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In my late 20s and early 30s, I traveled a fair amount for work. I think I hit 50 flights one year! In those days, I had my travel routine down pat. I knew which Starbucks to hit up for the shortest line, how to move through security efficiently, and what snacks/beverages to stock up on before the flight. I got to know National, SFO, and O’Hare a little too intimately for my own taste, even having preferred bathroom stalls (!?) and favored food destinations when I was delayed or hungry.
When I flew out to California this past week, I was startled by how out of practice I am with solo travel. Not only have I barely traveled via plane the past five years (combination of COVID, having young children, working for myself, and the proximity of NYC to DC — meaning we typically trained or drove versus flew when visiting our families), but I almost never travel without Mr. Magpie, and he takes on the lion’s share of coordinating rides, checking bags, figuring out timelines and logistics, and so I am usually just along for the ride. I’d forgotten how alert I need to be when traveling alone (gate changes! boarding times! group numbers! where to find the “Quick Bag Drop”! finding the AirTram to get to the rental car company!), and realized how spoiled I am by Mr. Magpie’s attentiveness to these matters on my behalf. I am grateful for it, but also thought it might not be a bad thing to flex my “independence” muscles a bit more frequently. I feel the same way about highway driving. I never, ever minded it (in fact, I enjoyed road trips!), but in the five years we lived in New York City, I could probably count on one hand the number of times I slipped behind the wheel, and somewhere in that lapse, a stubborn fear of the highway took root. I will often drive a longer route just to avoid the highway (especially the Beltway in the D.C. area). I will admit that I was not nervous in the least about the solo trip to SFO, but I was lowkey worried about the hour and a half drive across the Bay Bridge and up 80 to Napa I’d be undertaking at the tail end. I had to give myself a little pep talk beforehand. I made it, but was white-knuckling it almost 1/2 of the way, especially on the Bay Bridge, when I had to start loudly singing Ariana Grande lyrics just to distract myself. I want desperately to get over this fear before it becomes paralytic, and I know the answer is more repeated exposure. So I need to work on volunteering to drive when Mr. Magpie usually handles it a bit more.
Anyhow – I have more solo travel coming up (and more travel in general — Tulum, possibly Disney, Aspen, and Italy are all in our 2024 plans), and was hoping to lean on my Magpies to answer:
What are your best tips for easy travel?
A few things I do (none of them groundbreaking) to make for an easier travel day:
01. Order my Starbucks ahead using the app. The lines are often crazy long and this means you can relax at your gate and meander over when it’s ready, usually cutting your wait time in half. I find the app is actually really good at identifying the correct, closest Starbucks by gate number. A cinch!
02. Keep my laptop in the front zippered compartment of my carry-on suitcase (a “Continental” Tumi — she ain’t glamorous, but she’s a workhorse! She’s still in great condition after years and years of often intensive travel!, and I love that she can expand if necessary). I find lugging my laptop around on my shoulder so unpleasant, so instead, I stow the laptop in the rollaboard front pocket until the very last possible moment before boarding and then transfer to my bag so I can use it while in flight. I know this is crazy, but the front pocket on the Tumi is the main reason I’ve not yet bought the Paravel suitcase I’ve been eyeing for months now.
03. Charge phone and laptop any time there’s a free charger — e.g., if I’m sitting at the gate or at a restaurant, I’ll pre-emptively charge/top up. You just never know when you’ll be stranded without power and I find my phone battery wears down quickly on travel days.
04. Dress in layers. I’m either sweating or freezing (usually the latter) on flights. On this most recent trip, I wore my favorite ultra-soft Leset tee, a blazer, and my most comfortable jeans (these Mothers are also airplane-level comfortable), but also kept this cashmere wrap in my carry-on, which doubled as a blanket when I got cold.
05. Wear slip-on shoes. With TSA pre-check, I no longer need to remove my shoes for security screening, but it’s always a safer bet. (Mr. Magpie has been told to take off his shoes and it’s such a hassle to have to untie/retie/etc while clogging up the line.) I wore my Chanel ballet flats on this trip, but my feet are always freezing on the plane, so I actually packed my Birkenstocks and a pair of socks, too, and was so happy to have something warmer to slip into while in the air.
