge of exhaustion most of the time, anyway.

Keep an extra ID in a separate location from your drivers license. I once dropped my license at after going through a security line, only to realize it when I got to my hotel in another city. Had to have my passport overnighted so I could get home. Now I always keep my passport in my backpack in case my wallet is stolen or lost, and I have a state-issued ID as a backup in my wallet in case I drop my license again.

Use a program like TripIt to organize all of your plans, confirmation codes, etc. into one easy-to-access itinerary. You have all of that information at your fingertips without having to carry (and shuffle) paper. Not only can you see your plans and reservations at a glance but it can be a lifesaver when travel inevitably goes awry.

SKIN CARE! I fly for work at least once a month, and most of the time these are international flights of 5 hours or more. Along with eating pre-flight and skipping plane food (gag), and avoiding alcohol and drinking lots of water (starting way before you get to the airport – aisle-seat-holder be damned – if you gotta go you gotta go), I have found that adding in a mid-flight skincare routine to my longer routes makes me look and feel way better on arrival. I usually carry vitamin C facial cleansing wipes, eye drops, chapstick, and my facial oil/moisturizer of choice and do an in-seat cleanse and moisturize routine every 3-4 hours to keep my skin clean from gross recirculated air and with a protective barrier from the dryness that inevitably ensures. Also.. it gives me something to do. Caffeinated eye cream on landing helps you look alive no matter how far you’ve journeyed.

Global entry.
Pick an airline that loves you back!
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Water, snacks and peppermint.
Earphones, compression socks
Smile

I’m reminded of the day one of our board members arrived [after many delays] on the morning of the board meeting. Her luggage didn’t make it. We had to send someone with her to the department store to buy underwear, a blouse, and makeup. Let’s not mention the cost of all the necessary makeup. If you must check a bag (this from someone who packed for two weeks in Ecuador in a carry-on and backpack), always ALWAYS put a change of clothes in your carry-on. You need to be able to survive 24 hours with what you have with you.

Second the suggestion to start with the shoes and pack only clothes that match. Pick your color for the trip. For me that’s usually blue.

My tip is geared towards transportation. If you use Uber or Lyft, make sure the airport allows them to pick you up with the masses. I was once left stranded, carrying my luggage to and fro while trying to meet up with an Uber drive I never found. Thankfully, Uber is generous about refunding would-be trips but the frustration raised my blood pressure and wasn’t ideal for kicking off a trip.
Also, I’ve learned how to time my Uber pick-up from my home airport (Newark, NJ) so that if I’ve carried on, I can request Uber as I’m walking off the plane and it will arrive just about when I am at the curb. That feels like pure luxury after a long trip. Try it!

With my new job last fall came lots of travel and I have adopted some routines that have kept me healthy and sane. Although my travel was sporadic pre-job change, I almost ALWAYS ended the trip with a cold or other ailment. Now, I travel with antibacterial wipes and wipe down the tray, the front pocket, the air vents, and the seatbelt. People may look at me like I’m OCD but in 9 months and dozens of trips — not a single sniffle. I also use a roll-on Thieves oil — a homeopathic remedy that’s been around for centuries and supposed to ward off germs — a little on the temples and behind the ears and on the throat — not only smells wonderful (if you like warm spices) but also a way to ward off bugs. I also travel with a Brita water bottle with a built in filter and fill it religiously along the way once I pass through security (Oh and TSA Precheck is a must!). DO NOT DRINK the water on planes, not even coffee or anything made with water. I read this in a book by the former general counsel of the TSA and it was confirmed by a friendly seatmate/flight attendant recently. Noise canceling headphones and an iPad with Netflix shows downloaded are my other sanity saver. I am still on the hunt for the perfect roll-aboard suitcase – welcome any suggestions!

Interesting point about attitude Ann, flying is the one place one can sit, be comfortable in your own thoughts, and not be bothered or interrupted with emails, texts, calls, I view this as a luxury and pleasure. I always try to get a window seat too, so I can just nustle in, relax and not be asked to move. I often find I’m a sleep before the plane takes off, especially the early morning flights.
The transatlantic flights, allow me to catch up on movies, I tend to air on the happy comedy action ones, rather than anything too heavy/sad.
Finally, I didn’t see it noted here, but stock up on vitamins, airborne and zinc tablets before you travels, there’s a lot of germs and bugs stuck on the plane, and trying to boost your immune system can really help stave off the dreaded cold/sickness etc after a long flight.

