Travelling well

9 Aug

(I recently joined Toastmasters. From time to time I might share some of my material. Here is an irreverent piece from this week). 

I’ve been working in international development for over 10 years and all of my work has involved travelling.  But really, I’ve been traveling almost from the day I was born.  I don’t know how many miles I’ve logged on all of my trips, but I’m proudly a gold status Delta frequent flier, and I’ve been to at least 21 countries on 5 continents.  I’ve earned my wings.

Here are some “tips” that have worked well for me.

  •  Don’t get distracted.  Seriously, this is an important tip—have you noticed that airports just attract the most interesting people and situations.  It’s so easy to get carried away weaving a sad story of doomed summer love for that young couple that run back for hugs and kisses six times before one of them finally peels away to go tearfully through the security line.  You could lose hours just watching the couple with four children under the age of four trying to wrangle car seats, strollers, backpacks, leashes, baby carriers and the babies themselves through the airport— little children discovering an escalator is a fascinating and slightly scary thing to watch!  But you have to keep your eye on the ball— you’ve got places to go, and people to see.  Locate your terminal and boarding gate quickly and get there early.
  • Keep track of your belongings.  This one seems like a no-brainer, with all the “report unattended bags to the authorities” messages we keep hearing these days.  But you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget something laying around when you’re tired, disoriented because of the time difference, or at your fourth airport in a 24-hour time span.  I’ve left my passport on a chair in a New York airport terminal; glasses in an airplane seat back pocket, and I left a belt that I really needed to keep my pants up in a security line tray once. Actually, it’s really easy to lose track of your things in security lines.  Make it easy on yourself by keeping your pockets empty to begin with, and putting as many things as possible into your carry-on, so they are not lying around loose in your tray.  Also, if possible, take your whole tray with you when you move away from the conveyor belts—that way you’re not grabbing all your things and trying to put your shoes, belt and jewelry back on at the same time.
  • Pack smart. I’m a recovering over-packer.  It used to be that when I got ready to go on a trip, my husband would ask if I was finally leaving him because the size of my luggage never matched how long I said I’ll be gone for.  But, seriously knowing what to pack, and where to put it is an art form.  I make my packing list days before my trip— and I write everything down—even obvious things.  I have gone on a trip only to find that I packed no undies, so I leave nothing off my list.  I’ve become an expert at rolling clothes to keep them compact enough for small spaces, but wrinkle free so they are ready to wear.   And always, always pack at least a change of clothes in your carry on– luggage goes missing more than you think.
  • Minimize the time you have to spend waiting around.  Yes, things happen, and waiting around is inevitable in travelling, but you can do things to cut your wait times.  Check in online and print or download your boarding pass.  Streamline your carryon to get through security lines faster.  Once you’ve landed at your final destination, though, minimizing wait times get a little less straightforward.  If you’re serious about not waiting around for long, especially if you’ve just arrived at a developing country on a full flight, you’re going to have to get a bit scrappy.  First, push and shove whoever you need to so that you’re first off the plane.   While you’re in an arrival terminal, though, don’t shove anyone as you might be denied entry into the country.  Once you’ve respectfully made it through immigration, start throwing elbows and jockeying for prime real estate at the luggage carousel.  Your position at the carousel has huge implications for how long you’ll be stuck at the airport.  Too close to the opening where the bags come out and you’ll be chasing your bags around the carousel because you weren’t able to confirm which was your bag before it snaked past you.  Too far from the opening and you’ll have to yell at people who think your bag is theirs and remove it from the belt to check the tags before it gets to you.  Once you’ve find the perfect spot, you’ll have to defend your turf ferociously, but trust me—the more time saved, the closer you are to a bed and sleeping horizontally for the first time since you left home.

Seasoned travelers, other tips you want to share?  Send me a comment. 


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