Travel is a big part of my life. Air travel, auto travel, train travel, hotel travel, any kind of travel. Just shy of my 40th birthday, I had accrued enough miles (2 million) to earn lifetime platinum status on American Airlines. Yes, I am that frequent of a business traveler. I am about to share my secrets for the first time ever and offer a rare look inside the road warrior’s essential tools– the kind of road warrior who is prepared for anything.
Business travel demands are the subject of much debate, lore, secret clubs and often unique language. You have to be able manage planes, Übers and schedule changes with grace, while still maintaining focus for meetings and being pleasant with your loved ones when you return home.
For as long as I can remember, airplanes have been my commute to work. I know the best seats on every plane before I board. I know that a 6:30 p.m. flight with a good seat beats running to a different terminal to catch an earlier flight with a bad seat with possibly no room for carry-on luggage. Because who actually checks a bag anymore?
I know the airports too. I know exactly which airport doors to pass through to arrive at the correct gate in the least amount of time. I participate in security fast check-in programs and expedited, border entry programs. George Clooney’s character from “Up in the Air” has nothing on me, but I did like the character’s backpack story. A large part of streamlining travel and maintaining composure are the tools I’ve learned to bring along. And unlike the empty backpack fable from the film, my bag is always packed. Experience has taught me to fill my bag with some unusual items that have become mainstays, which may prove to be useful for you as well. Let’s take a look inside my well-equipped pack.
The bag: this Booq backpack has been around the world with me, is highly versatile and has many compartments. I’ve had it for about 2 years and the brand of the bag is a lot less important than how it works. The bag has comfortable handles, fits my medium-build body well and has easy access pockets. I attach an inexpensive, glowing Timex watch with a Velcro strap on the outside of the bag so I instantly know my home time zone if my phone, tablet and computer batteries are dry.
- Laptop compartment: It helps to have a removable and separate compartment for your laptop.This bag model has two outside pockets on each side for other items, like an umbrella and flashlight. This backpack is designed with a cushioned back, which makes carrying heavy loads easier with space to allow air to flow so your back stays cool.
- Organization: there are plenty more pockets for gear to live separate from other important items like food and emergency tools. Heavy duty zippers on a travel bag are a must, as they will experience a lot of wear.
- Hand warmers: I’ve been caught out in the cold often enough to know these things come in handy. Stick them in your pockets, gloves or even inside your shoes and they can make an unpleasant trek from a train station to the office a little warmer.
- Food: Airline food has improved, but there are no guarantees as to what’s going to available if your flight is delayed; you might arrive at 2 a.m. with the hotel only offering unhealthy options. While some countries prohibit bringing foreign food in, prepared and packaged goods like these are usually fine. I always pack a few energy bars and nuts.
- Cord bag: This Booq backpack comes with its own little cord bag, but you can purchase one if your bag does not already have one. I can reach into my pack in total darkness and instantly put my hands on everything I need to charge my electronics. I also keep a backup headset/headphone combo here.
- Mini toiletries bag: I carry prescription medications, lotions, a hair brush, lens cleaning tissues and things like my “MacGyyer” collar stays (more on this later). Miniature emergency deodorant packs come in handy when you are running from meeting to meeting and don’t have time to change.
- Mini first aid kit: Don’t purchase readymade first aid kits since most of them contain substandard bandages. You can buy most everything else you need on Amazon or at your local grocery store. I keep triple antibiotic ointment, sting relief, OTC pain medications in single packs and wrap it all up in a tri-fold wallet.
- Carabiner and paracord bracelet: This is NOT the carabiner you received as a freebie at a tradeshow. It’s a heavy duty, mountain climbing carabineer. Buy one at a sporting goods store or online and you’ll be amazed at how often you find yourself using it to hold your bag, attach it to your luggage and many other things. Paracord bracelets are one of those “I hope I never need it” type items.
- Eye mask and beany: Sure, you may feel silly wearing an eye mask on a plane, but it allows you some darkness, helping your body to adjust to new time zones. The beany keeps you warm during long flights and comes in handy when you forget a hat on cold nights. Pair these items with a solid pair of noise cancelling headphones, which I discuss later, and you’ll be well-rested on your next trip.
- Flashlight: The 2nd most useful tool in my bag is my flashlight. I never leave home without it and I stow it in one of the two outside pouches so I can reach it even when I have the pack on my back. It’s probably the best self-defense tool a traveler can carry. Many times I have been in a far-off place and shined this light down a hallway or an alley to verify I wasn’t walking into a dangerous place.
- “MacGyver” collar stays: That’s right, collar stays. But these are the Swiss army knife of collar stays. In addition to their usual purpose, they also cut thread, drive screws, don’t set off metal detectors (100% Titanium non-magnetic and TSA-friendly) and open bottles.
- Plastic travel wallet: When you are out on the road, it’s always a good idea to keep your cards and ID’s in separate places. I’ll take one ID and a credit card and leave everything else in my hotel safe or carefully hidden elsewhere. Obtain notarized photocopies of your passport and other ID’s and keep them with you.
- Duct tape: We joke about duct tape fixes everything, but it really does have a million uses—first aid, holding luggage together, quick fixes on the go, and more.
The Pièce de Resistance
- Noise-cancelling headphones: Finally, the most useful item I carry everywhere is a tiny pair of noise-cancelling headphones.Top-end Shure’s are worth every penny. Spending $500 on a pair of headphones might seem insane, but try them out on a flight. They virtually eliminate fatigue-causing engine and background noise when flying. They take up little space and are very comfortable to wear. I have worn mine for 20 hours straight with no discomfort. They don’t require batteries and aren’t as heavy as the noise cancelling “cans” I carried around for years. I put mine on the moment I get through security and don’t take them off until I leave the airport.