33+ Travel Hacks from 150k+ Flight Miles

[+150k miles on 8 airlines in 10 or so months.]
by Joseph Rueter

I’ve been reflecting on my sprint of business travel last year and thought I’d pass long some hacks. I am not sure that I’d suggest seeing both coasts of the US and flying 5 to 8 segments a week on a regular basis for anyone. However, there are likely a few tips in the extremes that I experienced that could aide even the one-off traveler. 

Here it goes.

Try not to look like you’re traveling
Blend in. It is awesome. Glancing eyes suck. Over stuffed bags grab attention and say “I’m not from around here.” Wrinkled suits say, "I did not sleep well.” Wondering slowly through an airport says, “I need a taxi." Have the appearance of a local as much as possible. Wear neutral clothing and do all you can to go where ever you’re going, even if you don’t know where you’re going, with confidence. 

Always have a bag packed with duplicates at the ready
This dramatically reduces stress because you’re always ready. Give me 10 minutes and I can be packed for a week. Be planned and ready to be ready. Have duplicates of everything in your bag and your house for basic personal care (2 tweezers, 2 nail clippers, and 2 of all of the normal stuff - hair goo, floss, etc.). Having a travel duplicate of your home care kit will reduce cognitive dissonance about what you’re missing. You’ll always have what you need. Moreover, remember that your devices need to charge. Those cords and adapters are as important or maybe even more important than your toothpaste and toothbrush. Bushes and paste are easy to find in comparison to charging cords. Have multiple ways to charge every device you have and keep one of each in each of your bags. Bags can get split up after all… but you'll stay charged regardless. A charged phone and bad breath is way better than the other way around.

Pick a color
Stick to it. I go with purple. I only buy shoes and socks and shirts and suits and everything in a color that goes with purple. It’s an accent and making the decision removes wondering about what items I can pack that coordinate. Grab specific pants and pullovers that coordinate well with your color when layering.

Layer up
Layering is the secret to packing light. Make it all work together and you don’t have to bring so much along. You also will remove the cognitive stress of not knowing if what’s in your bag is going to match. It’ll match. Also, if you find my go to pullover (a Patagonia R1) in the Seattle Airport, please send it to me. It’s the only thing I’ve “lost" in all 150k miles. I used it as a pillow on a flight from Hawaii and left it right there on the 757. So sad to have lost it. 

Get a really well tailored suit
When that thing fits, and I mean fits, you’re rockin’! You’ll look like a local. Get something that has an allergy to wrinkles. It really does not matter what it costs… just find one that does not wrinkle easily. Wrinkles make it look like you’re traveling. Former clients of mine to this day still think I live in their town. Nope… I just buy clothes that travel well.

Dudes, spend $250 for a shirt
Get an Eton, or three. No joke. You’re going to want it because it does not need ironing or tailoring (likely) and has a number of very specific finishes so you can command a room if you need. Pull it out of your bag… put it on and 10-20 minutes later it’s un-wrinkled from the heat of your body. Amazing. The collar stays are stitched into the shirt so you’re not going to loose them and the front buttons are on crisp reinforced fabric so there is a very small likelihood that they’ll present as un-crisp or puckering. There’s also a strip of stiffer fabric that rings the collar to keep the neck area sharp. Perfect.  

Dress shoes should be as much like sandals as you can get them
Not many are. When you’re traveling your dress shoes often need to be able to hike too (like 23 blocks at rush hour or some such madness). I’ve gone with Allen Edmonds. They have a cork base in them that break in like a pair of Birkenstocks. Some 7+ pairs don't lie. When you’re standing in line to pick up your second rental car in a 20 hour window, this one in LA (the previous in some other ridiculous town two flights ago)… your feet will thank you! Seriously. 

Running shoes should pack like sandals
Get a pair of Nike Free’s because the heals collapse. It’s a simple thing that makes for really easy packing. I’ve forgotten I’ve had sneakers along before… but, upon looking, they were packed. Fantastic. 