Yes, to all of the above except for one: Don’t stay home! Even some true misery is worth the chance to see Paris and its lights, the Palatine or the temples of Tokyo. A sunrise in Melbourne? Spectacular, even if I only saw it because I was stupid with jetlag.

My advice: Buy every privilege possible, Global Entry, TSA Pre, you name it, they are worth it. BE NICE to the staff who can be helpful or make your life miserable. Most people treat them poorly- or act as if they are invisible- and I have been shocked by the power of a simple “Thank You” or “Good Morning”.

I like to ask locals for their favorite site, restaurant or shop. Ask them NOT for the one where they send the tourists, but their favorite; it can be an adventure, but it is usually well worth it. Consider the travel an adventure, set out with the right mindset, and it is a much better experience. I have never found “zen” while traveling, so I tend to engage with a more active frame of mind.

These are all great – keep ’em coming!

Clothes that match — two thumbs up.
Anti-bacterial wipes — another good one.
Multiple forms of id is great too – also keep a photocopy of your passport. If you ever do lose it outside of your home country, the copy will expedite its replacement.
Also a big believer in the naps! Like you, Don, I’ve been blessed with the ability to fall asleep almost immediately.

Packing with a light on is a must too. I once tried to pack in the dark while my husband was sleeping and packed 2 different black shoes (luckily a right and a left) BUT one was a flat and one was a heel. The hysterical part was that I had no choice but to wear them to an all day meeting and it was after lunch before someone looked at me funny and asked if my heel had broken off (which I thought was an excellent hypothesis!).

So my newest tip is a little old fashioned but works for me. I have a folder for each trip I am taking. The name, date, and location are written on the front. I include print-outs of registrations and reservations. The front of the folder also has a checklist to indicate whether I have made hotel, conference registration, and transportation arrangements. I started this when I realized that I forgot to register for SSP until a few weeks before! When I head out the door, I grab the folder. For the first time this year, I attended a meeting in which my registration was not recorded. The meeting was sold out so having my printed registration was way quicker than searching through email in Germany.

I put a lot of mileage on my carry on suitcase this year. The most functional aspect is that it has a pocket I can access from the outside that holds my laptop. Having my laptop and charger in a wheeled bag saves my back and shoulders from lugging it around the airport separately.

I am learning that I need to give myself a break. When attending big conferences with a packed schedule, I need at least one night where I am not in a big group dinner. It’s nice to have an opportunity to connect one-on-one in a quieter setting after many, many hours of networking.

Last but not least, investing in a Global Entry Pass has been very advantageous. Even though the TSA lines are getting longer at my airport, it’s still way quicker and more convenient than regular security. Passing through the Immigration and Customs line when re-entering the US with the Global Entry Pass makes the cost worth it, even if you only use it a few times.

One more, take the train when you can. Airlines are horrible.

So much good advice!
I failed to answer Ann’s call for contributions to this question this time around, but last time my recommendation was to have plenty of reading material (in print – because, batteries… WiFi…) and that’s still my number one tip. Like Adrian I actually see traveling – especially flights – as an opportunity to go into my little bubble and relax, catch up on (almost always non-work) reading, and rest.

My other practical tip if you’re flying long-haul is to get the latest possible flight at night so you stand a chance of getting some sleep on the plane, and then immediately getting into the local time zone when you arrive (no napping! But an early night is permissible 🙂

However, my big struggle is with the environmental impact of flying so I’m with Robert on the video conferencing. I also take the train whenever I can (I wouldn’t dream of flying from Boston, where I live, to NYC, and even took the – 25 hour – train from DC to New Orleans on one occasion!). But for many of us who work globally it’s hard to avoid air travel altogether. And physically traveling outside of your own community does give you a much better sense of how other people live, work, and play which is so valuable (and interesting!). So here’s hoping they’ll invent some form of renewable aircraft fuel in the not too distant future…

Good point on batteries — I’ve found that having a really good portable charger (I like the Jackery models because they have built-in phone connectors rather than carrying extra cables) has relieved an enormous amount of “outlet anxiety”. Knowing I can recharge my phone 2X without finding a plug gives me a great deal of calmness about using it, rather than having to carefully ration out connectivity.

