10 insider tips, from a surprise credit card perk to the only acceptable luggage.
As someone who travels for both business and pleasure, I spent 256 days on the road last year. When I share this stat with friends and acquaintances, I always get the same two questions: "What about your boyfriend?" And, "How are you not fat from all that airplane food?" I practically have a script prepared: A) The boyfriend gets the perks of a global existence, and B) Who eats airplane food?
I love life in transit, because travel, if done right, can be rather pleasurable: books get read, letters get written, deliciously bad rom-coms get watched. I've found that 10 simple rules can make the difference between a pleasant trip and a nightmarish one. Grab your government-issued photo ID and off we go.
1) When it comes to luggage, you want wheels and you want a lot of them. For my money, I think Samsonite Black Label is the way to go. They have fairly stylish choices—with some color, thankfully—and four wheels on their bags, which means you can glide through the airport with your bag (and your dignity) upright.
2) If your plane gets re-routed, be proactive and start working the phones. Twitter recently became the most reliable source of information from airlines and airports. And most high-end credit cards will cover incidental costs to rebook fares and secure hotel rooms, even if your airline doesn’t. American Express Platinum is superb in these dire straits and their concierge service is the gold standard.
3) The '70s are over—no one dresses for air travel anymore. For long flights, a headband is genius. You can sleep for hours and then, with one swift maneuver, you again have a hairstyle. Invest in a travel blanket, preferably cashmere (it can double as a scarf). The Company Store makes great ones that you can personalize, and Ralph Lauren does a fancier version in cable-knit cashmere as part of their travel pack. Finally, footwear that is comfy and easily removable trumps all else. Resist laces and zippers, but don't sacrifice style. My top choices are Puma’s Imani Mesh women’s sneakers (no laces, great colors, oh-so-comfy and stylish) and Prada’s Mesh Ballet Flats.
4) Bring your own food, it saves calories and ensures you’re making smart choices. In addition to grub, I can’t live without Chapstick, tissues, socks, a magazine (or seven), and Kahina Face Serum.
6) Any trans-Atlantic or red-eye flight requires real sleep. Beginners should try melatonin—I’m not sure it works, but the placebo effect may be enough to get your eyes shut. Intermediates, try Tylenol PM. For the advanced, I suggest Ambien or the generic Zolpidem. Resist overuse, though; I only use sleeping aids to survive a long overnight flight or to get into a new time zone, especially in Asia.
7) Always book a car service or taxi ahead when you’re headed to an unknown location. It removes one item from the travel-anxiety equation and allows for minimal payment disruption when dealing with local currencies.
8) Skycaps are worth it not only if you have a lot of baggage, but because oftentimes they get you to the front of the queue, which is worth its weight in gold.
9) Online check-in is a must. Most airlines open their online check-in systems 24 hours in advance of wheels-up. It’s well worth logging on. You may find upgrade offers that would not be available via phone or in-person. And the opportunity to choose your seat is vital—middle seats are for the unprepared. Plus, if you don’t have a seat assignment, you are far more likely to get bumped than those who do. Printing your boarding pass in advance is worth it if you don’t have status on one of the airlines, and many of the cheapo carriers sting you with a fee if you don’t do this, especially in Europe.
10) Currency-exchange shops typically charge a fortune and are inefficient. The best rates come from your debit card, but be sure you have one with international perks like HSBC Premier. Some banks want you to call ahead for international travel; I’d only suggest this if you don’t do it often. Grab the amount you need and rest assured that you can go back for more.
Jolie Hunt travels on her own dime for more than 50 percent of the year. Her recommendations are aimed at business travelers who are short on time but not on taste. She is the global head of public relations for Thomson Reuters, appointed April 2008. She lives between New York and London.