Recently, I had to renew my passport in order to make room for an upcoming trip to Brazil. Before initiating the process, I spent a good amount of time flipping through its many pages, marveling at the many places, people, and experiences represented by every stamp, visa, and signature.
I have learned so much about the world, as well as a fair amount in regards to transiting it—not because I’m smart, but because I’ve made the same mistakes over and over until I “learned.”
I’ve refined tools and practices I carry with me that help maximize my good times and allow me to focus on what counts. This will be the start of a series on best travel practices, in my humble opinion, with the goal of starting a conversation around what everyone else uses as well. The long of the short of it is, they center on comfort, reduction of time spent dealing with bureaucracy, and better living through intelligent choices concerning technology.
Everyone sees and feels comfort differently so it’s worth thinking what works for you and what you can leave behind.
The question I ask is, “How do I need to engineer my environment to be comfortable, when the going gets long and tough?”
I need to be able to control sound and light, just as some people require their pillow or snack-pack. My purchase of noise-cancelling Bose headphones that reduce harsh ambient noise and concurrent stress levels that arise over 7-30 hour-travel times was difficult due to the high price, aka barrier to entry, but I have not regretted it once.
I make sure to have a pack of Mack’s Pillow Soft Silicon Earplugs. These, for me, have saved me more than any one piece of gear, and I don’t have to wear a cone around my neck to prevent me from pulling them out of my ears while I sleep. The worst scenario for anyone is realizing that, after finally arriving at your hotel, you’re next to a noisy freeway, ice machine, or party, all of which could possibly keeping you awake or fuming throughout the night.
Light is easily controlled with an eye mask. There are many options from which to choose; the tradeoff is weight versus comfort. I vacillate between using a plush, furry option and an ultra-light eye cover that can also serve as a thick bookmark.
Hydrate! I use a collapsible water bladder made by Platypus so that I can pack it down small and never have an excuse to leave out of my kit.
Enjoy the airport
Airports are a marvel of industrial architecture, people in transit, and delectable (if you search hard enough) food options. This last point means, look at the maps in the airport and do a little research online as to where is the best place to eat. If you have extra time, it is worth the effort, even if it means heading to another terminal. I tend to think of airports as giant fish bowls and do my best to find the ideal spot for my mood and phases of travel. Keep an eye out for chairs without armrests, where you might stretch out, or gates with a small space behind them where your might be able to lie down away from the crowd. When you’re alert, look for good areas for people watching and dining. Start taking notes about the airports you visit, and eventually you will start to feel at home when you arrive at one that’s become familiar to you.
Let those dogs breathe. At 6 feet tall and a size 12, I get an instant upgrade in terms of space when I remove my shoes. Important caveat that may be completely obvious, though, is only take your shoes off if they are relatively new, AND you have on a fresh pair of socks, AND you haven’t walked/run/speed-walked/strutted for miles on end to get to the gate on time. Being respectful of the strangers around you is paramount to gliding along to one’s final destination. One must tick all of these boxes, not just one or two of three. If you don’t fully comply, leave them on, please.
Fight the Power
Don’t let the man get you down. I try my hardest to face all travel issues with a smile and a plan. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years.
Carry at least four passport photos with you at all times. These will help you get a sim card, deal with visas on arrival slowdowns, and make your friends laugh if you have a collection from different years and hairstyles.
TSA Pre/Global Entry. Get it. If you live in a metropolis that takes ages to apply and book an appointment, consider securing it at a smaller international airport. I was able to complete the whole process while I waited for my bags after a flight to Salt Lake City. Make sure to call and check hours of operation. Also, a credit card like Chase Sapphire will pay for TSA Pre fees as well as Global Entry application fees. Global Entry automatically enrolls you in TSA Pre, so if you can tick that box, it’s a great 2- for -1.
Travel medical insurance. Get it. I use Seven Corners for short term overseas’ policies, including a hazardous sports rider that gives me coverage for everything from paragliding to kayaking. When I was guiding paragliding students in foreign lands, I required every client to buy this plan. It is legitimate and only costs 30-60 dollars for plans ranging from 2 to 8 weeks.
It’s a connected world and being able to successfully work on the road has enabled me to take more trips than I ever could have imagined when I left my 9-to-5 job in New York City. Here are a few highlights from the road:
I always bring a small receptacle containing a paperclip or safety pin that will fit in the small hole in the iPhone and can be used to pop out the Sim card. The case also is a perfect place to put the sim card from your home country while you travel. I always keep the case in the same spot in my roller bag, so when I reenter the country after customs, I can easily return to life online.
After I pull my Verizon sim, I determine who has the best service in whatever country I am visiting. Then, I find a sim-card dealer who speaks enough English to help me set up the sim. Buy a big plan whose time will not run out, spending the extra 10 or 20 dollars, and also get a good data plan. This will enable you to work almost anywhere in the world and will give you the ability to tether your computer in some countries to On the Go WiFi. If you have a newer model phone, you might need to call your service provider to request that they unlock your phone.
Do I need a power converter? Usually, no. Read your chargers and see if they go up to 240 volts. Most products are now made for numerous markets and able to bridge the voltage gap.
If I have a question whether I might do damage to a device, I plug them in through a laptop. Laptops come with a power converter that will shield your other devices from potentially damaging power spikes. If you have an Apple laptop, get the travel adapter set. It costs about 30 dollars and is game changer, because the combination of the two frees you from carrying the extra 3-5-pound power inverter.
Call your banks and tell them about your travel plans. Some advisors recommend having a separate account/ debit card for travel that you stock with the cash you will need for each trip. They reason that if your card gets stolen or lost, anyone who has it only will have access to a limited amount of money. I usually don’t change money before I leave the U.S.; I use my debit card to get cash, instead.
Some countries, however, like Iran, do not have ATM’s, in which case you will need to travel with cash. When you are getting 100-dollar bills, be sure to check each one at the bank for pen marks or tears, as many countries will not accept bills with ANY blemishes whatsoever.
These are a few tips that come to mind when I’m asked about travel. Up next, photography and buying souveneirs! But in the meantime, what travel hacks can anyone else add to the list?