Did you think this would be a metaphorical title again? You thought wrong! This month, I’m discussing how I approach traveling, which has allowed me to have lots of fun, relaxing, short trips this year.
You pack for comfort and experiences.
Last year, I did lots of traveling. Most of it was to see family, and it left me really exhausted (see Scheme K, Kora Theory). This year, I also did lots of traveling, but it actually has not tired me as much, and in fact, sometimes has even energized me!
I always assumed that, while traveling, I had to be less comfortable than I am at home. While I still think that’s true, what I’ve found is that difference in comfort can really be minimized!
How I used to travel was not bad. I’d have a list of essentials, ie “3 pairs of pants, 5 tops, toothbrush, deodorant” go through it. At the end, I’d see I had more space, so I’d toss in a couple more things. However, it didn’t use to prioritize my comfort. For instance, I wouldn’t really plan outfits, just amount of clothes, and I’d pack a minimal amount of cosmetics. As a result, I’d look less put-together while traveling than I do at home.
One day, I went to an event at the Burkinabè embassy in Paris – my mom was knighted by the Burkinabè government for her continued devotion to our community in Spain. Yes, I’m bragging, because if I’m not bragging about that, what about?
Anyway, I wore heels, cute earrings, and a nice shirt-dress, one I had worn plenty of times at work. This was maybe 10% fancier than what I’d wear on any weekday at the office. My family was in shock. My cousin awkwardly commented on how “different” I looked, everyone was asking me how long I’d had this dress or the shoes. It dawned on me because they always saw me in travel mode, running around, wearing whatever it was I threw in my suitcase and minimal makeup, they didn’t even know what I actually looked like in my daily life. (And in my daily life, I like to dress.)
In addition, I would leave my obligations up to chance, feeling like I’d figure them out when it was time, and sometimes have to cancel work meetings last-minute.
Compare this to most recent trip, to Barcelona, to see one of my best childhood friends.
Before the trip, I took care of some logistics:
- I took Friday off work
- changed my Slack status and notifications
- I arranged dog-sitting for Pixie starting on Thursday night
- I made light plans with a Barcelona-based coworker to have lunch with me and my friend on Friday
- I told my friend about the Dutch class I had on Friday at 3pm: if that was OK with her, I’d need to go to a cafe and use a computer for an hour
- emailed the Dutch teacher to let her know I’d be joining from a cafe, which might be noisy
- I left my spare keys with my boyfriend
The night before, I packed my suitcase. I got two full outfits, an extra sweater, one pair of heels, three more pairs of underwear than I needed (life hack), one big scarf (other life hack), my toothbrush, my day-to-day skincare, makeup and cosmetics, my work laptop, my journal/agenda (see scheme K), and a book. I also had one small handbag for my passport, keys, wallet, earbuds, masks, hand gel, and phone. I knew my friend did yoga so I could borrow her mat.
On Friday morning, I flew to Barcelona. I had chosen a low-cost airline, but upgraded my seat to get use the priority line for boarding and security. This allowed me to show up to the airport one hour later than I otherwise would have, and to confidently bring a carry-on. On the flight, I brought my travel pillow and pulled my large scarf out of my carry-on, wrapped myself in it like a blanket, and slept through the flight. When I landed, sat and got a nice breakfast at the airport (I’m still thinking about that Bolduman), then took the bus to meet my friend.
Throughout the trip, we’d made light, flexible plans, and ended up doing so many things very comfortably. We did the lunch, I took my Dutch class from a café while she worked, we cooked at home, I did yoga on her mat. On Saturday, we decided to take pictures, so we did decent hair and makeup and took lots. We walked 25km in two days, going all around town, talked for hours, and still got to rest and recharge. On Sunday in the late morning, I flew back, picked up Pixie in the afternoon, and had a really great sleep.
How it works
Through trial and error, I’ve identified the things that make me feel good while traveling:
- looking my best. Trips are when I tend to take the most pictures, especially with people I see very little, and I want to feel proud of those pictures.
- feeling flexible. If anything happens to change my travel plans, like my flight gets cancelled and I have to stay one extra day, it has to feel like no big deal.
- moving around unencumbered. I usually travel by public transportation, so I need to navigate crowded places without hassle.
- being able. My travels shouldn’t get in the way of things I love and/or have plans to do - for instance, writing some code, doing yoga, attending a zoom call, etc.
- feeling comfortable. Physically especially, I want to sleep well, eat well, not be too warm or too cold, etc.
How this translates is:
- To look my best: I bring all of my day-to-day cosmetics. I have travel-sized bottles of my daily soap and hair products - it’s a hassle to set up, but I only really had to do it once! If there’s any chance that at any point in the trip I’ll need to dress better than casual, I bring a nice pair of heels and a nice outfit. And I pack clothes that go together.
- To feel flexible: I try to leave at least 24 hours between my arrival home and the next day of work. If I don’t have that time, I bring my work laptop. I bring 3 extra of each of the following: underwear, socks, and tank tops. It takes up almost no extra space but makes me a lot more inconvenience-proof.
- To move around: I have one carry-on with 4 wheels, and a small handbag. No backpack. I put my scarf in my bag, and wear sneakers.
- To be able: I look in advance at the things I’ve planned to do, and inform the relevant people about them. I bring the relevant things.
- To feel comfortable: I try to make my sleeping situation as comfortable as possible. I plan my jacket and coat game carefully. And I do the big-scarf-turned-blanket trick, of course.
I used to think about what was sensible to bring. It didn’t seem sensible to bring all of my makeup, and it seemed sensible to bring as many tops as the number of days I’d be away. Once I identified my own needs, I didn’t need to concern myself with a fake, abstract sense of practicality. I just need to plan and pack the way that fulfills my own needs.
Trips are unpredictable! This doesn’t mean I’m perfectly anticipating everything. I still forgot to bring an extra tote bag to Barcelona, and sunglasses. But those were manageable, and I felt pretty freaking relaxed the whole trip, even though I had to consider a lot of things.
Only one more month in the year! Thanks so much for reading. I really appreciate you, for real.