Pack light
Remember, you have to carry all this stuff to the lines that you stand in. Ick. It’s tough to justify a jacket and swimsuit when you’re going light. Maybe a GoLight Jacket (if you can find one after they recently went out of business) for the times it’s sprinkling or there is some wind and you are out on a walk or just trying to get some air. Drop in a swimsuit that does not look like one. Consider board shorts from Hurley if you’re a dude. Aim for versatility. These will help. Also, when there is a killer pool… get in. It helps muscles and your state of mind to just be in a different environment if for only a few minutes. 

Roller-boards - Blach!
Again, try not to look like you’re traveling. Rollers scream “I’m Traveling!” Get small and flexible bags with soft sides. It’s easier that way to do the whole experience. You can blend in. Moreover… regardless of the smallish and tiny plane you find yourself on you’ll be able to stick that non-roller somewhere on the plane. Maybe if you smile at the flight attendant they’ll even help you by putting in their compartment if needed. But, usually you can stick your bag under your seat. This keeps your flight schedule flexible. If something goes wrong you can grab your bag and jump the next flight just one gate down going to a town close enough to drive the rest of the way (it’s happened to me more than once). You did not check anything! It also keeps you from having to invest your life in waiting for your bag to come off the not-sure-where-your-bag-is conveyor. So helpful!

Get a convertible bag
Is that your bag? Is that all you brought? It can be a shoulder bag AND it can be a backpack bag. So, if you need to book it like a cheetah to the next flight 52 gates in the other direction… you can go backpack. If you need to look like you’re not traveling you can shoulder it and be all slick in and out of your meetings. Then your clients are less likely to wonder “Are your underwear in there?" Nope. They never had to ask the question. You had a bag that did not look like a suitcase. Consider the MLC from Patagonia. Go with Black.

Grab the Tumi folding thing
This thing does a fairly great job of keeping the folds you have to iron out of your clothes to a minimum. Many folks use Gallon (or larger) Zip Lock bags for their suits. I’ve had some favorable experiences with this but find it constraining. The Tumi folding thing just adds to the ease of the system.

Google.com/flights
Finding the mix and match of complicated or even simple itineraries are a complete cluster of clicks on most airline sites. Check that… all of them. Skip ‘em. Start at Google.com/flights. Their user experience is simple… and lighting fast. Try out your various configurations of options for travel to get the best price or shortest flights and then book strait to the “cart” page of the selected airline. Seriously. Strait to the cart page. There is nowhere else to start the booking process even if you’re a Frequent Flier. The information there is fast and empowering. But, remember, some of the smallish flights from say, Melbourne FL to Washington Dulles, or the Southwests of the world are not listed. Check those too. 

Park in the same place
Pick a place out of the way. You know the place. It’s where no one else parks. The reason you’re doing this is because when you get off the plane at your home airport for the 12th time in the same month or the 75th (or even the first) you’ll know exactly where to go. Easy. 

Get the Global Entry Thing
They’ll have your fingerprints. Yep. But, you’ll have quick access to the country which will save you hours of your life not standing in line at customs. You’ll also likely have access to TSA Pre-Check. This will also save you hours of time in your life. Once I had Pre-Check I rarely, if ever, arrived at the airport more than an hour before a flight. This keeps you from investing your life into standing in line.

Listen to books in lines
It took me 10 to 15 flights to think of this but eventually I got to the point where I walked into the airport with headphones on and a book on play. The act of learning during what is traditionally a "waste of time” provides an accelerant to productivity. Not only did you learn something but you did it when you were not likely going to do so. Bonus. Consider Audible for your book files. 

Grab an Airline Club Membership
Water, the daily paper, and Quiet! Those three things alone are going to pay for your club access over and over. The water is $5 bill each time. The paper keeps you connected to the world. At $2-3 dollars for the paper you’re at $16 dollars saved round trip by picking them up in the club. Further you’re reducing the friction. You don’t have to actually stand in line and buy these things. Seems simple but it helps a ton. It’s weird that when you’re traveling you’re among people all the time but seldom part of a shared story. The news helps connect you to the larger story. And then, finally… the quiet. There is a set of unspoken and sometimes written (but seldom read) rules of conduct that makes clubs a place worth including as part of your travel experience. It’s way better than the chaos of sound and “Anything-could-happen-right-now” in the terminals. 