Dear Alice,

Thanks so much for your comment and mentioning the alternative of trains as a properly working traditional transport system! When it comes to travelling, mainly thinking about trains, busses, public transport, a car sometimes, bicycles or even skates, all these alternatives to flying might be owed to the smaller geographical sizes we are used to here in Europe.

My choice for business trips: take the train and public transport, you almost always arrive fresh, well prepared and on time right in the center of your destination…

Customers never cancel any product nor license once they saw you cycling to your meeting at their institute….

Best wishes, Frauke

So many great tips, and I like Joe’s comment about being empathetic with crying babies, and the comments about never checking luggage, attending to hydration, and skin care!
Like Alice, I always try to fly at night to reset my clock. I’m a terrible sleeper in general so jet lag is tough, and flying at night plus forcing a LOT of time outside in the new timezone on the first full day really helps a lot.
My best travel tip is to find a way, even if it’s just an hour or two, to enjoy the places I’ve visited for work. A quick museum trip is my usual go-to, and I find it a great way to appreciate the privilege of seeing so many distinctive places– and appreciating places I might not have expected to appreciate! A museum always does that for me.

I second Karin’s tip on museums–I almost always look for a special exhibit to attend. I even stay near the British Museum when possible for easier access. And I take the guided (or at least audio) tour so I can learn something.
Like Adrian, I see my time on the plane as my chance to unplug and watch movies–the company gets enough work from me as it is. I like to watch Japanese or Indian movies to switch things up (the former to practice my language skills, the latter because Bollywood just gets you dancing in your seat –sorry seatmates!).
I also fly as late as possible for trans-Atlantic trips, because there is a better chance that you can get into your hotel immediately. 90 minute nap and I’m good to go! Natural light also a plus! I recently invested a tiny bit in a white noise app, as you never know when you’ll get a loud hotel. Works like a dream.
One of my weirder things is that I’ve got tried and true taxi drivers on speed dial in the places I travel to the most. It’s so nice to see a friendly face at the airport for pick ups, and I never have to worry that there won’t be a taxi free for those early morning airport returns.
I like to pick up things like shampoo, toothpaste, or body wash when I’m traveling abroad–these unconventional souvenirs make me happy wherever I travel. (I also always carry a shower scrunchy (Amazon tells me these are called mesh pouf sponges) in the event that there are no washcloths–grr.)
The best thing I try to do though, which I bet many also do, is to set up a dinner or breakfast with some local friends at my destination. I love you guys and all, but sometimes I want to kick back and talk to someone outside the industry. 🙂

Everyone has covered the basics pretty well, so let me just add a few oddball things.

The air at 35000 ft is really dry, around 12%, which is dryer than a desert. This pulls tons of water from you, about a liter a day, as well as drying your skin. I find the dryness extremely uncomfortable, to the point that I resort to Vaseline & cotton swabs for nasal passages on longer flights. Intact sinuses ward off airborne microbes better, too.

The oxygen is also much thinner than you’re used to, which causes your heart to beat more rapidly to continue to deliver the same amount of oxygen to your body. The data on the health impacts of this are inconclusive, but I have noticed that my resting heart rate is elevated for several days after a long flight, so there’s clearly a physiological impact. I haven’t gone as far as some, who actually bring supplemental oxygen, but who knows what I might do for science 😉

I tried a few brands of earplugs before settling on a set of studio plugs. They are comfortable enough to sleep in, way less bulky than headphones, & really do a good job of cutting out the ambient noise.

Other than that, I think everyone covered everything. I’ll definitely second Global Entry & not checking luggage, at least not on the outbound portion of the trip.

I second the tip about keeping a single folder with all the records for your trip. My folder includes a planned route from the airport to my hotel or meeting: if you are jetlagged, the last thing you want to do is try to figure out the ins and outs of an unfamiliar public transport system.
While I do read ‘real’ books I also listen to a lot of audiobooks and podcasts, with knitting or crochet to keep my hands occupied. My top tip for fellow knitters is to leave the metal needles behind unless you want to give a public demo at security!

Good advice to have in mind when traveling. I am not a frequent traveler, but I always arrive at least two hours before my flight. It brings me peace of mind to do all the bag and security checks with enough time to spare. I surely follow your advice next time I book a flight. Thank you.

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