06. Ensure my Kindle is fully charged and stocked with a couple of reading options (and confirm they’ve fully downloaded!), and that I have a couple of albums/playlists downloaded to my iPhone. There is always a “dead zone” on the tarmac where you can’t get good Internet, and then of course you can’t use your phone during take-off/landing. I love having some entertainment on hand.
07. Buy a full bottle of water at a concession stand as soon as I get through security. (Or, bring an empty water bottle with me and fill at a water station.) I find travel days so dehydrating.
08. Keep a small bag of cosmetics in my carry-on so I can zhush right before landing. (I have been using the smallest one from my Julia Amory set for this purpose — look for less with this.) I keep just my makeup essentials (the five-product, five-minute makeup routine here; note that UBeauty JUST restocked its constantly-sold-out “Rose” color yesterday…run! My absolute go-to for everyday!), plus decant some face lotion (currently using Augustinus Bader — get it at a discount in Sephora’s Tiered Sale, which is live now for VIBRouge (20% off) and will be on sale for the rest of us on 10/31) into one of these little pots. My skin feels so dry from the cabin air. I also always have a moisturizing lip balm (love Elizabeth Arden’s 8 Hour Cream in tube form).
09. Not necessarily “travel day” specific, but two things I love to travel with: this LED-lit mirror in case the hotel has sub-par lighting and packing cubes. I have a few different styles. These are inexpensive and I like them because you can buy a different color for each family member so it’s easy to keep items sorted. I also like these because I find it’s handy to be able to see what’s in each pouch without having to rifle through / remember. I’m eyeing these gorgeous packing cubes from Neely and Chloe though…so pretty!
10. I always keep a small “remedy bag” in my carry-on: Advil, throat lozenges, bandaids, gum/mints, Tums, tissues (love these “flat packs” from Kleenex), anti-histamines. I also keep little sanitizing wipes in there to wipe down my tray table / arm rests.
11. I usually try to make my carry-on tote bag something I will also want to wear at the destination (e.g., not something that screams “travel tote”), but for this most recent trip to SFO, I had so much I needed to carry on board for the long flight (snacks, Kindle, work notebook, laptop, chargers, change of shoes) that my preferred Goyard was too small. (Otherwise, she’s perfect for travel — lightweight and chic.) Instead, I used my MZ Wallace Medium Metro tote, which I initially purchased as a mom bag when I had lots I needed to carry around for my baby and toddler (full review here). She’s a fantastic travel day bag, too. Very lightweight, zips at top (!! so helpful!!), internal compartment to isolate items (e.g., I kept my phone, card case, headphones, and Kindle in there so I could easily access them, as the bag is otherwise somewhat cavernous). She’s a bit big for casual wear IMO (like, I didn’t want to wear her around with jeans/sweater to vineyards), but I’m so glad I contemplated what would make my travel day easiest and landed on her because she enabled me to carry everything with ease. I really like this new moss color, by the way!
12. If I am stuck at an airport for longer than anticipated, I usually pay to access one of the lounges. Some of you might have access to these lounges through your credit cards / loyalty programs (always worth checking!) but you can also often pay for a one-day pass. If you are going to be whiling away a few hours at an airport, I find this a worthy splurge. Cleaner, less packed restrooms; complimentary snacks; less noise and foot traffic; Internet and charging stations; comfortable places to post up.
13. Pre-pack snacks! I find it stressful not knowing when/how/what I’ll eat, plus it’s much more cost-effective. The last few trips, I’ve picked up a sandwich from a favorite bakery/cafe in my hometown the night before and packed in my carry-on so that I know I’ll have something good to eat on the plane. I also almost always pack either Cheez-Its, mini saltines, or Chex Mix, a piece of fruit (apple or banana) as well as gummy bears in case I get peckish.
Alright, your turn! What are your must-haves, secrets, tips, tricks?!
P.S. The magic and mayhem of traveling with young children. (Still sort of recovering from this particular trip…yikes! But a Magpie wrote at some point to say that traveling with young children is very different when you’re only traveling as your own nuclear family (e.g., no other schedules/households/food and activity preferences to factor in), and that has proven to be true. We had the best time at Deep Creek Lake just the four of us and it’s emboldened us to plan a trip to Disney this winter.
P.P.S. Car travel activities for children.
P.P.P.S. What do you eat when your fridge is bare?