When you don’t have club access or you’re at a tiny airport
Go semi-private. One of the hardest things about flying all-the-time is the lack of privacy. I go the the bathroom and shut the door just to be alone sometimes. Hey, it’s private. The club provides a semi-private alone-ness that proves to reduce the friction and cognitive load of travel. The gate as far away from anyone as you can get does too. Go there. 

Use the phone feature on your mobile
Check in on the airline apps. Have your backup boarding pass there, etc. Use it. Check your gates and times, etc. But more importantly, use the phone feature. As soon as anything gets delayed... call the airline. The number of times I’ve been sitting on a plane while also on the phone getting booked on another flight is way too numerous to count. The number of times I’ve flown into a city on one airline and out on another is also too numerous to count. Call the airline. Call right away.

Walk up to your gate 5 minutes after they start boarding
As you move up the boarding slots and get on first you have more time to work too. It’s sounds like a fussy perk. It’s not if that 20 minutes is all email time. Do you know how many emails you can process in 20 minutes? Tons. The airplane becomes a mini office of sorts. Use it that way. Get to the office early. You’ll get more done. The goal here is to minimize the amount of time invested into nothingness. Standing in line is horrible. Cranking out email is better.

Get a hotspot that boots quickly
iPads from T-Mobile with a data plan are awesome. It won’t charge you overages. It’ll simply clock your speeds down once you blow through your data (you’ll still get data if only at a trickle of speed). Who, cares, you’ve got data! Further, it’ll boot in under 60 seconds verses the +3 minutes the little hockey puck options (with crazy contracts) take to boot up. It’s not the actual time that matters… but the fact that you’ll be sitting there staring at it blankly while waiting for lights to come on. It’s just like watching paint dry and it’s a horrible way to invest your life. Most phones are also just as fast at “tethering” as the iPads. Save yourself the 3 minutes a few times a day.

Never put anything in the seat pocket
Everything has it’s place. Seriously. Seat pockets are for trash and that folded cup you don’t have anywhere else to put when you’re sitting coach. They are not for your phone… your tablet or your wallet. Hold this rule… stick your stuff back in your bags… every time. Get your two bags (one is the mobile office and the other is the soft side bag mentioned above) and you’re ready to go. This goes for your rental car and the hotel room too. Everything has it’s place and goes back every single time. Your wallet, your phone and your charing cords all need to go back in their place every time you use them. Build your system. When you deviate from it you’ll know right away… get the train back on the tracks and you won’t be losing things. 

Don’t talk to people… it’ll create memories
This one is a bit harsh. I understand that. However, you don’t remember your drive to work today vs. yesterday vs. two months ago. Do you? You only remember what’s different. You forget what's not eventful. It’s the same thing over and over. When traveling constantly, it was imperative that I found ways to make each flight as similar to the last and the next as possible. So, I don't talk to people. Talking to people creates memories. Those memories have cognitive load. That cognitive load is a tax that’s not worth paying. Practice in the mirror before hand “I’m sorry… but if I talk to you I’ll remember it. I am trying to make this as forgettable as possible. Thanks.” And get some killer headphones. You’ll be good.

Noise cancel
When you talk about this outside the context of an airport or flight it seems like a pesky little preference to have noise canceling headphones. Maybe it is. However, get a pair of headphones that cancel noise. Get the smallest ones you can find so you can pack them in a bag that does not look like you have them in there. Consider something from Bose. Then get two other pairs of earbud headphones too. The Apple ones are fine but make sure you have a pair that act a bit like earplugs. You’re going to want to have your own thoughts and controlling your audio input is imperative to accomplishing that goal. Make sure you have 2-3 tools in your bag to empower you to do so. Oh, and on long flights, the slim Apple earbuds are way better for sleeping with your ear on a pillow than most anything else.

Build a go-to playlist
Listen to what you want to listen too. Forget the story about the kids and the dog and the chatter about the next flight or if someone landed or is about to takeoff and all that other stuff people are inevitably murmuring about… oh, and CNN. Forget all of that. Create space to create your own experience. Audio has an extraordinary power to impact mood. Get a playlist that becomes your travel playlist. Turn to it. I’ll be a bit like “home.” I've found Spotify to be the absolute best for my own experience. It's super easy to find cool new music. 

