Today I'm passing along a few of the lessons I've learned (occasionally the hard way!) during more than 2 million miles of travel. They're being handed down with the hope that they'll ease your cares on future journeys--particularly those overseas.
For me, lesson No. 1 involves making a checklist. If I don't I'm in trouble. Deep trouble. Without a checklist I'm bound to forget some little thing--a necktie, a hairbrush, a toothbrush (I've bought a lifetime supply of those infernal things during the last 20 years or so).
The idea is to jot down everything you intend to take with you and then check off each item before you zip up the bag. First, though, learn what the weather is like where you're going. It may be June in January in California, but it could be bitter cold in Scandinavia or steaming in Hong Kong.
Generally, travelers pack more than is necessary. If you're traveling on the Continent, chances are you'll be spending only two or three days in one place. So there's no need to haul half a dozen outfits when only a couple will do. (I wear one outfit, pack another and nobody knows the difference.) Hauling heavy luggage, unnecessarily, will spoil an otherwise pleasant journey. The list of tips I've gathered over the past couple of decades could fill a Fodor guide, but here goes with a few I've found to be particularly useful:
--If you're traveling by plane, be sure to take along a sweater. Often the cabin is as cold as a deep-freeze. (Sometimes I get the idea the flight engineer figures he's carrying a load of penguins.)
--While packing, slip your toilet articles into a small case inside your luggage. Otherwise you'll be unpacking everything--clothes and all--just trying to find a cosmetic case or a razor.
--When flying economy, request an aisle seat. Otherwise you could wind up being stuck tight between a couple of hefties in one of those uncomfortable three-across configurations. And even if you get the window you must inch your way out like a circus contortionist each time you want to stroll up the aisle. Take it from someone who's been bruised, the freedom to move about from an aisle seat compensates for anything you'll see from a window. Besides, even if you enjoy gazing out at the world, the flight crew will ask you to lower the shade for the movie, which reminds me: What ever happened to reading?
--Take along a set of ear plugs to block out engine noise while flying. They'll also come in handy if you are unlucky enough to get rowdy hotel neighbors. (For some reason I get more than my share of hotel/motel rooms next to hospitality suites or elevators.) Your drugstore stocks various types of ear plugs. I prefer the wax ones, which do the best job of muffling out sound.
--When flying, avoid alcohol and drink plenty of water. (Cabin pressurization causes dehydration.) A TWA crew told me one night on a flight to Rome that their airline advises them to drink a glass of water for every hour they are in the air. Dehydration, it seems, compounds the jet lag. So for that matter does overeating. There are passengers who wolf down everything the crew sets before them. (One gets the idea they'd eat the captain's leg if it were delivered on a platter.)
--Pack a tube of artificial tears in your carry-on bag. Otherwise the cabin pressure, together with the air conditioning, can cause dry eyes, which can be distressingly irritating.
--Exercise. Usually I take a long walk or jog several hours before boarding a long flight. It's a good idea as well to take a brisk walk after arriving at your destination. If you exercise before your flight, eat sparingly and drink plenty of water, you'll be amazed how much more quickly you get over the jet lag.
--Sleeping tablets. If the jet lag fouls up your circadian rhythm so that you have difficulty sleeping, ask your doctor to prescribe a sedative. (I've taken enough to send the entire Russian army into orbit.) My advice: First try to sleep and take the sedative later, after you awaken in the middle of the night.
--Antibiotics. I carry antibiotics because I don't want to search out a doctor overseas. I prefer tetracycline, which is an excellent infection fighter, but no doubt your own doctor will have his preference.
--Traveler's checks. It's wise to carry traveler's checks, but take along a small number of dollars as well--$1 and $5 bills are recommended. Helps to avoid cashing a traveler's check when leaving a country and then getting stuck with the change in foreign currency.
--Finally, leave behind a second checklist of things you must remember to do after you return home from your trip. You'll probably be groggy with the jet lag and very little will make sense the first day or so. There could be important bills to pay, telephone calls to make, etc. This way you'll have a reminder when the fun's over and it's back to reality.