Making Packing and Plane Travel Easier

I’m in a busy season of travel, with England, Greece, Washington DC, Ohio, Maine, and Canada all in the cards. (And you wonder why I don’t post more often!).

With a few longer flights, I spent a bit of time looking up travel gear and tips, and wanted to share what I’ve learned. Below is a quick reflection on what has and hasn’t worked for me.

Travel Principles

Travel light. Amos and I each took one backpack to wander England for a two week honeymoon, and that allowed us to not worry about booking hotels in advance and to hop on and off trains at will. Once you get used to… only having three outfits, you worry less about what to wear, and more about what to do with your time. For that trip, we selected lightweight clothes that could wash well in a sink (below), and appreciated a friend who let us use a good machine wash one week in.

Bags off the ground. On work trips, I bring a rolling carry-on and a nice purse, allowing me to step off the plane without waiting at baggage claim. The roller bag works well for staying at one hotel for a week, but as above, I try to pack extra light if I’m moving from place to place, keeping it to a single bag on my back, with a small purse which can be folded inside it. When visiting family for longer, I’ll sometimes use a larger checked bag.

Minimal toiletries. After an unfortunate shampoo extravaganza, I no longer check liquids. You can buy shampoo easily in almost any city, and hotels supply small freebies. But if I’m packing to wander, I’ll include a 3 ounce Wilderness Wash, a concentrated shampoo, body wash, hand laundry wash, and soap all in one.

(I no longer pack a hair dryer… but I used BabyLiss for years, and recommend it because it’s tiny, soft, and dual voltage for multiple countries).

Hand wash some clothes. Patagonia and ExOfficio sell quick-dry underwear that you can wash in a sink and have dry hours later; sporting stores sell lightweight shirts and trousers that dry almost as fast. To get hand washed items to dry more quickly, roll them up in a dry towel and press out as much water as possible before hanging. (After a few wears and washes, you’ll probably still want to find a machine).

Packing. Roll your clothes up in little burritos—they do fit better. I’ve tried packing cubes and vacuum seal bags but they’re a pain. Inserting dryer sheets between your clothes keeps them fresh—and you can wipe them on clingy skirts to reduce static electricity. Carry a plastic bag to store dirty clothes in. I’ve heard a garbage bag is a good emergency rain cover for a backpack… but it’s not an attractive visual!

Making Life in Transit Easier

Recently, I flew to see friends in Europe… on a Basic Economy ticket. As you can imagine, I was thrilled to see them, but less than happy to be sandwiched in the back of a plane for 11 hours. I started looking at how to make flying easier.

Planes on the tarmac, by Mike140AM on Flickr (CC-BY-NC-SA)

Some things I had already been doing:

Collapsible Water Bottle. I pack a Platypus water bottle that goes flat when empty, but holds a liter of water when full.  I’ve heard good things about the Nomader, but it’s bulkier so I haven’t tried it.

Cashmere Scarf. My traveling aunt sent me a beautiful cashmere scarf, but any warm, lightweight scarf is good for temperature regulation on a plane. I tried eye masks, but found wrapping a scarf over my eyes works as well for me, if I want to block out light.

Snacks. Why be caught without them, especially if you’ll be on the tarmac for hours? Nuts, energy bars, or dried fruit are all good to have on hand.

A quiet place in the airport. Airports are loud and busy, so although I hate spending money, it can be worth it to find a nook in a quiet restaurant–or, if you have access, a frequent flyer club. If you fly United out of Heathrow, their club is almost worth the $60 cash price, as they have shower suites to freshen up after the metro ride and a full breakfast buffet and drinks (should you want that before a morning flight back to the US…).

A few other suggestions on flying were new to me, however:

Compression Socks. I was curious how to reduce the odds of blood clots (deep vein thrombosis) on long flights, and the general advice is to be young, not smoke, not pregnant, not on birth control, and have good genes. That’s not all within your control, but you can select an aisle seat and get up and walk regularly, and also use compression socks to reduce ankle swelling on long flights (whether they actually help with DVT is unclear). I’m not sure if I affected my health, but my feet fit in my shoes more easily after 11 hours, when I tried these socks and walking regularly.

Eye Masks. I tried so many, and Unimi was the softest as well as completely blocked out light. But I think masks aren’t for me. I’m usually too alert to sleep on public transit, and a pillow over my head works in a bright hotel room. I’m just not convinced I’d use it enough—so I returned it.

Travel Pillow. I used TravelRest for years on long flights to Kazakhstan. It was comfortable against a window and rolled up small. But it felt awkward for an aisle seat, e.g. for getting up to allow strangers in.

So I tried the trtl pillow (weird neck-brace), Siesta Snug (fluffy neck prison), the Everlasting Comfort (too squishy, but Amos liked it), and ended on the Purefly inflatable pillow. It’s… okay. I like that it is soft and packs small. It’s better than no pillow. But I don’t love it, and only take it on longer flights. (To be fair, this gets back to me not sleeping on flights, and wanting a pillow mostly for neck support).

Disinfectant wipes. I really wanted not to get sick on my last trip, and I did not succeed. I was wiped out by a severe head cold—or possibly the flu—somewhere between two planes, a convention center, and three airports. However! I used to roll my eyes at people who wiped down their plane seats.

But I tried it, and now I’m a believer. I brought a pack of disinfectant wipes in my liquids bag, and wiped down my tray table, seatback pocket, and armrests. (I wanted to wipe the gentleman next to me who was coughing, but that seemed impolite.) It wasn’t a magical health shield, but it did clean visible gunk off my tray table for me and the next person, and I felt better about inhabiting my space on that flight.

Moisturizing things. Plane air is dry. I use lip balm. I’m interested in trying moisturizer face wipes. And I’m not convinced by the need for moisturizing eye drops (I don’t attempt to wear contacts on planes).

I also saw saline nasal spray recommended, to keep your nose supple and soft. But I can’t imagine… snorting things up your nose on a plane. So I tried it in the hotel. It dribbled. I’m not sure if it really hydrated my nose or not. If this has worked for you, I’d like to hear about it. I also avoided caffeine and alcohol before, during, and after one flight, and I felt *much* more hydrated but also much less fun.

Noise cancelling headphones. Finally, plane engine noise is tiring, and I was curious if I could reduce that with noise cancelling headphones. I wanted something small, which ruled out giant headphones. But good active noise cancelling earbuds—which play white noise stillness to block ambient sound–run $200. I found small TaoTronics headphones for $45, which muted the engine noise to a quiet rumble, but still let me hear the flight attendant asking me what drink I wanted. That felt like a win-win.

…That’s where I’m at, but I’m curious what you’ve learned!

Do you have any good travel tips?

Thoughts? Leave a note here!