Get off the airplane
Take all the time you want getting on the plane. It’s fine. Know where your bags are. No, really. However, when it’s time to get off the plane… just get off. Remember, you know where your bags are. This is not likely the first time you’ve gotten off an airplane. Stop acting like it is. Seriously… get off!

Walk up rental car rates are cheaper (depending on the day)
I’ve landed in a city without transportation or a place to stay on an airline I did not plan to use on a day before or after the day I was suppose to be there more times than I can count. Be flexible. Further… walk up to the rental car desk. It took me awhile to figure this out. I thought that if they had you in their lobby the price would be higher then the internet rates. Nope. On the internet they are all competing on price. In the lobby they can keep their low rates out of the sight of their competitors. Cool. So, rent on a day other than a Sunday or a Monday (everyone else already has the cars those days) and walk up. Oh, and know what’s going on in a town for sporting events and conventions before you go. The rates are regularly 1/3 to 1/2 for the listed internet rates on days when they have an excess of cars. Helpful!

Dial up your Uber and then text or call the driver immediately
I’ve used Uber regularly. Often, depending on the city, the Uber can be cheaper and/or way faster than getting a car. In nearly every case it’s cheaper than a Taxi. In those cases… Uber. When you do… book your Uber and then get on the text or phone with that driver… immediately. I’ve found it’s just easier to coordinate pickups. Let them know where you are and what you’re wearing. It’s weird for them to ask but when you offer the information it makes the pickup smoother. Depending on what city you’re in this is more important than others. It also builds a nice introduction to what is nearly aways a very warm conversation. This is one place where I try to make connections. I talk to the Uber drivers because it’s very clear how long the conversation will be and because I can get a sense for a place from a local with a degree of ease. 

Smile at the hotel desk. It’s simple… just smile
The agents at the desk transact key cards for credit cards over and over and over. Smile at them. Trust me. It makes a difference. I know you just traveled there on 14 flights for 30 hours. I know you’re tired. I know. Just smile. I promise. Just smile.

Iron your clothes immediately
You just got to your room. Now is the time to do your chores. Do it now. It’s the first thing to do is to lay our your clothes for the next day. Know you are ready to leave as fast as possible the next morning. Ironing is work for night hrs.

Workout. Seriously… move your body. Find a way
Walk the staircase to the top and back down. Hit the beach. Be the brisk walking weird person in the mall. Get out of your room and walk. After traveling all day sitting in your room is what you'll likely want to do. Don’t. Get out and move your body. There are a slew of things I’ve tried to reduce the impact of travel on my mind and sense of wellbeing. NOTHING has the kind of positive impact of moving my body. Maybe they even have a gym? Go there. Hit it. 

Crush the email with classical music
You are traveling. Meh. Now you’re email is full. Crank the classical when it’s time to crush email. I don’t know what it is but the time flies and the emails are shorter and more to the point when I have classical on.

Go. To. Bed
Traveling all the time is nothing compared to having to do it while you’re sick and/or sleepy. You might want to stay up and hit ESPN or HGTV for hours. Don’t. The sleep will provide a statistical advantage for your health. Take all the help you can provide for yourself to be as well as you can be. Sleep.

Protein and Vegetables. Nothing else
I don’t know what it is about our culture but protein and vegetables are two of the hardest things to find in airports. Pasta, sugar, carbohydrates, grain - that stuff is everywhere. Don’t eat it. It’s better to be hungry than on a glycemic roller coaster. Asian, and Mexican are always my go to foods. Just drop the rice. Grab a salad if you’re reasonably confident the place washed the leaves really well. Like, really well. Eat eggs for breakfast. Do it everyday. You’re going to enjoy travel so much more happliy when you eat only protein and vegetables. Trust me. 

Clean everything and repack right away
So, you’re home. Now, before anything else, clean your travel gear and re-pack it. You’re likely going to be leaving in under a day or two. Be ready. Oh, and mow the lawn.

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Ok, 33+ tips, for now. Enjoy!